Contend Earnestly: The "Sinner's Prayer"

Friday, April 27, 2007

The "Sinner's Prayer"

When one hears someone say "the sinner's prayer" much probably comes to the mind. For me it reminds me of growing up Southern Baptist and at the end of the worship service we would sing a heartfelt song, such as "Just As I Am," someone would walk forward, repeat what the pastor prayed and then they were "saved." What I noticed growing up is that it was almost the prayer that saved and not the actuality of life changing faith. This faith being only the faith that God gives. I have been going through this in Sola Fide, so check out those posts for my thoughts on that subject.

Because of this false belief in prayer saving people, I believe some have gone way over on the other side. Some now say that there is no prayer needed to be saved at all. There is no confession needed, but one is saved once God regenerates, which I completely disagree with. If you would like to read a wonderful book on regeneration check out Peter Van Mastricht's "A Treatise on Regeneration."

The reason I am writing this post is to get your thoughts on the subject. From what I see Romans 10:9-11,13 is pretty clear.

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." for WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."

There is used in this short passage of Scripture three instances using a confession with the mouth. In short, a sinner's prayer. I do believe that this only comes forth in a truthful way when "with the heart a person believes" but nevertheless I do believe in the sinner's prayer. Maybe not like I used to when I was growing up, but there is a process that happens when someone is saved, and one "cog" is the confession with the mouth. We actually see this very clearly in Luke 18:10-14

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

We know that when God regenerates and then effectually calls that man, he will repent. Part of this repentance is confession with the mouth: The Sinner's Prayer.


Anonymous said...

This passage in Luke describes the humble seeking of salvation. It doesn't describe the means God uses in a person's conversion like Acts 10:44 "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message." James 1:18 "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth..." Romans 10:17 "Faith comes from hearing the message" John 5:24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." God is the one who controls if and when we receive salvation. We have no control over it, although we should earnestly seek for salvation.

Anonymous said...

For me, confession meant putting "Jesus saves" on my door, writing letters to my relatives telling how God converted me, and baptism in the local church.

Anonymous said...

Hebrews 11:6 "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Ephesians 2:8 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" This shows how helpless we are unless "God comes and showers righteousness on us." From Hosea 10:12

Seth McBee said...

thanks for stopping by. I agree with you on most of your particulars, but you still must concede that part of the salvific process is the actual confession with the mouth. You cannot get around Romans 10 in this. Your thoughts on Luke 18 are also very troubling. Christ Himself says that "this man went down justified."

Like I stated though, just because one confesses with their mouth does not mean they are saved, but one that is truly saved, must confess with their mouth. I also agree that it is all of God and none of us (monergism) but we still have a responsibility in salvation to repent, believe and confess.

This is what makes election and reprobation such a hard subject to discuss and define because of man's responsibility through God's sovereignty.

But, to dismiss confession with mouth is utterly dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Amen! This is exactly what I have been trying to say for awhile. As human we always swing from one side to the other because we are trying to do things in our own power. People started learning the dangers of false conversions and then began running around telling people not to say or not to teach others to say the sinner's prayer. What other type of prayer is there? We are all sinners and need to confess our sins and claim Him as Lord and Savior. The sinner’s prayer that you described the Baptist praying is half of the truth. On the other hand, the other half of the truth is when someone learns that this type of conversion is wrong and they don't learn the salvation process then go around telling everyone not to say the sinner's prayer! I don't think they even understand the regeneration process or they would indeed realize that all are able with sincerity and also by command to say the sinner's prayer. Thanks for this post, Seth!

Anonymous said...

Confession comes after you've already received saving faith and been sealed by the Holy Spirit. This is evident from 2 Corinthians 4:13 "I believed; therefore I have spoken. With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak." Romans 10:14 "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?" In Romans 10:10 believing comes before confessing.
Salvation itself is not complete until we are taken to heaven, so you can say confession comes before that, but conversion by faith is before confession. You even put salvation before confession yourself "one that is truly saved must confess with their mouth." I agree with that.
It's common in churches these days for people to know each other for years and never ask each other if they have been saved. This is just the opposite of confessing Christ. Also, if you listen to most church members conversations with each other, their talk is on earthly things, not heavenly. That is denying Christ in our lives. They also actually blaspheme God through the use of euphemisms such as: my gosh, gee, jeez, o my, o my goodness, golly etc.

Seth McBee said...

I don't know you and so I can only go by what you are saying. I agree more with your last comment than the others that seemingly dismissed any form of confession with the mouth.

I will also tell you to be careful that you don't put a pharisaic yoke on others when speaking about euphamisms. I am not saying you are to that point yet, but remember Romans 14 that speaks of understanding just because something is considered a sin in your life, doesn't necessarily mean that it is sin for all people.

Romans 14:23 ends with a very "fuzzy" concept of sin: whatever is not from faith is sin.

We just need to be careful from passing over from grace to pharasaic. But also not becoming antimonianists either. This is the hardest thing sometimes in the Christian walk...legalism vs antimonianism.

Anonymous said...

Nice post material Seth.
I think most of us can relate. Most evangelical churches habitually find one evangelism program after another and every one of the programs conclude in getting the person you are evangelizing to say this prayer in some form or another. It is much like training salesmen on how to close a deal. It is so man centered.

I totally agree there is a process that begins with the grace of God that regenerates a man's heart to respond to the gospel, and respond he will. I do not agree with a formula prayer for belief comes from the heart.

Jake said...

Maybe this shows my tendency toward the antinomian end of the spectrum, but I've always appreciated Augustine's words: "Love God and do what you will."

Thomas, my other question for you would be, is this distinction one worth making or arguing over? It seems like we all agree that belief in the gospel and the confession of one's sins to God are essential, is it worth arguing over the order?

Anonymous said...

The issue I'm trying to get at is this: Some people think we can accept and receive Jesus anytime we choose through a "sinner's prayer" or something similar. My contention is that the sinner's prayer teaching is false and contrary to what the Bible says. I believe that a person must seek God, and it's up to Him if and when he saves you. "He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." Hebrews 11:6. If you try to use Romans 10:13 in support of the sinner's prayer, you're misunderstanding and misusing the verse.

Seth McBee said...

I think you are going too far in saying that Romans 10:13 doesn't teach some sort of "sinner's prayer." Romans 10:9-13; like I said in my post, says "confess with mouth" three times! You cannot ignore this.

I understand your frustration with the abuse of the "sinner's prayer" but this doesn't not remove the truth of confession of the mouth that Jesus as Lord.

Anonymous said...

Do you believe that a person can decide to accept and receive Jesus? John 1:13 says you can't: "children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 15:16 says you can't: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last." Act 10:44 shows that people have no control over if or when they get converted: "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message."
The Bible teaches all the way through that we must seek God for salvation. But now people are saying that's not necessary, all you have to do is say the sinner's prayer, if you mean it with all your heart. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9

Anonymous said...

have you never confessed your sins to God? I would have to say that you are not saved if you have never confessed to God that you are a daily sinner and need His forgiveness. Maybe you do ask for forgiveness but you say that you can ask for forgiveness because you are a believer? If this last statement is true, then that is all we are saying! Do you understand what regeneration means? I think if you fully understood that term you would understand that we are saying that people, who are sinners, say a prayer to confess their sins and admit that Christ is Lord and He is their Savior...because they are already saved through faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone in the regeneration process! God calls you then you're regenerated... It doesn't stop there however since you yourself probably confess your sins and admit that Christ is LOrd and Savior every day (if you are a Christian). Go study what regeneration means and then you'll understand that you are preaching to the choir.

Seth McBee said...

anytime I say that "unless someone believes with their heart" or that someone "seeks" God, I only mean that this is true and definite in the understanding of the regenerate. The unregenerate can do none of these things, nor can they seek, understand, fear God nor can they do good. This is all spoken of in Romans 3:10-18.

You are saying someone can't "believe with all their heart" yet can seek God? That is completely untrue.

Romans 3:10-18 states that, "none seek after God" The only way any of this happens is always under the guise of regeneration.

Anonymous said...

There is preparatory work that the unregenerate can do, which isn't the seeking mentioned in Romans chapter three. It's mentioned in the book on regeneration by Peter Van Mastricht starting at the bottom of page 10. Don't you agree that the unregenerate can study the Bible, pray, and hear sermons? I think we should encourage everyone to use God's appointed means of grace. Those of us that think we're already Christians should study to make sure we're not mistaken. We have a great tendency to be mistaken in this, don't you think? "Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name..." "Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" Matthew 7:22-23. "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Matthew 7:14

Stefan said...

Not to throw a wrench in this discussion, or to take it in a totally different direction, but, there are a number of commentators that understand Paul to be speaking of baptism as the act whereby confession is made unto salvation. There is, then, an outward confession of the inward saving reality (i.e., of believing in the heart).

The New Testament does not always use the language of confession to refer to baptism; but it would appear that Paul uses this language in this way in 1 Tim 6:12-13 (if not baptism, the reference is to Timothy's ordination). Timothy witnessed the good confession of salvation as he received the sign and seal of God's mercy to him in Christ.

So, Paul isn't identifying the sinner's confession of sin and of faith in Christ (as in Luke 18); instead, he is refering to baptism, that sign and seal of the jusitified sinner's union with Christ in his death and resurrection.

Now, the fact that this text does not refer to some kind of confession before the throne of grace does not preclude such a thing from the sinner's experience of salvation. But that isn't what Paul is speaking of in Rom 10.

Again, sorry to take the discussion in an entirely different direction. That is what we Reformed Baptists like to do!

Anonymous said...

Seth, thanks for posting this very important topic. Coming from an Arminian past, I have strong feelings on this issue.
Yes it is important to understand the proper sequence of the salvation process, not to be pharisical, but to be able to discern false teaching. So many churches, radio/tv, and other media stress that to be saved all one needs to do is say a prayer, sign a card, join the church, be baptized etc. because God loves everyone. It's all done as a mental decision, never laying the predicate of grace, regeneration, faith, and repentance. This diminishes and depreciates the very special act of Salvation, thus leading some to think they're saved when they aren't (no real change of heart).

Seth McBee said...

"preparatory work" that is a tough one. I think if it is truly preparatory then it is wrought through the Holy Spirit. This question actually takes us even deeper into the discussion as we could start to bring in Heb 6:4 (tasted, enlightened,partakers)Matthew 13 (seed and the sower) and also 2 Peter 2:1 (bought by the Master). This discussion gets very very deep, and don't know if this is the correct post to be discussing...not accusing you Thomas, just didn't know if you knew the magnitude of question you were bringing to the table. (visible vs invisible church; limited vs unlimited atonement and the such...)

Great comment. I do believe that part of our confession is definitely baptism and I like your insights on the subject.


I do not want to be contentious, but exactly how does a mute person "satisfy" these "conditions"?

Verbalization is the result of inward regeneration, but of course, this is impossible for a deaf-mute who has his arms amputated. He cannot write, do sign language, or talk, but he can read the Bible plainly enough and by God's grace, repent and believe the gospel it contains.

Having heard the proclamation of the gospel, the Holy Spirit inwardly works in us, regenerating us, and enabling us to accept its truths. As regenerated beings, we therefore respond in repentance and faith. That, I believe, satisfies the meaning of Romans 10:9-10 and Romans 4:4-5 at the same time (as well as Acts 16:31, 20:21 and a host of other verses).

The "sinner's prayer" is meaningless unless the heart is changed first, and when the heart is changed already, what's the use of verbal gymnastics? In fact, nowhere in the Bible is the "sinner's prayer" used. It was an 18th century revivalist invention (along Arminian strains, if I may say so).

When sharing the gospel to a friend, I did not ask him to "repeat-after-me" but prayed for him and gave him time to pray by himself to God. I saw him sob and cry. No formula: just him and his God.

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