Prayer of Salvation Controversy

Tough Topic

Sooooooo…. Here’s a good one for you guys to debate (atheists, skeptics, cultists, and otherwise non-believers need not participate):

Is the “sinner’s prayer” a good or bad thing?

Just the other day I read a great article by BJ (a follower) on The River Walk. The subject was “The Sinner’s Prayer,” and the text was Matthew 7:21.

Some big names in evangelicalism (David Platt, for example) have a problem with the sinner’s prayer. Many even claim that this type of prayer has led to a plethora of false conversions. Some even go so far as to claim this kind of prayer is a form of “works salvation.”

My Two Cents

Below is the comment I left on The River Walk (

Where do I start? Where do I end? I’m a Baptist. I’m a Baptist pastor. I prayed the “prayer” as a child. I am born again. I have given altar calls. I have invited others to pray the “prayer” during invitations. There’s no way I can know who was born again…or not; only God knows. However, I can tell you about fruit.

No, the prayer doesn’t save; Jesus does. But what I see so often today is an attempt by many to belittle, malign, berate, and denigrate something that is precious and effective if presented in context with the true gospel message. I have seen it so many times: young, intellectual, up-and-coming theologians stirring up strife within the body of Christ, all the while holding on to the banner of grace, attempting to change, as if change itself was something divine. Why not accept the “sinners prayer” with a little more grace and along with it teach the fundamental doctrines on which it depends to be effective?

We ARE commanded to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Rom. 10:13). Is it not a “sinner’s prayer” when a sinner prays for salvation? Yes, I believe that there have been many false conversions brought about by head-hunting preachers and evangelists leading silent, congregational “sinner’s prayers.” That is why when I give an invitation I always explain that true salvation will result in public confession (Matt. 10:32-33). In other words, I never say “Pray with me…” and then ask people to come forward. I say that if one is truly repentant, truly understands his need of new birth, truly finds himself humbled at the foot of the cross, then he will have no problem coming to an altar, making a public profession, and then being baptized.

So, to sum this up…sorry for the length…I was saved at the age of 6 (I’m 47) when I realized that I was a sinner, was going to hell, and that the only way to heaven was to accept God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t have been able to recite the Apostle’s Creed, the Baptist Faith and Message, or even the Ten Commandments, but I knew I was lost. My dad led me to a little Sunday school room where we knelt at a little table, and it was there that my dad, a humble, former moonshiner, led me in the “sinner’s prayer,” because I didn’t know any better way to say what was in my little heart. That was the day I was saved, and I thank God my dad prayed with me.

That’s my 2 cents.

Well? Let’s discuss it.


Filed under salvation, Theology

15 responses to “Prayer of Salvation Controversy

  1. True repentance is always followed by obedience. No fruit, no faith! I like the phrase, “If Jesus is not Lord of all He is not Lord at all!”

  2. Nothing left to discuss – you nailed it!

  3. “Why not accept the “sinners prayer” with a little more grace and along with it teach the fundamental doctrines on which it depends to be effective?”


    I agree with those who seem to think we often make people think a sinners prayer saves them. But, your comment there just wrapped it up very well. Sometimes maybe people aren’t actually false converts, but converts we have not taken the time to teach and disciple. Maybe we are blaming them for our failure.

  4. I know you and many others have read my testimony and I state in there I do not know if I even prayed the night I answered the call to be saved. One thing I do know for sure is that many times after that night I have sinned and cried out to the Lord please forgive me I have sinned. By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ I have been forgiven. There is an old song that sums it up very well; ” I am an old sinner saved by grace.”
    To debate the tool of the sinner’s prayer is also a tool used by Satan to cause division in the church. It is a shame that these leaned people have taken the bait of Satan.
    Blessings my brother in Christ Jesus.

  5. nathankoffler06

    I don’t think that the sinner’s prayer is bad just because it promotes a lot of false converts. The sinner’s prayer also allows us to fail many people wanting to accept the Lord. I went to a church for 5 years and every Sunday we’d have 7 to 15 people emotionally come down and say this prayer and “get saved.” Well our church attendance didn’t grow with the number of people responding to the alter call. We offer this invitation and lead these people through a prayer and then they sit back at their seat. The problem with the sinner’s prayer has to do with discipleship. Also, Paul says in 1 Corinthians that sinners cannot understand the cross. Its message is foolishness to the unbeliever. So we have an alter call and expect sinners to completely understand the message of the cross enough that they fully commit their lives to Jesus right there with a prayer. When the apostles were asked what must the people do to be saved, they did not say, “close your eyes and repeat after me and you have accepted Jesus.” They said, “Repent and be baptized.” So we need to teach the gospel and when the Holy Spirit draws the non-Christian, as Jesus says will happen, then we must lead them through turning away from their sin and baptize them and get them discipled.

  6. I found the following selection interesting in light of this discussion. In his commentary on James 2:20-26, Roger Ellsworth says:

    “How very much we need this warning! I do not hesitate to say that this is the major problem in churches today. Multitudes have walked an aisle, stood before a congregation and professed to believe in the Lord Jesus. They have been baptized and placed on the membership roll. All would seem to be well—but it is not! These same people do not attend the services of the church, do not give anything to support its ministry and do not take up any of its responsibilities. They show no interest in ministering to the needy. On the other hand, they are very much like unbelievers, holding the same values, going to the same places and speaking in the same way.

    What are we to say about such people? Many would say that the problem is that the church in which these people made their profession and were baptized made no attempt to ‘follow up’ or to disciple them. The people themselves are truly Christians, but they give no sign of it because of the church’s failure.

    Others attempt to explain the problem through what is known as ‘the carnal Christian’ teaching. This teaching maintains that these people are truly saved because they have accepted Jesus as Saviour. But they are not living as they should because they have not yet accepted Jesus as their Lord. He is in their lives, but he is not yet on the throne of their hearts! These people have the best of both worlds. They are saved and, therefore, get to go to heaven when they die, but they live as if they were lost.

    To all of this James gives a very plain and resounding answer—faith without works is dead! The problem with those who give no evidence of faith, James says, is nothing less than this: they do not possess true faith.”

    Roger Ellsworth, Opening up James, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 96–97.

    • Bro Anthony

      I think that sums it up pretty darn good. That’s pretty much the conclusion I am reaching as I work my own way through the Book of James. It seems he is fairly clear in his teaching that, although works absolutely do not save us, our lives will show some evidence of salvation if it was real.

      Or course God only know what is true in a person’s heart, and it’s not our place to judge a conversion. I have heard it said, however, that we can be “fruit inspectors.”

    • I would like to respond to this comment, too. The issue of people demonstrating to other Christians that a person who has made a profession of faith is truly an issue that has grieved my heart for some time.

      What I am about to say is probably not going to be received well by many faithful attenders of “local and visible” churches. There are two points that I would like to make.

      The first point is that there are many types of “assembling” that take place in the world today. Some is more obvious, because they take place at well known buildings that have steeples on top usually at the same time each week. Then there is service. These places have sign up sheets. They have events (corporate efforts) where people do wonderful things that magnify the Lord in the community. But then there are gatherings that are smaller, and possibly less limited to specific times and places, but still they do happen often enough to be deemed “regular”. These groups might contain people who once made a profession in a larger traditional church who for various reasons opted to move on and assemble in ways that are not always visible to those back at the large churches they left behind. Did the Big churches fail to reach these people. No, they did not. They were used at a moment in time by the Lord who happens to be the author and finisher of those missing sheep’s faith. Those “missing sheep” are in actuality not missing at al, and are being used mightily by the Lord. They do not need the people they once worshipped with to validate them. These are those precious servants who offer a cup of water and most certainly won’t lose their reward.

      My second point is that people are not omnipresent in the lives of others like the Lord is. We should refrain from our inclination to set up so much criteria. We need to be careful about what we say, because it hurts so many Christians and they are precious in the Lord’s sight.

      • My comment above is full of typos.The first paragraph contained an incomplete thought, too. 😦

        I wish I had proofread it better before I posted it. 😦

        I just don’t understand why people think they are qualified to size up other believers in order to see if their profession can be validated by some set of proofs that they have formulated.

        The whole faith and works issue, I believe, has been grossly distorted. I agree with James 2:14-16. We should be helping those in need. But our motive should be that we hope we might be rewarded by Him who sees what is done in secret…not in order to prove to other believers that we are genuinely Christians. Here is something (verse 29) that Jesus Himself said that should really touch our hearts:

        “28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

        29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:28-29

      • I really do appreciate your heartfelt comnents, typos or not 😉

  7. I recently watched sermon given by Ed Young JR. – shared it on Facebook if you’d like to see it – in which he covered the three main types of churches (not denominations). In it he mentioned the importance for a mixture of the types, which was a very gifted by God response. I was very impressed by how he summed up this new “intellectual” Church movement. I absolutely love to study the Word and think deep about the things of God, but purely intellectualizing the gospel and all the Jesus teaches actually just dumbs it down.

    I completely agree with your post here. And the truth is God uses whatever and whenever the heart is ready.

  8. Great thoughts. It is not the sinner’s prayer that is lacking so much as it is the follow up. Too many think they get someone to recite the prayer, and that means the person is now saved and in no danger of hell.

    But many, if not most, of those who say the prayer, perhaps even acknowledge their sin at the moment, will not follow up on their own. Thus they will not bear any fruit – and that is the ONE thing Jesus said is required after confessing Him. He said any branch in Him that does not bear fruit will be cast out as a branch and burned in the fire.

    Those who are out getting people to say the sinners prayer need to make the effort to follow up on it. Get their name and address, give materials to encourage them to pursue faith in Christ.

    The Apostle Paul should be our example. He didn’t just go to a city, preach salvation, then leave. He stayed as long as he could, began establishing new converts in the faith.

  9. I made a comment on this subject in the “about” section of your blog. I loved your testimony Then I saw this post and some of the comments. I do understand that believers will bear good fruit (in due season) that will last, but Christians will also sin daily in their thoughts, there words, and in there deeds. I also believe that Romans 10:13 is just as God breathed as any other verse in the Bible. We are saved by grace. The only work that saved us was the work of redemption that Jesus did.

    I am 48 years old and have studied with many different Christian denominations over the years. It saddens me to see that so many people refer to the doctrine of the Believer’s Security as a cheap grace. Doesn’t anyone teach the significance of the contrast between the outer man and the inner man (or the “hidden man of the heart”) anymore? Doesn’t anyone teach the 8th chapter of Romans line by line anymore? Or that we are no longer under a school master (Galatians 3)?

    Looking Unto Jesus,

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