Before you read further, please watch this video by prominent Baptist pastor David Platt (thanks to Eric Brown for the link):
As David points out in the clip, the idea of “accepting Jesus” or praying a prayer unto salvation isn’t found in the Bible. While I agree with his sentiment, prudence mandates clarification.
First, the obvious – the sinner’s prayer and the idea of “accepting Jesus” simply isn’t found in scripture.
Second, I agree with Platt’s sentiment because often if not most of the time in churches that advocate the use of the sinner’s prayer as a valid form of evangelization, the prayer is offered up as a “quick fix” to heal one’s broken relationship with God without repentance. Before becoming a Christian, I was personally told by tracts and people attempting to convert me that, “If you will just say this prayer, you will be saved when you die no matter what.”
I wasn’t taught to turn from sin, to stop using drugs, to stop sleazing around, to stop doing violence with my words, to in any way submit myself to the LORD, or that I needed to change anything. All I needed to do was say a few magic words, and POOF – I would be saved, and once saved always saved.
I had been hit in the head a few times up to that point in my life, but even so their teaching didn’t sound right to me. In fact, I thought it was stupid, and later in life when I read the Bible for myself I learned for certain that it was – Jesus taught much differently.
In Luke 13:3 & 5 Jesus, speaking to a crowd who believed God’s judgment would be reserved only for the worst of people, said:
“Unless you repent, you too will perish!”
Jesus taught that’s God’s coming wrath would not be reserved only for the worst of the worst, but for anyone who refuses to repent (i.e. turn from sin and live for Jesus).
In Luke 14:27, Jesus said:
“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
In the Bible, being a disciple is synonymous with being saved. Notice, Jesus says you must follow Him in order to be His disciple or to be saved.
Herein lies the problem with the sinner’s prayer: people are taught to pray it, then to live their lives as if Jesus were following them.
That’s not repentance, biblical, or the mark of a disciple – it’s heresy, and I do not use that word lightly at all. It is h e r e s y - teaching people repentance is optional is to speak death into their lives.
Matt Dabbs wrote a response to this video clip earlier. In his post, Matt reflects on how the early church responded to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” I’m in agreement with what he has to say. We have many examples in the Bible that the response the early church had to that question was, “Repent, be baptized, be filled with the Holy Spirit”, and of course this was understood to be the first step in one’s lifelong service to Christ.
What worries me is this: many today teach people to be baptized, but neglect teaching those same people to repent, and neglect teaching them that repentance is something that will be on-going along with teaching (as the Great Commission mandates).
While baptism is a “first step” one should take in their new walk with God, it can be just as powerless and unbiblical as the traditional teaching surrounding the sinner’s prayer if a person is not fully committing themselves to follow Jesus for life.
In addition to Romans 6, 1 Peter 3:21 is the passage that has most influenced my understanding of this:
“… and this water [speaking of the Noahic floodwaters] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”
The Greek word translated “pledge” in this verse is the same word used to describe the “pledge” a soldier was required to make to his commanding officer when joining the Roman Army. The soldier pledged to follow the orders of his commander even if it meant death – he literally had to pledge his life to his commander.
In the same way, when we decide to follow Jesus, we pledge to give our entire lives to our Commander – King Jesus. This is required to be in His army, the church.
Baptism is the biblical prescription for making that pledge, and a willing heart motivated by the love of Christ is the only prerequisite.
I truly believe it’s that willing, submissive, humble heart that God responds to – a heart that has caught a glimpse of the beauty of Jesus causing one to pour over, “You are God, and I am not!” – a heart that is willing to pledge all to living under the rule of Christ.
That being said (and this may challenge some readers): I know a lot of people whose understanding of baptism differs from my own, but I do not doubt their salvation.
Why? Because of the fruit I see that is readily before my eyes – the fruit that only comes from a heart living out faithful submission to Jesus.
On the flipside, I’ve encountered others who agree with my understanding of baptism, but the fruit I’ve seen makes me wonder where their heart really is and if Jesus has it at all.
This is truth: the New Heaven and New Earth will be filled with people who had some very different ideas and beliefs about important things while on earth, but they all had one thing in common: they lived with hearts in submission to Jesus Christ – imperfect, finite, fragile hearts relying on their Savior.
Who knows? Some of them might have even prayed the sinner’s prayer … because in the end it’s not about a prayer or baptism – it’s about hearts submitting to Jesus Christ who are in it for the long haul.
I’ll not pray for Jesus to come into my heart, but I will pray that my heart be in submission to His.
In the end, that’s what really matters.