My church did it today. There are churches all over the world that do it. Most evangelists do it too. Even Christian rock bands are after the same thing. Everyone seems REALLY interested in getting us to say the "magic words" in what has become known as "The Sinners Prayer."
What exactly IS the sinner's prayer? Here's one taken from GotQuestions.org:
"God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!"
If you get asked to pray that prayer in church quite often you will be asked to talk with someone after the service. That's probably a good thing. Because most unbelievers, having just "prayed" that prayer, would not know what they had just agreed to or what they had even said.
There is a great danger in praying the sinner's prayer. It can give us a false sense of confidence and hope if we don't know fully what it means. The sinner's prayer doesn't tell the whole story. What IS the whole story? Please, open your Bibles to the book of Acts. This is where the disciples first set out to spread the Gospel. It is where they preached the first sermons and where people, previously not familiar with the Gospel, came to believe. Let's look at Acts 3, the 17th verse. Peter had just healed a lame man in front of a crowd. While everyone marveled at what Peter had done, he spoke them.
"17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. (He was speaking of their crucifying Jesus) 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord," - Acts 3:17-19
The key word, often not spoken in the sinner's prayer is "repent." Examine the "sinner's prayer" above. Do you see the words "repentance" mentioned? Nope. It is not mentioned at all. Yet, repentance is the first thing Peter mentions as a requirement of being saved.
The way an unbeliever perceives the praying of this prayer is that they are good to go from that point on. They most likely have not read God's word or had the opportunity to understand the faith they now profess, let alone be mentored by anyone. They most likely have missed out on the whole, "you need to repent and change your life. You need to start living for Jesus as His servant" thing.
Praying without actually believing is very dangerous. It's called being a false convert. People think they believe but they really don't. The detection key to determine who these people are is their "fruit." No fruit? No faith. This from the Book of James:
"faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." - James 2:17
When I first came to believe at age 53 I went nuts reading the Bible. I couldn't stop. My desire for knowledge was insatiable. I couldn't get enough. I also joined not one but two churches. I volunteered as a youth leader. I was on fire for Jesus. Not intentionally. I just couldn't help myself.
Today, I look at many of the kids that were in our youth group. Some of those kids who professed a faith in Christ are now living together, involved with drugs, some are in same-sex relationships, having sex outside of marriage or are expectant mothers. On the other hand, one troublemaker from our youth group now leads a Bible study in a nearby community.
I was a kid like that. I never believed in high school, although I told everyone I did. I was a pretty good liar. It wasn't until I finally believed Jesus was who He said He was and really knew that He was real, that made a difference. Some 35 years later.
So, if the sinner's prayer is prayed in a group setting like at a rock concert or a church gathering, I believe, based on what I have seen, that it is useless unless it is accompanied by a real transformation. If an alcoholic suddenly repents, quits drinking cold turkey and then begins volunteering at AA meetings, telling others how Jesus is WAY better than anything in a bottle, I will believe he is my brother. But if a teenage girl, who was baptized on a youth trip begins to fade and is now found living with her boyfriend, I begin to wonder.
I never prayed a sinner's prayer. It is not essential to one's salvation. It is not found ANYWHERE in the Bible. Yet the church grew. Why? Repentance, sins forgiven, , a fruit-filled tree testifying to the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence.
It isn't a prayer that is said that makes the difference. It's a transformation caused when the Holy Spirit comes into our souls and begins to refine us. It is repentance that triggers it all, not a prayer.
One of the pastors I like to listen to once said of alter calls, basically the same as asking someone to repeat a sinner's prayer, "You were saved in your seat."
It isn't the prayer that saves you. It's the deciding to say it, with meaning, that does. It is our desire to live for Jesus, not to have Him be our magical genie to do our bidding. It is our desire to be a slave to a King that makes us one of His children. Offer yourself to Him. Read His Word. Lay your life at His Holy feet and pray . . . for forgiveness. Praise Him for His free gift of salvation through His grace and mercy. THEN stand, and stand tall. You are a child of God. Now . . . act like it.
During this Easter season I encourage you to examine the thief on the cross. He was never baptized, he never said a sinner's prayer, he was never discipled, went to SHAPE class, or served in anyway. He believed that Jesus was God. It was his faith and belief that saved him mere hours before he died.
"39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” - Luke 23:39-43
Think about that. All the thief did . . . was believe.
Examining The Sinner's Prayer - Paul Washer