In most of the meetings I conduct I lead people in what is commonly called the “sinner’s prayer”. This usually means that the preacher says a prayer sentence by sentence and those who want to receive Christ repeat that prayer. I think the sinner’s prayer has been a blessing to many, though, shockingly, it’s not in the Bible. In fact there is no record of anything called a sinner’s prayer until the mid-1800s when the concept became popular under the ministry of D.L. Moody. In the last 150 years this prayer has taken hold in evangelical churches. In fact, in some circles what signifies the moment you become a Christian is going to the front of a church building at the invitation of a preacher and repeating “the prayer”. Phrases like, “she must be a Christian because she said the prayer” or asking someone, “Have you said the prayer?”, demonstrates the huge importance many place on this.
As already stated, I believe in and practice the “sinner’s prayer”, but there is a flipside. Tragically we run the risk of reducing something as powerful as receiving new life in Christ to a technicality of merely repeating words.
Often a preacher does not explain or declare what Jesus did on the cross, putting away our sins, but simply finishes his sermon with this line – “if you need peace in your heart, and you want a better life just repeat these words after me”. and then he goes right into the sinner’s prayer. Surveys by the Barna Group, another reputable organizations indicate that a significant percentage of the population in the United States and also in Canada have at some point accepted Jesus by “saying a prayer” and a significant part of those, who did so feel it didn’t work for them. Now the idea of receiving Jesus no longer excites them, “been there, done that.”
How were people born again before the concept of the sinner’s prayer. By believing in Jesus, followed by water baptism, often immediately upon declaring their faith. No prayer saves, although a sinner certainly can pray because “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”,. Believing what Jesus did and confessing Him as Lord is the way of salvation. If you believe in your heart that God put your sins on Jesus and that Jesus rose again from the dead and is Lord than you are saved whether you repeated a prayer or not. Let’s de-mystify this sinner’s prayer. If we preach sermons that reveal next to nothing about Jesus Christ and Him crucified and then finish off with a sinner’s prayer, we may cause collateral damage. People mistake the whole idea of receiving Jesus for a formula of prayer of accurate words when it has all to do with the heart’s believing.
All that to say; don’t hurry people into a prayer. Instead spend much time revealing what Jesus did on the cross.