baptism

Sinner’s prayer

Some time ago I attended a funeral conducted by one of our religious neighbors. The minister did, for the most part, a good job of comforting the bereaved. But near the end of the service I was jolted out of my contemplation when the “pastor” had us stand and recite the “Sinner’s Prayer.” This amounted to what we would call the offering of an “Invitation.”

My first reaction was to be impressed that he was not ashamed to call men and women to Christ at a time like that. After all, at a funeral, people are already thinking “big” thoughts about life, death, and eternal destinies. And the “pastor” was right to say that our eternal destiny is determined solely by our relationship with Jesus Christ!

And I asked myself: When did we become so ashamed of the Gospel that we ceased to offer eternal life to those who heard? When did we become so polite that we no longer declared Jesus to be “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), as opposed to “one of the ways,” “one of the truths,” and “one of the lives”? Ironically, it is often our own brethren who are offended when we say that baptism saves the sinner.

But I was offended, too. Not in the sense of having my feelings hurt, but in the sense that this man had offered salvation on false terms. Those who responded that day, though doubtless sincere, were offered salvation on the basis of a prayer nowhere mentioned in scripture.

The “Sinner’s prayer” does not save; baptism does. Now, are you offended? I am deeply sorry, though not apologetic. Which is more offensive, to say what the Bible says, or to fail to say what the Bible says?

“And this water 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” (1 Peter 3:21).

Unless they are buried with Christ into baptism, sinners simply don’t have a prayer.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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9 thoughts on “Sinner’s prayer

  1. I agree with your church stand on baptism. Other non church of Christ protastants look at baptism as a works saving action. The sinners prayer from the bible comes from RO. 10:9-10. If thou will confess with the mouth.

  2. So….with this mindset, a man can not be saved on an airplane….or driving down interstate, or in combat.

    God is big enough to save anyone/anywhere. Not by works, but rather by Jesus and tapping into his grace. It’s the best deal going hands down. It’s not about rules/regulations but rather by a relationship with Him.

    1. The Lord has told us the way to salvation. If you don’t want to follow it that is your choice but you will find yourself on the side on judgment day.
      As far as the plan of salvation being works, if hearing the Word, believing that Christ is the son of God, repenting of your sins, confessing Christ as the son of God before men, and being baptized for the remission of your sins are works then so would saying the “sinners prayer” be works. You still have to hear the Word of God, believe that Christ is the son of God, repent of your sins, confess Christ as God’s son, and say your prayer. But you will be short on your salvation. The Bible says that you must also be baptized for the remission of your sins before you can be saved (John 3:5 ; Mark 16:16 ; Acts 2:38 ; Acts 22:16 ; Romans 6:3-7 ; 1 Peter 3:21 ; 1 Corinthians 12:13). And after someone is saved they must remain faithful until death (Revelation 2:10 ; Matthew 7:21 ; Matthew 28:20 ; Hebrews 5:8-9). If you think that you don’t have to obey the Lord’s commandments then why did Paul write Philippians 2:12-13 ?

  3. It is true, baptism can be used as a “work of the law.” A sinners prayer, too, can be used that way. A sinner can always (and should) pray, so in a sense all prayers are “sinner’s prayers” (that definition, however, is not what is generally intended when the term is used). My concern was that some offer salvation on the basis of a prayer nowhere mentioned in Scripture. As for scenarios where one seeks God’s on a plane or an interstate, I have sufficient faith in a merciful God who will give that one an opportunity to respond.

  4. Great article, Mr. Mitchell!

    As for scenarios that others give in their attempt to remove baptism as a condition for salvation that is set out in God’s Word is unending. If I recall, Scripture gives two conversion accounts while the person was on the road (Acts 8:26-40 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch; Acts 9 The Conversion of Paul). Neither of which was saved by the “sinner’s prayer” but instead both were able to comply with the conditions of salvation.

    “There is no grace when a man merits salvation. Works by which a man merits justification and commands which one must obey to be saved are distinct matters. It is unfortunate that many cannot, or will not, see this distinction. Because of this, they conclude that a sinner must do nothing in order to be saved; but a man has no real understanding of either works or grace if he thinks that a sinner’s complying with the terms of salvation causes him to merit it. Many things are of grace, and are yet conditional. Is anyone so simple as to think that Naaman’s healing from leprosy was any less a matter of grace because he had to dip seven times in the Jordan River? Is any so blind that he cannot see that Jesus’ giving sight to the man born blind was any less of grace because he was required to wash in the pool of Siloam?” – R.L. Whiteside

    1. I’m active duty military and have had soldiers come up to me prior to going “outside the wire” and want to “get right with the Lord” knowing that today could be their day. There was no baptistry pool…..so we did what we could do….we called upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). There was no attempt to remove baptism as accused by you. I’d hate to have to tell someone, “You’re damned ’cause we don’t have any water here.” I’m thankful God’s more merciful than man is.

      1. Early in Christ’s ministry He said “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Then in Acts 22 Paul tells of his conversion and how he was told to”Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). One must be baptized into Christ in order to wash away (have remitted) one’s sins and be saved (1 Peter 3:21 ; Mark 16:16).
        I would think that anyone entering a combat zone would want to “get right with the Lord” while they had the chance to before they were somewhere that there wasn’t any water to be immersed in.

      2. Mr. Greer my comment was twofold. In your first comment you gave scenarios to argue that a man can be saved “on an airplane or driving down the interstate or in combat.” That is an attempt to remove baptism from the conditions that God set out in His Word.

        Those who teach the “sinner’s prayer” use scenarios to try and show that God would not allow a person to go to Hell if he cannot comply with His condition of baptism (“What if a person was driving to be baptized and dies in a car wreck?” or “What if a person is on his death bed?” etc.), therefore they argue one can be saved without it. Scenarios can be used to argue about any of God’s instructions. What if a person is halfway through hearing the Gospel and dies before he has a chance to believe? or What if a person dies before he finishes the “sinner’s prayer”? So does that mean one can be saved without believing? Can one be saved without hearing the Gospel?

        You mentioned Romans 10:13. Paul wrote those words. How did Paul “call upon the Lord” in his conversion (Acts 22:16)? Peter quoted Joel 2:32 in Acts 2:21 but no where did he tell the audience to say the “sinner’s prayer” in order to be saved. He told them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins.

        The other often used argument by those who teach the “sinner’s prayer” is found in your first comment, “Not by works, but rather by Jesus and tapping into his grace.” That is the second part of my first comment. I quoted R.L. Whiteside as he hit the nail on the head in regards to this argument. Whose work is baptism (Colossians 2:11-13)?

        The “sinner’s prayer” is not found in the Bible anywhere. It is a manmade doctrine. It is not found as a part of God’s method of saving mankind no matter what scenarios are presented. We don’t have to worry about scenarios. God is just and He makes no mistakes. It is not your place or mine to judge one’s eternal destiny but it is our place to teach the Truth. And the “sinner’s prayer” is not the Truth!

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