The answer is no.
We are not saved by saying particular words or by praying a particular prayer. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. When we trust in Jesus, we are saved on the basis of his death and resurrection. Salvation comes as we gladly welcome the Good News that Christ has paid the debt we owed so that salvation itself is the free gift of God.
Now where does the “sinners prayer” fit into this?
We must not cavalierly say to people, “Just pray this prayer and you will be saved,” as if mouthing certain words will swing open the doors of heaven. And we should not be too quick to say to people, “If you prayed that prayer, you are going to heaven,” because any prayer could be said in ignorance or out of superstition. This seems especially important when dealing with children or when dealing with large groups of people who can be easily talked into praying almost anything.
But that is not the whole story.
Romans 10:13 says that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Many truly penitent seekers who want to know Jesus will express that desire in a prayer. Nothing is more natural than crying out to the Lord for salvation when you have been convicted of your sin and you truly want Jesus to save you.
It is not wrong to lead a person to pray, “Lord Jesus, I know that I am sinner, and I cry out to you for salvation. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Amen.” That sort of simple prayer has been a way in which millions have called upon the Lord in saving faith.
Perhaps we need a revival of confidence in the Holy Spirit. As Don “Robbie” Robertson liked to say, “We don’t win souls. We witness for Christ. The Holy Spirit wins the soul.” That seems absolutely biblical to me.
When I wrote An Anchor for the Soul, I included a “sinners prayer” that comes on Page 156 at the end of Chapter 8. I mention that because before you get to the prayer, you’ve got to read through 155 pages explaining how to be saved, starting with God, our sin, the person of Christ, the death of Christ, justification, and true saving faith. This is what I wrote when I finally got to the prayer:
Perhaps it will help you to form your words into a very simple prayer. Even while I encourage you to pray this prayer, I caution you that saying words alone will not save you. Prayer doesn’t save. Only Christ can save. But prayer can be a means of reaching out to the Lord in true saving faith. If you pray these words in faith, Christ will save you. You can be sure of that.
Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Savior. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.
If you have prayed this prayer in sincere faith, you may want to put your initials by the prayer along with today’s date as a reminder that you have come to Christ in faith, trusting him as your Lord and Savior.
I still believe what I wrote: “Prayer doesn’t save. Only Christ can save.” Let’s be very clear on that point, and perhaps we will have fewer problems with the sinners prayer.
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About Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard is the president of Keep Believing Ministries, in Internet-based ministry serving Christians in 225 countries. He is the author of 27 books, including Stealth Attack, Fire and Rain, Credo, The Healing Power of Forgiveness, An Anchor for the Soul and Why Did This Happen to Me? Ray and Marlene, his wife of 37 years, have three sons-Josh, Mark and Nick, two daughters-in-law--Leah and Vanessa, and two grandsons--Knox and Eli. His hobbies include biking, surfing the Internet, and anything related to the Civil War.
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