Does saying a “sinners prayer” save one from going to hell? A lot of people think it does!
The “sinner’s prayer” is usually said by the preacher or the person who is engaged in evangelism with the person who says they want to get saved. It has been used at evangelism crusades, revivals, church meetings, and even at Vacation Bible School gatherings. It basically goes like this:
“Repeat after me: Jesus, I now confess to you all of the wrong and sinful things that I have ever done in my life. I ask that you please forgive me and wash away all of my sins by the blood that you have personally shed for me on the cross. I am now ready to accept you as my personal Lord and Savior. I now ask that you come into my life and live with me for all of eternity. I now believe that I am truly saved and born again.”
David Jeremiah writes,”Some Christians have the odd impression that being a believer will exempt them from all problems. Somehow they feel that, upon conversion, they’re issued the spiritual equivalent of ID cards that say, ‘This absolves the holder from any kind of pain or trouble while living on this planet”‘. (1)
I remember back, when I was a missionary in Spain, talking with a man one night and presenting him with the 4 Spiritual Laws. He told me he would pray the “sinner’s prayer” and become saved. So we prayed together that night and I thought he was saved. Everyone around us during his prayer were also happy for him and the decision he had made. And I was thinking of Luke 15:7 that says, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance”. I personally was so ecstatic as I hadn’t seen any conversions in the last few years and I was suppose to be a missionary involved in church planting!
But a few days later, I saw the same man at a store nearby with hand cuffs on and he was being put in a police car to be taken to the police station because he had stolen money from a lady’s purse. And I couldn’t believe it. He had stolen money! So I went to the police car where he was taken and we talked for a moment and then it hit me. He really wasn’t saved! It was later on as he went to different social institutions that he finally did become saved, and his life changed dramatically!
Ray Comfort, in his book, God has a Wonderful Plan for your life, Living Waters Pub., 2010, says on page 76 and 77:
“In 1985, a four-day crusade obtained 217 decisions. However, according to a member of the organizing committee, 92 percent fell away.
A mass crusade reported 18,000 decisions- yet, according to Church Growth magazine, 94 percent failed to become incorporated into a local church.
In Sacramento, California, a combined crusade yielded more than 2,000 commitments. One church followed up on fifty-two of those decisions and could not find one true convert”.
Now we could also discuss whether hell exists or not, but that isn’t the focus of this particular article. But I believe it does exist based on Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 18:9; 23:33; 25:41 and 46; Luke 16:23; 2 Peter 2:4; and Revelation 20:13-15.
Now going back to the question, “does saying a “sinner’s prayer” save one from going to hell?” let us look at the following topics before we decide.
What is sin?
We first need to look at what sin is. If you are from a Roman Catholic background the church teaches there are two kinds of sin: “venial” and “mortal”. The mortal sins are things like voluntary murder (Gen. 4:10); sodomy or homosexual relations (Gen. 18:20); taking advantage of the poor (Ex. 2:23); or defrauding the workman of his wages (James 5:4). The venial sins are different from the mortal sins because they include all that are not so grave. (2)
Many think that it is true what Romans 6:23 says that “we have a ll sinned”, at least the ones that aren’t atheists or certain evolutionists. Another passage is Romans 3:10. But consider this one! James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” In other words, if I know something is good to do, but I don’t do it, I commit both “mortal sin” and “venial sin”.
For example, if I make just one statement that not true, I am a liar (Exodus 20:16 ). If I take one thing that really doesn’t belong to me, I am a thief (Leviticus 19:11, 13 ). And if I look at a woman and lust after her in my own heart, I am an adulterer (Matthew 5:22 ).
In the Old Testament is recorded for us sins committed by Adam (Gen. 3:6), Cain (Gen. 4:8), Ham (Gen. 9:22), Abraham (Gen. 12:12-13), Jacob (27:19), David (2 Sam. 11:1-4 ) and others.
Sin is an awful thing. The word for sin in the Greek is Harmatia and means “to miss the mark”. It was taken from a military expression of trying to hit the bull’s eye but missing it.
It involves a whole gamut of activities like pride, anger, envy, depression, resentment, hatred, greed, bitterness, jealousy, sickness, pain, slavery, and death. It destroys one’s innocence!
Because it is so powerful, we can become a slave to it (John 8:34). It will control us (Rom. 5:12).
The Old Testament
In the Old Testament there are four occasions where the blood of animals was employed. They are:
The animal coverings of skin that God made for Adam and Eve after they sinned in the Garden of Eden. (Gen. 3:21)
The animal sacrifice that Abraham had to make for his son Isaac. (Gen. 22:6-8)
The lamb that was sacrificed and its blood that was put on the door posts regarding the Passover. (Ex. 12:7-9; 24)
The guilt offerings of the lamb that were made at Solomon’s Temple. (Leviticus. 17:11)
It is interesting to note that lambs offered in sacrifice at the temple had to be male (Ex. 40:6) , they were to be with no broken bones and had to be without blemish (Ex. 12:3-4).
Now Hebrews 9:22 says, “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” The reason why blood was required and paid the price for sin was because of what Leviticus 17:14 says, “For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.”
So the payment made for sin is death (Romans 6:23) and the shedding of blood, which is life, would mean death.
God is Holy and Just (Psalm 89:14) and His requirement for sin is death (Rom. 6:23). So perfect blood had to be paid for the sin. Jesus was the only one with perfect sinless blood (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22-23). He was a male, had no broken bones (John 19:26) and was called “the lamb of God” (John 1:29).
In Revelation 13:8 it says, “…the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” God knew before hand from the creation of the world that He would send His only Son Jesus Christ to pay for our sins on the cross. Look at John 1:1-14; 3:16-17; and Acts 2:23.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 26:2) at Passover (1 Corinthian 5:7) and his blood was sprinkled on the “mercy seat” in heaven (Heb. 8:5) in the Holy of Hollies there with the Ark of the Covenant. We read in Matthew 27:51,“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom;” (also see Luke 23:45) and John 20:12 says, “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet” which could have been the Ark of the Covenant! Two angels at each end with Jesus blood being offere d in the middle! A thought of John MacArthur. And perhaps this is why the Ark of the Covenant still has not been found.
So from this we see that the death of Jesus and his blood paid for our sin, nothing else. 2 Corinthian 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. Jesus was sinless as we see but he took on our sin at the cross. We can see this, knowing that God hates sin (Proverbs 6:18; Psalms 5:5; Zechariah 8:17), when God placed on Jesus the world’s sin, Jesus cried out, “”Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
“Only Jesus is the mediator between God and us (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:24). There is no one else. Saying a sinner’s prayer does not mean it will save us from hell. The sinner’s prayer is not in the Bible. The demon’s believe in Christ but that does not save them (James 2:19). So believing, as the word is understood today, actually means much more in the New Testament. The word “believe” in John 1:12 is Pisteu and it is in the present participial so it is continuous. It means persuasion, conviction, commitment, confidence, which is expressed in human relationships as fidelity, assurance, oath, proof, and guarantee.
See: Jesus Saves Us From Our Sin
Conclusion – True Salvation
One reason that Dr. Bill Bright states in his book Red Sky in the Morning (published in 1998) that many who call themselves Christians really are not: because they have ignored important biblical truths about worldliness, sin, and judgment. He states, “the pure gospel is not being preached”. (3)
Several apostles and early evangelists suffered for their faith:
- James, the brother of John, was decapitated in Jerusalem by King Herod in 44 A.D. Others say he was stoned to death while others say he was crucified.
- Philip was whipped and crucified in Heliopolis, Grecia (Asia minor) – 54 A.D. Others say he was stoned to death.
- Andrew was crucified in the form of an “x” without nails in Achaia, Greece – 70 A.D.
- Peter was crucified upside down in Rome – 69 A. D. He was made to see his wife crucified first.
- Thomas was speared to death in Calamina, India – 70 A. D.
- Bartholomew was burned alive in Armenia. Others say he was drowned in a sack in the sea. Others say he was crucified.
- Matthew the tax collector was beheaded in Ethiopia – 60 A.D.
- Judas Tadeo, crucified in Edessa, Greece – 72 A.D. It is also said he was beat to death.
Simon, was a martyred in Persia. Others say he was martyred in Great Britain.
Matthew of Acts 1:26 was beheaded in Jerusalem.
Barnabus waas burned alive in Cyprus – 64 A.D.
Mark was dragged to death in Alexander – 64 A.D.
James , the lesser, was clubbed to death – 66 A.D.
Paul was beheaded in Rome – 66 A.D.
Lucas was hanged in Athens – 93 A. D. (4)
To be a real disciple of Christ one has to be willing to pay the price. It doesn’t just involve a simple prayer. It is like the title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship. Payne Best, an officer in the British Army who was also in a German prison with Dietrich, wrote this of him:
seemingly perfectly at his ease…
his soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison.
He was one of the very few men I have ever met
to whom God was real and ever close to him.” (5)
According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, worldwide there was an average of 171,000 Christians who are annually martyred for their faith. (6)
John 15:20 says, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.” Saying a “sinner’s prayer” doesn’t stop one from being persecuted.
1 Peter 2:21-25 says,
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 [a]and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself [b]bore our sins in His body on the [c]cross, so that we might die to [d]sin and live to righteousness; for by His [e]wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and [f]Guardian of your souls.
True salvation is: to be saved from the wrath of God (Exodus 33:18-34:7; Numbers 16; 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
God hates sin and He poured out His wrath against sin on Jesus who paid for it with his own blood (Isaiah 53:4-8, 10-11). We see this truth in Romans 5:9 that says, “Since we have now been justified (declared “just”) by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”
Jesus was the propitiation for our sin (1 John 4:10; 2:2). “Propitiate”, according to Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, means: to appease or to satisfy the requirements. Jesus, with his blood, paid for sin — met all God’s requirements.
To be saved we need to do the following: [We need to actually… do the following.]
Acknowledge to God that I am a sinner – Romans 3:23; Psalm 51:5.
Confess my sin to God – Acts 3:19;17:30; 26:20 ; 1 Peter 3:9; Luke 13:3.
Believe that Jesus is God and that he is the only Savior. The word in Greek for “believe” is: Pisteu – John 3:14-17; 5:24; Acts 16:31; 1 John 5:10.
Receive Jesus – John 1:12; 16:24; Mark 9:37; and 1 John 5:11-12. The word in Greek for “receive” is Paralambano and means “not to withhold obedience, to join to one’s self”. (7)
Salvation in Christ is beyond huge
David Jeremiah, When Your World Falls Apart, Thomas Nelson, 2000.
- Ray Comfort, God has a Wonderful Plan for your life, Living Waters Pub., 2010.
Hechos 12:2; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, II, ix; Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Broadman y Colman, 2003; John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, Nelson Pub., 2002; Joan Comay y Ronald Brownrigg, Who’s Who in the Bible, Random House, 1971, 1993, vol. 2; John Foxe y Harold J. Chadwick, The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563; Bridge-Logos, 2001); John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563; Whitaker House, 1981); 1 Clement 5; Eusebio, Ecclesiastical History, II, I ; “The Consumation of Thomas the Apostle,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, ed. Alexander Roberts y James Donaldson, Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1886; Hendrickson, 2004; ; M.B. Yarnell, The First Evangelical Sinner’s Prayer Published in English, School of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Southwestern journal of theology. 47, no. 1, (2004): 27-44); Doug Powell, Holman Quicksource guide to Christian Apologetics, Holman Reference, 2006; Ray Comfort, God has a Wonderful Plan for your life, Living Waters Pub., 2010.
Ray Comfort, God has a Wonderful Plan for your life, Living Waters Pub., 2010.
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Tim Stafford, Go and Plant Churches of All Peoples, Christianity Today, Carol Stream: Sept. 2007, Vol. 51, pg. 68. Abstract (Summary):Years ago, crusades began to wane, and personal evangelism came to dominate people’s thoughts. Moreover, a church that wanted to reach out would typically offer a class on how to use the “Four Spiritual Laws” or Evangelism Explosion to witness to friends and strangers. The crusades haven’t disappeared, and churches still teach personal witness. But today, church planting is the default mode for evangelism. Here, Stafford discusses why crusades and personal witnessing are no longer the cutting edge of evangelism.
Ray Comfort, God has a Wonderful Plan for your life, Living Waters Pub., 2010.
Kelly D. Alexander, Jr., Ark of the Covenant: simplified information for the lay-personas, Univ. Press of America, 2002.
M.B. Yarnell, The First Evangelical Sinner’s Prayer Published in English, School of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Southwestern journal of theology. 47, no. 1, (2004): 27-44.
John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ: fifty reasons why He came to die, Crossway Books, 2004.
Jonathan L. Kvanvig, The problem of hell, Oxford University Press, 1993.
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