The sinner’s prayer sounds something like this: “God, I know I’m a sinner and deserve to die for my sins, but I know that Christ died for my sins and rose again. I believe this, and I ask You to save me.”
That certainly sounds innocent enough…it’s just a prayer that prays the specifics of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4) out loud. What could be wrong with that?
Well, the problem with the sinner’s prayer is that God never asks us to PRAY the gospel, He only asks us to BELIEVE the gospel. So asking someone to PRAY the gospel is ADDING to God’s simple requirement of faith only for salvation. And, if you think it through, it is adding a WORK to the receiving of something that God says is a gift (Romans 6:23).
Perhaps you are thinking, “Prayer is a work?” Well, in writing to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul spoke well of Epaphras, whom he described to them as “always LABORING fervently for you in prayers” (Col. 4:12). If you can labor in prayer, then prayer must be a work. It may not be a very big work, but salvation is by grace through faith alone, apart from works (Eph. 2:8,9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5). And the moment you add even the slightest work to grace, it ceases to be grace (Rom. 11:6). Really think about that verse.
Another problem with asking a sinner to pray the sinner’s prayer is that years later they may wonder if they prayed it RIGHT. That is, they may wonder if they said the right words in the right way. And since the sinner’s prayer is not in the Bible, they cannot check to see if they prayed it correctly, which may lead them to question if they are truly saved.
Now, if anyone prayed a sinner’s prayer when you were saved, you need not wonder if praying this prayer somehow negated the gospel you believed to be saved. Many of us prayed this prayer. But PRAYING the gospel isn’t what saved us, BELIEVING the gospel is what gave us eternal life. The moment you believed the gospel, you trusted Christ with your eternal destiny, a spiritual encounter that the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 1:13 with no mention of praying a sinner’s prayer. Speaking of Christ, he says,
“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also AFTER THAT YE BELIEVED, ye were SEALED WITH THAT HOLY SPIRIT OF PROMISE.”
Paul says that after you heard the facts of the gospel and believed them you were sealed with the Spirit. God does not wait to seal us for time and eternity until we repeat the facts of the gospel in prayer. The moment we truly believe, our eternal life is forever secured.