“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 10:44–45, AV)
Years ago, I was the director of single adult ministries in a medium sized church. We started a Friday night group that met at our house. I decided to have a Bible discussion time and took the group through the book of Acts. When we got Acts 10:44-48, after reading he passage, one of the girls in the group spoke out amidst the silence, “They didn’t have to pray?” To which I relied, “Evidently not.”
The cause for this girl’s alarm was that in the encounter with Peter and the Gentiles, the text states that those who heard Peter’s preaching were saved while Peter presented the gospel message to them. They were saved without saying a “sinner’s prayer.”
It is interesting that as we survey the Bible, we do not find a use of the “sinner’s prayer” in the evangelistic effort of those who preached the gospel. We do find a call to respond to the message, but not the recitation of a specific prayer. The closest we come to some sort of need to pray a “sinner’s prayer” is seen in Paul’s words to the Romans.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9–10, AV)
However, in this verse the main point has to do with the issue of the heart. With the heart man believes unto salvation. With the mouth he confesses to that which has been born in the heart. Jesus taught that words that proceed from the mouth have their origin in the heart (Matt 12:34-35; 15:18; Luke 6:45).
So, is there anything wrong with saying the “sinner’s prayer”? I believe that the answer to this question is both yes and no. First, If the “sinner’s prayer” comes forth from a heart that has been renewed by the power of God’s grace in salvation, then it is the genuine confession of one who has been saved.
However, this “sinner’s prayer” can be a problem if it is made by a person who has not experienced the renewal of the Holy Spirit. In other words, a person can make such a prayer and not be truly saved. In this case, they will have missed the point and perhaps have a false sense of security. This is particularly an issue for the evangelist to consider when looking for a commitment. A person can recite a prayer without understanding their need for the Savior and what true salvation is all about. This type of person can believe they are saved because they said some prayer in which an evangelist led them.
I have seen too many people who have made a “sinner’s prayer” and then disappeared back into their former lifestyle with no heart for God. When you ask them if they are saved and how they were saved, they will state they made a prayer. Yet, a verbal prayer will not save a person. Only God can truly save a person by working in his or her heart in such a way as to trust in Jesus Christ and His finished work of atonement for the promise of eternal life.
I am not saying that evangelists should not lead a person in the “sinner’s prayer.” However, the evangelists must do their best to ensure the person praying is truly praying such a prayer from the heart and not the intellect before they lead such a one in it. If the Holy Spirit has done the work in the heart of the person, the prayer is unnecessary and confession of Lord Jesus will be a natural result.