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If there were a world record for the “number of times asking Jesus into your heart,” I’m pretty sure I would hold it. I’ve probably “prayed the prayer” more than five thousand times. Every time was sincere, but I was never quite sure I had gotten it right. Had I really been sorry enough for my sin that time around? Some wept rivers of tears when they got saved, but I hadn’t done that. Was I really sorry? Was that prayer a moment of total surrender? Did I really “get” grace?

So I would pray the sinner’s prayer again. And again. And again. And maybe get baptized again. Every student camp, every spring revival. Rinse and repeat.

I used to think I was alone in this, that I was just a neurotic oddball. But when I began to talk about this, I would have such a slew of people tell me they had the same experience that I concluded the problem was endemic. Countless people in our churches today are genuinely saved, but they just can’t seem to gain any assurance about their salvation.

The opposite is the case, too. Because of some childhood prayer, tens of thousands of people are absolutely certain of a salvation they do not possess.

Both problems are exacerbated by the clichéd, truncated, and often sloppy ways we present the gospel in shorthand. Now, shorthand is fine insofar as everyone knows what the shorthand refers to. It is obvious, however, that in the case of “the sinner’s prayer,” most people don’t anymore. Surveys show that more than 50 percent of people in the U.S. have prayed a sinner’s prayer and think they’re going to heaven because of it even though there is no detectable difference in their lifestyles from those outside of the church.

On this issue—the most important issue on earth—we have to be absolutely clear. I believe it is time to put the shorthand aside. We need to preach salvation by repentance before God and faith in the finished work of Christ.

This does not mean that we stop pressing for a decision when we preach the gospel. The greatest Reformed evangelists in history—such as George Whitefield, C.H. Spurgeon, and John Bunyan—pressed urgently for immediate decisions and even urged hearers to pray a prayer along with them. Each time the gospel is preached, that invitation ought to be extended and a decision should be called for (Matt. 11:28; John 1:12; Rev. 22:17). In fact, if we do not urge the hearer to respond personally to God’s offer in Christ, we have not fully preached the gospel.

Furthermore, repentance and faith in Christ are in themselves a cry to God for salvation. The sinner’s prayer is not wrong in itself—after all, salvation is essentially a cry for mercy to God: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In Scripture, those who call on God’s name will be saved. I’m not even categorically opposed to the language of asking Jesus into your heart, because—if understood correctly—it is a biblical concept (Rom. 8:9–11; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17).

For many, however, the sinner’s prayer has become a Protestant ritual they go through without considering what the prayer is supposed to embody. God doesn’t give salvation in response to mere words; faith is the instrument that lays hold of salvation. You can express faith in a prayer, but it is possible to repent and believe without a formal prayer, and it is possible to pray a sinner’s prayer without repenting and believing.

This finally clicked for me when, almost in desperation, I read Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. Luther points out that salvation comes by resting on the facts God revealed about the death of Christ. Just as Abraham was counted righteous when he believed that God would keep His promise, we are saved by believing that He has done so in Christ.

The gospel is the declaration that Jesus is Lord and has made an end to our sins. We are saved by submitting to those two truths. Conversion is a posture we take toward the declarations that Scripture makes about Jesus. The point is not how we felt or what we said at the moment of conversion; the point is the posture we are in now.

Think of conversion like sitting down in a chair. If you are seated right now, there was a time at which you transferred the weight of your body from your legs to the chair. You may not remember making that decision, but the fact you are seated now proves that you did. Your decision was necessary, but when trying to discern where your physical trust is— legs or chair—present posture is better proof than past memory.

Does this mean that backsliding Christians are not saved? No, believers can still backslide. Technically, any time you sin you are backsliding. As a believer, you will struggle with indwelling sin for the rest of your life. You will fall often, and sometimes you will fall hard.

But each time you fall, you get up again, looking heavenward. A person in the midst of a backslide may be saved, but assurance is only the possession of those in a present posture of repentance and faith (Heb. 6:9–10).

Ultimately, the world is divided into two categories: many are “standing” in rebellion against the lordship of Jesus, standing in hopes of their own righteousness to merit favor with God; others are “seated” in submission, resting on His finished work. So when it comes to assurance, the only real question is: Where is the weight of your soul resting? Are you still standing in rebellion, or have you sat down in the finished work of Christ?

J.D. Greear, Ph.D. is Lead Pastor at the Summit Church in North Carolina. He did his degree work in Christian and Islamic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. The Summit’s vision is plant 1,000 churches in the next 40 years. Currently, they have planted 11 and have several church planting teams stationed around the world.

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Alan Lafky

commented on Feb 10, 2015

The opening paragraph reveals the problem; thinking you hadn't done the prayer right, or that you weren't "sorry enough". Where in the Bible has anyone ever prayed to receive Christ? That is the fallacy. So, how does one receive Christ? Jn 1:12 says that we receive Him when we believe in Him. The only issue for eternal salvation is faith in Christ. Prayer isn't belief. Feeling sorry is an emotion, and that doesn't save either. Believers do need to quit trying to evangelize others by getting them to recite the "sinner's prayer". For all the reasons noted in the first paragraph of JD Greear's article. What people need to do is fully explain what Jesus did for them on the cross (paid for their sins) so that those who believe in Christ for eternal life will receive it.

Ronald Johnson

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Thanks for this article. I too was in that category of wondering if my repentance was sincere enough, or my faith was heartfelt enough. One day someone asked me this question, "Don't you think the cross is great enough to cover the deficiencies of your commitment?" He then pointed out that it was the voice of the accuser that kept me doubting my place in God's kingdom. It's not about our ability to hold on to Jesus, it's about his ability to hold on to us. Thanks again for this reminder.

Greg Gilbreath

commented on Feb 10, 2015

My testimony is different. I "asked Jesus into my heart" at a very young age. When doubts about my salvation came, I resolved them by taking them to the scripture and "what it takes to be saved" - I never ever felt the need to say the prayer again. Why did I "get it" while many others struggled with these concepts? I don't know. I do think, however, the blame belongs with the pray-er and not the prayer. Should I change the message because some people don't get it? The message must stick to the truth - the responsibility must stick to the hearer. Practices become rituals when the participant has a problem. We just shouldn't blame the practice for the problem - instead - we should commit ourselves to clearly identifying the important elements of the practice. This is true for every area of church-life, from the Lord's Supper to pot-lucks.

Charles Waters

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Putting our faith in what we did or what we prayed instead of what Jesus did and what He said is really not faith unto salvation. It is faith in self. Assurance comes only from God's Word. Feelings change but God's word doesn't. I agree that there are a lot of people who have no fruit of repentance. Real faith produces real fruit.

Betsy Rugen

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Thanks, J.D. I really needed this. You hit the nail on the head. Too Many of our churches are bypassing the message of the gospel in favor of feel-good, works-based church membership. Cultural Christians versus Followers of Christ Christians. Thanks again.

William Milam

commented on Feb 10, 2015

"If there were a world record for the ?number of times asking Jesus into your heart,? I?m pretty sure I would hold it. I?ve probably ?prayed the prayer? more than five thousand times. Every time was sincere, but I was never quite sure I had gotten it right. Had I really been sorry enough for my sin that time around? Some wept rivers of tears when they got saved, but I hadn?t done that. Was I really sorry? Was that prayer a moment of total surrender? Did I really ?get? grace? So I would pray the sinner?s prayer again. And again. And again. And maybe get baptized again. Every student camp, every spring revival. Rinse and repeat." SURRENDERED PEOPLE AREN'T HAUNTED BY DOUBT! The Sinner's Prayer is one of the MOST Biblical prayers...why...because the Sinner's Prayer is a cry for mercy...God never ignores the cry of a sinner...from Judges to John and beyond every person who cried out to God was heard and every person who cries, "God have mercy on me..." is heard. Just because we give a "formulated prayer" doesn't diminish the power of that prayer. This concept that the Sinner's Prayer is not needed is a dangerous theological trend...We have to match the Sinner's Prayer with clear understanding that every person praying that prayer is crying out for God's Mercy through the sacrificial death of the Son of God.

Don Briggs - Saved By Jesus Ministries

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Some of the comments from others state that Jesus can be received without a verbal statement. Romans 10:9 and 10:10 require us to "confess with thy mouth" the Lord Jesus and 10:13 requires us to "call" upon the name of the Lord. Based on those Scriptures, it would seem that just believing what Jesus did on the cross is not sufficient for salvation.

Jeff Strite

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Years ago a very loving and gentle woman in her 70s asked me to baptize her again. She had been a Christian in the past (she said) but had slipped away into sin and felt the shame of what she'd abandoned. I was new in the ministry and didn't know how to answer her, so I asked for some time to pray on this. While I was praying a Scripture came into my mind that helped her visualize the faithfulness of God in this. I asked her if she knew the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet. Did she remember that Peter refused. When Peter refused, Jesus essentially told him - if I don't wash your feet, you have nothing to do with me. Shocked, Peter replied - well then wash my entire body. Jesus replied ""A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet." In baptism, our sins are washed away. If we fall away into sin, the passage we can confidently but humbly appeal to is I John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Mike Ingo

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Very good point. That is why Jesus said, "You must be Born Again", not just head a new direction in your life. Thanks for the article!

Glenn Hawkins

commented on Feb 10, 2015

And let's not forget the essential ingredient that is just as important as resting in the finished work of Christ-repentance. A question-when Jesus preached the gospel-what was His understanding of it? I'm sure He did not tell His hearers (except for His Apostles) - "hey, guys! In a couple of years II'm going to die on a cross for your sins. So accept Me into your heart." why have things changed from then to now?,

William Howard

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Thank you Pastor Greear and the earlier comments. The charge of really knowing what it takes for God to enter a heart is laid at our feet. We'd better know ourselves what it takes. Yeah, I'm a preacher of the Gospel of Christ. I teach, counsel, encourage with the Word ie: do as recorded in 2 Timothy 3:16, but is it by the letter (head knowledge) or by the Spirit? Better be sure. Let's remember that when Jesus began His earthly ministry, it began with "Repent . . . . " Mathew 4:17.

Ralph G Gillard

commented on Feb 10, 2015

The article has raised a very important issue. We all need to return to what the bible actually says. For over 40 yrs I have been trying to clearly understand the answer to the question "What does the Bible say I must do to be saved?" I have recently written a book giving the conclusions I have come to, and the reasons (from scripture) for reaching that conclusion. If anyone emails me on minlot@eol.co.nz I will send them a pdf of the book by return email.

Joe Mckeever

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Oh my. I fear we are making issues of non-issues. No question but that people are "making decisions" when they should be becoming disciples of Jesus, but the wording is not the culprit. I was saved at the age of 11 and the only words out of my mouth as I cried at the altar were "O God, O God." I can just see someone writing an article now "Let's quit praying 'O God, O God.'" The choice of words is not the culprit.

Nicu Cocione

commented on Feb 10, 2015

The real issue with the sinner's prayer and salvation and why is not giving people confidence is that is that you can't find it in the bible. In how many cases of conversions in Acts do we see the sinner's prayer as a way to salvation?? There's much more that is needed for eternal life. ,

Larry R. Wilhite

commented on Feb 10, 2015

I have enjoyed the above comments, but one thing I seem to keep seeing is the emphasis on man and what he must do. Can you say "works for salvation?" John 3:14 says "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:" This of course points to Numbers Chapter 21 and especially verse 9 "And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, HE LIVED." (emphasis mine) I submit that confession, repentance, baptism, praying, asking are works by man to merit salvation. One only has to look and live! Eph 2:8 "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."

Mike Spencer

commented on Feb 11, 2015

Larry, I think you are right that contemporary evangelicalism has tended to treat them this way. I think it is far more consistent with scripture presenting God as the seeker, caller and regenerator. I think Romans 8:29-30 is helpful here, as Well as Ephesians 2:8-9 We are not the first cause, and because we were dead in sin, we need God to bring us to life, to call us, to give us ears to hear, to have faith and to respond with belief, confession and repentance. These works, then, are evidence of our rebirth, not the cause. I believe this is the only way we can perceive God's action in our Salvation. Monergism, not synergism. I believe this preserves God's glory and perfects our humility. Look and live was quite literal for ancient Israel, and I would probably say that those whom God granted repentance were the ones who looked. To say otherwise leaves much room for pride, i.e., "I was smart enough to know that if Moses said to look, ya better look"

Jeff Rowan

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Enjoyed the article, but for the one (or others) who say that it sounds like you are pointing to works, and they evidently still believe in the concept of salvation through faith only, they must have missed many verses or scripture, including where Paul told the Philippians to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling". Absolutely faith is necessary. That faith says that Jesus is Lord which, of course, means that we will accept and follow His teachings. Jesus stated that we must repent (an act on our part other than just believing), confess Jesus as Lord (another act) and be baptized (He who believes and is baptized shall be saved). Faith alone will not get you there. God has made that quite plain in many verses of scripture.

Mike Spencer

commented on Feb 11, 2015

It is through faith alone that we are justified (placed in right legal standing with God) The scriptures are absolutely clear that no one will be justified by the works of the law. However, the evidence of our faith is found in our obedience to His commandments and continued reliance on the work of Christ. 1 John and James are saying this. Salvation is not a synergistic work (God working together with man), but a monergistic work (God alone). He chooses, He calls, He gives ears to hear, He gives rebirth, He gives power to believe, repent and be baptized, and He gives us the ability to obey. He will complete the work that He has begun. And this is why whatever crowns He may bestow upon me will be cast at His feet as He has done it.

Ralph G Gillard

commented on Feb 10, 2015

So, Jeff Rowan, was Peter not telling the truth when he told Cornelius and his friends that "through His name EVERYONE who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10 vs 43). And was Paul misled when he wrote that the gospel "is the power of God for salvation to EVERYONE who believes". (Romans 1 vs 16) Doesn't everyone mean everyone?

Bryan Downs

commented on Feb 13, 2015

Should Peter have said, 'Through His Name those who do not believe in Him receive forgiveness?' Of course not. We must interpret Scripture with Scripture and since in other places it talks about repenting, confessing, receiving, asking, accepting and so on... well then Acts 10:43 probably has some nuance... I have always heard it in regards to the phrase, 'believes in Him' means more than believing He exists but rather a 'saving faith' kind of believing which includes content. You see Jesus taught asking (Luke 11), repenting, believing, seeking, knocking, inviting in, confessing, resting on, relating with, relationship with, communing with, new birth and so on... Do you believe in Him if you reject His Word? But do you need to know all His Word and do any particular thing? No. Nor does this take Glory from God or add to the atonement. Jesus did it all - and offers a free gift (Romans 6:23).

Joseph Ben Hur

commented on Feb 10, 2015

Accepting Yeshua is only a wedding ceremony . The rest is the marriage. Like any marriage , they all need to be worked on. Marriage , by definition, requires change . Why should our marriage to Yeshua be any different ?

Ptr Dewi

commented on Feb 11, 2015

I agree with you Joseph, and I think your image is particularly helpful in the sense that a person stays married even if there are times in which they do not work very hard in the maintenance of their marriage.

Bryan Downs

commented on Feb 13, 2015

Yes! Some want the benefits of marriage without committing. Some say the words of commitment and have none. Some may even make a commitment and live on the other side of the world. (aside from the analogy breaking down here because of a necessity someone might face...) What is desired is a commitment followed by living it out!

Asanda Soyiyo

commented on Feb 11, 2015

The power is indeed in the word and faith, spirit and truth just as our Lord Jesus Christ commdanded us that we can only praise the Father in spirit and in truth, there the 3 remains faith,hope,love but the biggest one of these is Love!

Mark Tolodziecki

commented on Feb 11, 2015

Needed article. I get the chair illustration but I wonder if it goes far enough and if that is the problem in this country. Jesus doesn't give a static example of faith but one that is active. Disciples deny self, pick up their cross and follow -- faith in action. Like James said "show me the works." Totally agree on other extreme of lack of security, the Holy Spirit convicted me once in a sermon to ask how many people were trusting in their baptism and more than a dozen hands went up. Change sermon. I asked the question again after taking ten minutes to explain eternal security - one person still raised their hand. Many secured, one not interested in Scripture getting in the way of a good opinion. Not receptive to the Word - Jesus' words about a properly receptive soil keep coming back to me. We keep splaining but its the Father that draws them to Jesus. A hopelessly evangelistic Calvinist (Augustinian).

Troy Heald

commented on Feb 11, 2015

Great article, thank you. Thank you to some others for the comments too. Enlightening to hear the thoughts of people on this vital topic. Salvation is by faith alone . Our works don't save us anymore than our words save us. It is an understanding of the gospel message and placing our faith in the truth of it (Christ.) However, the evidence of our genuine faith comes in our works (and our words.) If we are truly impacted by the gospel message to the point of salvation, we will by our own desire place ourselves in submission to Christ to serve Him (which often comes in serving others.) We will talk the talk and walk the walk. Not that those things save us in anyway but they are evidence of the fact we are saved. Yes we will fail and stumble, likely often, but as was said, genuine salvation will bring us back to our feet and put us back on the path "pressing on to the prize that is before us." There are too many people relying on the works they do or the words they say as their salvation when they have not placed their faith in Christ but in their own ability to follow the rules of their own religion or church policy and practice, etc. Thank you again for this article, I will be sharing with others.

Ed Wrather

commented on Feb 12, 2015

In your situation it is obvious that God was speaking to you not about salvation but about service. Many whom God is calling to preach or other areas of service often mistake that call as a need to be saved even though they have already received salvation.

Lekedor L. Meeabib

commented on Feb 13, 2015

Thank you so very much. You have blessed my spirit. How I wish every Christian would get this publication for impartation and transformation. I believe, though faith is it that saves us, the evidence of it is our work of obedience to Christ. And we shall really be saved if we could endure in this "service of obedience" to the end. End - meaning when we depart this earth or when Christ returns.

Bryan Downs

commented on Feb 13, 2015

One thing I see lacking in this article and it is the main thing wrong with the idea that it does not matter if you remember 'when' you were saved as long as you are saved argument. Many people have adopted churchianity or the Christian sub-culture and have never been born again. When they compare how they live with the world they may figure they have Christ. Does this remind you of the Pharisees? If you are not sure or do not remember when, then do repent, confess and ask... Luke 11 makes it clear that God The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask... and the new birth is the deposit of The Holy Spirit (among other things). I say to people, 'Why not rather be sure?' And then, then... I counsel people who may compulsively ask to be saved over and over about that issue. But advising people who may never have actually become born again that they are born again because they find themselves living a Christian life style may be eternally dangerous. I have seen lives and passions change in "Christians" who become born again. While church goers have gone from bad to worse. Now of course you can still have this last phenomenon occur among those who have, 'asked Jesus into their hearts' which in itself may have been un-genuine (to coin a word) as the article seems to suggest with the reference to understanding the short hand but it may also have been because once the new spiritual baby was born it was starved to death on the kitchen table. What I mean by this is if there is no nurture in the faith until the person can read the Bible, pray, be disciplined and discipled and so on... then what do you have but a malnourished spiritual baby? If we think of the two natures, then there is a fully grown 'old man' (flesh nature) who has no desire to see the baby grow left as the gaurdian of the new nature (the spiritual baby). Visualize a zombie left to take care of an infant? Creepy graphic that some of you will get if you understand the 'old man' and 'new man' in Romans... But worth considering - is it any wonder we have church leadership and the like, people outside the church too... that prayed to be born again and yet behave and think and so on in fleshly ways? The old man must be mortified and the spiritual babe nurtured into maturity until s/he can eat meat and sustain nurture with the Holy Spirit on their own. BTW - the sinner's prayer is in the Bible - in more than one place. One example: The thief on the cross acknowledged his own sinfulness, Christ's sinlessness and Divinity and asked. We always talk about true Christianity being a relationship - then people poo poo the 'sinner's prayer.' The substance of relationship is time spent and communication. Communication with God is prayer. But the relationship we have with God as a physical birth right is enmity and rebellion. So believing that your righteous enemy (though we are the enemy not God - I just say this here as a way to explain) exists and died for you is not enough (even the demons believe and tremble). So we are to believe and then just start talking to God as if we have a new birth right? Maybe in a sense - but it seems better to begin that new relationship with a conversation or two where you admit your rebellion and ask for forgiveness, the new life, spiritual transformation and the power to live the new life. I mean God in is His grace will begin things that you do not know how to ask for... but some kind of surrenders seems to be a necessary indicator of a real conversion. Don't you think?

Russell Romans

commented on Feb 16, 2015

I enjoyed your article. My problem is that I have searched the bible many time to find "The Sinner's Prayer" but have failed to find it. Would someone show me the chapter and verse for this prayer?

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