and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe
all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to
the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20).
February 4, 2018
1) The "Sinner's Prayer" (Tom Edwards)
2) News & Notes
The "Sinner's Prayer"
A common misconception among many denominations, which is often
taught and practiced today, is that non-Christians can be forgiven
and become Christians by praying a “sinner's prayer” to invite Jesus
into their hearts.
Here is one such example from a very popular tract, entitled, Have
You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?, written by Bill Bright,
back in 1952, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ in
1951. In this tract, the reader is told, “You can receive
Christ right now by faith through prayer...” The following suggested
prayer is then given: “Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank You for dying
on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You
as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me
eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the
kind of person You want me to be.” The tract then goes on to say,
“Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? If it does, I
invite you to pray this prayer right now, and Christ will come into
your life, as He promised.”
Out of curiosity, I searched to find how many of these tracts have
been printed and distributed since its beginning. Here is what
some different sources said: "well over 25 million printed
copies being distributed by 1980" (R.K. Johnston, Four Spiritual
Laws). Another source stated, "over one hundred million
copies have been distributed in all the major languages of the
world" (Crustore.org, 4 Spiritual Laws), while others
have placed the number at "Approximately 1.5 billion" (Mike Riley, Four
Flaws in the Four Spiritual Laws), and even "over 2.5 billion"
and in "over 200 languages" (Steve Murrell, A Short History of
Campus Ministry, December 2016). So I can not give
an exact answer, but definitely many have been printed and
distributed over all these years.
I'm sorry to say that before becoming a Christian in 1977, I had
also mistakenly passed out many of these tracts and others that
contained a similar kind of “sinner's prayer.”
I cite from this particular tract because I was overwhelmed with how
many people it has been distributed to. And that is just one
particular tract! But then when we add that to the many other
tracts that also teach the "sinner's prayer" to become a Christian,
is there any wonder why so many people do not see baptism as having
any connection with conversion -- but as only for those who are
Where in the Bible, however, can we find the verses for the New
Testament Age, which began after the Lord's crucifixion, in which
prayer is shown as being the means whereby a non-Christian can be
forgiven and become a Christian?
The scriptures often cited to attempt to prove the “sinner's prayer”
are verses that pertain to Christians who have sinned and need to be
forgiven. For instance, when John writes, “If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse
us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9), he was writing to
Christians: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us,
that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this
reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
Beloved, now we are children of God...” (1 Jn. 3:1-2).
Another passage often misused is Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand
at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door,
I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” But
to whom is Jesus saying this? Not to the world in general, but to
the church at Laodicea that had become lukewarm (indifferent
toward spiritual things); and the Lord was about ready to “vomit”
them out (v. 16, NKJV).
Another passage that is often misapplied today is Acts 2:21 in which
Peter is quoting Joel's prophecy and ends by saying, “And it shall
be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Though that might sound like a “sinner's prayer,” what does this
same chapter show that individuals did in order to be forgiven and
become Christians? Did they pray a "sinner's prayer"? Were
they instructed to?
In reading on, we see that they were told by the apostle Peter to
“know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this
Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36). So they were to believe in who
Jesus was -- but was that all?
Notice that “when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart,
and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what
shall we do?'” (v. 37). The use of the word “Brethren” was in the
sense of just being fellow Jews -- rather than fellow
Christians. For it was mandatory for all the male Jews to be
in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which they
had been doing. So these who asked that question were not yet
Christians – and that is why they are asking. Also, the fact
that they were “pierced to the heart” indicates they had believed
the message about Jesus and were now feeling conviction for their
So how did Peter answer their question of “what shall we do?” As
noted, he already told them of the need to believe in Jesus, before
they even asked that question; but now Peter is showing that it
takes more than merely a belief toward whom Jesus is -- and,
apparently, they understood that, too. For in answering them, Peter
instructed, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of
Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...” (v. 38).
The Greek word for "for" (eis), in the phrase "for the forgiveness
of your sins" (Acts 2:38), does not mean "because of" (dia).
Rather, it is a word that means "into," which is its most common
translation in more than a thousand verses of the New
Testament. It is also seen, for example, in Matthew 2:11:
"After coming INTO [eis] the house they saw the Child..." In
addition, the phrase "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38, KJV) is
also seen in Matthew 26:28, where Jesus declares, "for this is my
blood of the new testament, which is shed for many FOR [eis] the
remission of sins" (KJV, emphasis mine). Did Jesus suffer and
die because sins had already been forgiven -- or did He do so in
order that they could be? Baptism, when preceded with the
other necessary steps, is that which is "unto" or "into" the
forgiveness of sins. This can also be inferred from the fact
that the need to be baptized is coupled with the need to
repent. For why does one repent? Do we do so because our
sins have already been forgiven? Or is repentance one of the
steps toward obtaining that forgiveness?
Notice in Peter's response (Acts 2:38) to their question of "what
shall we do?" (v. 37), that he did not instruct them to pray a
“sinner's prayer” — nor do we see them doing that.
The Bible shows that baptism is that last step that puts one into
Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), after believing, repenting, and confessing
faith in Christ. Baptism is, therefore, also shown to be the way in
which we “call” upon the Lord to be forgiven and become a Christian.
Corresponding to that is what Peter declares in 1 Peter 3:21, when
he says, “Baptism...now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the
body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience...”
Webster shows that the word “appeal” means primarily “an earnest
plea” or “entreaty.” And Peter is showing that baptism (when
preceded by the other steps that lead to salvation) is how we are
making that “plea” – or, in other words, “calling” on the Lord in a
This is actually what we also see in the case of Saul of Tarsus who
was told by Ananias to “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your
sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16). So baptism was involved in
Saul's calling on the Lord.
Some folks, however, might think that Paul's “calling on His name”
was a “sinner's prayer.” But let us back up a few days in Paul's
life from his baptism. In Acts 9, 22, and 26, we have the accounts
of Saul meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus. It was at that
time that Saul came to believe in Jesus, but was not yet forgiven of
his sins. Saul had asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” And Jesus said to
him, “Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of
all that has been appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10). Because of
the great light that had blinded Saul, he was then led into Damascus
by those who had been with him (v. 11). For three days in that city,
Saul fasted – even going without drink (Acts 9:9). And during that
time he was praying (v. 11). What do you think he was praying about?
For this man who had always strove so diligently to do what he
believed was right in his service to God, and then to learn how
wrong he had been in persecuting Christians and consenting to their
death – a major error that caused him to think of himself as the
“chief” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) – what would you imagine he was
probably praying again and again? Would it not be something like,
“Lord, I have sinned greatly. Please have mercy on my soul and
forgive me of the sins I have ignorantly committed against you and
your people”? Surely, Saul would be wanting forgiveness and praying
for it. Yet, he wasn't forgiven by praying a “sinner's prayer.” For
as we just saw in Acts 22:16, in order to be forgiven and wash away
his sins, he had to also be baptized!
Cornelius, too, was another whom the Bible speaks of that prayed
before he had become a Christian; but it wasn't by a “sinner's
prayer” that he then became one – and even though he is referred to
as having been a man who “prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:2).
Yet, he still needed to hear the gospel message and respond to it in
order to be saved (cf. Acts 11:13-14). The conversion to
Christ of Cornelius and his household is the first instance of
Gentiles becoming Christians who had not been proselytes to Judaism
(cf. Acts 10, 11, 15:7) as Nicolas had been (Acts 6:5). So
neither Jews nor Gentiles could become Christians by simply praying
a "sinner's prayer."
It is also interesting to note that even though Jesus had appeared
to Saul, and an angel had appeared to Cornelius, that these men were
not saved by having such a genuine, religious experience! Rather,
they still had to hear the gospel plan of salvation and submit to it
– just like any of us also need to. And what are those steps
that lead to salvation? They are as follows:
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark
16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not,
salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
As we have seen in this article, no where does the Bible teach, for
our Gospel Age, a “sinner's prayer” in order to be forgiven and
become a Christian. Rather, we see those steps mentioned above that
We do, however, have instruction in God's word for the need of the
Christian who sins to repent and pray for forgiveness, such as in
the case of Simon (Acts 8:12-23). The Christian who falls away
through sin does not need to be baptized again, but there is that
need to repent and pray to be forgiven and then strive to maintain a
right relationship with God (cf. 1 Jn. 1:6-7).
What the Bible teaches on the plan of salvation is not a popular
doctrine -- even among millions of religious people who would
profess to be Christians. For how many denominations and
individuals include baptism as part of the plan for being forgiven
to become a child of God?
Perhaps the idea of going against the belief of the majority can
make it difficult for some to actually accept what the Bible teaches
on the plan of salvation. But if we truly love God and want to
please Him, we will do what is right -- and at whatever the
Jesus says, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and
the way is broad that leads to destruction; and there are many who
enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that
leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13-14).
(All Scripture from the NASB unless otherwise indicated.)
WordPress Version of this bulletin:
News & Notes
We are thankful and glad that Charles Crosby’s surgery went
well. The infection actually made it easier to remove the knee, and
he is now being treated with antibiotics. He has very little pain
and is feeling good. According to his doctor, in about 6 to 8 weeks,
depending on when the infection clears, Charles will be receiving a
new knee. Let us continue to keep him in prayer.
Michelle Rittenhouse's surgery went well on her neck, in
which 4 discs were fused and 4 spurs were eliminated.
Melotine Davis has not only been having trouble with her back
lately, but also with the fibromyalgia that is giving her pain in
Let us continue to also remember the following in prayer for their
health problems or other ailments: Jim Lively, A.J. &
Pat Joyner, Shirley Davis, Cedell Fletcher, Meadern Anderson, Mary
Rogers, Belinda Medlock, James Green, Bennie Medlock, Judy
Daugherty, Misty Thornton, Rachael Gerbing, Jarvis Williams, and
Mary Vandevander in the nursing home.
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m.
& 5 p.m. (worship)
Tuesday: 7 p.m. (Ladies’ Bible class)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 614-8593
(Gospel Observer website with pictures in WordPress)
(Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but
back to March 1990)