Q & A Friday :: Do you use the sinner’s prayer in evangelism?


“I read through some of the tracts that are posted on your blog and I cannot find any prayer of repentance. Do you have people ask Jesus to come into their heart or life?”

This is a good question and of the utmost importance, for it deals with the way in which we share the gospel…which is of the utmost importance.

In fact there are no examples of sinners’ prayers on my tracts nor do I lead people in a sinners’ prayer when doing evangelism. This is not to say that I think it is unbiblical to pray to God with contrition and repentance, asking for forgiveness, pleading his Son’s mercy and declaring allegiance to him. For I understand Scripture to teach that there is a needed response to the gospel. One must receive the truth of the gospel, embrace it by faith, and in this reception of divine truth there is a turning away from sin and self (repentance) and a desire to follow Jesus (cf. Luke 13.3; John 1.11-12; Acts 16.14, 17.30-31; Rom. 10.9-11, etc..). So my encouragement to pray is not to get people to pray a canned four sentence formula and then believe that it saves them, but rather I encourage folks to retire privately and do business with God that they might cling to Jesus who alone can save them.

Much of the issue that I have with the contemporary employment of the “sinner’s prayer” is the amount of trust that evangelists and professing Christians put in it (this is not a universal portrayal but is accurate in many circles). Many times I have spoken with someone about the gospel and the individual is living in unbroken patterns of sin, however, when confronted with the absence of holiness that is incumbent upon Christians and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the individual will dismiss my challenges by pointing to a day of decision and a reciting of a sinner’s prayer. What becomes sadly evident is that the individual is trusting in a prayer that they offered rather than in Jesus Christ who bled and died for sinners. In this end the sinner’s prayer unwittingly becomes an evangelical sacrament or work upon which the sinner clings to for merit and assurance…this is extremely dangerous and blasphemous.

So what do you do?

I think the biblical model is to hold forth (lovingly explain and proclaim) Jesus Christ in the gospel. In this explanation you tell who he is (creator & king), why he came (incarnation), what he did (redemption), and what he will do (judge & rule). This is laid out in a patient and loving manner but it does not lack the pointed urgency that is required (or the need to respond to Jesus in the gospel). Consider Paul’s example:

Acts 17:30-31 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

You will notice that at the end of the tracts I write something like:

Based upon God’s loving exhortation, examine yourself, based upon the Scripture, to make sure that you are truly following Jesus.

It is a healthy and helpful spiritual exercise to examine our own hearts in light of God’s word to determine where we truly stand with Jesus (2 Cor. 13.5; 2 Pet. 1.10)

There are only two ways to respond:

.1. Continue rejecting God’s authority (sin)… result: guilt, death and judgment

.2. Submit to and depend upon Jesus (faith)… result: forgiveness

So at its heart it is a call to submit to the loving rule of Jesus in all areas, following him in earnest obedience.

So in a quick summary, I do think it is right to urge people to respond (ie repent—Acts 17.30) however I do not think it should be a magic formula prayer that ends up replacing Jesus as the Savior. I plead the glory of Jesus to hearts and if God is drawing them to himself he will make Jesus gloriously irresistible to their eyes (2 Cor. 4.4-6), knowing that no amount of striving either on my part or the unbeliever will bring about conversion, but rather that it is wholly the work of God.


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