by Mike Ratliff
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:34-39 ESV)
Is a sinner’s prayer necessary for salvation? Is it wrong to use one in sharing the gospel? If we read the New Testament from Matthew through Revelation we will find not one example of anyone praying a sinner’s prayer to be saved. Look at the example of Philip sharing the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch in the passage at the top of this post. The eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. The Holy Spirit commanded Philip to approach and join the chariot. The eunuch was obviously reading aloud, which was how the ancients read. Philip heard him read from Isaiah 53. He offers to explain the passage. Philip explains that what he was reading is a prophecy about Christ. Then he preached the good news about Jesus to the eunuch. What was the good news? Of course this is the preaching of the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price as the propitiation for the sins of the Elect. In other words, he explained to the eunuch that Jesus had provided a way for people to be saved from the penalty for their sins which separated them from God who is Holy and Righteous. What was the eunuch’s response? He believed immediately and asked to be baptized. Philip sees no reason not to and does so.
Let’s look at another example.
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
A parable is an analogy. Unlike most of our analogies, however, the ones Jesus told are perfect and part of His Holy Word. This is a contrast between two men’s faith. The first one was a Pharisee who was convinced that his own righteousness which he obtained with his religiosity and works made it a fact that God would justify him. The second man was a publican or tax collector. He was considered to be a “sinner” in that society and looked down on by everyone. They both went to the temple to pray. The first one justified himself and even prayed against the tax collector. However, the tax collector stood far off and humbly prayed for mercy from God. He recognized that he was a sinner and that realization brought him to the place of repentance and belief. His repentance was expressed in his plea for mercy. Our Lord tells us no more about him or the works God did in his heart other than telling us that he went down to his house justified. Was this an example of a sinner’s prayer saving a person. What is Jesus’ emphasis here? Isn’t it that no one is saved unless they humble themselves before the Lord in full agreement with Him that they are sinners and can’t save themselves no matter what they do. They must have mercy. Of course, God’s mercy is expressed to us by His grace. How do we receive that grace? It is by faith.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)
The Pharisee’s faith was not saving faith, but the tax collector’s faith was. The prayer of humility and repentance was accompanied by saving faith through which God’s grace was given to the tax collector. He was justified or declared righteous by God because of this. What we did not see in this parable was any mention of regeneration, which always proceeds saving faith, because that was not what Jesus was teaching here. However, if we take the Bible in it’s entirety then we must also understand that this man humbled himself before God, recognizing that he was a sinner, because of the effectual call.
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
Let’s look at another case.
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:34-48 ESV)
I see Peter obediently preaching the gospel in these verses. He is in the house of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. He is a Gentile. However, the Holy Spirit commanded that Peter go there and speak the good news, which he did. Notice that his sermon included a call to believe in Jesus so they can receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name. He gave no invitation to make decisions. He had no Deacons down front to lead anyone in sinner’s prayers. Instead, as Peter spoke the good news the Holy Spirit fell on these people. Since Peter was a Jew as were his companions, God used the sign of tongues to signify to them that Jesus was building His Church and it included Jews and Gentiles. What was their response? They Baptized them.
Let’s look at another.
11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:11-15 ESV)
Was Lydia saved by praying a sinner’s prayer? All we have here is the fact that God opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. This tells us that what we preach is vital to people believing. God has chosen the foolishness of preaching as part of how people are converted. We saw that with Philip and the eunuch, Peter and the household of Cornelius and now we see it with Lydia. She was already a worshiper of God, but she was not a Christian. She heard Paul preach and understood it because God opened her heart. She believed. She was saved by Grace through faith. Then she was Baptized.
Here is another one from the same chapter in Acts.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:19-34 ESV)
We see in this passage the Sovereign hand of God in setting up circumstances so that Paul and Silas would be in prison on a night when there was a great earthquake, which caused their jailor to come to the end of himself. Paul and Silas were partaking of the cup of suffering of their Lord Jesus Christ. As a result their jailor was prepared and drawn to the truth. He came to Paul and Silas. He asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Why would he ask that? Saved from what? How would he know that he needed to be saved from something? Isn’t this the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. When was he saved? He was saved when he believed as Paul preached the good news to him. The next thing we see is him being baptized along with his whole family who also believed. We see repentance in action here as the man who firmly locked Paul and Silas into stocks now washed their wounds. He rejoiced greatly and set food before them.
Is it wrong to insist on using a sinner’s prayer in sharing the Gospel? I believe that if we us it, it must be done in a very judicious way. I mean, we must make it clear that salvation isn’t the result of praying that prayer, but by believing and repenting as God’s grace flows into the new believer through their faith. They receive salvation. The prayer is only good for expressing that faith and repentance, but it doesn’t cause it. That is caused by regeneration. Remember, everyone is dead in their trespasses and sins until God effectually calls them to believe and repent. So, the next time we share the gospel let’s remember that baptism is the expression of belief that we see in the Bible, not a sinner’s prayer. Baptism was the heralding event showing one’s entry into the Body of Christ. Instead of insisting on a sinner’s prayer, recognize God’s good work in the hearts of those who are spiritually hungry by enjoining them to satisfy that appetite day by day by following our Saviour. Disciple them, showing them how to do it. Teach them to pray, how to fellowship, and study their Bibles. Teach them to live a life of forgiveness and that their regeneration is God’s good work. Lead them into loving proper doctrine. Also, instruct them that the New Birth is just the beginning, not the end.
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