‘Tis the VBS season! (No Sinner’s Prayer Required)

Paul Washer has declared a war on the sinner’s prayer. He even goes so far as to call it the “golden calf” within some Baptist circles (Washer is Baptist mind you). I agree with much of this shocking sentiment. Hear me out: Though I believe the biblical reasons are manifold, I also have personal reasons for my particular distaste. I don’t believe I am alone.

Here is the way the sinner’s prayer is presented in many church (Vacation Bible School) contexts:

Towards the end of the week, the children (K-5)are herded into a big room where a pastor is waiting for them. They are greeted, seated, and told to have “every head bowed and every eye closed.” There the pastor gives a very brief Roman Road-ish gospel presentation and prompts the children to a decision in this way:

“Now you don’t want to spend an eternity  in hell apart from Jesus do you? (only the spawn of Satan would really want this) Well, of course you don’t. All you have to do is repeat this little prayer after me and you will be saved. Say this:”

Usually the recitation involves a brief acknowledgment of sin, faith, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After the pastor is finished he asks everyone who repeated the prayer to raise a hand up or stand up or look up or give a thumbs up. To those who do he gives assurance of their salvation and welcomes them into the family of God forevermore.

In third grade, this was almost verbatim the way I was presented the gospel during VBS. And I prayed that little prayer. And I prayed it again the next year. And the next. And the year after that.

Between the third and eleventh grade I probably recited the “Sinner’s Prayer” over 100 times but to no avail.

I was a bit confused (I know many others who have experienced this confusion).

The summer before my senior year I still had no assurance that little magic prayer did the right trick for me even though numerous pastors assured me it did. Around that time, during a summer camp I went to as a student leader, it pleased God to do a sovereign work in me. There, during worship, the utter ugliness of my sin and beauty of God’s grace crashed like a train wreck in my soul to produce in me true conversion. God granted me what the puritans used to call “the gift of holy tears.” I finally knew I was changed. I felt it. I was assured of it.

I don’t remember reciting any specific prayer during the whole ordeal other than maybe, “God don’t kill me.”

I have never been the same since that decisive moment. His cross and relentless grace haunts me on a daily basis, in my dreams and thoughts. I found out later the Bible confirmed what I experienced. It was true repentance.

I began to learn a staple in cultural Christianity had little or no biblical basis. Jesus never said, “The time is fulfilled the kingdom of God is at hand, so everybody bow your head and pray this prayer with me….”

But unfortunately, the “sinner’s prayer” remains as a simple effective church strategy to “win souls.” I believe this reveals our true golden calf in many evangelical churches: Pragmatism. If it works (or seems to work) it must be of God. If it gets results/decision cards it must be the Holy Spirit. So much of our church traditions are not Bible-driven but simply results-driven.

But instead of parrots and decision cards we better start looking for heaven born Fruit (Galatians 5). We need only the Holy Spirit to be saved not man-produced incantations (John 3).

Some call it easy believism. Some call decisional regeneration. Here is the really subversive thing about it: Later in life when this person feels real conviction over their sin and lost state they will go to a Christian preacher/counselor/friend about their troubled soul. And instead of giving the lost one a biblical assurance of faith (through 1 John) the counselor will ask “Did you ever ask Jesus to come in to your heart? Did you ever pray that prayer?” To which the hell raising lost sap will say: “Yes, in VBS a long time ago…” And the misguided Christian/pastor will exclaim “Well, then you’re saved!”

And another false convert heads to hell with a false comfort clinging to a false gospel understanding. Real repentance and faith must produce a life of real works and fruit (The whole book of James!). As the Reformers used to say, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.”

So let’s pray for true conversions this VBS season. Let’s pray for a genuine understanding of repentance, faith, and the discipleship road with Christ. Even in six-year olds. Six year olds who grow to be sixteen year olds who have matured into deeper revelations of faith and repentance and grace.

I’ve heard it said VBS is the greatest tool of evangelism in the life of the church. I believe that is and can continue to be true. That is, only if we are patient enough to not sacrifice our children on the altar of religious pragmatism.

Keep sowing the gospel seed to those kids my VBS peeps, God is faithful to produce a harvest! No psychological techniques or arm twisting needed. : )

Bryan Daniels

Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

44 thoughts on “‘Tis the VBS season! (No Sinner’s Prayer Required)”

  1. We were just talking about this at work. It was interesting to see how many got a little uneasy and even defensive while I was talking about it, but ultimately there no getting around that scripture uses prayers like “The Lord’s Prayer” as an example… not a mantra to be recited without the slightest taste of conviction touching the tongue. Very timely Bryan, well done!

    1. Thanks bro! Yeah, some may say “I was saved after I recited the sinner’s prayer…” I would say it is probably more likely they were saved in spite of the sinner’s prayer.

      God is gracious in using imperfect means for his glory (even long-ish altar calls), that does not mean he is inherently pleased in those means.

  2. I am one of those who prayed a sinner’s prayer and have genuine faith. The faith is not in the prayer, just as faith cannot be placed in any theological stance or ordinance. Faith is placed in the atoning work of Christ through the cross and victory through the resurrection. A prayer is just the confession of your belief. Romans 10:9 says, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
    While you should never lead anyone to place their trust in a recited prayer or church membership or anything or one except the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe you are on very dangerous ground declaring the sinner’s prayer as a “man-made incantation.”

    1. Thank you Pastor Kyle for your response!

      I would fully affirm Romans 10:9-13. While I don’t think it necessarily calls for a sinner’s prayer (or really any prayer at all) but a heart response “believing in your heart” that undeniably makes it way outward “confessing with your mouth.” V. 10 further explains v. 9 for us. I would also point out the man who “calls on the name of the Lord” in v. 13 is not an unbeliever. Because verses 14-15 shows the progression of justification: Preacher preaches, the sinner hears, then believes, then calls.

      There is no sinner’s prayer requisite commanded anywhere in Scripture. The jailer at Philippi who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” was told by Paul, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Ac 16:30-31) This is always the prescribed way of reaching the lost in the book of Acts.
      Not “bow your head with me and repeat…”

      I guess this is where I would assert the sinner’s prayer being “man-made.” Insomuch it is never commanded in the Bible as a way to do evangelism. Evangelistic imperatives are always simple repentant faith (Mark 1:15) The “incantation” part of my statement may have been too strong, if so I apologize.

      I would never categorize anyone who cries out to the Lord in genuine broken repentance as an adherent of the “sinners prayer.” I would rejoice with anyone (yourself included) that came to Christ at an early age through one of the aforementioned meetings. I don’t wish anyone to doubt their salvation experience if they have examined themselves and have biblical assurance (2 Cor 13:5)

      My gripe (I know I seem to have alot : ) ) is probably more with assuring one has true biblical assurance than with a prayer per se. I have a concern, as I know you do, with unregenerate church members who fill American pews every week; I wonder sometimes if they have a false comfort because of a methodology that told them they were saved when they weren’t.

      Thank you again for your response! I hope, as always, this wasn’t taken personal by anyone.

  3. Great post. I hate the sinners prayer too. It’s so bankrupt, the gospel is no where to be found. It’s because of this that most evangellyfish will jump down your throat for pronouncing an act of a “sincere Christian” to be biblically wrong, accusing you of judging and condemning when in fact you are concerned with integrity. The aburdity of modern evangelicals is that they affirm the filth of the world by reason of tolerance and love, and yet pronounce shame on their own who speak out against that very same sin.

  4. It seems to me that there are a lot of “absolutes” floating around this writing, both the original article and replies. While I personally have never heard a preacher say, “you don’t want to spend forever in hell do you?” to a bunch of elementary kids, I’m sure it has been said. In the same way, for someone to assume that every time the sinners prayer is said, or led, it is an incantation of false understanding, seems a bit misled. That would be like me saying that anyone who takes Scripture and tries so hard to analyze it, coming up with random possibilities and assumptions about what Jesus would or would not do, or about God’s choosiness of His children, is misled and unnecessarily confusing to the body of believers. I would never say that. I would however encourage those who lead others in the sinners prayer, or use the Roman road to lead someone through a Scriptural path for salvation, do so knowing that God is the only One who saves. We plant…He grows.

    I appreciate your post and thanks for letting me respond.

    1. Haha. Adam B. I typed a really long response and my connection dropped and lost it. I’ll just say thanks for your input and I’ll leave it open for someone else to respond if they wish.

      One thing: This is NOT aimed at any one particular church body, but rather I believe much of modern American evangelicalism is under the sway of this methodology. A certain big name charasmatic pastor in Texas is known to tack the prayer at the end of everyone of his sermons. HPBC is a thriving church body with solid leadership (otherwise I wouldn’t be dropping my kid off there for VBS!)

      My wife is giving me the stink eye so I better stop for now and get to work!

      Keep it biblical and classy peeps!

      1. Oh no worries…I didn’t take it as a slight against any specific church body, and I appreciate your point of view! I just get nervous about the confusion it could set for so many who have accepted Christ through the process of the sinner’s prayer. I can obviously tell this, though you and I don’t really know each other, and have a differing opinion on this issue, we have the same desire to see God’s powerful movement through our churches, our people, and in lough of VBS, our children!

  5. Since the water is warm, I might as well jump right in. At an early age, I recall being led through a sinners prayer at home and having no understanding of what I was doing. I do however remember understanding that everyone was really happy for me for saying what I said and told me that I was saved due to it. Later on in life around the age of 13, I remember setting in a small church in fountain and the pastor was the type that would just keep pounding an invitation home until somebody stood up, cried “Uncle” and came down front. One Sunday morning I was about to explode with anxiety about whatever he was spewing and I went down front sobbing saying that something wasn’t right. A young intern took me aside and immediately took me into a prayer session leading me through the sinner’s prayer. Once again, afterwards the only thing I was sure of was that everyone was really happy for me.

    It wasn’t until years later that God gripped my soul and through his glory showed me how desperately a sinner like me needed his grace. At that point I cried out to God and asked him to save my soul. I thanked him for the forgiveness that is offered through the cross of Christ. I told God that I wanted to live a different life, a life that honors him and acknowledges Christ as Lord. I don’t think Bryan is trying to say that no person can be saved through reciting a sinners prayer, but more that we are too quick to give it as a quick fix or canned solution to what ails you. Besides snakes in the yard and tornado’s one of my biggest fears as a young father is that my child will become a false convert through faith in the sinners prayer. Sure that is where my responsibility as a father comes in, but none the less it is still a concern.

    Too often it is issued as a fire insurance policy and we put all our faith in it rather than in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ had no issue with letting people wander off without sealing the deal on salvation. If God is after someone, I believe that they will respond to his effectual calling. I chewed on salvation for weeks before I broke down to tears in the shower one night and begged for salvation. Since that day, if you ask me if he is real I can definitely say that he is because he lives within me. Before that day, if you asked me, I would tell you about the prayer.

    1. Thanks for your testimony Kyle! As you can tell, I empathize with your experience. The current methodology brings confusion for many young kids when we don’t do the due diligence to biblically correct it. A robust understanding and preaching of biblical assurance would help iron these things out immensely for us…

  6. What up peoples? Interesting post. I responded in an email originally but may touch on a few highlights here.

    I was very interested in the origin of what we call the “Sinner’s Prayer” and the “Invitation” last year. I started writing an article about it but lost steam somewhere along the way. From what I remember, the flow of the history goes a little something like this…

    The Mourner’s Seat -> The Anxious Seat (Charles Finney) -> The Inquiry Room (D.L. Moody) -> Unsure about this step -> The Invitation (Billy Sunday then solidified in Billy Graham)

    Somewhere along that path, after the Inquiry Room and before the Invitation, a condensed version of counseling was created that would allow what was called ‘street conversions’. Basically it was witnessing and an invitation wrapped into a quick, concise package and finalized with a ‘prayer of salvation’.

    From what I could find (granted, I am no Christian History genius) some where around the 1700’s was when the Mourner’s Bench was first being used. Some have suggested that the formalized prayer (creed) could have been a holdover from the Catholic church and their many creeds and recited texts. No one knows for certain.

    My interest in this topic started after reading a small booklet from the 1960’s entitled “The Invitation System” by Iain Murray. The historical time frame when this was written prompted Murray to analyze the invitations of the Graham crusades specifically. If you decided to read this booklet for yourself, be prepared to step back in time to the 60’s!!! 😉 If you would like to borrow my copy you can, but know that it is falling apart and has 3 generations worth of underlining and notes in it.

    I have tried to keep my post specifically to the historical aspects of the Sinner’s Prayer, I will leave it to others to discuss doctrine. (This time at least!!! HA)

    Bryan, maybe this is the VBS you went to in third grade…

    1. Clay, thanks for the historical insights! I think it would do well if we did a throrough examination of all our church traditions from time to time a set them up against the Bible. Yeah the Hillsong presentation probably is a bit extreme even in a typical SBC church, but to varying degrees that is exactly the first gospel our children will hear in America. It’s a bit sad and it is no shame in pointing that out.

  7. It’s an interesting topic, and honestly it is one that should be very open to discuss among fellow Christians. I have mixed feelings about the “sinners prayer”. I believe, obviously, if one does what scriptures says to do: 1) repent 2) confess Jesus as Lord and God, they will in fact be saved. I honestly think if we look at the whole history of the church, from Pentacost, untill now, we will not see the “sinner’s prayer” until sometime after the 1800’s. What did the early church do about salvation? Clearly, it was a gospel presentation, and then what? In Ephesus, Philipi, Derbi or Lystra…did they have sinner’s prayers in the temple for the Greek and Jewish converts? Did Phillip tell the Ethiopian to recite a simple prayer for God to come into his heart? No, the Etheopian was looking at scripture from the book of Isaiah and confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and was then baptized.

    I don’t know all of the historical context of this topic, but I would imagine that the presentation has changed dramatically within the past 100 years or so, from about the time of the second Great Awakening. Like it or not, our culture is VERY into emotionally charged decisions for Christ. Is that wrong or bad? I’ll let the reader decide. I have my own feelings on it. Christ never seemed to concerned with appealing to someone’s “good” emotional side. In fact, he said, if you want to follow me you will not stay around to burry your parents. Or if you want to follow me, you must pick up your cross daily. Basically, if we want to follow Christ, we must DIE in order to do so. That isn’t really something that people want to hear in America, but it’s true.

    I think the issue with the sinner’s prayer is two fold. 1) is it emotionally based and 2) is it gospel centered? Are there churches in America (or world-wide for that matter) that present a sinner’s prayer as some sort of fire insurance? Yes there are. Are there churches in America that present the sinner’s prayer in a way that is not gospel centered? Yes there are. The problem does not lie at the feet of the prayer, unless the prayer isn’t biblical. The problem with the prayer lies at the presentation and follow-up or discipleship.

    I’m not sure what the right answer is. Although, I think Paul would say the same thing now as he said when he wrote the letter to the church at Corinth. “I desire to know nothing but Christ, and Christ crucified.” If the gospel we present is truley about repentance, and the grace and mercy shown by the death and resurrection of Christ, I don’t think we can go wrong. But I do feel that we have gotten quite a bit off track from that way of evalgelism. Just my two cents.

  8. Tell us how you really feel Zeus! lol

    It’s already been said but I think it’s pastors and Christians in general that are to blame not the prayer itself. I think Romans 9 gives credence to what is being prayed during the “Sinner’s Prayer.” To put stock in it to save is obviously wrong but to deem it evil, in my opinion, is to put the blame on where it doesn’t belong. But in the end I don’t know the solution…

  9. Increasingly I am discovering a distaste with conservative evangelicalism’s diminution of the eternal gospel into nice, tidy, quasi-Victorian-tea ‘n sympathy society. This is the gospel of personal morality over a redeemed cosmos, of control over releasing such to the God we will never understand, of my faith over God’s actions, of certainty over ambiguity, mystery and faith, of quantifiable, quick and casual over quintessential, queer and strange. Make no mistake, I have nothing against my brothers and sisters who insist upon such things. God knows that many lives have indeed been richly blessed as a result. I simply choose a bigger God who’s a little more wild and untameable…and loving.

  10. Had to laugh (in recognition, not necessarily humor) during your testimony on the point you crossed the line of faith with, “I don’t remember reciting any specific prayer during the whole ordeal other than maybe, “God don’t kill me.”

    It made me think of Romans 8:26-27 ~ “So too the [Holy] spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance. And He Who searches the hearts of men knows what is in the mind of the [Holy] Spirit [what His intent is], because the Spirit intercedes and pleads [before God] in behalf of the saints according to and in harmony with God’s will. (AMP)”

    I think that’s the gist of what I got out of your post and why I agreed wholeheartedly with it. The “sinner’s prayer” uttered by the mouth and not accompanied by the “heart prayer” of the Holy Spirit is just empty words. How many K-5 kids actually “know” what they’re saying. (Or the adults at altar calls for that matter) A few, granted, and bless them for that. But your impactful realization of sin, need and God’s grace during your time of saying, “God don’t kill me” was the most simple, elegant “sinner’s prayer” anyone could possibly emote. And, as you hinted, you probably didn’t need to say a word!

    1. Amen Kent! God can “use” the sinner’s prayer like He can use anything. But that doesn’t mean He’s pleased with the means humanity has instituted, it only means He is a good and gracious Father who saves in spite of us….

  11. I love the image of the golden calf and this is why. There are some who believe that THE ONLY WAY TO BE SAVED IS TO SAY THE SINNERS PRAYER. Sorry, about the shouting, but this makes me angry.
    One very long day a while ago, I sat in the hospital with a woman who was dying. We talked about her life, she confessed to me some of the things she had done that she was ashamed about. She talked about wanting to know Jesus. We prayed together. She broke down crying and said she wanted to go to heaven, and because I believe that GOD LOOKS AT THE HEART I told her that she would go to heaven. In all it was a four hour visit, the woman was in great distress when I arrived but at absolute peace when I left.
    That night the women’s daughter heard about our conversation and asked but did you say the prayer? What prayer the woman answered. Daughter ran off and got her minister who told the woman that UNLESS she said that particular prayer she could not be saved and go to heaven.
    When I heard about what happened I spent another long day at the hospital assuring the woman that God cared about her heart and what she meant when she said she wanted to know Jesus. Frankly I don’t see the point in distressing a dying woman over a formula prayer, when all God wants is to know the heart.
    Please people, please, let us remember that we lead people to Christ because of grace, given to us and to them. And then please, trust the Holy Spirit and God to know what we do not, the sincerity of a person’s heart and faith.
    Let’s quit using the sinners prayer as a tool for spiritual abuse.

    1. You can get that anger out on here all you want! That’s an unfortunate experience you have there, thank God for His sovereign mercy that is not dependent on our limited human efforts…

    2. Jesus came proclaiming “the kingdom of heaven is nigh unto you”. This means that the joy of my salvation is HERE and NOW, TODAY, not just when I am dead.
      Yet so many ministers stand firmly in the doorway proclaiming that any heaven experience is only after we are dead, and then only if we repeat the right passwords (ie.the sinner’s prayer).

      “Woe unto you scribes Pharisees hypocrites, you shut up heaven”, is just as applicable today.

  12. I have a problem with the sinners prayer, and the simple watering down of the gospel message like “ask Jesus into your heart and you will be saved..” Why? Because it is simply not the Gospel message. What about recognizing the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man? What about repentance? What about faith in the sacrifice of Christ? What about the gospel? What about living a life of thankfulness for the free gift of salvation? To me it seems to be a lack of emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the keys of kingdom. Preach the word! Repent and believe! Anyway. before I get worked up…thank you for a great post! Let’s all pray for this VBS season 🙂

  13. I watched and enjoyed the Paul Washer video. I love a preacher who is unashamed to passionately preach the truth of God’s word with not care what man may think of him!

    I was raised in churches that had altar calls and had people recite the sinner’s prayer. Fortunately, I did not believe that I was saved due to that prayer, but felt a sincere conviction of my sin at an early age and a great realization that I needed a Savior. This conversion experience happened at home while doing Bible reading and prayer with my mom. I did feel compelled to go forward at church because our church taught that a public declaration needed to be made. I didn’t think that walk to the front of the church saved me, but that I was declaring to all there that the Lord had done a work in my heart. Actually, to be perfectly frank, I thought that I had come to the conclusion of needing a Savior in my own heart and with my own will – not that the Lord had drawn me. But, a perfect understanding of how God works salvation (belief and repentance) in us is not necessary for salvation to be genuine – thank goodness!

    Anyway, because of my belief now that God is the one who regenerates the hard, dead heart (Jeremiah 24:7) and makes the person aware of their sinfulness before a holy God and even gifts us with the faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) to believe in Christ’s fully sufficient payment for our sin – becoming sin for us and counting Christ’s righteousness to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21) due to NOTHING we can ourselves do – I am very careful in how I have spoken to my kids about salvation and assurance.

    Three of my children were adopted at an older age. They were not raised in the church and had no knowledge of the Bible or Jesus before they came to live with our family. It has been so interesting to see how the Holy Spirit has worked in their lives to bring them to repentance. It was a gift for me to see the dawning of spiritual truth in two of my adopted kids (so far!) to the extent that it was very clear that the Holy Spirit had done a work in their hearts. When they asked me how they could be assured that they were trusting in Jesus, I have told them that the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are His. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Romans 8:14-17)

    I also point out to them the conviction of sin and desire to repent as signs in their lives that they are “in Christ”. We must understand that our salvation produces works, and not be confused that our works bring us salvation or even participates in any small way in our salvation. It is completely God’s gracious, merciful, and sovereign work in us. (Titus 3:5) But, there is fruit that can be clearly seen in our lives and in those “works”, bringing glory to Christ.

    It would be unwise of me as a parent to assure my children of salvation just because they “believe” in Jesus (or prayed a prayer) and know that he died on the cross to pay for sins. Satan knows and believes that and it certainly does not save him!

    I am still plugging away with our youngest child, hoping and praying that God would use His glorious gospel to break through his hard, unbelieving heart. Whether or not he comes to a place of conversion is not in my hands anymore than it is in my son’s hands. Salvation belongs to the Lord! To God be all the glory!

    1. Great testimony and thanks for sharing it! I pray God continues to incline your children’s (adopted and otherwise) hearts toward Him in salvation. It is refreshing sometimes to see other’s responses to the gospel especially when they have not been saturated in cultural Christianity.

  14. I don’t recall any VBS during the 60s when I was a little girl growing up but I was turned off and frightened by all that fire and brimstone preaching. Basically if you were a Black kid growing up in the 60s and 70s you had to attend church. Every Sunday Pastor Quimby preached that we were all going to the burning fires of hell. Eventually I tired of him and church and asked my parents if I could stop going. Since they were not church goers they said yes. I felt as though I was being indoctrinated with guilt and shame. Eventually I did go up to the altar as an adult to please my Aunt Helen. She was worried about my soul but I only did it because it made her feel better. Periodically I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the church for many years. It wasn’t until I was in my late 40s that I rededicated my life to Christ, really I always believed in God. The church has a bad habit of trying to manipulate people. Threats of hell fire don’t work anymore. Everybody has to come to God for themselves not to please family, friends, fellow church members, etc… God was always in my heart from a young child but He lead me to His Grace & Redemption in His own time not according to someone else agenda. BTW, Yes I’m back in the Baptist church not the one I went to as a child but one where thinking is appreciated not just blind devotion. I Love New Jerusalem Baptist Church and our Pastor, Rev. Calvin Rice.

  15. I’m thinking if He’d be lifted up, HE would draw all men to Himself. I served in the prayer room of our church and would see droves of people come through who would respond to the altar call out of emotion and I could count on one hand the number of them who were sincere; whose faith was strengthened; who welcomed the discipling we offered; whose lives were a living testimony of a true conversion…a heart change; whose works were proof that they believed; whose lifestyles were further proof. I confessed Jesus as LORD over me and all that pertains to me and I meant it and my life changed. I pursued Him, was discipled and pursued by seasoned Christians, dropped the training wheels and learned to ride unassisted after a while and continue strong in my pursuit of Him. I’m praying that the church would surround the new believers, disciple them and not let them go until they too are able to drop the training wheels and ride unassisted…with Him leading of course.

    I enjoy your posts!! Many blessings..

  16. I have been involved with organising, writing, designing, preparing and presenting VBS (we call them Holiday Clubs) and camps for children and teens for about 30 years. We present the Gospel and the need for discipleship VERY clearly.

    As one of the two main leaders at these events I have been horrified at the large number of children who say they are Christians, but when further questioned, say something like “I prayed a prayer” or “my pastor/sunday school teacher told me I’m saved” or “I put my hand up (or walked to the front) at a special meeting” or “I asked Jesus to come into my heart” etc . . . but they have no real concept of sin or repentance and there is no change in their lives.

    I believe this “easy believism” is a ruse of satan. It gives people false assurance and keeps them from the truth.

    1. Yes, your middle paragraph sums up what I see succinctly. Saying “I prayed a prayer” or “walked an aisle” to get saved is not far from a flat out “works based” gospel. It’s all of grace all of the time.

  17. Bryan,

    I couldn’t agree with you and Bro Washer more. As a Baptist pastor, I too have a distaste for walking the isle, saying the sinners prayer…. all those things that emphasize an outward action instead of repentance and faith from a heart broken by conviction over sin. It amazes me how so many Bible believing people can be so emphatic about the sinners prayer when you do not find it being used in the Bible one time. Biblically, when a person is brought to the Lord the need fo rrepentance and faith is emphasized not the need to do an outward act.

    Thanks for a great posting, Lord bless you!

  18. I totally agree with your post. Totally. The whole idea of the number of PTRC’s each year or month or whatever…what does that really mean? Frankly, I find it sort of offensive in light of salvation’s great sacrifice.

    Can someone pray a prayer and be saved? Certainly. Does everyone who prays the “sinner’s prayer” get saved? Certainly not. It isn’t that salvation is difficult. It does require an understanding of man, sin and salvation. And scaring someone can be an effective tool, and absolutely should be part of the discussion, but I honestly would hear more about the load of my sin that was wholly borne on the cross by my Savior in His demonstration of love to me through His grace and mercy, not because I prayed a prayer, but because I accepted His freely offered gift of salvation, that came at GREAT COST to Jesus, but no cost to me. It is not easy believism or cheap grace–His sacrifice was neither easy nor cheap. But HE did the complete work of providing that gift–and I happily accepted that gift.

  19. Bryan…loved this post. Unlike many of you, I was not brought up in a church. We went on occassions but I never experienced the VBS/Youth Camp activities. Although I never had the “in your face” call to a sinners prayer as a youngster, I certainly felt the tug of God on my heart even at an early age. It was in my college years that God began to tear my heart apart. God sent several young college Christians in my path to help lead me to Him…funny thing…never one time was I ever asked to “Pray this Prayer”. I was by myself cruising down I-10 doing 65mph when God called on me. Not knowing what to do or how to do it, with tears pouring out, I somewhat closed my eyes and asked God to save me. Not Recommended!
    When I prayed this prayer, it was an automatic life change for me…I am a fortunate soul that can confidently say that there has never been a time that I have doubted my salvation. I don’t say that with self pride but with the understanding of who Christ is and what transpired at that moment. I said all of that to say that this issue is a real problem for me. My first child approached me at the age of 5 and said that he wanted to be saved. YES…we said the sinners prayer. At the age of 8, he shared Jesus with my middle child (son) and we prayed a similar prayer with him. Finally, my daughter at the age of 5 said the prayer as well. As a concerned Father I will tell you that I cry out to God everyday that He has truely touched my children. I will never rest on a spoken prayer until I see the evidence of God in their life. Maybe I’m wrong…but it sickens me when I hear people say that little Jonny said a prayer when he was young and though he is living like a heathen, he is a child of God.
    Who am I to judge? But for me…I will continue to cry out to God for the sake of my children to know the One True God even though they said the “sinners prayer”. God…please open the hearts of our children to the gospel and not to an emotional event.

  20. Thank God that someone is raising the debate. Yes the use of the sinner’s prayer is badly wrong, so what is the real purpose of the so called “sinner’s prayer”?

    The answer is in Romans 1v7. “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God CALLED SAINTS.”
    Paul is clearly addressing the saints, the believers, ie.those ALREADY BORN AGAIN!


    If my neighbour came around and asked for a hammer to repair his fence, and my wife, bless her, lent him my large monkey wrench it would certainly do a great job of bashing the nails in. Unfortunately when I came to fix my plumbing, my wrench would be missing and my hammer would be useless to fix the water tank.
    The use of Romans10 as a tool for getting sinners to heaven, despite being totally false and stupid, may possibly work just like my monkey wrench. However the bigger sin is that Romans 10 then never gets used for its actual purpose- AMONGST THOSE WHO ARE ALREADY IN THE KINGDOM!
    Romans 10 has been totally hijacked by the evangelists!

    So remember, this letter is written to the saints and therefore it cannot be about getting them to heaven when they are dead. You will, however, see that it is ALL ABOUT GETTING HEAVEN TO THEM WHILST THEY ARE ALIVE!

    Rom10v9 That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your hearts that God has raised him from the dead you shall be saved.
    v10 For with the heart man believes unto righteousness and WITH THE MOUTH CONFESSION is made to salvation.
    Verse 10 explains verse 9.
    So if like Abraham, you already believe in your heart what God has done, the free gift of God’s righteousness is certainly established in you. However the truth of your righteous position in God will never move beyond a personal state of being. You will remain fixed in your situation and your problems etc. Nothing is likely to happen in your external world.

    However if you move beyond merely believing these truths silently in your heart, to speaking, confessing, proclaiming them OUT OF YOUR MOUTH, then what had previously only been a state of being, starts to become an external reality. BY YOUR SPOKEN WORDS you have released activity from the heavenly throne!

    I have walked and taught this for decades and can guarantee the results. I have been through the most difficult of times both at home and at work, and have always seen the amazing salvation of God. I have constantly seen the Kingdom of God “nigh unto me” for that is what salvation means. It is not merely heaven when you are dead.

    To limit these scriptures to the means of entry to heaven when you are dead, robs them of their amazing truth for daily living.

  21. I just found this post, and I want to say “thank you” for articulating the issue so well. I recently wrote about our need to constantly reevaluate our beliefs in light of scripture to see if we’ve somehow gotten off track, or if there may be another interpretation of the relevant passages that could lead us to a different belief. Our goal should be to have our beliefs as closely aligned with God’s intent as possible, even if that means adjustments along the way. This post is an *excellent* example of this need for reevaluation.

    Each time I witness someone lead a person through the “sinner’s prayer” I find it deeply disturbing. I know that they have good intentions, but to take a person whose heart is eager to know God, and rather than going deeper with them, we say, “Close your eyes and repeat after me…Now you’re all set” – we are doing SUCH a disservice to this person!

    Your posts tend to be such an encouragement to me. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one having these thoughts…

    If you’d like to read my post on the broader topic, you can find it here:

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