When some evangelical churches offer an invitation at the end of the service, there are several things many do today that are incompatible with the Scriptures such as the sinner’s prayer. The ones I wish to discuss in this post are:
The sinner’s prayer
Receiving or asking or accepting Jesus into your heart
Every head bowed and every eye closed
None of those things are Biblical. These are traditions of men that are used ostensibly to “get people saved.” Nowhere in the Scriptures are we directed to “get people saved.” That is the job of God Himself through the Holy Spirit. Only God can forgive sins and save a person. No one else can do that—not the pastor, a deacon, a Bible teacher, or any other person. Only God himself can save.
In fact, that is not the job of the church. The church is to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2). For, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?,” Romans 10:14, which complements the Great Commission of Mat 28:19-20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Additionally the church is to exalt the Savior and equip the saints. Above all else, we are to exalt God before any other thing we do. Then we are to equip the saints to enable them (that is, us Christians) to go out and evangelize unbelievers.
Unfortunately we have relegated evangelizing the sinner to the Sunday Morning Worship Service. We are entreated to “invite people to come to church,” so that we can “get them saved.” The method of “saving” them is the invitation to be saved. Now, I am not opposed to inviting people to publically profess Christ as their Lord. What I am advocating is that we stop practically begging people to walk the aisle and “make a decision for Christ.”
Typically this is how the invitation goes. The pastor finishes his sermon and segues into the invitation time. So far so good. Unfortunately, many times the pastor will have the congregation bow their heads and close their eyes while giving the invitation. Does this mean that we must not look in case someone is ashamed to publicly profess Christ? When I was saved, I immediately wanted everyone to know. I was not ashamed to profess Him publicly. I could barely wait for the invitation to begin before I walked the aisle to publicly profess Christ as my Lord before the assembly of believers. I certainly did not expect everyone to close their eyes before I did so.
This is usually so the speaker can coax people into “asking Jesus into their hearts,” or to have them repeat a sinner’s prayer without them feeling “uncomfortable” that others may see them when they make a move. Did Peter have the folks at Pentecost bow their heads and close their eyes, or did Paul in Athens? No. Were the people at Pentecost subdued when Peter compelled them to repent and be baptized? No. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Here are the typical ways sinners are admonished “to be saved.” They are, asking Jesus into your heart, saying a sinner’s prayer, inviting Christ into your life, accepting Jesus as Savior or something similar to these. Nowhere in the Bible are we asked to accept Jesus into our heart, invite Him into our lives, or anything akin to these.
The passage in John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” is rendered by some translations thus: “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (NLT). Yet this does not mean that they “accepted Jesus in their heart.” It means that they received or accepted His message of salvation and believed on Him as the Son of God and as Lord and Savior. We see that from the very next verse, John 1:13, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Here is the entire passage:
Joh 1:10-15 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
The pastor may pray before the invitation that if there is someone in the congregation who needs Christ or who is not saved that they will come to a saving knowledge of Christ. That is certainly an acceptable prayer. Nevertheless, then the pastor may ask that anyone seeking or thinking about seeking salvation to raise their hands. After that he may say, “pray this prayer with me.” The pastor then says something to this effect: “Pray, ‘Lord Jesus, I 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. Please come into my heart. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. I promise to serve you to the best of my ability. In Jesus’ name, Amen’” Then the pastor may say, “If you just prayed that prayer, you are saved. The next step is to step out of your seat and come down the aisle and profess publicly that you have asked Jesus into your heart.”
Unfortunately, that is not what the Bible says about salvation. The clearest statement of the process of salvation is explained by Paul in Romans 10:9-11, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (10) For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” We must also hear the words of the Lord Himself:
Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.
Additionally, we must add what the book of Acts says:
Act_2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Act_3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
Therefore, this is the biblical process of salvation: Believe (or have faith) in Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, Repent, believe that Jesus died for your sins and was raised from the dead, confess Jesus as Lord, and seek baptism. Yes, one can be saved without being baptized. The main Biblical witness of this is the malefactor on the cross in Luke 23:39-43. He believed in Christ as we can see from Luke 23:41-42 where he acknowledged the sinless Jesus who was to be a King and come into His kingdom after His death. He went to heaven without baptism because there was no possibility of his being baptized. Yet baptism is a part of the salvation process. If someone claims to have repented and believed on Christ as his Savior, and then refuses baptism, I question his belief.
Again, if someone becomes a believer in Christ on his deathbed and is physically unable to be baptized, he is still going to heaven. However, I question the belief of someone who claims to believe in Christ and professes Christ as Lord yet refuses to be baptized. Therefore I link baptism with salvation. The only exceptions to this would be a believer who is physically unable to be baptized, or a believer who dies before he can be baptized. Other than those situations, baptism is a necessary part of the salvation process.
It is also true that a person can be baptized and not be a real believer. However that is because he or she never believed in Christ as the Son of God or that he was raised from the dead. They were never believers in the first place; this would be a person who made a false profession.
Calling someone to repent of his sins and believe in Jesus Christ is certainly Biblical. We are to compel sinners to come in (Luke 14:23). It is the other things added to this such as asking Jesus into your heart, or praying a sinner’s prayer that are not Biblical.
There is nothing wrong a new believer praying and thanking God for His forgiveness. However, it is wrong to lead a person in the belief that a prayer saved Him. No, it is by grace that we are saved through faith; it is the gift of God and not the works or prayers or asking Jesus not your heart that a man or woman does. That puts the responsibility on men instead of God. It is God who saves us and not we ourselves. Therefore our deciding to “accept” Christ is incorrect; it is Christ who and saves us. It is not our prayer that saves us; it is Christ who saves us.
Some claim that Revelation 3:20 is the scriptural reference that endorses accepting Jesus. We need to understand the context of the verse: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Jesus is talking to the church at Laodicea. Jesus said they were lukewarm—neither hot nor cold. He also told them that in spite of their worldly riches they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. He told them to buy from Him gold that was tried in the fire, which indicated righteousness and spiritual riches, white clothing, which indicated holiness, and eye slave that would allow their spiritual eyes to be opened. He admonished them to be zealous and repent of their being lukewarm. That is when He said that He stood at the door and knocked, offering the people at the church of Laodicea to stop being lukewarm, to return fully to Him, and He would again commune with them. This is not about a sinner “asking Jesus into his heart” or “accepting Jesus into her heart.” This was written to the church, to people who were already saved but had grown lukewarm in their faith; it was not written to sinners or unbelievers.
As a pastor, now retired, I always invited people to put their faith in Christ and to profess Him publicly (Mat 10:32, Luk 12:8) after my sermon. However, I did not ask the congregation to close their eyes or bow their heads during the invitation. I did not ask for a show of hands of people considering a “decision for Christ.” I did not ask anyone to repeat a sinner’s prayer. I simply presented the Gospel as succinctly as I could and people did respond. Many of them had already been witnessed to by a member of the congregation. People responded to a simple presentation of the Gospel. There was no need for coaxing or prolonging the invitation just in case someone might make a “decision for Christ.” I did not prolong the invitation. If no one responded after a couple of verses of the hymn, then I closed the invitation. People will respond to the Gospel. They do not need to be coaxed to come forward or to raise their hands or to be prodded into “accepting Christ as their Savior” or “inviting Jesus into their lives.”
The invitation does not need to be prolonged just in case someone might respond. That sort of invitation is simply a call for numbers. It seems that many evangelical churches are in competition to see how many they can baptize whether they are saved or not. I read a statistic that in some denominations, 80% of those who were baptized eventually fall away from the faith. A large percentage of these just accepted Jesus into their hearts or said a sinner’s prayer. They did not truly repent, believe, and make Christ Lord of their lives.
When people truly respond to the Gospel it is because the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives. They are already prepared by Him. When a man, woman, or child truly responds to the Gospel that is a divine appointment. They are in the right place at the right time to respond to the Gospel because God arranged for that to happen.