The Sinner’s Prayer and Salvation Lk 18:13 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
There are many soul winners who are very quick in their presentation of the gospel to lead a soul in the sinner’s prayer. If I were to go soul winning in our neighborhoods the way these soul winners run through the gospel and get people to pray the sinner’s prayer, I could report a dozen conversions a day. Most Catholics I know would agree with all the points in their presentation and would follow them in prayer. And I guarantee you that most of them would NOT be saved after praying the sinner’s prayer.
Listen, Catholics are already used to hearing the Bible. They hear it read every Sunday at Mass. That doesn’t mean that they believe it, though they obediently nod when you ask them if they do. They already know about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ because they recite the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday at Mass. That doesn’t mean that they are trusting Jesus Christ to save them. And they already follow their Catholic priests in any responsive prayer that he tells them to pray. That doesn’t mean that they even know what they are saying when they “repeat after you” in prayer.
Now, if a fellow really thought that by praying the sinner’s prayer he had gotten saved, he may go to his grave and then straight to hell under the false assumption that he was saved. That’s not to say that a person cannot be saved with the soul winner’s presentation or by following in prayer. That is to say that a person can go along with the gospel that a soul winner preaches and still be lost when the preacher leaves thinking “he” has led another soul to Christ.
Here’s the problem with a typical soul winner’s presentation. First of all, the “preacher” does all the talking. How would he know what a fellow is really trusting? When we deal with souls we always give them time to consider each part of the gospel that we preach, giving time for the Holy Spirit to really deal with them about the truth of what they are hearing. We want to know that they are “getting it.” When you leave time for questions, you can hear what’s in their heart because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
Secondly, people are often not faced with the hopelessness of their true condition. They need to know that they are sinners who are already condemned, who are lost and on their way to hell. Many times, we have had sinners agree with us about all the points of the gospel, yet they still do not believe that they are condemned and under the wrath of God [Jn 3:18, 36]. They believe that God is still going to let them into heaven just the way they are. Well, why pray to receive Jesus if you don’t think you need him?
Thirdly, and most importantly, men must be given time to consider what they have just been told. Soul winners will often get head nods out of people concerning the elements of the gospel that they preach and then immediately get sinners to bow their heads for prayer, saying “Repeat after me.” That’s a good salesman’s tactic. Nevertheless, you should always give them an out. We ALWAYS ask them if they want to receive Jesus Christ or if they want some time to think about what they have heard. More times than not, they will ask for more time to think about it. And when they do, we leave.
I cannot tell you how many times we have gone back later and answered more questions that came up, clarified some parts of the gospel they really didn’t understand, and helped them with scripture through some basic “hang ups” to getting saved. Even then we might leave them with the added information. The whole time the Holy Spirit is working with them. Then we’ll go back, or they’ll come to church, and when everything is clear in their understanding and they have dealt with the truth of the gospel, they get saved. Then they are saved and they know it.
It is usually during that waiting time that the Lord deals with sinners about their lives and they begin to fully understand that their own righteousness is not sufficient to get them to God, just like Paul had to realize in Phil 3. In my experience, this is when they repent of whatever is keeping them from being saved, whether it is their own self-righteousness, their unbelief, a sin they they knew is keeping them from God, or whatever. For example, we know a young lady right now who knows the gospel, knows that she must be born again, and knows how to be saved. She is not saved because she is in an intimate relationship with her boyfriend, which she believes will change when she receives Jesus Christ. That’s what’s keeping her from Christ.
This is what Paul calls “repentance toward God,” [Acts 20:21]. Sinners agree with God that they are lost and that they’re trusting something other than Jesus. Then they put their faith in Jesus and get saved, which Paul calls “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” The rich young ruler was trusting his riches [Mk 10:24] instead of Jesus Christ, and thus he left without eternal life.
Indeed, we have seen some sinners get saved on a short presentation of the gospel. They fully understand their true condition with Jesus and they know beyond a doubt that receiving him is the only way they are going to be saved. But this is the exception these days. There is so much religious confusion out there and so much skepticism, that most of the folks we meet don’t get saved until they have heard the gospel several times, some as many as 6 or 8 times.
We refuse to rush soul winning. Paul said that he planted and Apollos watered and God gave the increase [1 Cor 3]. We believe that the preaching of the word of God will not return void [Is 55]. We are not troubled to take our time with souls, trusting God to deal with them about whatever we have preached to them. We believe that the Holy Spirit uses God’s words to bring sinners to Jesus, whether we are the ones who actually get to “lead” them to the Lord or not.
One illustration and then I’ll quit – Old Man Busbee.
We met this fellow in Florida when we were out door knocking. We preached the gospel to this old self-righteous Baptist sinner and the more we preached, the madder he got. Finally, he literally ran us off his property with a hammer. Unknown to me, two other groups of soul winners went by to see this old man [one about 3 months after we left and another about 3 months after that].
A year after our initial visit, we went back to see him. I walked up to his fence where he was working in his garden and he sauntered up for a chat. I reminded him of our visit a year before and he chuckled about how rough we had been. But then he said, “If you fellers have a few minutes, I’d like to tell you a little story.”
Old Man Busbee recounted how the Lord dealt with him. He said, “About three months ago, I was dressed in my pajamas and went to bed. I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was that if I died, I was sure that I would wind up in hell. So, I got up out of bed and drove to my old preacher’s house. I knocked at the back door. It was about 11:00 at night. The preacher came to the door and said, ‘Busbee, what are you doing here this late at night with your pajamas on?’ I said, ‘Preacher, I told you that if I ever wanted to do anything with Jesus, I’d come see you. Well, I’m ready to do something with Jesus.’ So, the preacher took me into his house and right there in his living room we both knelt beside his coffee table and I prayed to receive Jesus. After that, I drove on back to the house and went to bed. You know something? That was the best night sleep I ever had in my life. It made me wonder why in the world I put it off so long.”
Now, occasionally it just takes the Holy Spirit some time to get through to a fellow and I am not going to get in his way while he’s trying to work on him. This is the Holy Spirit’s work and we are just the messengers. The problem is that we must deliver the right message and then give God time to let the message sink in. When the words of God have gotten through to him, then you can lead him in prayer. More than likely, he’ll be ready to pray on his own and in his own words.