By Clifton Angel
A common unbiblical teaching is the idea of praying to become a Christian. In the denominational world, it might be called "The Sinner’s Prayer," or “Asking Jesus into your Heart,” et. al. While it is unbiblical, many use faulty reasoning to disprove it.
Some say the sinner’s prayer is unbiblical because you cannot find the words “the sinner’s prayer” in the Bible. While the claim is true, the reasoning is flawed. There are many Biblical principles or terms that simply cannot be found explicitly in the Bible. For example, you cannot even find the English word “Bible” in the Bible. Furthermore, you cannot find the explicit words “opening prayer” or “closing prayer,” but that does not make those terms unbiblical. Rather, they are acceptable manmade terms used to put a handle on concepts we seek to communicate.
Some say the sinner’s prayer is unbiblical because you cannot find the explicit words contained in the sinner’s prayer in the Bible. This is not the best argument, either. For example, we pray prayers all the time that are not explicitly found in the Scriptures; however, if they be in accordance with the principles we find in Scripture, they are biblical prayers.
Rather, the sinner’s prayer is unbiblical because nowhere has God commanded it, nor authorized it. Explicit examples of individuals converting to Christ are some of the best ways to learn how a person can become a Christian today.
Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus, who was traveling to Damascus inflict more harm on Christ's church. Informed of his error, Saul was sent to Damascus to wait for further instructions. Once there, he prayed and fasted for three days. Truly, Saul believed in Jesus at this point. I believe his fasting and praying are also fruits of his godly sorrow and repentance (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10). However, his fasting and praying could not be the means whereby he was saved. Saul’s own account records that Ananias came to him and said, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Saul was not saved before his sins were washed away. Many say “calling on the name of the Lord” refers to prayer. Saul and Ananias said “calling on the name of the Lord” refers to obeying God’s authority.
Cornelius of Caesarea was a devout Gentile man who prayed to God and God heard his prayers (Acts 10:1–6); however, his prayers did not make him a Christian. In Peter's later recounting of the event, he noted, “And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:13–14). If Cornelius' prayer alone could make him a Christian, why did he need to meet with Peter and be told how to be saved? Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and his household, and his conclusion was this: “He commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48).
- Clifton Angel preaches for the Coldwater Church of Christ in Coldwater, MS. He may be contacted through that congregation's website: http://www.coldwatercofc.com/