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The Sinner's Prayer - a barrier to repentance and salvation

Salvation 101

When referring to the goodness of mankind, Isaiah says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”1

When it comes to us relating to and finding God, Paul says, “as it is written: 'There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God.'”2
And regarding the consequence of the above, “For the wages of sin is death”3. But contrary to contemporary thought that Christianity is all about judgement and damnation, this verse ends with “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”4
Further Ephesians highlights our need for salvation while at the same time reinforcing the fact that while we can not do anything to save ourselves, God can; “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”5 Romans reinforces this by focusing on the the fact that redemption is through Christ; “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”6
John then concludes the process by affirming that when we receive Chris (i.e. believing on His name) that we then have the right to be call the children of God. And that this is available to all who receive him.7
In my opinion the best summary of the above process of salvation is found in Romans 10:9-11, “if you confess the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone believing on Him shall not be put to shame'” (MKJV). Further Peter's comment in 2 Peter 3:9 reiterates God's love and desire for all; “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is long-suffering toward us, not purposing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Peter's comment simply confirms Christ's well-know statement that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.”8
There is obviously so much more that could be said as well as so many more scriptures that could be referenced, but the above form the fundamental foundation that results in us being born again.9
Examples of Salvation

Woman caught in Adultery 10

While not salvation in the spiritual sense, through this event we see a shadow of what was to be available to mankind. We do not see this woman pleading her cause or innocence but rather we see what appears to be her surrender to Christ's Lordship and in doing so, Christ grants her a reprieve.

Woman at the Well 11

Once again while not yet a born-again experience, this Samaritan woman demonstrates what is needed to come to Christ. Initially she skirts around the point but ultimately she admits her need and then asks Christ to meet it. The story ends with her declaring, “is this not the Christ?”

Philippian Jailer 12

Here we have an example of a new testament conversion. The jailer realises his need (and that of his family). In doing so he calls out to Paul to help him to which Paul simply replies that he needs to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. And the conclusion was that he and his household were baptised, rejoiced and believed in God.

Before going on further, believing on Christ is different to believing in one God. The latter does not save one. As James points out, ”You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble.”13

What the Jailer and his family did was believe on Christ i.e. Christ who's death was witnessed by the world i.e. They confessed the Lordship of Christ (that they needed Him) and that He had indeed risen from the dead. This was so real for them that they got baptised immediately.

Thief number 2 on the cross 14

And here we have who I believe to be the very first new testament convert. He died after Christ, fully understanding Jesus' Lordship and the fact that only Christ could save him. Further he accepted Christ's offer of Salvation. Summarising, he confessed Jesus to be Lord and believed in his heart that God would raise Christ from the dead; and Jesus confirmed that he (a criminal in this life) would be saved in the next one. In short this nameless thief followed the direction found in Romans 3:10-11 and was ushered into Glory.

Salvation Confessions & Prayers
When it comes to New Testament conversions. What is noticeably absent is the evidence of any sort of confession of sins or request for forgiveness. This does not appear to be given by the convert or requested by the person leading them (not even when that person was Christ). Does this mean that sin is not an issue and that we can continue as we did before? No not at all, Christ last words to the the Woman caught in adultery were, “Go, and sin no more.”15 Plus Paul devotes some time to this in Romans 6 asking, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”16
As believers we are encouraged to confess our faults to one another that we might be healed.17 But when it comes to Salvation this is not required. Firstly if we were required to do so what would happen should we accidentally miss some or what about those sins which (at the time as a repentant sinner) we did not know to be sins? The fact is that we are so broken that there is nothing can do to save ourselves. As mentioned before, salvation is a gift of God.18 And all we can do, like Peter who sank while walking on the water, is to call out, “Lord save me!”19
As an aside, if I am drowning, stuck in a fire or need to call 911 for help, I don't need instructions on what to say but rather I speak out driven by a realisation of my need.
Blessed Assurance & Fruits of Repentance
If we feel that we are saved through a prayer of confession we will continually be dogged by our past wondering if we are really good enough and will forever walk in condemnation. Well the fact is that outside of Christ we can never be good enough. And in realising the latter comes salvation i.e. the ability to let go and let God have His way. Why do people often drown? Because they fight the current until they are overcome with exhaustion. However if they were to acknowledge their plight and turn onto their back and let the current take them they would probably eventually be returned safely to the shore. Salvation is similar. In order to be saved a person needs to realise their need and then in that moment simply call on the Lord, trusting Him for their salvation. If a drowning man needs to be told what to say when crying for help I need to question whether he really realises or acknowledges his plight. Am I saying that confession of sins is not needed? For initial salvation yes but as born-again believes scripture tells us to “confess our sins”20; the latter serving to remind us that we are needy and are only saved by the Grace of our God.
So how do I know that I am saved? Well the only person who can confirm that to you is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14, Hebrews 6:4-5). Any other sort of confirmation is probably setting a person up for a false and rocky sense of security. Following this, while a believer does have bad days, overall they should have the peace of God which passes all understanding21 with the fruits of the Spirit evident in their daily lives.
Simply put, the act of salvation is provided by God and God alone as a result of a relationship that is bought together by the Holy Ghost through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. This is a one to one relationship and experience that can only be hindered by another person trying to make it happen; no matter how well intentioned they might be. In closing I believe that true assurance of salvation (which will naturally be confirmed by a Godly outworking) can only be attained when a person is allowed to call on the Lord while being convicted by the Holy Ghost of their sin, God's righteousness and the judgement to come22. And surely the evidence of such would be that the person calling out to God would not need to be lead in a rote prayer and then given a set of things to do in order to obtain this?
While I am not convinced of the effectiveness of traditional alter-call counselling, I am not saying that people are not saved through this approach. What I am however wanting to happen (at a time when it would appear that many use tricks, gimmicks and statistics to gain or affirm converts) is for us to consider what it means to be saved? Not truly saved since is there is no such thing; one is either saved or one is not. In the past I have often heard believers asking, “where are those Holy Ghost conversions that in times past resulted in towns, provinces and even countries been turned upside down?” Well this can only happen if the Holy Ghost is allowed to to his work and a repentant sinner is able calls on the Lord from within themselves.
So am I saved?
As mentioned above while onlookers might draw conclusions as to where you stand before God, the truth is that only you and God know the answer to this question. Have you realised your need (have you humbled yourself, allowing the Holy Ghost to convect you of sin, righteousness and judgement to come)?In doing so have you called out to God to save you, acknowledging Jesus as Lord while believing in your hear the God raised from the dead? If you have truly done this then you have accepted God's gift of salvation that was purchased through the sacrifice of Christ. In doing this you have been born-again with the result that the peace and conviction of God will rest upon you. Once again only you can answer this question but if you are unsure then I would encourage you to seek Him for indeed he is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to salvation23. Furthermore whoever seeks Him will find him24 and be drawn into close fellowship25 with Him. Again, only you and God can answer this question.
1. Isaiah 64:6 (KJV) 2. Romans 3:10-11 (MKJV) 3. Romans 6:23a (MKJV) 4. Romans 6:23b (MKJV)
5. Ephesians 2:8-9 (MKJV) 6. Romans 3:23-24 (MKJV) 7. John 1:12 (MKJV) 8. John 3:16-17 (MKJV)
9. John 3:3 (MKJV) 10. John 8:1-11 (MKJV) 11. John 4: 4-29 (MKJV) 12. Acts 16:25-34 (MKJV)
13. James 2:19 (MJKV) 14. Luke 23:38-43 (MKJV) 15. John 8:11 (MKJV) 16. Romans 6:2 (MKJV)
17. James 5:16 (MKJV) 18. Ephesians 2:8-9 (MKJV) 19. Matthew 14:30 (MKJV) 20. 1 John 1:9 (MKJV)
21. Philippians 4:6-7 (MKJV) 22. John 16:8 (MKJV) 23. 2 Peter 3:9 (MKJV) 24. Jeremiah 29:13, Romans 10:13 (MKJV)
25. Revelation 3:20 (MKJV)