Over the years I've become increasingly concerned with one tactic of some well-intentioned ambassadors for Christ: leading a person in the "sinner's prayer." It can be meaningful, but it has a liability.
The prayer goes something like this: “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins so I could be forgiven. I receive You as my Lord and savior. Thank You for coming into my life. Amen.”
Now, the prayer itself is fine. I prayed a version of it in 1973, initiating my own walk with Christ. I’ve used it since to assist others in expressing their faith for the first time.
On occasion, though, I notice something alarming. When I ask if a particular person is a Christian, the response I hear is, “Well, they prayed the prayer.” It’s as if the words were magic; if someone just recites them, they’re in.
I fear we’ve inoculated a whole generation of people who got a partial injection of Christianity and are now resistant to the real thing. They prayed the sinner’s prayer, got their “fire insurance,” and then disappeared, never to be seen again. When confronted with the Gospel anew they shrug, “Been there, done that. Now leave me alone. I have a life to live.”
Here’s the antidote: The goal of an ambassador should never be getting someone to pray a prayer, but rather to follow Jesus. When we emphasize deciding for Christ instead of living for Him, we often get spiritual miscarriages instead of spiritual births. Our sense of safety can’t come from simply saying a prayer.
So the next time you lead someone to Christ, consider bypassing the sinner’s prayer. There’s no precedent for it in the Bible anyway. In the New Testament, baptism served the function of heralding one’s entry into the Body of Christ.
Rather, enjoin the one who is spiritually hungry to satisfy his appetite day by day by following the Savior. Give him some guidelines on how to do that. Tell him about prayer, fellowship, and Bible study. Instruct him in forgiveness, regeneration, and justification.
Don’t let him forget, though, being born again is the beginning, not the end.