Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Peter’s Instruction in Acts

June 11, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

As we begin our look into the New Testament teachings on salvation we will first go to the apostle Peter and his words on the day of Pentecost to see if he provides any enlightenment on whether or not The Sinner’s Prayer has any place in the conversion of lost peoples.

In Acts 2 we find the 120 gathered in one place when the Spirit with “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” fell upon them and filled them with it’s power (v.2ff).  As a result the early church spills out into Jerusalem, teaching in tongues to the Jews celebrating the Pentecost.  This is all capped off with Peter and his sermon presenting the Jews with their guilt and the gospel of the good news of redemption in Christ.  Finally in verse 37 we are told that the people “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”  To which Peter replies, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v.38).

Repent and be baptized.

Is that all?  Yep.

What about Acts 10, when Peter goes to Cornelius and the Gentiles?  He preaches to them once more declaring the good news, saying at last, “To [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v.43).  We are then told that, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v.44).   Does that mean they had received salvation?  Apparently so since Peter declares, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v.47).  Later he also tells the church at Jerusalem that God had given to the Gentiles “the same gift . . . he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (11.17), which they recognize as meaning that “to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (11.18).  Yet, what once again is conspicuous by it’s absence?  That’s right, any sign that the apostle had instructed the new believers to petition God for salvation through prayer.

In fact, if we look back to Acts 10 and 11 once more, we see that the believers don’t even appear to be the primary actors in their salvation.  We are told that “the Holy Spirit fell on” them (10.44) and that “God . . . granted [them] repentance” (11.18).  The Trinity is doing the work.  No one is praying a prayer, no one is “naming it and claiming it.”  All we see is God working mightily through the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

Therefore, after considering our first subject, the apostle Peter, I do not believe we have any evidence in favor of The Sinner’s Prayer as a necessary or effective means to salvation.  Tomorrow, we will begin a look at the ministry of Paul to see what he has to contribute to this endeavor.