Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Paul’s Instruction

June 15, 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)

After spending a post looking to the apostle Paul’s testimony for any evidences of The Sinner’s Prayer being used in conversion, we now will look at the words he gives in instruction to see if this shows up something.

Similar to our look at Peter, a great deal can be gleaned from how Paul handles preaching and how he calls the nonbelievers that he speaks to into response.  As The Bridge to Life tract and other evangelical resources direct us to repeat a prayer in response, Paul also has his own directives of response to the gospel.  The first time we see this explicitly is in Acts 13.38-39 where Paul instructs the crowd at Pisidean Antioch on how to receive the salvation of which he proclaims:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Belief.  Simple belief is all Paul asks for from the people.  Paul says, “Believe and you are freed.”  There is no direction to pray a prayer, and there is certainly no direction that this salvation comes through asking for Christ to grant it.  It is there.  Believe and it will be applied.

Of course, Paul’s instruction on response only gets clearer as we look further into his journeys.  The next place I would want us to look is probably the most transparent statement of our necessary response in Paul, and on par with Peter’s declaration to the Jerusalem crowd (Acts 2.38) and Jesus’ response to Nicodemus (John 3.14ff).  It comes from Acts 16 and is the well-known story of the conversion of the Philippians jailer.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (vv.25-34)

We look here at the whole story, but our focus of course is upon vv.30-31.  The Philippian jailer comes and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” and once again the ball is in the apostle’s court.  Will he tell him to pray a prayer? to “name it and claim it”?  No.  All we get in reply from Paul is the same tired refrain we have seen all along: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”  That’s all.  That’s all!

Lastly, leaving Acts, let’s stop by what is likely the best known statement on how to be saved in Scripture outside of the gospels.  It is Romans 10.9-10.  Here we find Paul teaching the Roman Christians, contrasting the new idea of righteousness based on faith with the old one of righteousness based on the law and he sums it all up for them in this:

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Confess with your mouth, believe in your heart.  This is about as close as we have got to a teaching on The Sinner’s Prayer yet.  Finally we see the New Testament teaching something said as a proper response to the gospel.  But alas, whereas The Sinner’s Prayer says to pray laying claim upon Jesus’ promise, requesting that he be Lord, Paul tells these would-be Christians that there salvation comes from declaring Christ as Lord which is rightly accompanied by faith in the gospel (which alone is what provides the justification necessary for redemption).  So, even though there is speaking involved, the essence of what’s to be said is totally different and there is no more evidence for The Sinner’s Prayer here than we find anywhere else.

At this point we have done a fairly thorough analysis of Christ’s servants in the early church and what they taight on how to respond to the gospel in a saving way.  Now, to close things out, we must turn to the greatest teacher on how to be saved, our Lord Christ Jesus himself– which we shall begin doing tomorrow.