Many people who have been raised going to a worship service, valuing the preaching of God’s Word, and appealing to sinners to place their faith in Jesus are probably familiar with the “sinner’s prayer.” Many have prayed this prayer themselves. Loosely defined, this is a prayer that involves a confession of one’s sinfulness, his or her need for Jesus, and expresses the intention to give one’s life to Jesus. In the following video, Mark Dever and David Platt discuss whether this prayer is helpful or unhelpful as Christians seek to fulfill the commandment to makes disciples of the nations.
It must be said at the outset that it is to be commended when people dialogue with unbelievers about matters of faith, that there is the reality of heaven and hell, that Christ is the only Savior, and that we are unable to work our way into salvation. Conversely, it is not healthy to think of evangelism primarily through the lens of “pray this prayer and you will be saved.” In fact, according to Dever, in this country’s last Great Awakening, people were not exhorted to pray a prayer but rather to repent and to believe. Evangelism seen in this light will never tell a person that praying the prayer would save them. Instead the approach would continually define for that person the nature of repentance and faith.
Furthermore, a person’s sincerity about his or her salvation is not dependent upon the “facts of a prayer” but actually having the fruit of the Spirit. Instead of quickly declaring someone to be a Christian after praying a prayer, it is wiser to have that person go through the baptism process at your church to aid in discerning his or her profession of faith. To offer a blanket assurance to someone who has just agreed to certain doctrinal truths about Christ and is sorrowful over their sin could produce a culture of false professions where people’s lives are no different than they were before they prayed the prayer.