Peter replied, "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. - Acts 2: 38 (NIV)
In the course of my writing I often refer to the sinner's prayer as some of the worst theology ever constructed. Leonard Ravenhill once quipped that it has sent more people to hell than all of the bars across this country combined. That is because the person in the bar can still come to the realization that they need God but the one who thinks he already has God but does not is living in an unspeakable darkness:
But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! - Matthew 6: 23 (NLT)
The most pervasive darkness we can experience is when we have fooled ourselves into thinking it is light. Yet that is exactly what we see across the churches in this country today. Congregations being sold false theologies, false saviors, and ultimately false conversions. During the course of many devotionals, we often find ourselves drawn to discuss the flawed and heretical theories of modern church growth and the immeasurable damage they are doing to the Body of Christ. I would wager that upwards of 80% of churches in this country use one or many forms of such secular teachings to operate their ministry. But underlaying all of it is the most widely accepted belief of them all, the sinner's prayer. As with many of the things that corrupt, I am sure it started with good intentions. We have a generation of believers however that think God cares about our intentions. He does not. He cares about our obedience. The fact that so many Christian like to espouse the "God knows my heart" defense to excuse poor behavior while not knowing the Scriptures which state that the heart is wicked and deceitful above all things, indicates how wide the chasm may be between what is accepted in the church and what is Biblically accurate.
The sinner's prayer itself is not that old, with its origins probably no more than 500 years ago as an over reaction to the meritorious works salvation taught by the Catholic church. In researching the disagreements over the centuries, it became apparent that it is has always been too easy to get hung up on minutia while trying to sort out the critical things of God. I do not want to fall prey to the spirit that enjoys swallowing camels to strain out gnats. At the same time however, I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that this subject is not crucial doctrinally, since it is often the genesis point for a new believer. As with everything, I turn to Scripture to find the answers and clarification we all seek. The key verse today represents the single most important salvation experience recounted in the Bible. This is on the day of Pentecost after Peter had delivered the first sermon of the new church. Scripture teaches us that many were cut to the heart by the preaching of Peter and asked what they should do. The key verse is the response from Peter. We also know that after this, 3000 people were saved! Let us look then at the elements within Peter's answer for what we need to do today when seeking salvation.
The sinner's prayer needs to always start with, be focused on, and finish with the need for repentance. I think when we trace back the roots of the sinner's prayer we will probably find a greater emphasis on repentance and sin. But over the years as we have entered into the mega-church era, we see more and more compromise entering into the leadership in order draw more numbers and feel more successful. The Billy Graham model of the sinner's prayer. according to Wikipedia. goes like this:
" Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen ."