Often, at the end of evangelistic meetings, those who respond to the appeal to follow Christ are asked to repeat a simple prayer, such as ‘Dear God, I realise I am a sinner, and can never reach heaven by my own efforts. I am sorry for my sin – please forgive me. I put my faith in Jesus Christ who died for my sins and rose again to give me eternal life. Please come into my heart and help me live for you. Thank you for accepting me into your eternal family’.
This is a common tool but a rather shallow prayer. While it is desirable for a sinner to pray to Jesus, to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, nowhere does Scripture record anyone being urged to repeat a prayer, for it is not the ritual that saves but trust in what Jesus did on the cross and a wholehearted embracing of that provision. The specific NT instruction is to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mt 3:8; Mk 1:15; Lk 13:1-5; Act 2:28, 3:19, 17:30, 26:20; 2 Tim 2:19).The emphasis must be on repentance and trust in Christ. Baptism is an outward declaration of this change of heart, indicating the death and burial of sinful living as Jesus is now my Lord and master (Act 2:21,38, 16:31; Rom 10:13). Such belief and trust in Jesus requires ongoing commitment. Doing the will of God shows we love Him (Lk 6:46; Jn 14:15,21; 1 Cor 15:1-4; 1 Jn 2:3, 5:3; 2 Jn 1:6). It’s not the talk but the walk, that reveals the possession of salvation is a reality.
Jesus saves us, not a superficial prayer
for there will be many who assume they are converted but who will hear Jesus say to them, “I never knew you, depart from me…” (Mt 7:21-23). It is better to get the enquirer to originate their own heartfelt prayer to God than to glibly repeat a prayer, besides being informed Jesus is not to be viewed as a ‘get-out-of-hell’ pass but a new Master, who (although providing free salvation) requires dedication from His followers to walk in His ways. The genuineness of that confession is evidenced by the transformation from a sinful lifestyle to one characterized by the qualities of love, joy, peace… together with forgiveness offered to others. As we get to know our heavenly Father through Bible reading, prayer and meeting with other believers we will take on the character of the family of God (Gal 5:22,23).
The Bible does not say we should ‘ask Jesus into our hearts’. This is a misunderstanding of what was spoken to a wayward church in John’s vision (Rev 3:20). Upon becoming a believer the Holy Spirit comes and lives within us (Act 2:38, 5:32; 1 Cor 6:19; Eph 1:13). Jesus needs nothing from His creation and is not looking for acceptance, as if He is lonely and we are doing Him a favour. Instead He demands our obedience for it is those who obey the commands of Christ, repenting and believing in Jesus Christ, who will be saved. Any confession we make with our mouth should match the experience of our heart, not as a means of salvation, but as evidence that our salvation was brought about by God and secured in heaven by Him (1 Pet 1:3-9).
Progressively, modern day evangelism has made the gospel a consumer-orientated message, yet Jesus requires us to give up our rights and the obsessions of our hearts to follow on His terms. Just adding Him to our busy, self-centred lifestyles is not what discipleship is about (Mk 10:17-22; Lk 14:33). Those who make a ‘decision’ to become a Christian should be followed up and nurtured by other Christians for, like newborn babies, they are vulnerable and helpless, needing feeding and training.