Thursday, December 31, 2009

For or against the altar call and sinner’s prayer?

Notes: (1) Jump to Against the altar call; Middle ground on the altar call; For the sinner’s prayer; Against the sinner’s prayer and Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart; Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer; Index of resources cited in this post; (2) Some ministries whose materials are cited in this post are described as holding a “non-lordship salvation” view. This ministry uses the term “Lordship salvation” based on A.W. Tozer’s discussion in his essay “No Saviorhood without Lordship and “What is Biblical repentance?

For the altar call

Rescuing the Perishing: A Defense of Giving Invitations, by Ken Keathley, Assistant Professor of Theology, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Often the charge is made that nothing like the modern invitation can be found in the Scriptures. This is at best an argument from silence. Neither ushers nor the pews in which they seat people; neither offertories nor the organs on which they are played; nor most of the various components of a modern worship service can be found explicitly in the Bible. In fact, some would say that the Sunday morning worship service itself is not in the Scriptures. If the Bible is silent about giving an invitation, then the burden of proof is on those who say that invitations violate Biblical principles. (Actually, this is exactly the line of argument used by those who would forbid the use of hymns or musical instruments in church services.)

However, there is abundant Scriptural justification for the practice of giving public invitations. In both the Old and New Testament there are numerous examples of the hearers of God’s message being challenged to make an open and public decision.

From John the Baptist to John the Revelator, the New Testament also provides justification for giving public invitations. Our Lord confronted the disciples with a clear call to follow Him. To all He says, “Come to Me, all you who labor” (Matt. 11:28). The Canon closes with the offer: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ and let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Repeatedly in the New Testament the invitation is given for all “to come.”

Certain words used in Scripture to describe evangelistic preaching provide a strong warrant for public invitations. After Peter preached his powerful sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the Bible says that he then “exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’” (Acts 2:40) The word translated “exhort” is parakaleo, which could be translated “invite,” for it is a call for the hearer to come and take his stand with the speaker. Peter gives us a clear example of one whom at the end of his message invited the listeners to make a public decision. (Read the complete article)
Differences Between Reformed and Southern Baptist Churches: Altar Calls vs No Altar Calls, by Les Puryear

Another characteristic of reformed churches is the lack of an “invitation,” otherwise known as an “altar call.” Traditional Southern Baptist Churches issue an invitation at the end of every service for those who have come to Christ to make it publicly known and join the church, rededications, pray at the altar, etc.

Inherent in the reformed view of no altar calls is a disdain for what is referred to as “unbiblical” altar calls. I have been in the company of reformed pastors who speak sarcastically and derisively about the use of a “sinner’s prayer” in leading a person to Christ. I have read criticisms online from reformed pastors about how people are putting their faith in a prayer or “walking the aisle” instead of Jesus. I know of no pastor of a traditional Southern Baptist church who believes that anyone is saved by anything or anyone other than Jesus. The use of a “sinner’s prayer” is a means to help guide the sinner to say what he wants to say to Jesus but doesn’t know how. There is no SBC pastor who believes “walking the aisle,” praying a prayer, marking a commitment card, or any other methods is what saves anyone. Jesus saves. Period. I also see nothing wrong with having sinners walk the aisle to publicly proclaim their faith in Christ (Matt. 10:32-33), pray a prayer asking Jesus to save them (Rom. 10:13), indicating on a card what Jesus has done and is doing in their heart (Rom. 10:9). I have used those methods and will continue to use them. There are not any more people depending on a commitment card, walking the aisle, or praying a prayer to save them than there are those who are trusting their salvation to an elder’s examination or a board of elders declaration they are regenerate.

If your church doesn’t want to invite people to Christ during a worship service then go ahead and call a reformed pastor to your church. But if you want for everyone to have an opportunity to come to Christ during all worship services, call a traditional Southern Baptist pastor. (Read the complete article; read also critical replies to Puryear’s article “What is an Invitation?” by Dr. James Galyon and “On Altar Calls And Gospel Proclamation”)

Evangelistic Invitations, by Dr. Edward Watke Jr., Revival in the Home Ministries


Invitations are normally a culmination of a message. The drive or appeal of evangelistic preaching demands a logical climax to its appeal.

Without an invitation, preaching would be incomplete and the effect unknown.

Invitations are an exalted form of persuasion. The burden of the message or sermon is not finished until the invitation is given.

Here often the most energy and compassion is demanded in comparison to the message content itself.

A. They are Biblical:

1. The Bible is full of appeals, exhortations, entreaties, or pleadings.

2. Example: Gen 3:9 “Where art thou, Adam”? Exod. 32:36 “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Consider further Deut. 30:19-20, 31:11-13; and Isaiah 1:18.

3. In the New Testament we have the following list of Christ’s appeals, among many: Matt. 11:28-30; Matt 4:19; Lk 14:16-23

4. Paul and the other apostles wrote about persuading men: Acts 2:38-40; 10:48; 16:30-31; 26: 22-29; II Cor. 5:10-20
  • It is true that in modern times giving invitations publicly came into use in Finney’s and Moody’s day. For many years the inquiry room and anxious seat were used, as they were called.
  • We are told to go and make disciples of all men, (Matt. 28:18-20) this requires laboring to get decisions and giving invitations whether public or private. I think it is evident that Christ expects us to give invitations.
  • In the business world salesmen expect results from their appeals as they work at impressing the potential buyer.
  • In good, soul winning, fundamental churches invitations are expected by the person in the pew. In fact in many cases if the pastor or evangelist did not give invitations regularly the people would be very concerned.
B. They are Logical:

1. Sermons are for the purpose of winning people to Christ, moving them toward maturity, growth and godliness, and enlisting them for service for God’s glory.

2. Good churches make every effort to create an atmosphere for decisions. What place is better than at the end of a powerful, Scriptural sermon?

3. The inclinations toward decisions wane quickly when conviction passes away. When the impulse is strong to deal with needs - that is when the person needs to move toward a decision. This is the end purpose of an invitation.

4. We live in a day of skillful, high-pressure advertising. People are accustomed to appeals or solicitations to see or to buy. The masses are invitation-minded because they are readily asked to sign on the dotted line.

5. In the fundamental, Baptist church people are educated to expect invitations at the close of the gospel message. Saved and unsaved alike must have opportunity given to them to make decisions.

C. They Appeal to the Will of the Individual:

1. As we see how God made man, we would note that giving invitations would be normal and fitting within the scope of man’s nature.

2. When emotions are aroused (man is an emotional being) desires are stirred that soon pass away unless acted upon. The person generally needs an invitation to help him make the right use of the conviction of that moment.

3. Good impulses are harder to generate the second time than the first time.

4. When emotions are stirred up by the Holy Spirit’s work and no outlet is given for action the people become used to being moved without response. This is damaging and renders the people more and more indifferent.

5. Invitations are generally made when there is a favorable mood, a convicting environment, and God is at work in the heart.

D. They are Practical:

1. They are the justified end to accomplish the gospel call, to win men to Christ at the earliest moment.

2. Today every outstanding evangelist uses them.

3. People need definite, vital Christian experience. Many lack assurance of salvation for they don’t recall the time when they made a definite transaction with God. Evangelistic invitations bring them to the crisis of committal or decision.

4. Often the lost move when they see others move out in decisions. When Christians are willing, regularly, to do business with God at the altar then the unsaved are far more apt to also move forward for decision making.

5. Invitations have been proven to increase the number of conversions, and additions to a Church.

E. They will be Honored:

1. Invitations will be rewarded in the hearts of the saved who have prayed for the unsaved to come to Christ.

2. Some of a church’s layfolk will have been under the burden of concern for the lost. Invitations well-given and acted upon will bring great rejoicing to the hearts of the saved who love the Lord and the lost.

3. There is joyous anticipation that the Holy Spirit will honor the message, the testimony of the saved, and the intercession for the lost.

4. Often the unsaved consciously or unconsciously expect invitations at the end of sermons. They may not be ready to act, but they may admit they are thankful that there is concern for them.

5. Invitations are honored by the Holy Spirit, who also bears witness to the truth and is the One who moves on the heart of the lost and the Christian alike. (Jh.15:26-27) Read the complete article
In Defense of the Invitation / Altar Call, by Kevin Jackson (Society of Evangelical Arminians)
Arminian churches typically utilize altar calls more frequently than Calvinist churches do. Why is this so? First, Arminians believe in prevenient grace - that God is working in the hearts of non-believers to draw them to Himself. Second, Arminians believe that God desires for everyone to be saved. Thus, every non-believer is a genuine candidate for the saving grace of God. Third, many Arminian and Semi-Arminian denominations are “low church”. Low church worship services tend to be more expressive and less formal than those of older and more established denominations. Given these reasons, it should be expected that Arminian leaning denominations would be more likely to utilize the public invitation to accept Christ.

While altar calls are not specifically mentioned, public invitations to accept Christ were frequently made by many of the disciples, including Peter and Paul. An altar call is a public invitation to accept Christ. It can be used in a manner that strongly affirms scripture. Here are some examples:

Altar calls are used to proclaim the good news of Jesus. In Mark 16:15 Jesus said to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

Altar calls are used to exhort repentance. In Acts 17 Paul makes a public invitation to the Athenians to accept Christ. In Acts 17:30 Paul states that “...(God) commands all people everywhere to repent.”

Altar calls are an opportunity for new believers to publicly acknowledge their faith in Christ. Jesus called for his disciples to follow him publicly. Matthew 10:32-33 states that “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”

An altar is a place where one can openly confess sins. 1 John 1:9 states that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Read the complete article)
NO, NO I WON’T GO! Is it time to drop the altar call? by Keith Drury
I believe God created human beings with “free will,” -- that is, the freedom to make personal decisions. In the Garden, Adam & Eve used their free will to decide to disobey God. Enter depravity. That is, then human will from then onward has been depraved, or bent toward sin. Our depraved will, though still free, is biased toward disobedience. As Augustine observed, we may be free to do right, but we seem freer to chose wrong. So, with such a darkened nature, how could we ever find God? Enter God’s grace -- the grace which precedes conversion, enlightening and drawing our heart toward Him.

When we decide to come to God we experience saving grace. God’s plan of salvation includes a provision for my personal decision. -- to believe, confess, repent, and receive -- all acts which spring from our will. The human will is critical for conversion. Though the decision does not save us, the decision in critical in our salvation. The will is also critical in our sanctification. God does not make us holy automatically and without our cooperation and submission.

The sanctification of God’s people involves commitment, surrender, consecration and seeking, again, all acts of the will. (The theological part is almost over, be patient.)

So, why do I keep giving altar calls? Because I keep calling for a decision in my preaching. And the altar call is one good way to “put the question” for decision. The decision they make will be critical to the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of believers. So I keep preaching for a verdict and calling for decision. And the altar call still works (almost) everywhere I go. (Read the complete article)
Finney’s Altar Call and the Quest for Efficient Evangelism, by Gerardo Marti
It is therefore out of a pastoral concern for the crisis experienced by near-converts that Finney crystallized his notion of “the anxious seat.” Individuals who understand the gospel begin to occupy the anxious seat; they experience a type of physical agony that mere rest will not take away. The seat becomes a place of torture -- the unmoving agent stuck sitting amidst the stirring of their own conviction.

For Finney, the altar call delivers people from their anxiety. It takes them out of a passive state to an active one. By inviting attenders to respond to the message, the preacher delivers convicted persons from their anxiety and toward spiritual ease in the elation of obtaining salvation through their active repentance. The preacher and volunteers steer each person out of their anxiety by giving them assurance of their salvation by pointing to their standing and coming forward as a physical mark of their commitment to Jesus.

In the end, while Finney’s own conversion was private it emerged from a state of utter distress. Finney hoped to ease people from such emotional pain by directing them to a standardized response that moves them productively -- even efficiently -- toward salvation and emotional comfort.

Yes, altar calls are efficient means toward salvation, allowing more converts to find their way into Christian fellowship than if they pursued it without direction privately. But for Finney the use of altar calls emerges not for the sake of efficiency alone, but rather a pastoral concern to deliver people from spiritual agony toward spiritual elation. In this sense, finding salvation is simultaneously a means to find healing. (Read the complete article)
A Case for Altar Calls, by Regina Shands Stoltzfus
An altar call may not be the only way to issue such a call, but it may be a good way. The biblical basis for such a public testimony comes from a number of Scriptures that focus on confession: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,” writes Paul, “you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe...and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NIV; see also Philippians 2:10-11). The journey to the altar expresses the call of Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Our words, our confessions, are therefore outward manifestations of an inward reality—that through Christ, God has called us to God’s self. We are free to accept or reject this call; coming to the altar is a signal of acceptance. It also indicates a willingness to be accountable to the believing community. (Read the complete article)
What does the Bible say about altar calls? Are altar calls biblical?
While altar calls as practiced today are not found in the Bible, their advocates cite several biblical examples as support for using them. First, Christ called each of His disciples publicly, telling them “follow Me” (Matthew 4:19, 9:9) and expecting them to respond immediately, which they did. Jesus was demanding an outward identification with Himself on the part of those who would be His disciples. Of course, the problem of Judas, who also responded publicly by leaving his life behind and following Jesus, is that the “call” Judas responded to was not synonymous with salvation.

Proponents of the altar call also cite Matthew 10:32 as proof that a new believer must acknowledge Christ “before men” in order for Him to reciprocate. Calling people to the front of an arena or church is certainly acknowledging before men that a decision has been made. The question is whether that decision is genuinely motivated by a sincere repentance and faith or whether it is an emotional response to external stimuli such as swelling music, heartfelt pleas from the pulpit, or a desire to “go along with the crowd.” (Read the complete article)
Note: jump to Middle ground on the altar call; For the sinner’s prayer; Against the sinner’s prayer and Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart; Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer; Index of resources cited in this post; back to top

Against the altar call

Jump to [1] Altar Call Evangelism; [2] The “Altar Call” Is it helpful or harmful? [3] Are Altar Calls Biblical? [4] Why We Don’t Use The Altar Call; [5] The Corrupt Root and Bitter Fruit of Altar Call Evangelism; [6] Decisional Regeneration; [7] The Dangers of the Invitation System; [8] “Saving Faith In Focus”; [9] D. Martin Lloyd-Jones on the Altar Call; [10] A Close Look at Invitations and Altar Calls; [11] In Defense of Refusing to Heed an Altar Call; [12] Altar Call; [13] How to Botch an Altar Call; [14] 21 Flaws of the “Altar Call” ; [15] Altar Calls Examined: The Invitation System (MP3); [16] Why doesn’t The Village do altar calls? [17] “What is an Invitation?”; [18] Our pastor recently stopped doing an altar-call / invitation at the end of the services. Is this biblical? [19] The Altar Call: Twelve Questions; [20] What About Altar Calls?

Altar Call Evangelism, by Paul Alexander, Capitol Hill Baptist
The altar call too easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” (walking an aisle) with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ” (repentance and belief). People are urged to come forward as if that coming forward is the critical element in being converted. But what’s required for salvation isn’t walking an aisle. It’s repentance from sin and belief in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15). Initial repentance and belief – conversion – can happen anywhere, in the pew or in the pub.

This confusion deceives people about their spiritual state. It encourages people to think that they have responded savingly to the gospel in their hearts just because they've come forward externally and prayed a prayer at an altar. But this isn't necessarily true. It simply isn't the case that just because someone is coming forward after the sermon, they are responding to the gospel in repentance and belief. Hebrews 6 warns that there are those who have not just come forward, but who have “once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” who, notwithstanding these seemingly convincing proofs, do not enjoy “things that accompany salvation” (Heb 6:4-5, 9; for a historical treatment, see Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000]). In other words, there is a type of true spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit, a real hearing of the word, and even an observation of the power of God, that is nevertheless not saving. Is this not also the point of the parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20)? External, emotional, and even temporary spiritual movement do not necessarily imply internal conversion.

This confusion often obscures the requirements of repentance and belief.
This confusion encourages people to base their assurance on a one-time event.
This confusion brings false converts with false assurance into the church’s membership.
The altar call makes conversion look like a work of man, when in fact it is a work of God.
The altar call confuses people regarding sacred space.
The altar call confuses “coming forward” with baptism.
The altar call distracts Christians from the main point of the service. (Read the complete article)
The “Altar Call” Is it helpful or harmful? by Fred G. Zaspel, published by Word of Life Baptist Church, Pottsville, PA
The emphasis on “coming forward to receive Christ” confuses the meaning of faith.

What does it mean to “come to Christ”? We all know that it is a matter of faith. Luther used terminology such as “closing with Christ,” and this terminology is exactly Biblical. We are to “look” to Him, “run to Him for refuge,” “receive Him” all these Biblical expressions speak of matters of the soul. They speak of faith. And they allow nothing else. “Come here to receive Christ” is an awful confusion of the object and nature of saving faith. Why should we confuse the issue and ask men to come “here” for Christ? Where do we find Biblical justification for such a thing? God is not concerned whether a man walks down an aisle in a church, and neither should we be concerned with it. The only concern is that they look away to Christ and to no one else. And this is precisely where we must direct their attention. (Read the complete article)
Are Altar Calls Biblical? from Trinity Baptist Church, Burlington, Ontario
While the necessity of inviting sinners to Jesus is something to be defended, that invitation must be safeguarded. In the evangelism of today, inviting sinners to Christ, which is a matter related to preaching, has been confused with giving altar calls, which is something related to methodology. When today’s preachers speak of “giving the invitation,” they invariably mean giving an altar call in which people are bidden to walk to the front of the church or auditorium as an indication that they are “accepting Christ.”

The great objective to this methodology is that it identifies a physical act with saving faith. No matter how carefully the preacher tries to explain that “coming to the front won’t save you,” the person being addressed can hardly be blamed for equating the two. All through the sermon he has been told of the importance of coming to Christ, and then at the end of the sermon he is exhorted, “Come to Jesus Christ right now; let this be the moment of decision; come as you are; He will receive you,” and at the same time he is directed to come down to the front of the auditorium. I say he can hardly be blamed for believing in his own mind that coming down to the front was indeed that very “coming to Jesus” of which the preacher had been so earnestly speaking.(Read the complete article)
Why We Don’t Use The Altar Call, by Laurence A. Justice, Victory Baptist Church (MP3 available for listening or download)
In Acts 2:36-37 we are told that at Pentecost 3,000 people were saved but no altar call was used. The saving of those 3,000 was the work of the Holy Spirit of God and not of clever emotional appeals to come to the front of the meeting place. Whatever reasons one may give for using the altar call, it is a fact that it cannot be supported from the word of God.

As we have already pointed out, some people believe and teach that if one does not give an invitation in connection with his sermon he is not evangelistic. But we cannot be more evangelistic than the New Testament and the altar call or invitation system is not to be found in the pages of the New Testament. Actually having an altar call is a departure from scriptural requirements and practice. (Read the complete article)
Closing With Christ, by Jim Elliff, Christian Communicators Worldwide
First, there is no biblical precedent or command regarding a public altar call. Whatever might be said for its use, we cannot resort to the Bible for support. Jesus nor Paul, nor any other early Christian leader used it. Did Jesus ask his listeners to come to the front after He preached the Sermon on the Mount? Did Paul say, “Every head bowed, every eye closed” as Luke quietly sang the invitation hymn on the Areopagus? Did Peter have seekers raise their hands as a sign of their interest in Christ at the end of the Pentecostal sermon?

Quickly it must be said that I espouse a verbal call to Christ in a most serious way and believe that the spoken invitation to come to Christ is a part of all gospel preaching.

The more biblical way of “closing with Christ” is to focus on the gospel itself, without props. Whereas the altar call method can be tacked on to just about anything, no matter how absent the gospel, the biblical method demands the hearing of the Word. “How will they believe without a preacher.” (Rom. 10: 14). It is the “by the will of God that they are begotten, through the Word of truth” (Jam. 1:18, emphasis mine). They are “born again…through the living and abiding Word of God” (1 Pet. 1: 23). (Read the complete article)
The Corrupt Root and Bitter Fruit of Altar Call Evangelism, by Daryl Wingerd
Most pastors and evangelists who favor this methodology would not say, of course, that a person is saved by walking forward or by raising his hand. They learned in Theology 101 that a person is saved by faith. But these meetings are filled with people who have little, if any, biblical knowledge, and often no sharp awareness whatsoever of critical doctrines. Many of them have backgrounds in false religious systems where people are supposedly saved by physical acts, such as baptism or the performance of sacraments. This “going forward” may seem to be just a different kind of sacrament that is a necessary supplement to faith—that is, unless true biblical doctrines are carefully explained and methods are not allowed to confuse the issue. In any case, according to what they are now being told, combined with what they are being asked to do, many of these theologically uninformed (or misguided) people will come to a conclusion something like this: “I agree with what the preacher has said, and I know it applies to me. Therefore, I can be saved if I will do as he says.” This is unarguably how the “opportunity to receive Christ” was presented, and unless the listener already knows more about what it means to “receive Jesus” than he has just been told, this is the way it will be perceived.

I am not at all suggesting that preachers who use the altar call in some form consciously believe that the walk forward is a saving walk. What I am asking Christians to ask themselves, however, is this: If going forward or praying a particular prayer to receive Christ are not necessary (or at least helpful) in order to acquire salvation, why do so many pastors and evangelists conclude their preaching with statements like, “I want to give you the opportunity to come forward and receive Jesus”? If the sinner can receive Jesus by faith where he sits, what additional opportunity presents itself at the front of the auditorium? (Read the complete article)
Decisional Regeneration, by James E. Adams
History tells us that whenever the gospel was preached men were invited to Christ—not to decide at the end of a sermon whether or not to perform some physical action.

The Apostle Paul, the great evangelist, never heard of an altar call, yet today some consider the altar call to be a necessary mark of an evangelical church. In fact, churches which do not practice it are often accused of having no concern for the lost. Neither Paul nor Peter ever climaxed his preaching with forcing upon his hearers the decision to walk or not to walk. It is not only with church history, then, but with Scriptural history as well that the altar call is in conflict.

One may ask, ‘How did preachers of the gospel for the previous eighteen hundred years invite men to Christ without the use of the altar call?’ They did so in much the same way as did the apostles and the other witnesses of the early Church. Their messages were filled with invitations for all men everywhere to come to Christ.

Surely it will be admitted that the first sermon of the Christian Church was not climaxed by an altar call. Peter on the Day of Pentecost concluded his sermon with these words ‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ Peter stopped. Then the divinely inspired record tells us ‘Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ (Acts 236-37). This response was the result of the work of the Spirit of God, not of clever appeals or psychological pressure. That day the apostles witnessed the conversion of three thousand people.

C. H. Spurgeon invited men to come to Christ, not to an altar. (Read the complete article)
Saving Faith In Focus” by Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical Society (Note: GES is a non-lordship salvation ministry)
Asking unbelievers to come forward—to walk the aisle or come to the front of the auditorium—in order to be saved is another popular evangelistic practice without biblical precedent. A person may stand before others with complete sincerity and with a strong desire to be saved and yet return to his seat not having believed in Christ for eternal life. Coming forward will not save. Only believing in Christ will save.

Of course, if a person comes forward and a counselor is used of God to convince him that Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him, then he would end up being saved. However, coming forward is not a condition, any more than coming to church in the first place is a condition. A person can be saved at school, at work, in her car, in a foxhole, on a basketball court, or anywhere, with or without an aisle or a preacher! (Read the complete article)
The Dangers of the Invitation System, by Jim Ehrhard
There is no clear biblical precedent or command related to the modern public invitation or altar call.

As noted previously, some say, “Christ always called people publicly.” It is certainly true that Christ Himself did say such things as ‘Follow Me,’ or ‘Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.’
But to conclude that Jesus gave altar calls on the basis of those passages is to fail to be honest with the text. No doubt Jesus called men to Himself. But there is no example where He (or the apostles) appealed for people to “come forward” as either a testimony to their decision or as an act of accepting Him.
Jesus did NOT call people to make a “one time” decision about Him, but to follow Him all their lives. He taught that one mark of true faith is a life that continually confesses Him.(Read the complete article)
D. Martin Lloyd-Jones on the Altar Call
I feel that this pressure which is put upon people to come forward in decision ultimately is due to a lack of faith in the work and operation of the Holy Spirit. We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people. And of course He does. Some may come immediately at the close of the service to see the minister. I think there should always be an indication that the minister will be glad to see anybody who wants to put questions to him or wants further help. But that is a very different thing from putting pressure upon people to come forward. I feel it is wrong to put pressure directly on the will. The order in Scripture seems to be this - the truth is presented to the mind, which moves the heart, and that in turn moves the will. (Read the complete article)
Why doesn’t The Village do altar calls? (Highland Village First Baptist Church)
In addition to the altar call’s misleading theological foundation, it is sometimes viewed as a means of assurance of salvation and a public profession of faith. However, the biblical ground for assurance is not that one has once stood in church, but rather that one is currently loving, trusting, and obeying Christ. Furthermore, the biblically-prescribed public profession of faith is not walking down an aisle, but being immersed in the baptismal waters. (Read the complete article)
The Altar Call: Twelve Questions, by Pastor Larry DeBruyn, Franklin Road Baptist Church, Indianapolis
Is it biblical concept?
What was its origin?
Does it contradict justification by faith?
Does it attempt to make faith visible?
Has it become an evangelical sacrament?
Does it usurp the Holy Spirit’s authority?
Is it a vow?
Can personalities manipulate it?
What are the results?
Does not the salvation of a few justify the walk of many?
Doesn’t it help people to find assurance of salvation?
Do any biblical texts support the evangelical rite?

As Charles Finney was the first to utilize the altar call, how did this rite of passage into the Christian life play out in the lives of those who walked the aisle? In his book Perfectionism, B.B. Warfield quotes Joseph Ives Foot, a contemporary of Finney, who wrote in 1838, that, “During ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that his (Finney’s) real converts are comparatively few. It is declared, even by himself, that ‘the great body of them are a disgrace to religion’ . . .”

In light of “free-will altar calls,” we ask, what are the tangible results, or fruit, in the aftermath of people's lives? In his book A Call for Spiritual Reformation, D. A. Carson draws attention to a pattern. He asks: “To what extent do those who profess faith at world-class evangelistic meetings actually persevere, over a period of five years from their initial profession of faith?” Carson then cites the following statistic: “When careful studies have been undertaken, the most commonly agreed range is 2 percent to 4 percent; that is, between 2 percent and 4 percent of those who make a profession of faith at such meetings are actually persevering in the faith five years later, as measured by such external criteria as attendance at church, regular Bible reading, or the like.” There seems to be a high recidivism rate among those who after responding to the invitation to walk an aisle, return to their sinful lifestyles. More often than not, they are like criminals who upon release after incarceration, return to a life of crime. Just as I Am lapses into just as I was. If in the afterlife of having walked an aisle nothing changes in a person's life, if there is no sensitivity to sin and cultivation of righteous living, then it can only be concluded that regeneration has not taken place--that a person was not truly born again.

In their giving altar calls, many pastors provide the appearance of deeply caring for souls, the implication being that any pastor who does not offer altar calls cares neither for the salvation or spiritual welfare of people. This issue needs to be addressed.

On this point, we enter into the realm of motive, and as Paul stated, only God is qualified to judge any pastor's heart and motive. He wrote: “For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God’s” (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).

Though sometimes during and at the end of a service, I frequently invite people to trust in Jesus Christ where they are, I do not ask them to do anything outwardly to signify their inner faith. That will come later through baptism and good works, both of which follow faith (See Acts 2:38; 8:12; etc.). I invite them to faith, not to move forward. I do not invite them to walk forward for what, in my view, is a very important reason: I do not want faith to become confused with something else. I do not want “do” (i.e., Come forward.) to be confused with “done” (i.e., Christ’s sacrifice is complete and sufficient to save us from our sins.). The Gospel demands that persons possess a godly sorrow and conviction for sin, place their faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for their sins, and believe that He rose from the dead. As a pastor, I do not want any method to conflict with or confuse this message. I want nothing to come between the sinner and the Savior. Salvation is through faith and by grace (i.e., the unmerited favor of God), and for that reason, I do not offer altar calls. Faith is personal. I refrain from doing altar calls not because I am indifferent to the state of people's souls, but rather, because I am concerned that there is no confusion about how a person is saved--that people cannot be saved by anything they might do, but rather, by faith in what Jesus has already done. God's salvation comes to the human heart by faith plus nothing!

As another pastor summarizes, “If we truly believe that salvation is by God’s grace alone, not something that is accomplished by means of partnership between God and man, we will have no apprehension about preaching the gospel and inviting people to Christ in such a way that they are left with nothing to do but repent and believe, and nowhere to go but to Christ Himself by faith.” (Read the complete article)
Our pastor recently stopped doing an altar-call / invitation at the end of the services. Is this biblical? by Bob Deffinbaugh (pastor-teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, Richardson, Texas)

Somehow it has come about that the primary purpose of the church gathering is assumed to be evangelism. Thus, the pastor preaches the gospel to the lost (who may or may not be there), and then gives an invitation. Rather than training the people to go out and evangelize, the saints are encouraged to invite their unsaved friends to church to hear the gospel. That’s pretty much the opposite of what we see in the New Testament.

Therefore, if winning the lost is not the primary purpose for the church gathering on the Lord’s Day then one would wonder why it has become a tradition in many churches to preach an evangelistic message and then give an invitation nearly every Sunday. (I think that the gospel should be given in a concise and straightforward way, but that this should not be the primary focus of the message every Sunday.)

It is interesting to me to observe that Jesus never actually gave an evangelistic message (so far as the gospels tell us), nor did He ever give an invitation (as we know it -- see Matthew 11:28-30). When Paul speaks of the conversion of the Ephesians he describes it as “learning Christ” (Ephesians 4:20). Frankly, if we are teaching God's Word as we should people will be learning of Christ, including the lost. I have seen a number of people saved by listening to teaching addressed to believers.

For these reasons I would say that many churches need to quit trying to attract unbelievers to church, seeking to win them to Christ there, but they should start teaching believers the Scriptures, helping saints to know and develop their spiritual gifts, and then sending them out into the world with the gospel. (Read the complete article)

What is an Invitation? by Dr. James Galyon (citing a 1990’s Texas Baptist Standard article titled “Will altar call go the way of funeral-home fans?”

The article goes on to point out that the biblical method for an individual to respond to an invitation to follow Jesus Christ is through baptism. Roy Fish, renowned (and now retired) evangelism professor from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, maintained, “Some people would think lost people ought to be given an opportunity to openly confess Christ. And they would say that’s why we give invitations ­­to openly confess Him. But the New Testament confession is baptism. If a person is baptized, they meet every New Testament requirement.” The article also points out that for several generations Baptists have actually required two professions of faith – the altar call and baptism.

“Over time, the invitation has created the ‘sacrament of walking the aisle’­­ an outward sign of an inward act,” Baptist historian Bill Leonard observed. “People would refer to their conversion experience as ‘when I walked the aisle.’ Often in many Baptist churches, walking the aisle became the central conversion experience. You didn’t have to say anything. When you stepped into that aisle, people knew what you meant.” The article showed that churches which offered alternative “invitations” and centralized their focus on baptism were actually returning to the biblical ideal. Roy Fish claimed, “The issue is not one of being right or wrong. Every church has to determine what is the most effective way to be obedient to God’s command to make disciples. We want to be flexible where the Bible is flexible and inflexible where the Bible is inflexible.”

Altar Calls Examined: The Invitation System (MP3), by James M. Harrison, Red Mills Baptist Church (New York); panel composed of Jim Elliff, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ptr. Gary Scott, New Heights Park Baptist Church, Long Island; Ptr. Jim Harrison, Red Nose Baptist Church, New York; Ptr. David King, Presbyterian Church of America.

What About Altar Calls?” by Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).

4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.” (Read the complete article.)

A Close Look at Invitations and Altar Calls, by Carey Hardy

In Defense of Refusing to Heed an Altar Call, by Sandy Fiedler

Altar Call, by G. I. Williamson

How to Botch an Altar Call, by Way of the Master

21 Flaws of the “Altar Call” by Pastor David Wooten

Note: jump to Against the altar call; For the sinner’s prayer; Against the sinner’s prayer and Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart; Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer; Index of resources cited in this post; back to top

Middle ground on the altar call

Four Reasons Not to Give an Altar Call, by Dr. R. Larry Moyer, President and CEO EvanTell, Inc.
There is a place for a properly given altar call, but we must maintain a correct understanding of how, when, and where to use one. Altar calls properly handled don’t confuse the gospel, are not the basis for dishonesty and manipulation, are not viewed as the “only way,” and are not used for self-promotion. Instead, altar calls properly done say in a warm and caring way to non-Christians, “If you’d like to come to Christ, we’d love the opportunity to talk to you about that right now.” Let’s honor God by presenting the gospel clearly. Let’s also honor Him in the way we give an altar call. (Read the complete article)
Walk the Aisle, by Douglas A. Sweeney and Mark C. Rogers
While many embraced Finney's “new measures,” others were wary of the theology behind them. Finney believed that Christ's death had made salvation possible for all. Human depravity was “a voluntary attitude of the mind,” not a nature one was born with. Conversion, therefore, depended on the human will being persuaded to repent and trust Christ. According to Finney, the altar call was a very persuasive tool to move the human will. Calvinist ministers such as Asahel Nettleton rejected Finney’s confidence in human ability and his reliance on the altar call. They believed human beings were born with a sinful nature. Sinners were unable to trust in Christ until God changed their hearts. Historian Iain Murray describes many opponents of the altar call who “alleged that the call for a public 'response' confused an external act with an inward spiritual change.” Moreover, Murray says, the altar call effectively “institute[d] a condition of salvation which Christ never appointed.” Critics argued that altar-call evangelism resulted in false assurance, as a high percentage of those who went forward to “receive Christ” soon fell away.

Despite criticism, the altar call continues. It has become a permanent fixture in American evangelicalism. One need only watch a few minutes of a Billy Graham crusade on TV to recognize that what was once a “new measure” has become mainstream. (Read the complete article)
Note: jump to Against the altar call; Middle ground on the altar call; Against the sinner’s prayer and Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart; Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer; Index of resources cited in this post; back to top

For the sinner’s prayer

What is the sinner’s prayer? and What is the prayer of salvation? from Got

Sinner’s Prayer for Children, by Jerry Gaffney Ministries

The Sinner’s Prayer, from
states that the sinner’s prayer is the type of prayer that you will use to lead someone who is not saved into eternal salvation by accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. On the basis of Romans 10:9, the website states if a person can verbally speak out loud without any problems or impediments, then the Sinner’s Prayer should really be said out loud. (Because of the website’s restrictions on the use of its materials, I will not post the relevant portions of its article, despite my right to do under the Fair Use doctrine.)

Differences Between Reformed and Southern Baptist Churches: Altar Calls vs No Altar Calls, by Les Puryear

I have been in the company of reformed pastors who speak sarcastically and derisively about the use of a “sinner’s prayer” in leading a person to Christ. I have read criticisms online from reformed pastors about how people are putting their faith in a prayer or “walking the aisle” instead of Jesus. I know of no pastor of a traditional Southern Baptist church who believes that anyone is saved by anything or anyone other than Jesus. The use of a “sinner’s prayer” is a means to help guide the sinner to say what he wants to say to Jesus but doesn’t know how. There is no SBC pastor who believes “walking the aisle,” praying a prayer, marking a commitment card, or any other methods is what saves anyone. Jesus saves. Period. I also see nothing wrong with having sinners walk the aisle to publicly proclaim their faith in Christ (Matt. 10:32-33), pray a prayer asking Jesus to save them (Rom. 10:13), indicating on a card what Jesus has done and is doing in their heart (Rom. 10:9). I have used those methods and will continue to use them. There are not any more people depending on a commitment card, walking the aisle, or praying a prayer to save them than there are those who are trusting their salvation to an elder’s examination or a board of elders declaration they are regenerate.

If your church doesn’t want to invite people to Christ during a worship service then go ahead and call a reformed pastor to your church. But if you want for everyone to have an opportunity to come to Christ during all worship services, call a traditional Southern Baptist pastor. (Read the complete article; read also critical replies to Puryear’s article “What is an Invitation?” by Dr. James Galyon and “On Altar Calls And Gospel Proclamation”)
Against the sinner’s prayer

Jump to [1] Romans 10:9-14: Sinner’s Prayers for Salvation? An Exegesis and Application of Romans 10:9-14 for Soulwinning Churches and Christians; [2] Closing with Christ; [3] Charles H. Spurgeon’s sermons on Romans 10:9-10 where he did not equate “confession with the mouth” with the sinner’s prayer for salvation; [4]
Repentance Blacklist; [5] Praying the prayer; [6] Romans 10:9-15, from Jamieson-Fauset- Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible; [7] Paul’s Discourse of Righteousness; The Method of Salvation, from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Unabridged; [8] “Some Simple Difficulties of Salvation”; [9] “The Gospel And Water Baptism: A Study Of Acts 22:16”; [10] “Why Confess Christ? The Use and Abuse of Romans 10:9-10”; [11] Questions Answered About Repentance; [12] “The Sinner’s Prayer; [13] If You Sincerely Say ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ Are You Saved? (MP3); [14] Testimony - The Sinner’s Prayer Only Hurts People (MP3); [22] The Magic Prayer, Is The Sinner’s Prayer Effective? (listen to mp3) and Baptism and Belief; [23] Animism and the Sinner’s Prayer

Romans 10:9-14: Sinner’s Prayers for Salvation? An Exegesis and Application of Romans 10:9-14 for Soulwinning Churches and Christians, by Thomas D. Ross (Master of Arts degree in Bible from Fairhaven Baptist College, a Master of Divinity degree from Great Plains Baptist Divinity School and a Master of Theology degree from Anchor Baptist Theological Seminary, Salt Lake City, Utah)
One notes that the passage does not say, “prayer is made unto salvation,” but “confession is made unto salvation.” The verb rendered “confess,” homologeo, is found 24 times in 21 New Testament verses. In at least 23 of these 24 verses, a believer’s public confession before men by is in view, not private prayer. The sole likely exception, 1 John 1:9, unlike the other passages, does in fact deal with the Christian’s prayer to God for forgiveness and restoration of fellowship. The context and the use of the Greek present to indicate continuing action, however, make it clear that no reference to a lost man saying a sinner’s prayer is found in 1 John 1:9. Thus, no homologeo passage refers to a lost man asking God to save him and consequently receiving forgiveness.

Romans 10:9-10 says nothing about the lost praying and asking God to save them. It demonstrates that one is justified by imputed righteousness upon believing in Christ, and that one who has been so justified will confess Christ before men during his life, an evidence of that new nature without which no one will enter heaven.

Even if Romans 10:13 did promise justification to all who pray to God (which it does not), it would not mean that without prayer one cannot believe in Christ and be saved. While the Bible states “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3) and “he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16), it never says “except ye pray the sinner’s prayer, ye shall be damned.” Even the strongest possible promise of salvation to those who pray in Romans 10:13 would mean nothing for the damnation of those who do not pray. The common notion that one must pray and ask God for forgiveness or be damned is not only not taught in Romans 10:13, but it is based upon a logical converse fallacy.

Multitudes of people in the Bible were clearly converted without saying a sinner’s prayer. No example is found anywhere in Scripture of a Christian commanding or leading someone to recite one and then telling him that he was justified as a consequence of it. God’s “gospel tract,” the gospel of John, which was written specifically to show how men can have eternal life (John 20:31), employs the verb believe 100 times in 86 verses, but never commands sinners to pray and ask for forgiveness. The modern sinner’s prayer is, indeed, modern—it is not found in the Bible anywhere.

Romans 10:13-15 present, in reverse, the order in which men ultimately enter heaven. The temporal order is send-preach-hear-believe-call-heaven. Men are sent out to preach the gospel, some hear the message, believe it and are justified, and consequently are themselves transformed by it into those who call on the Lord. These enter everlasting glory when they die or at Christ’s return. Verses 16, 17 also evidence that the moment of justification is not at “call,” but at “believe.” To “obey” the gospel is to “believe” it (v. 16). Verse 17 ends the conversion order at “faith,” presenting the word preached, heard, and believed, just as v. 14 presents the order preach-hear-believe.

Classical soulwinning preachers and pamphleteers directed the lost to simply trust Christ by faith; for example, the classic 19th century evangelistic pamphlet “The Blood of Jesus,” by William Reid, which has been printed by the hundreds of thousands, directs the lost sinner to Christ and Him crucified, and does not use Romans 10:13 as a salvation verse anywhere. Horatius Bonar, in his numerous wonderful pamphlets and evangelistic discourses, did not employ a “sinner’s prayer” methodology. He stated, “Some have tried to give directions to sinners ‘how to get converted,’ multiplying words without wisdom, leading the sinner away from the cross, by setting him upon doing, not upon believing. Our business is not to give any such directions, but, as the apostles did, to preach Christ crucified, a present Saviour, and a present salvation. Then it is that sinners are converted, as the Lord Himself said, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me’ (John 12:32).” Neither Jonathan Edwards nor George Whitfield promised men that they would be saved if they would sincerely pray a sinner’s prayer.

The great Baptist preacher and lover of the souls of men, Charles Spurgeon, wrote a small book entitled Around The Wicket Gate, which was specifically designed for those who saw their need of Christ and wanted to be saved. Spurgeon states he “prepared this little book in the earnest hope that [God] may work by it to the blessed end of leading seekers to an immediate, simple trust in the Lord Jesus.” The book was for those who stand “at the entrance to the way of life.” In the book, Spurgeon always tells the lost to simply trust Christ by faith; he never tells them to pray to be saved, and he never uses Romans 10:13 as a promise of justification for those who pray. The entire book never cites the verse. (Read the complete article)
Note: For another scholarly study with a different perspective from that of the study cited above, please read “Why Confess Christ? The Use and Abuse of Romans 10:9-10” by John F. Hart, professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL. Hart holds a B.S., West Chester University; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary; and Th.D., Grace Theological Seminary. This article was printed in a 1995 issue of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (a non-lordship salvation ministry). The GES article “Saving Faith In Focus” speaks against the altar call and sinner’s prayer methodology.

The Magic Prayer, Is The Sinner’s Prayer Effective? (listen to mp3) and Baptism and Belief, by Greg Koukl (Stand To Reason)

The goal of an ambassador should never be getting someone to pray a prayer, but rather to follow Jesus. When we emphasize deciding for Christ instead of living for Him, we often get spiritual miscarriages instead of spiritual births. Our sense of safety can’t come from simply saying a prayer.

So the next time you lead someone to Christ, consider bypassing the sinner’s prayer. There’s no precedent for it in the Bible anyway. In the New Testament, baptism served the function of heralding one’s entry into the Body of Christ.
Closing with Christ, by Jim Elliff, Christian Communicators Worldwide
Attached to the altar call (and to personal evangelism) in this model is the use of “the sinner’s prayer.” What can be said about this? Is it found in the Bible? The sad truth is that it is not found anywhere but in the back of evangelistic booklets. Yes the Scripture says, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” but this means to evoke or place confidence in the name of Christ. The sinner may express genuine faith through a prayer, but to pray such a prayer is not the essence of the required response to the gospel invitation.

The typical “sinner’s prayer” as evangelicals have come to express it, has three elements: (1) a mere acknowledgment of sin, which is not the same as repentance, (2) a belief in the act of Christ's death, which is far removed from trust in his person and work, and, (3) an “inviting Christ into the life.” The last phrase hangs on nothing biblical (though John 1: 12 and Rev. 3: 20 are used, out of context, for its basis). It is considered, nonetheless, to be the pivotal and necessary instrument for becoming a true Christian. But God commands us to repentingly believe, not to invite Christ into the life.

Following the above, immediate assurance is given to the one who prayed on the basis of the sincerity of the person and the accuracy of the prayer. But it is the Holy Spirit who gives assurance of life in Christ, not the evangelist (Rom. 8: 16). We are to relate the basis of assurance but leave the actual assuring to the Spirit. This is rarely practiced in modern evangelicalism. We prefer rather to take the place of the Spirit in assuring the pray-er and therefore seal many in deception. It is not the efficacy of a prayer that saves; Christ alone saves. The well-quoted passage on assurance, 1 Jn. 5:13 states: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” “These things…written” are the tests in the rest of the letter which give a basis to determine if we are truly converted. (Read the complete article)
Praying the prayer, by Steven Hall © 2000 Living Waters Christian Fellowship (a look at what someone at each stage of the Engel Scale might “look like” in terms of the seven understandings and willingnesses and what the “sinner’s prayer” might actually mean to someone like this)
I have been a Christian for over 30 years and have been actively involved in evangelism for most of that time - student summer campaigns, counselling at big crusades, door-to-door visiting, church based event evangelism, street evangelism - you name it, I’ve done it! But when I look back, I see that the number of disciples is not very big. I’ve seen many people “go forward”, “make a decision”, “pray the sinners’ prayer” but very few committed to and participating in the local church.

Talking to people involved in big evangelistic events there seems to be an expectation that of those that go forward only about 10%-20% will eventually become active church members. This seems to me to be very different from the expectation in the New Testament.

I know that not all Christians agree, but I believe that real conversion is permanent but we don’t see this if “conversion” is equated with “making a decision” or “praying the prayer”. (Read the complete article)
Romans 10:9-15, from Jamieson-Fauset- Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
9. That if thou shalt, &c.—So understanding the words, the apostle is here giving the language of the true method of justification; and this sense we prefer (with Calvin, Beza, Ferme, Locke, Jowett). But able interpreters render the words, “For,” or “Because if thou shalt,” &c. [Vulgate, Luther, De Wette, Stuart, Philippi, Alford, Revised Version]. In this case, these are the apostle’s own remarks, confirming the foregoing statements as to the simplicity of the gospel method of salvation.

confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus—that is, probably, “If thou shalt confess Jesus [to be] the Lord,” which is the proper manifestation or evidence of faith (Mt 10:32; 1Jo 4:15). This is put first merely to correspond with the foregoing quotation—"”n thy mouth “nd in thine heart.” So in 1Pe 1:10 the “calling of believers" is put before their “election,” as that which is first “made sure,” although in point of time it comes after it.

and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised—“that God raised”
him from the dead, &c.—(See on Ro 4:25). In Ro 10:10 the two things are placed in their natural order.

10. For with the heart man believeth unto—justifying

righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation—This confession of Christ’s name, especially in times of persecution, and whenever obloquy is attached to the Christian profession, is an indispensable test of discipleship.

11-13. For the scripture saith—in Isa 28:16, a glorious Messianic passage.

Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed—Here, as in Ro 9:33, the quotation is from the Septuagint, which renders those words of the original, “shall not make haste” (that is, fly for escape, as from conscious danger), “shall not be put to shame,” which comes to the same thing.

12. For there is no difference—or “distinction” between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord over all—that is, not God (as Calvin, Grotius, Olshausen, Hodge), but Christ, as will be seen, we think, by comparing Ro 10:9, 12, 13 and observing the apostle’s usual style on such subjects. (So Chrysostom, Melville, Bengel, Meyer, De Wette, Fritzsche, Tholuck, Stuart, Alford, Philippi).

is rich—a favorite Pauline term to express the exuberance of that saving grace which is in Christ Jesus.

unto all that call upon him—This confirms the application of the preceding words to Christ; since to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus is a customary expression. (See Ac 7:59, 60; 9:14, 21; 22:16; 1Co 1:2; 2Ti 2:22).

13. For—saith the scripture whosoever—The expression is emphatic, “Everyone whosoever” shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved—(Joe 2:32); quoted also by Peter, in his great Pentecostal sermon (Ac 2:21), with evident application to Christ.

14, 15. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and … believe in him of whom they have not heard? and … hear without a preacher? and … preach except … sent?—that is, “True, the same Lord over all is rich unto all alike that call upon Him. But this calling implies believing, and believing hearing, and hearing preaching, and preaching a mission to preach: Why, then, take ye it so ill, O children of Abraham, that in obedience to our heavenly mission (Ac 26:16-18) we preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ?”
Paul’s Discourse of Righteousness; The Method of Salvation, from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Unabridged
First, What is promised to us: Thou shalt be saved. It is salvation that the gospel exhibits and tenders—saved from guilt and wrath, with the salvation of the soul, an eternal salvation, which Christ is the author of, a Saviour to the uttermost.

Secondly, Upon what terms.

a. Two things are required as conditions of salvation:—(a.) Confessing the Lord Jesus—openly professing relation to him and dependence on him, as our prince and Saviour, owning Christianity in the face of all the allurements and affrightments of this world, standing by him in all weathers. Our Lord Jesus lays a great stress upon this confessing of him before men; see Matt. x. 32, 33. It is the product of many graces, evinces a great deal of self-denial, love to Christ, contempt of the world, a mighty courage and resolution. It was a very great thing, especially, when the profession of Christ or Christianity hazarded estate, honour, preferment, liberty, life, and all that is dear in this world, which was the case in the primitive times. (b.) Believing in the heart that God raised him from the dead. The profession of faith with the mouth, if there be not the power of it in the heart, is but a mockery; the root of it must be laid in an unfeigned assent to the revelation of the gospel concerning Christ, especially concerning his resurrection, which is the fundamental article of the Christian faith, for thereby he was declared to be the Son of God with power, and full evidence was given that God accepted his satisfaction.

b. This is further illustrated (v. 10), and the order inverted, because there must first be faith in the heart before there can be an acceptable confession with the mouth. (a.) Concerning faith: It is with the heart that man believeth, which implies more than an assent of the understanding, and takes in the consent of the will, an inward, hearty, sincere, and strong consent. It is not believing (not to be reckoned so) if it be not with the heart. This is unto righteousness. There is the righteousness of justification and the righteousness of sanctification. Faith is to both; it is the condition of our justification (ch. v. 1), and it is the root and spring of our sanctification; in it it is begun; by it it is carried on, Acts xv. 9. (b.) Concerning profession: It is with the mouth that confession is made—confession to God in prayer and praise (ch. xv. 6), confession to men by owning the ways of God before others, especially when we are called to it in a day of persecution. It is fit that God should be honoured with the mouth, for he made man's mouth (Exod. iv. 11), and at such a time has promised to give his faithful people a mouth and wisdom, Luke xxi. 15. It is part of the honour of Christ that every tongue shall confess, Phil. ii. 11. And this is said to be unto salvation, because it is the performance of the condition of that promise, Matt. x. 32. Justification by faith lays the foundation of our title to salvation; but by confession we build upon that foundation, and come at last to the full possession of that to which we were entitled. So that we have here a brief summary of the terms of salvation, and they are very reasonable; in short this, that we must devote, dedicate, and give up, to God, our souls and our bodies—our souls in believing with the heart, and our bodies in confessing with the mouth. This do, and thou shalt live. For this (v. 11) he quotes Isa. xxviii. 16, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed; ou kataischynthesetai. That is, [a.] He will not be ashamed to own that Christ in whom he trusts; he that believes in the heart will not be ashamed to confess with the mouth. It is sinful shame that makes people deny Christ, Mark viii. 38. He that believeth will not make haste (so the prophet has it)—will not make haste to run away from the sufferings he meets with in the way of his duty, will not be ashamed of a despised religion. [b.] He shall not be ashamed of his hope in Christ; he shall not be disappointed of his end. It is our duty that we must not, it is our privilege that we shall not, be ashamed of our faith in Christ. He shall never have cause to repent his confidence in reposing such a trust in the Lord Jesus.
“Some Simple Difficulties of Salvation” by Roy L. Aldrich, Bibliotheca Sacra 111:442 (Apr 54) p. 158-169
“If a sinner is instructed to pray for salvation, the instructor should be able to tell him how long he must pray and how he can recognize the answer when it comes. It is evident that no such instruction can be given with Scriptural authority. The exhortations ‘to pray through’ or ‘to pray for victory’ can only confuse the inquirer by confirming his efforts in the wrong direction. If he is finally saved it will be in spite of—not because of the instruction given. He will be saved when he stops praying and exercises faith. . . . But someone is sure to ask about Romans 10:13, ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Does not this verse prove that prayer is necessary for salvation? . . . [T]o call on the Lord is [improperly] interpreted as a petition for salvation. Believers are commonly described as those who “call upon the Lord” (1 Cor 1:2; Acts 9:14, 21; 2 Tim 2:22). An examination of these passages will show that the phrase does not describe a prayer for salvation[.] . . . Salvation is the gift of God: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). How foolish it would be to pray for a gift which is sincerely offered. Such prayer could only be an offense to the donor.

The Bible does not teach that God is reluctant to save and that he must be coaxed and petitioned to exercise grace. It teaches the opposite—that the sinner is reluctant to be saved and that he must be coaxed and beseeched to receive God’s grace. . . . It is doubtless true that most seekers pray for salvation before they are saved. Such prayer is not to be condemned. “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” indicates an acknowledgement of sin and a desire for salvation which are commendable. However, if salvation finally comes to the praying sinner it will not be because he prays, but because he stops praying and believes the gospel. Not ‘he that prayeth,’ but ‘he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life’ (John 3:36a).”
The Gospel And Water Baptism: A Study Of Acts 22:16”, by Lanny Thomas Tanton, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Lincoln Park, MI; Editorial Board, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Note: GES is a non-lordship salvation ministry)
Secondly, this view sees the act of :calling on the name of the Lord” as a post-regeneration experience. This is based on Rom 10:13-15 which indicates that the act of calling on the name of the Lord occurs after faith. If the order of the events in Romans 10 is reversed into chronological order this becomes evident:

(1) Sending of the preacher (v 15b)
(2) Preaching (v 15a)
(3) Hearing (v 14b)
(4) Believing (v 14a)
(5) Calling on the name of the Lord (v 13).

Accordingly, to “call on the name of the Lord” is not the same as believing or praying for salvation, but it is something done after regenerating faith. The act of “calling on the name of the Lord” has an interesting history and, according to Hodges, is something characteristic of believers. (Read the complete article)
Why Confess Christ? The Use and Abuse of Romans 10:9-10,” by John F. Hart, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 12:2, Autumn 1999 (Note: GES is a non-lordship salvation ministry)
“The ‘saved’ in [Romans]10:9–10 is directed to those who are already justified believers. . . . For Paul, calling on the name of the Lord can only be done by one who is already justified by faith in Christ. . . . [T]he statements about confessing Christ [teach that] . . . publicly identifying with Christ has a cleansing and sanctifying effect on our lives. . . . One vital principle for victorious Christian living is the public, vocal, regular identification with the Lordship of Jesus. . . . In summary, as believers gathered together for public worship and by faith invoked God’s help in their trials, they were ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ and thereby confessing Christ’s Lordship.” (Read the complete article)
Saving Faith In Focus” by Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical Society (Note: GES is a non-lordship salvation ministry)
A very popular evangelistic technique today is to ask unbelievers to pray to become Christians. However, there is not one biblical example of anyone ever praying to be saved. Jesus never led anyone in a prayer of salvation, nor did any of the apostles or evangelists mentioned in the Bible. A person is saved by believing in Christ for eternal life, not by praying

If a person came to believe the gospel while he was praying a prayer, he would be saved. However, it is not a good idea to ask a person to pray something that he doesn’t already believe. And, if he already believes it, then he is already saved without the prayer. (Read the complete article)
Questions Answered About Repentance, by David Cloud, Way of Life Literature
The concern I have, when surveying the independent Baptist scene as a whole, is that repentance is NOT emphasized in the preaching of the gospel. It is mentioned sometimes, but it is not emphasized as it is in the preaching of the apostles. A prayer is emphasized instead. Sinner’s prayers are counted as salvations. When a preacher says that “eighty men got saved in the prison this month” or that “five hundred souls were saved in our church last year,” what does this mean? It usually means simply that these people prayed a sinner’s prayer, but that alone is not salvation. A repentant man who puts his confidence in the cross-work of Jesus and who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but many call upon the Lord in a sinner’s prayer who are not saved.

I have followed up on “quick prayerism” and have found that only a small percentage of those who “pray the prayer” show any abiding interest in obedience to Jesus Christ. Many of those who have been counted as “saved” are offended that we would tell them that they need to go to church and be baptized and serve Jesus Christ. “But I thought you prayed to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior,” we say to the “new convert.” He replies, “I did, but who are you to tell me what I have to do? I don’t need church to save me.” This attitude is evidence of an unrepentant heart, and I believe that any evangelistic program that gives assurance of salvation to people when they are in such a condition is unscriptural.(Read the complete article)
The Sinner’s Prayer”, by Michael D. O’Neal, Pastor, Gospel Light Baptist Church, Albany, Georgia
A thorough study of the scriptures will reveal the following facts:

1. A person is saved by grace through FAITH, not prayer.

2. No New Testament soul-winner instructed an unbeliever to pray “the sinner’s prayer.”

3. No unbeliever in the New Testament was saved by praying “the sinner’s prayer.”

4. God does not promise to answer the prayer of an unbeliever, EVEN WHEN HE IS ASKING TO BE SAVED. (Read the complete article)
Repentance Blacklist” by Dr. Dan Botterbrodt, Independent Baptist Institute, Fort Dodge, Iowa

Repentance is not repeating a sinner’s prayer. Can you show me in the Bible where it says ‘Repeat after me this prayer’? In fact that’s why I have stopped doing that in my soul winning efforts and outreach efforts. You know why? Because if they truly have come to a point of repentance and believing in Jesus Christ, you won’t have to give them any words to say. Not only that, but I have seen over and over and over again, people will repeat a prayer but they can’t tell you two weeks later what they did that particular prayer.

Not only that but I have talked to many people over the years. They are placing their faith in a prayer that was said, not in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You knock on their door, they don’t go to church anywhere but you ask them. “Do you know if you’re going to heaven? Yeah, I prayed … ten years ago.” What are they trusting in? A prayer that was said, not in the work of Jesus Christ. Repentance is not repeating a sinner’s prayer. Again, there’s no example of it in the Bible.

If You Sincerely Say ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ Are You Saved? (MP3) by Dr. David Downs, Cornerstone Baptist Church of Orlando, Florida

Testimony - The Sinner’s Prayer Only Hurts People (MP3), by Mason Vann, Grace Community Church, San Antonio, Texas

Charles H. Spurgeon’s sermons on Romans 10:9-10 (Note: Spurgeon did not equate “confession with the mouth” with the sinner’s prayer for salvation.)

Romans 10:10 “Faith First, Confession Following” (Sermon no. 3011)

“Believing with the heart must come first. Confession with the mouth must and should come afterwards. To confess with the mouth what I do not believe with the heart would be hypocrisy instead of being an acceptable sacrifice.”

“WHEN SHOULD ONE WHO BELIEVES WITH THE HEART, MAKE CONFESSION WITH THE MOUTH? Should he not make it as soon as he is converted? Is it not the most fitting time for making his first confession when he comes forward to unite himself with a Christian Church?”

“The Baptism of Believers is a most impressive and instructive mode of confessing with the mouth what we have believed with the heart.”

Romans 10:10 Confession with the Mouth (Sermon no. 520)

“I believe that the confession mentioned in the text embraces the whole of Christian life. I do not think it means the mere saying, “I am a disciple of Christ,” or submission to the God-ordained rite of Baptism. The Apostle includes, under the term, confession with the mouth, the whole life of the Christian—which is, in fact, the working out of that which God has worked in. It is the confession, both by act, deed and word, of that Divine Grace which God, by His Holy Spirit, has put into the soul. We say, in a common proverb, that, “One swallow does not make a summer.” So the merely confessing Christ once with the mouth does not make the confession here intended. One tree is not a forest, and one avowal of Christ is not the confession of Christ unto salvation. There is something more intended than one act, however distinct, or however excellent it may be considered in itself.”

“One of the simplest and earliest forms of confessing Christ with the mouth is to be found in uniting in acts of public worship.”

“The confession of Christ which is here intended is still better to be carried out by a dutiful attention to those two ordinances which are intended by Christ to be the distinctive badge of Believers.”

“In order to confess Christ with the mouth aright, there should be an association with the Lord’s people.”

“To some, confession with the mouth will involve the taking up of the cross in the family.”

“This confession will be very acceptable if it is made in the time of temptation.”

“Confession with the mouth should be carried out with double earnestness whenever we are called into trial for Christ’s sake—when the avowing of Christ will bring loss upon us, or when the denial of His name may secure us temporary prosperity.”

“I believe, my Brothers and Sisters, that a Christian can hardly carry out this confession with his mouth, unless he goes a little out of his way at times to bear testimony.”

“Again, to confess Christ with the mouth is not possible unless we are willing to use our position as a method of confession.”

“There are some men who never will confess the Lord Jesus with their mouths as they ought to do unless they become preachers.”

Romans 10:9 Heart and Mouth (Sermon no. 1898)

“Baptism is the confession of our faith. Constantly in Scripture the faith to which salvation is promised is a faith which makes a confession of itself. It is never a dumb faith—it is a faith that speaks, a faith which acknowledges its existence— yes, a faith which acknowledges the Lord in the teeth of adversaries! We must confess Christ before men, or we may not believe that we have the faith of God’s elect.”

Romans 10:9 “Believing with the Heart” (Sermon no. 519)

“You may go to Heaven without confessing—you cannot go to Heaven without believing.”
Animism and the Sinner’s Prayer by Karl Dahlfred, church planting missionary in Thailand (related articles: An Alternative to the Sinner’s Prayer, The Salvation Room, “Inoculated Against the Gospel” and other Side Effects of the Sinner’s Prayer, How did the Sinner’s Prayer become so Popular?, The Sinner’s Prayer Never Converted Anyone, Moving Beyond Felt Needs, When the Sinner’s Prayer Fails to Convert, False Assurance)

“While the sinner’s prayer is designed to help people become Christians, here in Thailand (as in other places) it many times has the opposite effect of confirming people in a fundamentally animistic worldview. At its core, animism is the using of religious rituals and ceremonies to manipulate the spirit world into doing what the animist wants it to do, whether that be warding off evil or inviting blessing. Thai Buddhism is a mix of pure Buddhism and local animistic beliefs in spirits, omens, relics, sacred objects, fortune telling, astrology, sorcery, and so on. This mix of spirit beliefs and Buddhism forms an important part of the worldview and belief system of Thai people, and it is this understanding of spiritual reality that Thai people bring to the table when they come to an evangelistic rally or hear a Gospel presentation.”

“In animism, it is not important to understand the actual words said in a prayer or spell since the power of the prayer is in the sacredness of the words themselves, not in understanding them. Chanting at the Buddhist temple is in the ancient language of Bali that the common person does not understand. However, as long as they hear the monks chanting or say the words themselves, merit is gained. So, when asked to say the sinner’s prayer, a person will more likely than not think that the words of the sinner’s prayer itself are powerful magical words that will bring about blessings. What the words mean are largely secondary and inconsequential. Going through the motions is all that matters.” (Read the complete article)

Reclaiming Regeneration: Declaring war on the Sinner’s Prayer, by Paul Washer

jump to Against the altar call; Middle ground on the altar call; For the sinner’s prayer; Against the sinner’s prayer; Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer; Index of resources cited in this post; back to top

Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart

Jump to [1] Getting John 1:12 Right: Should You Invite Jesus Into Your Heart?; [2] Scriptural Evaluation of Salvation Invitations, by AWANA Clubs International ; [3] Ten Reasons Not To Ask Jesus Into Your Heart; [4] Ask Jesus into your heart?; [5] Seven Reasons NOT To Ask Jesus Into Your Heart; [6] “Saving Faith In Focus”; [7] The Other Jesus: Justification by Faith vs. Asking Jesus into one’s Heart; [8] Revelation 3:20 and the Offer of Salvation

What it means to accept Christ, by A.W. Tozer (Part 2; Part 3; Part 4)

Getting John 1:12 Right: Should You Invite Jesus Into Your Heart? by Jim Elliff, Christian Communicators Worldwide and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Modern evangelism almost never recognizes verse 11 and verse 13 of the passage, and therefore uses verse 12 persistently and wrongly. By not recognizing verse 11, it fails to understand “receive” correctly, leading to all kinds of problems. Because modern evangelism fails to think of verse 13, we see less than adequate dependence on God and acknowledgment of God as the author of salvation. That may explain, in part, why so much pride can be found in evangelism.

The idea that receiving means “inviting Christ into the heart” causes huge problems for us. It is an easy concept to convey, granted. I used to say that I would never talk to people about believing in Christ, which has difficulties in explanation because of varied levels of meaning, but would only use the idea of “inviting Christ in.” Even a child can get that. But, when the Scriptures as a whole do not support this idea, am I free to make my wrong concept the centerpiece of the response to the gospel? Other than Revelation 3:20, also misunderstood, no place in the Bible appears to promote this idea of “inviting Christ into the heart.” Over 500 times the idea of belief in Christ is expressed, but no mention is made of “inviting Christ in.” Ninety-eight times “belief” and its various forms are used in the evangelistic book of John. We grant that many times the idea of faith is spoken of in the light of the Christian’s walk, but many other times faith is discussed in terms of the initial entrance into God’s family.

When we use the concept of “inviting Christ into the heart” we are robbing faith of its richness. Salvation is reduced to an act more than a life. There is no formulaic prayer (“I now invite you into my heart”) that automatically saves. A man can only be saved through faith. Though we talk about something called “the sinner’s prayer,” it is not found in the Bible. You will have to go to the booklets that promote the idea of “inviting Christ in” to find such a prayer. Think of how much evangelism you have been exposed to rests on the idea that such a prayer be prayed before a person could be saved. (Read the complete article)
Scriptural Evaluation of Salvation Invitations, by AWANA Clubs International (non-lordship salvation view)
“Right now ask Jesus to come into your heart.”

We are not saved by Jesus coming into our heart, but rather by trusting in His death for us (Eph 1:7). When we believe, He does indwell us. Our body then becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit However. that is a result of salvation. It is not the method whereby we are saved. Children find it confusing because they wonder if Jesus can physically come into their hearts. The simplicity of believing and trusting is misunderstood. Revelation 3:20 is often the basis of this invitation. Yet this passage does not deal with salvation. It does not focus the attention on Christ dying in my place and my acceptance of His work for me. (Read the complete article)
Seven Reasons NOT To Ask Jesus Into Your Heart, by Dennis M. Rokser, Duluth Bible Church, Minnesota (Note: this article is written from a non-lordship salvation view)
  1. Don’t ask Jesus into your heart because it is never found in the Bible.
  2. Don’t ask Jesus into your heart because it is not how one is saved.
  3. Don’t ask Jesus into your heart because it requires no understanding of the gospel of grace to do it.
  4. Don’t ask Jesus into your heart because it confuses the means of salvation with the results of salvation.
  5. Don’t ask Jesus into your heart because it results in either no assurance of salvation or brings false assurance to people.
  6. Don’t ask Jesus into your heart because Revelation 3:20 does not teach it.
  7. Don’t ask Jesus into your heart because it does not clarify the terms of salvation, it confuses it – especially with children. (Read the complete article)
Ten Reasons Not To Ask Jesus Into Your Heart, by Todd Friel
  1. It is not in the Bible.
  2. Asking Jesus into your heart is a saying that makes no sense.
  3. In order to be saved, a man must repent (Acts 2:38).
  4. In order to be saved, a man must trust in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).
  5. The person who wrongly believes he is saved will have a false sense of security.
  6. The person who asks Jesus into his heart will likely end up inoculated, bitter and backslidden.
  7. It presents God as a beggar just hoping you will let Him into your busy life.
  8. The cause of Christ is ridiculed.
  9. The cause of evangelism is hindered.
  10. Here is the scary one. People who ask Jesus into their hearts are not saved and they will perish on the Day of Judgment. (Read the complete article)
Ask Jesus into your heart? by Hank Lindstrom (Calvary Community Church, Tampa, Florida)
One such term or expression is “Ask Jesus into your heart”. The same expression is sometimes phrased, “Ask Jesus into your life”, or “Invite Jesus into your heart”. Nowhere does one find anything like this in the Bible. The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved (Acts 16:31).” Why don’t we use Bible terms? Why not drop the unclear ones?

I was raised on the phrase “Ask Jesus into your heart”and yet I was never saved. Every Sunday morning in the church that I was raised we sang a song called “Come Into My Heart, Lord Jesus”. The words were as follows: “Into my heart, into my heart; Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.” We sang this song every Sunday morning and were given the opportunity to “Invite Jesus into our hearts”. Well, I sincerely invited Jesus into my heart each Sunday and yet I was not saved.

My theology was totally based on the words of the song. I would pray something like, “Lord, please come into my heart. If you came into my heart before and left, please come into my heart again. If you never came into my heart before, please come in for the first time. If you came in and left, please come back and stay.” The song taught that Christ could come and go at will. I was confused and frustrated.

I invited Jesus into my heart at least 600 times, yet I was not saved because that message is not the gospel. I hardly missed a Sunday at church from the time I was six years old until I was eighteen years of age. To be fair, let’s say that from the time I was six years old until I was eighteen on at least 50 Sundays a year I invited Jesus into my heart. Eighteen minus six is twelve years times fifty times a year equals 600 (six hundred) times that I invited Jesus into my heart. On at least 600 occasions I invited Jesus into my heart. (Read the complete article)
The Other Jesus: Justification by Faith vs. Asking Jesus into one’s Heart, by Pastor Ovid Need Jr., Linden Baptist Church, Linden, Indiana
No doubt the NUMBER ONE lie among Bible-believing people today is: “You must ask Jesus into your heart to be saved and trust him to do that (come into your heart),” etc. But look at what this is saying! “You are saved because you asked Jesus into your heart.” There is no Scriptural support for this false plan of salvation which is devastating to the cause of Christ; it places the emphasis upon a prayer that is said and what the sinner can do rather than upon what Christ has done.

An objection might be: “I don’t see any difference.” Okay, then why not change the message to something that reflects the person’s placing his trust in the finished work of Christ's substitutionary payment in the sinner’s place?

Then the objection might be, “But not everyone is able to understand that message.” If we accept this argument, we say we must reduce the gospel to the level of the natural man, removing from it the work of the Holy Spirit.

What has happened to the plain, simple and clear plan of salvation as preached by past saints of God? “...The simple act of relying upon Jesus as your Substitute and Saviour puts away your guilt and sin forever... (CHS)” It cannot be said any better.

It is not an act of praying, but it is an act of faith. There will be none in heaven because they prayed and turned their lives over to God or because they asked the Lord to save them, etc. We will be there only because of what Christ did for us and our simple faith in His work. A lost person’s growth into this faith, his “I didn’t understand back then, but I do now,” is no more possible than is evolution.

The Scripture teaches a new creation, not an evolution of the old. The enemy, a master deceiver, knows and uses our weak points. [Gen 3:1; Jn 8:44]
Saving Faith In Focus” by Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical Society (Note: GES is a non-lordship salvation ministry)
Another very common and unfortunate evangelistic appeal is telling people to invite Jesus into their hearts in order to be saved. The problem here is that they can invite Jesus into their hearts and yet not believe in Him for eternal life.

Some individuals have invited Jesus into their hearts hundreds of times. Whenever they doubt the efficacy of what they did (with good reason), they just repeat the invitation, thinking: Maybe I didn’t invite Him in sincerely enough the last time. Jesus enters the lives of people the moment they believe in Him for eternal life.

In my early days in evangelism I used this appeal. I remember one student at my college who invited Christ into his life. I gave him some material to read and scheduled an appointment for the next week. When we met for follow-up, he told me that the material I had given him said that Jesus was the only way to God, but that he didn’t believe that. “Really,” I said. “Then why did you invite Jesus into your heart?” He told me that he was a Bahai and that he had invited Jesus into his heart because he wanted all of the prophets in his heart.

Of course, this approach is futile. Each time the person doubts, he invites Jesus in “one last time.” It becomes more difficult to do this sincerely since it seems so hypocritical. The only way to be sure that Christ is in your life and that you are eternally secure is to believe Jesus’ promise that all who simply believe in Him have eternal life. (Read the complete article)
Revelation 3:20 and the Offer of Salvation, by Daniel B. Wallace
Everyone knows this text. It’s the verse we “close”’with when leading someone to the Lord. The picture we paint is that if someone invites Christ into their hearts, they will be saved. The only problem is that this is not what the verse is mostly likely talking about.

What, then, is this verse is affirming? First, it is not an offering of salvation. The implications of this are manifold. Among other things, to use this text as a salvation verse is a perversion of the simplicity of the gospel. Many people have allegedly “received Christ into their hearts” without understanding what that means or what the gospel means. Although this verse is picturesque, it actually muddies the waters of the truth of salvation. Reception of Christ is a consequence, not a condition, of salvation. Second, as far as the positive meaning of this verse, it may refer to Christ having supremacy in the assembly or even to an invitation (and, consequently, a reminder) to believers to share with him in the coming kingdom. Either way, it is not a verse about salvation at all, for the Laodiceans were already saved.

Does this mean that those who have come to faith in Christ via Rev 3:20 are not saved? This answer needs some nuancing. First, if they have truly put their faith in Christ, and they understand that he alone can save them from their sins, then of course they are saved. The problem is that many people cling to the symbol but never understand the reality it is intended to represent. Most likely, tens of thousands of people have “invited Christ into [their] hearts,” thinking that a mystical experience is what saves them. Then, they go on their merry way, living their lives as they did before. If you were to ask them, “How do you know that you are going to heaven?” they would respond, “Because I invited Christ into my heart.” But if you probe, there is nothing beneath the shallowness of that reply. They did what someone told them to do, but never really embraced the Savior.
Note: jump to Against the altar call; Middle ground on the altar call; For the sinner’s prayer; Against the sinner’s prayer and Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart; Index of resources cited in this post; back to top

Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer

Beyond the Sinner’s Prayer: The Power of the Gospel of a Promise-Keeping God (Acts 13:38-43), by Ptr. Russell Moore, Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, on Vimeo

The “Sinner’s Prayer” – To Pray or Not To Pray? from The Evidence Bible (page 316)
The question often arises about what a Christian should do if someone is repentant. Should we lead him in what’s commonly called a “sinner’s prayer” or simply instruct him to seek after God? Perhaps the answer comes by looking to the natural realm. As long as there are no complications when a child is born, all the doctor needs to do is guide the head. The same applies spiritually. When someone is “born of God,” all we need to do is guide the head—make sure that they understand what they are doing.

Philip the evangelist did this with the Ethiopian eunuch. He asked him, “Do you understand what you read?” (Acts 8:30). In the parable of the sower, the true convert (the “good soil” hearer) is he who hears “and understands.”

This understanding comes by the Law in the hand of the Spirit (Romans 7:7). If a sinner is ready for the Savior, it is because he has been drawn by the Holy Spirit (John 6:44).

This is why we must be careful to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work and not rush in where angels fear to tread. Praying a sinner’s prayer with someone who isn’t genuinely repentant may leave you with a stillborn in your hands. Therefore, rather than lead him in a prayer of repentance, it is wise to encourage him to pray himself.
Is the “Sinner’s Prayer” Essential to Salvation? by Dr. Larry Moyer, President/CEO, EvanTell, Inc.
So what part does saying a prayer have to do with salvation? Absolutely nothing. We are not saved by saying a prayer. We are saved by trusting Christ. That’s why Christ could look at the thief on the cross and say, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Nothing is ever said of the thief “saying a prayer”. There on the cross as he hung alongside of the Savior of the world, he believed in Christ as his Savior. Hence Christ said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today, you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

That does not mean saying a prayer at the moment one comes to Christ is wrong. Such a prayer has two advantages. One is that it cements in the person’s mind what he is doing (and probably did at least 30 seconds before he prayed) – trusting Christ. Secondly, having verbalized it to God, such a prayer encourages one to verbalize it to others. God does not need to be informed. He is fully aware of what the person doing – trusting Christ. But having expressed his decision to God encourages the new convert to now express it to others.

Several things are important, though. One is that in leading people to Christ, we need to make clear that saying a prayer does not save. Explain to them that it is trusting Christ that saves. Prayer is only how they tell God what they are doing. That is why if I sense the non-Christian is prepared to come to Christ I ask, “Would you like to pray right now and tell God you are trusting Christ?” If they respond positively, I then say, “Now before we pray, let me explain something. Saying a prayer does not save; it’s trusting Christ that saves. Prayer is only how you tell God what you are doing. But if right now you want to trust Christ, here is how you express that to God. Why don’t you pray aloud with me as I pray?” I then lead them in prayer, phrase by phrase as they tell God what they are doing. (Read the complete article)
What Must I Do to Be Saved? by John R. Rice
Can One Be Saved Without Prayer?

In the Bible there are many cases of sinners who prayed like the thief on the cross or the publican in the Temple. In fact, Romans 10:13 says:

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Many people believe that a sinner cannot be saved without a period of prayer, without consciously calling on God. However, the Bible does not say that a sinner must pray in order to be saved. In fact, immediately following the verse in Romans 10:13 is an explanation which shows that calling on God is an evidence of faith in the heart and that it is really faith which settles the matter. Read it again.

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”--Romans 10:13,14.

The Lord encourages the sinner to pray, and the Lord hears and answers the sinner’s prayer if that sinner trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation when he prays. He heard the prayer of the thief on the cross, of the publican in the Temple, of blind Bartimaeus. But the Scripture says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”

Certainly every one who is to be saved must believe. Prayer is evidence of faith. No matter how long one prays, if he does not trust in Christ, he can never be saved. If he trusts in Christ without conscious prayer, then he is saved already. There is just one plan of salvation and just one step a sinner must take to secure it. That step is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Sinner’s Prayer (from Sayings Not Found in Scripture, Blue Letter Bible)
The fact is, there is neither any specific formula found in Scripture for a Sinner’s Prayer nor is there any biblical example of such a prayer being recommended in the salvation experience.The modern usage of the Sinner’s Prayer originates in the 19th Century and was popularized by the experience-oriented evangelistic style of Charles Finney. As Scripture presents it, men should repent, believe, and be baptized. There is no mention of altar calls or sinner’s prayers or requesting for Christ to enter one’s heart.

That said, we shouldn’t go as far as some and claim the Sinner’s Prayer to be a bad thing. So long as it is accompanied by belief and repentance, we should consider the Sinner’s Prayer as simply an initial instance that honest and vital, confessional aspect of a new believer’s growing relationship with the Lord he now serves (cf. Romans 10:9-10). Read the complete article
One Way, One Cross, Many Journeys, Thinking Again about Conversion” by Dr. David Greenlee, Operation Mobilisation (pages 22 to 24)
A few years ago a colleague in North Africa rejoiced when a friend turned to Christ. Someone in another organization, though, had a different understanding. So this second person found the opportunity to pray with the North African “to receive Christ” according to his rules, and then made it known that he was one of “his” converts!

In a church leadership meeting, one member expressed concern about some who regularly attend worship services but had not “prayed to receive Christ.” I asked whether these people know Christ. The questioner seemed puzzled. How could they know Christ if they had not prayed to receive him?

As others joined in, the discussion digressed, I am afraid, into a call that “the gospel be proclaimed” every week with “an invitation to receive Christ.”

The intention was good, but I question the prescribed method. (Please do not misunderstand—I rejoice when the gospel is effectively proclaimed. As a child I put my faith in Christ as I knelt near the front of a church after an evangelist’s “altar call,” and when appropriate I make such an appeal at the end of my preaching today.) My concern is that although we run the risk of missing someone for whom today is the last day, a mechanistic, every-time-we-meet, bounded-set approach to gospel “invitations” seems almost certain to push away many more youth especially, my teenage children remind me) who tire of repetitive, ritualistic evangelistic appeals.

We also run the danger of deceiving ourselves. Whether Jerusalem tour guides or Russian prison inmates, I have heard countless stories of people, even entire prisons or schools, “praying to receive Christ”—but what really happened? Too often the fledgling foreign evangelist “led someone to Christ” who was only repeating words as a sign of politeness or, worse, to build a relationship that might lead to a visa to Europe or the United States or some other personal advantage.

I am very much in favor of “praying to receive Christ.” But beyond the call to repentance and belief, I do not see the New Testament giving us a single, prescribed method for turning to Christ. For example, can we identify at what point in Acts 10 Cornelius and his household “got saved”? Some might argue it was at the point the Holy Spirit came on them (v. 44), but perhaps it was at some undefined earlier time (see v. 2) when he and his family began to devoutly fear God. The fact that it was as Peter “began to speak” (Acts 11:15) that the Holy Spirit came on them, and not after hearing and considering a lengthy presentation of the gospel, suggests that the message resonated with an inward preparation—if not also an inward turning—that had already taken place.

The point is, we don’t know exactly when nor how Cornelius and his family and close friends first turned to Christ, when they first were set right with God. But we know that by the end of Acts 10 they had moved from being devout God-fearers to being filled with the Holy Spirit, from limited understanding of the facts of the gospel message to a more complete knowledge of God’s grace.

Going back to my friends in church who have not “prayed the prayer,” to be quite honest I am not sure where they stand before God. I want them to know Christ, to be in Christ, to have the assurance of eternal life. But I have far greater assurance regarding them than I do those who—at times with great fanfare and all-church rejoicing—have “prayed the prayer” but today are nowhere to be found. Even if you, I, and many others entered onto the way of life by “praying to receive Christ,” the key question is not if they have crossed that particular boundary but if by faith they are centered on Jesus, are in Christ (Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Since, as Richard Peace observes, how we understand conversion affects how we do evangelism, a centered-set understanding will lead to a different style of evangelism than a bounded-set theology of conversion. This made a significant difference in one ministry setting in which I participated.

In 1986 Operation Mobilization’s ship Doulos visited ports along the West African coast. Recently married and having worked for two years in the head office, I read with joy of the strong evangelistic emphasis—with thousands “praying to receive Christ” after evangelistic rallies and open-air preaching, many of the “converts” filling out a decision card.

I trust that some of those people were sincere and are following Jesus today; but when, a few years after the ship’s tour, we asked churches in the port cities how many members had come from those ship visits, we could find very few, if any. (from pages 22 to 24 of One Way, One Cross, Many Journeys, Thinking Again about Conversion)
Biblical Assurance of Salvation, by Greg Wright
Another thing that people sometimes rely upon for assurance is the way they prayed the sinner’s prayer. They are assured because their prayer was orthodox; it was right; it contained all the right phrases. The sinner’s prayer that I am referring to is the pre-written prayer that is often found at the back of a gospel brochure.

One night I stopped at a restaurant on the way home from work. As I sat down, I noticed a yellow brochure on my table, so I picked it up and examined it. In bold letters it asked whether I wanted to be 100% sure that I had eternal life. The first part of the brochure covered basic truths that most of us would affirm:
  • God is holy.
  • You are a sinner.
  • God hates sin and will judge all sin.
  • You deserve God’s punishment.
  • You can never be good enough to go to heaven through anything that you might do.
  • God has provided a way of salvation through His Son.
  • Jesus died to take away your sins.
  • You can receive this salvation as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ.
Then it provided a prayer for you to pray--asking God to forgive and save you. Certainly, the way we approach God is through prayer, so I had no objection to the reader being encouraged to pray to God. However, at the end of the brochure it said that if you prayed this prayer, you could now be 100% sure that you were saved and on your way to heaven.

I stared at that brochure, amazed at the willingness of the author and others to tell people that they could base their assurance of eternal life on the mere praying of a prayer from the back of an evangelistic pamphlet.

Nevertheless, I actually have nothing against the sinner’s prayer. The unsaved should pray for salvation. The unsaved should aggressively and diligently seek the mercy of God, crying out to Him. The unsaved should not passively sit around waiting on God to do something.

No, let all sinners seek the mercy of God, but let them do it with their own words. It is the pre-written sinner’s prayer that concerns me. For there are inherent problems with the pre-written sinner’s prayer.
  • One problem is the person might see the pre-written sinner’s prayer as a kind of magic formula. They might naively believe that they can turn God on and off, just like a light switch, merely by saying the right words.
  • Another problem with the pre-written sinner’s prayer is that it might not truly reflect the sinner’s heart. How often do people repeat creeds and sing hymns without thinking about the words? People might pray a pre-written sinner’s prayer in the same mindless manner.
I have to ask why it is necessary to prescribe a prayer for the person to pray. Are we afraid that the prayer might not be orthodox? Why not let them pray in their own words? Is God not more interested in what is going on in the person’s heart than in the precision of that person’s prayer? How precise was the prayer of the thief on cross: “… Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) The thief missed most of the orthodox doctrinal statements of the pre-written sinner’s prayer. Yet, it was a prayer that Jesus accepted, for it was a prayer that flowed from a regenerated heart. (Read the complete article)

Note: Back to top; jump to Against the altar call; Middle ground on the altar call; For the sinner’s prayer; Against the sinner’s prayer and Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart; Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer

Index of resources cited in this post

For the altar call
Against the altar call
Middle ground on the altar call
For the Sinner’s Prayer
Against the sinner’s prayer, and reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart
Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer
Backgrounder on Charles G. Finney, by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, Central Baptist Theological Seminary

Note: Back to top; jump to Against the altar call; Middle ground on the altar call; For the sinner’s prayer; Against the sinner’s prayer and Reasons not to ask Jesus into your heart; Middle ground on the sinner’s prayer