Can you also try and imagine this scene where Jesus is leading some new “disciples” in the “sinner’s prayer”?
“Wow! There are so many that came forward for salvation tonight!” (The multitude applauds.) “Now, it’s very simple. You just repeat this little prayer after Me, and then you’re a Christian! Now it doesn’t really matter whether you fully understand the prayer…it works just the same. Now ready? Repeat after Me… Dear Jesus…Come into my heart…” and so on…
As you can see, when we try to picture Jesus Himself using our modern methods of evangelism, it seems completely foolish. I think this is a very good test for any method. “Could I see Jesus doing this?” or “Could I see Jesus preaching or teaching this?” Since the Bible tells us, “Walk in the manner that He walked” (1 John 2:6), we should always try to compare our actions and message to the Master’s.
It is obvious that there is no “set” sinner’s prayer. There are many variations, with different lengths, different wordings, different endings, etc., but the contents are usually the same. The prayer usually includes phrases like, “Dear Jesus,” “Come into my heart,” “I admit I have sinned” (at least the better ones contain this last statement – there are some who do not even like to mention sin in their “sinner’s prayer”), “Fill me with Your Spirit,” “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Extremely harmless…nothing wrong with a prayer like that, right? Wrong! It isn’t the wording that’s important, it’s the state of the heart of the one saying it.
I believe that a true “sinner’s prayer” will gush out of anyone who is truly seeking God and is tired of being enslaved to sin. (Matt. 5:6) The very act of “leading someone in a prayer” is utterly ridiculous. You will find nothing even remotely like it in the Bible, or among the writings and biographies of those in Church history. It completely savors of crowd and peer pressure tactics, and (please forgive me) brainwashing techniques. I do not believe that Jesus wants to have his disciples “repeat after Me,” I believe He wants them to follow after Him! (Matt. 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 16:24, 19:21; Luke 9:59; John 12:26, 21:19,22; 1 Peter 2:21; Rev. 14:4.)
As with the altar call, the practice of having someone repeat a prayer with the minister probably originated from the best of intentions. And no doubt, there are those who have “followed through,” continuing to pray and walk with God, entering into the path of righteousness through God’s infinite grace. But also, like the altar call, the so-called “sinner’s prayer” is one of those tools that make it alarmingly easy for someone to consider himself a Christian, when he has absolutely no understanding of what “counting the cost” (Luke 14:28) really means.
The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the “altar call” and “sinner’s prayer” is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation. With an emotional splash that usually doesn’t last more than a few weeks, we believe we’re leading people into the Kingdom, when really we’re leading many to hell – by interfering with what the Spirit of God is trying to do in a person’s life. Do you hear? Do you understand that this constitutes “spiritual abortion“? Can’t you see the eternal consequences of jumping the gun, trying to bring to birth a baby that isn’t ready?
We are so afraid that we’ll see a “big one that got away,” that we’d rather rush someone into a shallow decision, and get the personal gratification of seeing him “go down the aisle,” than take the time to fully explain things to him, even it if takes long hours and nights of travailing prayer for his soul. We just don’t “have the time” to do things God’s way anymore. (In contrast to this, look at the amount of time and effort Jesus took to explain salvation to one mere Samaritan woman – John 4:3-42.)
But God would rather see one true convert than an ocean full of “decisions.” Oh, can’t you see what a mess we’re in? What we’ve done to the Gospel? And when those “converts” no longer want to fellowship with us, when they want to go back to their old friends and their old way of life, we have the nerve to call it “backsliding,” when we stood in the very way of them ever “front-sliding” toward the cross! Oh, it breaks my heart to think of that awesome day, when God will judge those who have “stumbled one of these little ones.” (Mark 9:42).