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The Sinner's Prayer

"The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell."

William Booth


Perhaps by now you feel reasonably comfortable about witnessing using the Law to bring the knowledge of sin. You know how to present the cross and the necessity of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus-but then what? Is it valid to "close the sale" (as modern evangelism often puts it)? Should you suddenly revert back to the old, "Would you like me to lead you in a sinner's prayer right now?" Or should we just leave the person in the hands of a faithful Creator?

Perhaps the answer comes by looking at 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 the person understands what he is doing. Philip the evangelist did this with the Ethiopian eunuch when he asked, "Do you understand what you read?" (Acts 8:30).

In the Parable of the Sower, the true convert (the "good soil" hearer) is the one who hears "and understands." This understanding comes by the Law (Romans 7:7) in the hand of the Spirit, who will "convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8). 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 on your hands. Therefore, rather than lead him in a prayer of repentance, it is wise to encourage him to pray himself.

When Nathan confronted David about his sin, he didn't lead the king in a prayer of repentance. If a man committed adultery, and his wife is willing to take him back, should you have to write out an apology for him to read to her? No; sorrow for his betrayal of her trust should spill from his lips. She doesn't want eloquent words, but simply sorrow of heart. The essence of his apology should be something like this: "Please forgive me. I have betrayed your trust. I am so sorry." The same applies to a prayer of repentance. If a person is genuinely repentant (he has sorrow of heart and his mouth is stopped from self-justification), he should pray himself; his words aren't as important as the presence of "godly sorrow."

The sinner should be told to repent-to confess and forsake his sins. He could do this as a whispered prayer, then you could pray for him. Tell him, "Quietly confess your sins to God, asking Him to forgive you, then put your trust in Jesus in the same way you would put on a parachute to save you. You wouldn't just believe in it; you would put it on-entrusting your life to it. After you have done that, I will pray for you and give you some literature to help you." If he's not sure what to say, perhaps David's prayer of repentance (Psalm 51) could be used as a model, but his own words are more desirable.

If you study the ministry of Charles Spurgeon, you will find that he invited men and women to come to Christ, not to an altar. Listen to him invite sinners to come to the Savior:

Before you leave this place, breathe an earnest prayer to God, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner. Lord, I need to be saved. Save me. I call upon Thy name ... Lord, I am guilty, I deserve Thy wrath. Lord, I cannot save myself. Lord, I would have a new heart and a right spirit, but what can I do? Lord, I can do nothing, come and work in me to do of Thy good pleasure.

Thou alone hast power, I know

To save a wretch like me;

To whom, or whither should I go

If I should run from Thee?

But I now do from my very soul call upon Thy name. Trembling, yet believing, I cast myself wholly upon Thee, O Lord. I trust the blood and righteousness of Thy dear Son ... Lord, save me tonight, for Jesus' sake."

Go home alone trusting in Jesus. "I should like to go into the enquiry-room." I dare say you would, but we are not willing to pander to popular superstition. We fear that in those rooms men are warmed into a fictitious confidence. Very few of the supposed converts of enquiry-rooms turn out well. Go to your God at once, even where you now are. Cast yourself on Christ, at once, ere you stir an inch![1]

[1] Cameron, K., & Comfort, R. (2004). The school of biblical evangelism: 101 lessons: how to share your faith simply, effectively, biblically-the way Jesus did (pp. 123-125). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.