I admit that I’m not someone who recalls the exact moment of my salvation as a glorious transformation for which the date and time is indelibly etched in my memory. In fact, I question whether I was really saved when I recited the “sinner’s prayer” as a child. It wasn’t until adulthood that my life exhibited any of the visible fruit. As a child I was simply trying to avoid hell by “clipping” the Bible’s “redemption coupon” which I thought I could redeem for free “fire insurance.” For me, the sinner’s prayer was dangerous because, in my mind, it never connected my need for a savior with God’s desire to save me, although it gave me the false sense of security that it had.
There is no substitute for Biblical knowledge
The sinner’s prayer is one of those well-meaning devices of Christendom intended to help believers evangelize non-believers. But in my experience, having Biblical knowledge and being able to articulate it concisely is what allows the Holy Spirit to supernaturally bring non-believers to a genuine point of decision as to whether or not they accept or reject God’s grace. That’s far better than leaning on the crutch of a scripted prayer that isn’t actually found anywhere in the Bible… Ok, one passage gets close.
The original “sinner’s prayer”
Only after realizing his sin (Luke 15:17) did the Prodigal Son resolve to repent and reconcile with his father. He even rehearsed his own sinner’s prayer (Luke 15:18-19) before arriving back home. But his words poured forth from of a truly repentant heart. And look what happened: “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20).
Notice how the father had compassion and ran toward his son. That’s how God reacts to repentance! The two were reconciled the instant the son repented! And the father was more than willing to restore everything the son had foolishly forfeited (Luke 15:22-23). Then there was a whole lot of rejoicing because the son was all but dead to the father until they reconciled (Luke 15:24).
People don’t need me to tell them what to say to God
Sinner’s prayers don’t save people; the gospel saves people (Rom 1:16). Many years after praying the sinner’s prayer, when I realized I was guilty of what amounts to an eternal capital crime against God, the convicting power of the Holy Spirit showed me exactly what I wanted to say to Him. And a canned sinner’s prayer could hardly contain it. The contrite heart of a sinner knows exactly what it wants to say to God. My job as a Christian is to help people understand that they can do it themselves, not script it for them. Because the instant a person’s eyes are opened, and they truly want to be saved… they are. Salvation is already done. And no sinner’s prayer is needed to make it stick.