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I came across a similar question asking about the Protestant view that when you first believe on Jesus Christ you become a Born Again Christian. Here is the link to the question:

How did the Born Again teaching be associated with one first believing in Jesus Christ?

Please note that I am not asking about how a Christian is born-again. I am asking about the claim that Protestants think if you say "the Sinner’s Prayer” then you become a Christian. I’ve been a Protestant for a long time but have never subscribed to any notion that simply repeating some words will automatically make a person a Christian. That is clearly unbiblical because there must be evidence of a life transformed by the Holy Spirit at work in the believer.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

My understanding is that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts sinners of their need to repent and turn, in faith, to what God has done, in Christ Jesus, and seek forgiveness. A “Prayer of Repentance” might better express what sinners need to do in order to be saved.

It seems to me that there are some commonly held misconceptions about this “Sinner’s Prayer”. My question is therefore aimed at Protestants in order to give them an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings and to show, from the Bible, what it is that makes a person a Christian.

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    The Wikipedia page you linked to doesn't say that Sinner's Prayer is "repeating some words". Quite the contrary, it says it's "any prayer of repentance, prayed by individuals who feel convicted of the presence of sin in their lives and have the desire to form or renew a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ". So is your question whether Protestants believe one becomes a Christian by feeling convicted of the presence of sin in their lives and having the desire to form or renew a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ? – JiK Dec 26 '19 at 20:38
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    Or let me rephrase, is your question: (a) Do protestants think that closing your eyes and reciting some particular words suggested to you by someone makes one a Christian?, or is your question (b) Do protestants think that repenting your sin and asking God to come to your life through Jesus Christ makes one a Christian? – JiK Dec 26 '19 at 20:48
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    Which protestants, and when? Because Lutherans teach something entirely different, or did back in the '80s when I was one. – StackOverthrow Dec 26 '19 at 21:35
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    @JiK - The claim that Protestants think if you say the “Sinner’s Prayer” then you become a Christian was expressed in an answer given by Rhodie to the Christianity Stack Exchange question (link provided in the body of my question). I am not the only person who disagrees with that misconception! "According to popular protestant church teaching, a person must say the Sinner's Prayer to become born again." I don't think many Protestants believe that. – DJClayworth The Wikipedia link about the “Sinner’s Prayer” was edited in by Ken Graham. An interesting article and I’m glad to have read it. – Lesley Dec 27 '19 at 10:18
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    @Lesley My point is that it's meaningless to ask what Protestants believe; there's so much variety. – StackOverthrow Dec 27 '19 at 16:32
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There is an example in scripture, spoken by Jesus, of the prayer of a sinner :

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Luke 18:13,14 [KJV]

I think this is the reason for the saying 'The Sinner's Prayer' and I think this is the reason that Protestantism, largely, advocates that those who genuinely feel their distance from God, their proneness to sin and their burden of past sins, should pray to God in penitence.

There is another saying :

What must I do to be saved ?

Acts 16:30 [KJV]

said by the Philippian jailor who was ready to commit suicide.

A prayer, in a way, but not exactly addressed to God, rather addressed (as many do, in their first approaches of repentance) to someone who represents God - an 'ambassador of Jesus Christ'.

The publican was in the temple, praying. The jailor was trembling and had already thrown himself down at the feet of the apostle. These men were at an extremity. They had reached the lowest ebb. They were distraught.

These prayers were wrung from them at the lowest point of their lives. They were far off from God : and they knew it. And these prayers were answered, and that immediately, in both cases, without delay.

The publican went down to his house, justified, without further ado. Just as Abel received a witness (from God) that he was righteous (in God's sight) after he offered the firstling of his flock, and the fat thereof, Hebrews 11:4.

Protestantism exists because justification by faith was preached by the Reformers. They taught that justification is by faith and that justification is a matter of the righteousness of God, not the righteousness of the law or the righteousness of humanity.

And they taught that genuine, penitent prayer receives an answer from God Almighty to the sinner who approaches in confession and repentance and faith. No works are required. Good works (in abundance) will, undoubtedly, follow. But no works of any kind can ever justify from sin. For that, blood must be shed - and that, from a clean sacrifice.

What is completely removed from this, is the practice of putting words into the mouths of people who are, largely, quite happy in sin, quite happy with life, quite content to be ungodly - and then promising them eternal salvation by the performance of a solitary, brief ritual.

There is no comparison between this objectionable modern practice and these examples of real repentance recorded in scripture.

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    "What is completely removed from this, is the practice of putting words into the mouths of people who are, largely, quite happy in sin, quite happy with life, quite content to be ungodly - and then promising them eternal salvation by the performance of a solitary, brief ritual." @Lesley Is this what you mean by the Sinner's Prayer in your question? I've been a protestant for a long time too, and I've never heard anyone thinking that such mindless ritual would be a sinner's prayer. – JiK Dec 26 '19 at 20:45
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    @JiK I have seen, commonly, small cards with words on them inviting whoever picks up the cards to recite the words, as though that were all that was required. The practice is widespread. – Nigel J Dec 26 '19 at 20:51
  • Ok, I have always given a perhaps too charitable interpretation to those cards, and thought that the point isn't to say these words but to actually agree with the words, and that the cards just communicate the point poorly. – JiK Dec 26 '19 at 20:56
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    Yes, there are people who literally say this. I think it's more like a sales pitch from affiliate marketing than anything. The "salesman" tells you how easy it is to be saved, all you have to do is say the magic words. Once they have your attention, they invite you to a meeting, where you learn the details and sign the actual contract. It is usually more a matter of enthusiasm getting the better of them than actual deception though. – barbecue Dec 26 '19 at 22:43
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    Salvation is totally God's action. The fact that someone is seeking for salvation and asking for it suggests that she may be "ready". But the Holy Spirit may act immediately, later, or not at all. We can guess "probably" or "sincerely enough", but God judges and regenerates according to His choice and timetable. – Bit Chaser Dec 27 '19 at 1:07
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What has become known as “The Sinner’s Prayer” in Protestant circles is a comparatively new phenomenon. In some groups non-members who listen to preaching are urged to "say the sinner's prayer" and accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour - then that person is told they are now saved from their sins. Many have thought that because they repeated 'the sinner's prayer' after hearing a gospel message, they can then sign a bit of paper saying they've done that, adding the date when "they decided to accept Christ", and so they assume they are now Christians. If a distinction is made between salvation and discipleship, then a dreadful error grows, for the idea of salvation without commitment to living a sanctified life has led to easy-believeism, and 'cheap grace'. The new recruit is encouraged to rejoice and to relax, and to now ‘live for Christ’ by doing what the members do and believing what the members teach them. Yet, because they are now ‘saved’, that becomes some kind of optional extra, in their thinking.

It appears that this developed from the early 20th century, influenced by Lewis Sperry Chafer's teachings which introduced the notion that it is possible to be saved yet see nothing of the outworking of regeneration in one’s life-style or behaviour. In 1918 he published ‘He That Is Spiritual’, claiming that the Bible speaks of two classes of Christians: carnal and spiritual, the former having ‘a walk’ that is on the same plane as that of the ‘natural’ [unsaved] man. He was a leader in the 'dispensational theology' school. Dispensationalism is a fundamentally correct system of understanding God's dealings with humanity through the ages. However, a problem is that enthusiasts can compartmentalise the truth to the point of making unbiblical distinctions. Obsession with categorising everything causes hard lines where the Bible has none. Chafer promoted the view that,

"to impose a need to surrender the life to God as an added condition of salvation is most unreasonable." (Systematic Theology 3:385 Dallas, Dallas Seminary 1948 & writings in 1918 & 1967)

Here his mistake was making a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Chafer seemed to think that surrendering one's life to Christ as Lord and Saviour is added (by others) as a ‘process’ of salvation. It is not. But this idea of salvation without commitment to living a sanctified life has led to easy-believeism, and 'cheap grace'. Dr. Chafer’s teachings have become the basis for a whole new way of seeing the gospel.

The dispensationalist division between the age of law and of grace has caused confusion about the doctrine of salvation. Another dispensationalist writer, Clarence Larkin, wrote in his book ‘Grace’ (p 132, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1922) that the gospel Jesus preached had nothing to do with salvation but was simply an announcement that the time had come to set up the kingdom of Christ on earth. He also claimed that the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount

"have no application to the Christian, but only to those who are under the Law, and therefore must apply to another Dispensation than this." ('Dispensational Truth' p87, Philadelphia, 1918)

His books and charts are still used today by many Dispensationalists. This kind of teaching has emasculated the gospel due to the idea that people just hear a gospel presentation, say the sinner's prayer, and then they are saved. Evangelistic ‘appeals’ that use phrases like, ‘make a decision for Christ’, ‘ask Jesus into your heart’, ‘accept Jesus as your personal saviour’ violate the spirit and the terminology of the biblical summons to unbelievers. The Bible commands sinners to repent and follow Jesus. Verbal permission for Jesus to ‘enter in’ misconstrues Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20 (‘Behold I stand at the door and knock…’) because first comes his command in verse 19, ‘Be zealous, therefore, and repent.’ Only then will the truly repentant find Jesus coming in to them. This and the previous paragraph gleaned from John F MacArthur Jr’s. book ‘The Gospel According to Jesus’ pp17-30, 89, 106 (Word of Grace, 1988).

My answer has given examples of grave misunderstandings about becoming a Christian, which arose at the turn of the twentieth century, giving rise to the now-popular “Sinner’s Prayer” notion. The negative aspect of this is what does NOT make a person a Christian, namely, repeating “the Sinner’s Prayer”. The Holy Spirit must convict a person of their sin before they can truly repent but some Protestants seem to think they can rush that divine process by a formulaic prayer-statement after the most cursory (and therefore cursed) gospel message (Galatians 1:6-9). Being born again necessitates a preparation by God Almighty himself, by the words of the preparative messenger which he himself authorises and sends. Receiving these words, there will be a cleansing that will separate a soul and remove from the soul that which prohibits the growth of the word of God within it. This is the beginning of the gospel. The gospel of God speaks to the changed mind, for the carnal mind is at enmity with God. Repeating “The Sinner’s Prayer” does nothing to replace a carnal mind with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

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  • Excellent explanation. Thank you. – Lesley Jan 5 at 9:50
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1 Cor. 15:1-4 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

Salvation has always been by grace (God's unmerited favor) through faith. See Romans 3-4, entire gospel of John. In 1 Cor. 15 we have the clearest presentation of the gospel post resurrection. The key word for salvation is always 'believe'.

The sinner's prayer is basically acknowledging the first requirement of the gospel in that we are sinners and need a savior. Saying thank you to Jesus is a simple way to acknowledge that one is receiving the gift of eternal life through faith. Saying thank you to Jesus also acknowledges that he's alive or resurrected.

A person receives the Holy Spirit the moment they believe: John 7:39, Acts 19:2, Eph 1:13-14

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The problem with presenting a good answer to your question is that word "protestant".

A member or follower of any of the Western Christian churches that are separate from the Roman Catholic Church and follow the principles of the Reformation, including the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches.
-- Oxford Dictionary (from Google)

That's a very broad range of philosophies! As you can see just from the definition, many of these groups hold contradictory beliefs. Nobody can answer your question for all of them at once.

In fact, some do believe that all you need to do is to say a prayer. Others consider that philosophy fatally flawed. Most seem to fall somewhere in between. With all these different philosophies and backgrounds, you're going to get all sorts of different explanations.

Are we all wrong? Is anyone right? You asked the right question. "What is the Biblical basis ..."

My advice is to trust nobody (not even me) and stick to the original source until you understand from that who is telling the truth. Quoting Jesus, "The path is wide that leads to destruction." So finding the right person (or group) who WON'T feed you lies is like finding hay in a stack of poison needles.

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I grew up in a church that believed in the Sinner's Prayer. The verse most often associated with it was Romans 10:9 (emphasis mine):

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

This Scripture implies that there is a speaking component to being saved. I believe some Christians have used this to base the Sinner's Prayer practice, as it fulfills a speaking component to being saved.

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I agree with you brother that they need to have fruit of Holy Spirit as sign to be Christians.

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch [Acts 11:26].

Barnabas and Saul teach and work them with Antiochians for the whole year. And then they yield fruit and people saw Christ in them and then called them Little Christs.

Maybe, Sinner Prayer is popular with ministers because they could brag about bunch of unsalty salt, which Jesus like less than manure [Lk 14:34-35], instead of working hard like Saul. Maybe it would be something, if you would pray Sinner Prayer and act as a publican every day.

On other side, in my Catholic church, from the early days (4 century and before), if you want to be just baptized, and not like going to die soon, you need to be disciple for one whole year to learn what you step in, just like above. There had porters, church bouncers, which expel those people on second. And from my personal experience and many testimonies grace by blood of Jesus is much better communicated when you need to confess your sin to other person [James 5:16] and also have prescribed penance [John 21:15-19]. It is so much powerful that even evangelical preachers (Francis Chan, just to mention someone) reinvent the wheel. Don't want to insult or hurt someone, but isn't such bad evangelization as Sinner Prayer natural product after Martin Luther's salvation by faith alone (for which I argue that is too not biblical [James 2:24]) and once saved always saved and Bible interpretation relativism through Sola Scriptura and 30000+ denomination?

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