In seventh grade a group of body builders came to my middle school to do an inspirational speech, and afterwards invited all the students to return that evening to hear about Jesus. That evening I attended and heard a couple testimonies and a few stories about Jesus. They asked everyone to bow their heads, and invited anyone who didn’t know Jesus (or wanted to recommit to Jesus) to stand, repent and say a prayer. I stood, said the prayer and they told me I was now, officially saved. Then they packed up, and I never heard from them again. Following their example I soon believed salvation was this simple—as long as someone confessed and said a prayer then he or she would be in heaven. They sold me a classic Christian get rich quick scheme, “say the prayer,” and I bought it.
Over the next few years I attended a few revival type meetings and conferences, where I invited my friends, convinced them (no matter how backwards the method) to say the prayer, and, if I felt guilty enough about the last year, went to the front and got saved again.
Altar calls, revivals and gospel invitations, like all things, can be abused. Those who buy the “say the prayer” scheme tend to idolize these events. The scheme sells itself something like this, “You don’t want to go to hell, right? Then don’t wait another moment, because getting saved is easy. You just confess some sins, say a prayer and wait in peace and happiness until the pearly gates open for ya!”
Some people may read this and think, “I was saved at an event like that, are you saying it wasn’t real?” Like I said earlier, this scheme is an abuse of those events. Nonetheless, it is imperative that you root out any aspects of this scheme within your thoughts, to do so consider the following ways “say the prayer” shrouds the truth.
The first major selling point for this scheme is one-stop salvation. Say a prayer, and suddenly your eternal destination changes courses. Defenders of this paradigm turn to Rom. 10:9, “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I agree with the scheme in one sense, we must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts the truth that Christ died for sinners and rose again! The scheme shrouds this truth by fooling people into putting assurance and belief into a prayer instead of Christ. A special prayer written by men cannot save souls from hell (Psalm 89:48); only Jesus saves by his grace (Eph. 6:7-8). That’s why his finished work on the cross is our assurance (Rom. 5:17). His continued work in our life and fruits of the spirit are our assurance (Phil. 1:6). His holy scripture and promises are our assurance (1 Pet. 1:19). His character and faithfulness are our assurance (Deut 7:9). The list goes on, but as soon as it strays from Christ’s work trouble ensues. Perhaps this is why the bible lacks a specific “salvation prayer,” to prevent humans from trading the saving power of God for empty words and mocking Christ’s bloody work on the cross.
In reality many will say the prayer, and even appear to be Christians for a time, but the bible warns that those truly saved by Jesus will persevere in faith until death. All others “were not of us” (1 John 2:19). Ask yourself a question: do I think I’m going to heaven because I said a prayer, or because of Christ’s work on the cross?
The second selling point, and the most deceitful, is cruise control. Sellers claim that once someone says the prayer, life gets better and easier. Believers need only cruise through life, and most shouldn’t expect many bumps along the way, like temptation or suffering.
The bible paints a different picture. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Christians should expect suffering, and the lack of it should shock us. Consider Christ’s example for us. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted by Satan, and later Satan tortured him with flogging and the most painful death yet contrived by man—the cross. If Satan dared to tempt and torture the Lord of the universe, how much more will he do so to Christians?
“Say the prayer” falls into the trap of consumerism, by attempting to sell salvation with regard only for numbers and results, not biblical truth. Therefore, proponents of this scam ignore the bible’s teachings because it’s tough to sell a product with a bold warning: “YOU WILL SUFFER.” Christ was never so flippant about truth. He told his disciples that following him meant giving up their lives and taking up their crosses (Lk. 8:23-24).
Sadly, people who buy the scheme cannot escape reality, and when suffering comes they either repent and truly turn to Jesus, or turn away.
A lifelong prayer
Let us not be discouraged by the “say the prayer” scheme, and instead take rest in the encouragement of the Spirit, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6). Christ is not a lazy shepherd who lets his flock stray away. He will not let you go once he has you.
So let us pray everyday. Let us repent and rejoice in our salvation until Christ comes again. Press onward toward heaven, and know that our current suffering is incomparable to the glory he has prepared for us. Let your prayer last for a lifetime, that he might bring his work in you to completion.