David Platt: The Sinner’s Prayer is Superstitious and Unbiblical

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A friend of mine just pointed me to this video from David Platt on the sinner’s prayer.

I have always had a problem with the sinners prayer. It is not that I have a problem with faith. It is not that I have a problem with responding to God through faith and even prayer (I can’t imagine turning my life over to Christ without prayer). What bothers me about the sinners prayer is that it offers up a different response to a very biblical question than the answer an inspired apostles gave to the question of convicted sinners, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Honestly, the sinners prayer ignores the response of the apostles to the question of those who asked in response to the Gospel, “What shall we do?” and replaces the answer with something that is abiblical.

So we have two different answers being offered in response to the what shall we do question. You have Peter’s answer, repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38) and you have pastor Steve or pastor Billy or sister Susie’s answer…pray this prayer. Who are you going to trust has a better answer to the same question? Sorry if that sounds snarky. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to well meaning people but it is entirely possible to be well meaning and still be wrong on this subject. I don’t mean to sound arrogant. I do want to be biblical.

The question of the 3000 in Acts 2:37 is the same question every single person asks who is convicted by the truth of the Gospel and the identity of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah…since these things are true, what response does God call me to? (Biblically…”what shall we do?”). I will go with Peter over any preacher or teacher today who has not personally been in Jesus’ inner circle, not personally inspired in their teaching by the Holy Spirit, and who has not written books recorded in the New Testament as Peter has. If you ask me what to do, let me point you to Peter, Jesus, and Paul rather than the opinions that are floating around today.

Thanks to Eric for pointing me toward the video.

0 Responses

  1. Of course, too, we should be practicing baptism not merely as “doctrinal correctness” or (part of) a formula for salvation. Baptism is a narrative and is how the believer enters into the narrative of God. It’s how the believer becomes part of the people of God. It’s a part of the ongoing Story. The “believer’s prayer” is part of the individualization of the Gospel that has happened in the West. “Come into MY heart” rather than, by baptism, entering into HIS Story. Good post.

    1. Joey, I had never thought of what you just said and I think it is significant,

      “The “believer’s prayer” is part of the individualization of the Gospel that has happened in the West. “Come into MY heart” rather than, by baptism, entering into HIS Story.”

      Anyone else thought about that? Is the sinner’s prayer still me focused, God…you come here to me, whereas the biblical depiction of baptism us coming into God’s kingdom through submission in baptism and intersecting with the Gospel narrative?

      I will have to think about that one but curious what others think about it.

    2. To be clear: God certainly rescues individuals. It’s individualism that we would oppose.

      Too, the “believer’s prayer” (bp) misses out on the power of narrative (and narrative IS powerful). It seems to me that the bp encourages the notion that the Gospel is merely information intended for acceptance or rejection. Baptism, on the other hand, promotes the idea of Gospel as embodiment.

    3. joey, I think you hit the nail on the head. I would even go one step further, to use some Old Testament language, and say that it’s a covenantal act. It’s a visual and action-driven response and confirmation of the covenant you enter with God.

      I have always had a problem with the whole concept of “God meets you where you are.” Individualism is the crux of this particular prayer. Yet, we understand that once we become a child of God, our individual nature ceases to exist for the sake of HIS nature manifesting itself within us.

      I heard a preacher say this recently: the sinner’s prayer is nothing but a half truth, and that’s almost worse than someone lying to you about the gospel.

  2. Many in the Baptist-line have spoken the same tune as Platt, not least of which is Paul Washer. The question is, when will a CofC preacher get up and preach on why the man-centered, God-absent 5-steps-to-salvation are just as superstitious and unbiblical? Would love to see that video make the rounds. It’s about time for all denominations, including our own, to move beyond such creations.

    1. JR,
      Do you think the 5 things we emphasize necessarily require God to be absent or are you arguing against one way those five things have traditionally been presented that seems to push God’s activity to the side an emphasizes our response/activity in the salvation process?

    2. Hey Matt, as a fellow CofC minister I’ll jump in on this one. No I don’t think that God is absent from the “5 things” (which I assume is a reference to: hear, believe, confess, repent, baptism). On the contrary I think He is actively present in each one. But just like the Sinners Prayer that Platt is correcting (among the Baptist tradition of faith) because it doesn’t appear in the NT, our list never appears. Yes i know we can combine verses that support each of the five but never does the list appear as a single whole. Therefore we at least have to admit that, though it is not “God absent”, it is still “man-constructed list”.

      To JR, I don’t know what kind of preaching you are hearing but I wish to encourage you in the fact that most of the preachers that I know and myself personally do not hold up the traditional list. I hear far more preaching and proclamation on a total life surrender to Christ, making Him both Lord and Savior.

      Just some thoughts.
      Appreciate you Matt for sharing your blog.
      Grace & Peace

    3. Matt: Just in stating them and on the surface, God is absent from the 5 steps. So I would say “yes” – it can usually lead to an over-emphasis on our activity in salvation. Emphasizing anything we do in salvation is a red flag anyway. We play no role in giving ourselves new hearts.

      Scott: I agree regaring today’s preaching, and I think the same could be said from the Baptist perspective. Far more of the main stream, most listened to Baptist preachers preach the “total life” than hold to a traditional “prayer to get saved.” The latter has been well ridiculed on their side.

      My main point was this: We can turn our own man-made traditions into something superstitious and unbiblical. Like making water this magical point in time, for example. Hamstringing the Holy Spirit’s power of regeneration to a physical act should be spared no similar ridicule.

      Grace be with you –

    4. Sorry, the wording of my last sentence was a bit odd. I meant “Hamstringing the Holy Spirit’s power of regeneration to a physical act should not be spared similar ridicule.”

    5. I think all 5 things are biblical…it is just in how they are presented…must be presented biblically. All those things are very well defined in scripture but something else is communicated inadvertently (hopefully inadvertently) when we list them with no explanation as to how the salvation process is described in scripture.

  3. I find it interesting how the “5 Steps” evolved. Originally, Walter Scott (along with A.C. and probably others) had a 6 point illustration to combat the rampant Calvinism of the day. Man did three things – have faith, repent and be baptized. In turn God did three things – forgive sins, give the Holy Spirit, and promise eternal life. Scott later shortened this to get his “5 Finger Exercise” so that even children could memorize the steps – Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Forgiveness of Sins, Gift of the Holy Spirit (note that the promise of eternal life was the one eliminated). But also note the emphasis on God’s actions in both exercises. Somewhere along the way God was eliminated from the picture and the “steps” became – hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized. I have not found when this last evolution took place, nor why, except that it puts man completely in the driver’s seat, which is exactly where we want him.

    I find that today God is reappearing – even in the first steps. God does work to give us faith, he does enable us to come to him in repentance, baptism is solely an act of God’s grace, and obviously the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternal life are only his to give. At least – that is what I preach and have had no objections.

    1. Paul,

      I wouldn’t say God is actuallly left out of the picture. We might communicate him not in the picture like we should but that doesn’t mean he is left out of the picture when it comes to those 5 things. God certainly has acted throughout history to build faith in our lives. At the same time, faith is our response to what God has done so we do have some part to play in all of this. It is just that our part is a response to what God has done, not actions that require God to save us or earn the price that was paid for us and for our sins. Baptism is passive in the NT. That is why it is translated “be baptized”. I have already covered that numerous times on this blog. I just don’t get how people call a passive act a work geared to earn our salvation except that people think they heard us say it that way…and maybe some in our number (Churches of Christ) really believed that.


    2. “Baptism is passive in the NT.” Yes. We are baptized BY the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).
      If we consider some of the “types” of baptism in the OT (baptism is a narrative), God is clearly the one doing the baptizing.
      1) Out of the waters of chaos God created the universe: “death” followed by resurrection.
      2) God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam the result of which was the appearance of his bride: a “death” and resurrection through which the Story continued.
      3) Noah: a return to the waters of chaos (death) followed by resurrection.
      4) From Abraham’s “as good as dead body” came the son of promise: a “death” and resurrection. The Story could continue.
      5) The Exodus: Lord Pharaoh pursued Israel to the edge of the sea where they were as good as dead had God not brought them through the waters of chaos (once again, death) to resurrection on the other side. (1 Cor 10)
      In all of these examples, the pattern is established: God does it.
      Note the contrast, too, of Lord Pharaoh reversing the process in throwing the male babies back into the waters of chaos.
      Imagine an ancient Isrealite standing on the near side of the Red Sea saying, “Do I HAVE to cross in order to be saved?” It was pretty much assumed that they needed to cross.

    3. It is written above: “so we do have some part to play in all of this.” It is this thinking from our own traditions that continue to concern me. It is nothing more than semi-Pelagianism. God goes this far and no farther – the rest is up to us.

      But to the contrary, in John 3, Jesus used Ezekiel 36 to describe to Nicodemus “how can these things be?” regarding being born-again. In Ezekiel 36, God gives a new heart and God gives a new Spirit which causes men to actively and willfully obey Him through that act. In Ezekiel 37 God breaths life into dead (not barely alive, seeking life, or gasping for air, but dead) bones. Being born-again, being regenerated, is passive in every respect. God gives life because of His great love. Then what follows this act of God is our action through our regenerated will and being, though even our actions of will (repentance, good works, obedience, etc.) are the works of God. They are not ours. They belong to Christ, the Spirit of God, who is within us; working through our will.

      Synergism has absolutely no place in the discussion of salvation. To God alone be the glory!

      In Peace. Grace be with you –

  4. JR,

    God is looking for a response in us, correct? I can say both God does all the saving and God is looking for a response in us. What reconciles those two things in my mind is that nothing I do earns or merits God’s saving acts in my life. But God is still looking for me to respond. Do you take issue with that approach? I would call that “playing a part” in the process without saying the part we play merits anything. Salvation is a gift that is wholly given by God.

  5. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply…I’ve not been disinterested, only super busy. I did not mean to say that God was not involved anymore – quite the contrary. I was merely pointing out that in our language God disappeared. It became all about us. That has had a profound impact on our thinking. Some have rightly accused pockets of our fellowship with a “works based” salvation. I like Scott’s first 6 point illustration, although I would come down heavier that God is active in all six steps. We must recover God’s holy action in all aspects of justification and sanctification. I like the term “response” that Matt used above. We do not generate the action, but we must certainly respond to it.

  6. Matt: I believe I answered that above. The Scritpures teach that once we are made His, we live a life of obedience to God; that we repent; that we love others as we love ourselves, etc. In this way we respond to what God has done for us. We pursue holiness. However, none of these things preceed regeneration (or election for that matter). Again, Jesus used Ezekiel 36-37 to demonstrate how one is born-again. God gives the new heart. God gives the new Spirit. There cannot be the imperative (and response) prior to the indicative. There is a reason why Ephesians 1-3 comes before Ephesians 4-6. We are “made alive” then we “live worthy.” To not show the Spirit’s fruit of regeneration shows there was never regeneration to begin with – no matter what we might profess or claim about ourselves.

    I think we differ in that I would deny the contention that repentance and faith can preceed God’s act of regeneration; or that God can give regeneration and it not be perfectly effectual (that is, it would produce no response).

    The idea that God has His hand out and it is then up to man to respond while still having a dead heart is, I find, inconsistant with Scripture (nevermind impossible). All reject God by nature (as children of wrath; children of Adam, children of the flesh). It is who we are. Nobody makes a new heart for themself. And all are justly guilty in refusing God through their will. But God, because of His great love, makes men alive. This is the testimony throughout the narrative.

    Christ did not die to simply make salvation possible. He died to save a people, and He is a perfect Savior and Lord.

    Grace be with you –

    1. JR,

      Thank you for the dialog. I appreciate it. I agree that the indicative comes before the imperative. Christ died for the ungodly before we even had any idea about it or were even born. He was lifted up to draw all men to himself. He defeated sin and death and offers eternal life to all who would have faith. That is the indicative.

      You wrote,
      “I think we differ in that I would deny the contention that repentance and faith can preceed God’s act of regeneration; or that God can give regeneration and it not be perfectly effectual (that is, it would produce no response).”

      I agree that the salvific work of Christ was done prior to our faith and yet God still calls us to respond in faith. It doesn’t make the work of Christ any less significant or any less powerful or effectual for God to be looking for a response to his saving work in the world, faith.

      Just curious, are you saying people are already regenerated prior to faith, repentance, baptism, etc (any or all of those)? If so, are there people who are lost at all? If so, what differentiates those who are lost and those who are saved if God has already done all the regenerating that is going to take place (aside from the “not yet” side of the eschatological equation, of course)?

      Also, what do you do with verses like 1 John 1:5-7 that says there is continued purification from sins as we walk in the light. John would certainly not say that God’s regenerative power is innefectual and yet it is continuous and ongoing in the lives of Christians. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and your time.

    2. Matt: Likewise, I appreciate the dialogue and thoughtfulness. These can be weighty issues with plenty of emotional and intellectual baggage, for sure! May our love for God and each other continue, as I think it has, to be our filter.

      There are terms and phrases that need defining in this multi-faceted discussion. For example, that God drew “all men to himself” needs to be defined. Is it all men without exception? Or is it all men without distinction (that is, not just Jews but Gentiles as well)? With the immediate context of John 12, I would argue the latter, as in the immediate context we have the Greeks seeking Jesus (v.20f).

      In regards to the “just curious” paragraph, I want to be clear that yes, there are lost people. Indeed, all people are lost from birth. As it is written we are by nature (birth, origin) children of wrath. We are not, by nature, nuetral to God. We are instead, by nature, enemies of God. Being born in Adam, in the flesh, by natural birth, is to be dead and enslaved in sin. Ephesians 2 shows us this is our default position: (1) dead; (2) world followers; (3) devil worshipers; (4) appetite driven; and (5) children of wrath. Thus, we have the need to be born-again by the Spirit. For the flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit.

      I do not propose that God has regenerated all people. That would mean that all people are born-again. God’s regenerating power by His Spirit is what He said He would do in Ezekiel 36-37, and it is Ezekiel 36-37 that Jesus uses as His paradigm in explaining being born-again to Nicodemus in John 3.

      I think there is confusion in some terminology regarding regeneration and sanctification. Or, as is similarly done, justification and sanctification. We must not confuse the two. God giving a new heart and new spirit is His act of regeneration, but God’s fruit of that act is sanctification. A new heart leads to sanctification. Justification leads to sanctification (not the other way around).

      Certainly, and most assuredly, we continue to sin – and repentance follows! But because we still sin does not mean we do not have a new heart, and that does not mean we are not justified. I think Luther was right when he called himself “simul Iustus et peccator” (“at the same time justified and sinner”). We are justified (made right with God) and yet we are still in these bodies of death and we still sin.

      Absolutley, we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is key, as without it, nobody is saved. Where I think we differ (and correct me if I misrepresent you) is that you would propose that all people have the moral ability for faith without the work of God in regeneration. To put it another way, unregenerate people can come alive and believe on their own (through the Spirit’s woos). You take a morally-neutral approach in that people can be born-again without the Spirit of God’s effectual enablement. In other words, dead bones can give themself life. – Though if you confirm that it is the Spirit who gives life, then you would propose that the Spirit has blown over all men, thus enabling all to believe. But some (many) do not believe and so the act the regeneration is really only effectual for some, but not for all.

      So I think we agree on several things: the necessity of faith, repentance, santifiction, etc. But where I think we differ is that you believe Christ died to make men saveable whereas I believe Christ died and actually saved a people, and perfectly. The previous, in my mind, gives at least some credit to man (because for some reason some choose and some don’t), while the latter gives it all to the Godhead (He chooses who to reveal Himself to – Matt 11:25-27, John 3:8, 6:65 ).

      Grace be with you –

    3. A few things you said,

      “Indeed, all people are lost from birth.” As it is written we are by nature (birth, origin) children of wrath. ”

      Just curious if you are Reformed. All people are lost from birth? There is a difference of being born with flesh and being born with sin. Jesus was born with flesh and was not lost from birth and yet he was like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17). I don’t see how your take on this matches up with Hebrews 2:17 at all. Please help me understand that one.

      You wrote, “The Scritpures teach that once we are made His, we live a life of obedience to God; that we repent; that we love others as we love ourselves, etc. In this way we respond to what God has done for us. We pursue holiness. However, none of these things preceed regeneration (or election for that matter).”

      So you are saying God makes us alive prior to our repentance. God makes some alive but others he doesn’t…as you said, God does not universally give new birth to all. Yet you also say God makes us alive prior to our own response (Your words were, “. So here is my key question, what is it that differentiates those whom God chooses to make alive (prior to any response on their part (am I readin that right?) and some he then chooses to leave in their state. As you said, “I do not propose that God has regenerated all people.” Based on what you are saying it would seem the reason people are saved is because God brought them new life, to which they responded with repentance, faith, etc. That would then mean the only reason someone wasn’t saved was because for whatever reason God choose not to work on them in such a way. I want to make sure I am reading you right here so please correct my response to what you are saying wherever necessary.

      Now, let me correct your take on my belief (which I really haven’t fully laid out here). I do believe that all have opportunity to have faith in Christ. I hope you would agree. I do believe that the only reason we can have faith is because of who we have faith in and what God has done. We have faith that Jesus is the Christ based on the proof of what he did and the spiritual reality of what he did. That is what we respond to. If God and Christ had not done that and taken initiative in that there would be no room for faith. Do people believe “on their own?” In one sense no they don’t…because God started this whole thing rolling by sending his Son and that is what we base our faith on. On the other hand…it is our responsibility to have faith that is based on our own decision. We can choose to have faith or we can choose otherwise. It is our decision and God has shown us what is good. Are we willing to respond? Are we morally neutral? Of course not (Rom 3:23).

      I am not sure where you get me saying dead bones can give themself life. I am saying that God has conditioned our salvation and justification on our responding to what He has already so graciously done for us. God gives us life. We don’t twist his arm by our faith baptism or whatever that force Christ to die for us or strong arm God into saving us. That would be ridiculous! God is the one who gives life but we must have a biblical answer to who he gives life to. Rev 20 tells us that some are in the book of life while others are not. The difference is not that God took initiative with some and not with others or that God tugged on the hearts of some but not on others. The response is our responsibility or else it either makes God powerless to do what he set out to do or an arbitrary ogre.

      Last, you wrote,

      “So I think we agree on several things: the necessity of faith, repentance, santifiction, etc. But where I think we differ is that you believe Christ died to make men saveable whereas I believe Christ died and actually saved a people, and perfectly.”

      I hope after all this you don’t still think I believe the POWER required to bring salvation does not rest on us but on God. That is a biblical truth we can all accept.

      Thanks again and have a good night.

      Grace be with you –

  7. “God gives the new heart.” What does that mean? How does that happen? Does God flip a switch? Wave a magic wand? Do a transplant? Or could it be that he created within us the capacity to choose? And we, having seen the full demonstration of God’s faithfulness (Rom 3:21ff), are wooed by God’s initial action. A young man woos a young woman who responds to his gestures. Soldiers are inspired to battle by an officer who leads by example. What God has done (is doing) in Jesus is more than these everyday examples, but it’s certainly not less.
    “And he died that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…”
    Our salvation is protected by our faith (1 Peter 1:5). We beat the world by faith (1 John 5). This is OUR faith in God, not God’s faith in himself that he plants in us.

    1. joey: Since this is what I’ve been pointing back to each comment, I would encourage you to read John 3 then Ezekiel 36 and 37. It says this is what God will do. It is a unilateral action. And I don’t believe that it is up to us to explain exactly how that happens. Scripture was given to us for God to reveal Himself and His purposes, not to satisfy all of our curiosities of the transcendent. We obey Him and so we preach the gosple to all creation without prejudice. Exactly “how” God acts beyond that is for Him to know.

      And I agree, it is our faith. No objection there. God works through our will to bring about results. The point in question is how one has the ability to possess faith. Can an unregenerate person (those who have not had their heart of stone replaced) possess faith?

      Grace be with you –

    2. I have read John and Ezekiel. The only reason to get “a unilateral action” out of these passages is to read it into the text. One can just as easily read these texts as I indicated in the previous post. It is true that God alone is our Savior. We do nothing to earn salvation. This does not mean that he can’t, by his sovereignty, ordain that he will not save us without us. He HAS ordained that he will save us with us. We are not puppets.
      Paul says that we “persuade” the hearts of men. This IS (part of) the power that God exercises through us – the same power that he exercised in raising Jesus from the dead (Eph 1, as you know). We persuade the hearts of men and women. That is power indeed.

      All of this, of course, is a discussion of (calvinistic/piperian) predestination and of what God is like.

    3. joey: In a mood of peace, I would encourage all of us to use biblical language when discussing these matters. To say “we are not puppets,” while a common retort, is frivolous and tends to divert attention from the real issues. Instead, we read that the Scriptures say both, that 1) God does the choosing in salvation and in revealing Himself (Jesus was as explicit as anybody in this regard – Matt 11:25-27; Mark 4:10-12; John 6:65; and Paul in Rom 9, etc.) and 2) that men are wholly personally responsible for both their guilt and their faith. Scripture says that both are true and that God is righteous and just in all of it. Nowhere do the Scriptures say “men are puppets,” and this has nothing to do with calvinism. We’re talking about actual texts here; and these issues are meaty. We should, therefore, give pause and pursue beyond the simplistic and surface-level responses.

      As for faith, indeed, the Scriptures tell us that we are saved by grace through faith and that this (en toto) is a gift of God. Certainly, our wills are the agency by which we are saved (through the Spirit). Therefore, I would affirm with you that our faith is our own in that sense, and we are liable for that faith. Amen! All people are responsible for their unbelief or belief. This is most certain.

      But the issue here is that some have faith and some don’t. Therefore, what I’m trying to explore with you is the foundational understanding of that faith. Why do some possess it and some don’t? And if person A does, and person B doesn’t, why is that the case? Is person A more spiritually mature? More intellectually superior? Less prideful? More loving? Etc. What is it that person A has within themselves that person B doesn’t? And once you come to a conclusion to that question one must answer the following two questions: 1)Is that of themselves and 2)If it is, does this not leave ground for boasting?

      In love. Grace be with you –

  8. I regret he holds this position. However, it confirms some other questions I have of him. David, I prayed a prayer and invited Jesus into my heart. He changed my life. Romans offers an example we are to follow.(10:9-10) From someone who has been in ministry for 38 years, you may want to think through what you say and prayerfully communicate it…even if it is what you believe. This borders on something that is theologically unhealthy.

    1. It is God who does the saving, and if a person prays a prayer with faith and desire to be saved, believing the gospel, then God saves them. The Bible says to confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God has raised him from the dead. What else is confessing to God, belief in the gospel, but PRAYER??

    2. Al, there are two things going on here. The first is whether we think something like the sinner’s prayer or baptism are the means themselves to salvation…like a magical act that has power in and of itself. The second thing is what the NT itself says God is looking for in response to his grace. It is pretty clear that God is looking for repentance as well as being baptized. It is stated over and over and over again…so many times that we don’t have any excuse if we miss out on that.

  9. Do you understand the meaning of “repent” in the Greek? Metanoeo? Or do you think “repent” means what the English dictionary typically defines it as, to be sorrowful and penitent toward sin? Or do you think it means to “turn from sin” as to say, “stop sinning”? Or do you think metanoeo means “to change ones mind concerning”, in this case, sin? 😉

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