If we don't lead people in the "sinner's prayer" in evangelism, then how can we lead them to Christ?
Pastor David Platt is answering that question after having expressed reservation over the widely employed "sinner's prayer." Earlier this year, he called the specific prayer "superstitious," sparking debate among Christians.
The Birmingham, Ala., pastor understands that many (like Billy Graham) have used and continue to use the prayer in their evangelistic efforts and that many have come to Christ that way. But for him personally, Platt chooses not to ask people to repeat after him in a sinner's prayer partly because it comes across as "unhealthily formulaic."
"I talk with people all the time who are looking for a 'box to check off' in order to be right with God and safe for eternity. But there is no box. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone," he said Monday in a blog post.
So to answer the question, Platt, who leads The Church at Brook Hills, offered to summarize what he teaches at his church's Institute for Disciple-Making every spring.
First, he explained, "share the gospel clearly ... and call people to count the cost of following Christ."
The person on the receiving end of the Good News must have a biblical understanding of the Gospel, Platt stressed. That is, that God looked upon "hopelessly sinful men and women," and sent His son to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the resurrection so that everyone who repents and believes in Him will be reconciled to God forever.
Once that is established, "Tell them following Jesus will cost them their life…and tell them Jesus is worth it!"
Platt, 33, emphasizes the latter part because he has witnessed the "sinner's prayer" being abused among Christians, where people are assured of their salvation simply because they prayed the prayer. But in many cases, the prayer was said without having counted the cost of following Christ.
Next, the believer can ask the person if he or she has any questions and then ask if the person would like to repent and believe.
Then when giving the invitation to call on the Lord and be saved, "you don't necessarily need to tell them the exact words to say at that point," Platt noted.
A specific "sinner's prayer," is not found in the Bible, he maintained.
"If they see God for who He is, their sin for what it is, themselves for who they are, and Christ for who He is and what He has done, then by the grace of God through the Spirit of God they are more than able to call out in repentance and faith…so let them do so."
The believer should also be willing to let the person be alone with God, in some cases.
Finally, once that person repents and believes in Christ, the one who shared the Gospel should continue to lead that new believer.
"Remember, our goal is not to count decisions; our goal is to make disciples," he emphasized.
In the end, Platt remains cautious of the "sinner's prayer" as it can be recited without a full understanding of the Gospel and of the life they're committing themselves to.
He highlighted, "Assurance of salvation is not found in a prayer we prayed or a decision we made however many years ago as much as it is found in trusting in the sacrifice of Christ for us, experiencing the Spirit of Christ in us, obeying the commands of Christ to us, and expressing the love of Christ to others.
"Ultimately, however, I don't want people to look to me or even to a 'prayer they prayed' for assurance of salvation. I want them to look to Christ for this. Assurance of salvation is always based on His work, not ours."