“The Sinner’s Prayer,” is popular in Evangelical circles and often seen as a moment defining one’s salvation.
Also known as “The Salvation Prayer” we’ve seen versions of it printed in tracts, heard it preached in radio sermons and seen it offered on TV commercials by Evangelicals as a way to accept Jesus into your heart and be saved. One version goes like this.
“Dear God, I am a sinner. I’m sorry for my sins. Forgive me. I want to turn from my sins. Help me. I invite Jesus to come into my life, to take control from this day forward. And I want to follow Him as my Lord forever. I pray this in the Name of Jesus. Amen.”
In today’s Bible reading, we’re introduced to a man from a pagan background who Luke describes with these words:
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” (Ax. 10:1-2
Cornelius was obviously a good moral man. He was religious. God-fearing. Benevolent. Prayerful. And a good example.
Furthermore, the Bible says he experienced a vision and an angel said that his prayers had ascended as “a memorial before God.”
Surely, Cornelius was the perfect prototype of one who prayed “the sinner’s prayer.” Surely, he was saved. No doubt, he was a Christian. At least that’s what we might assume.
Yet, the angel told him to send for the apostle Peter and “he will tell you what you must do.”
The account of Cornelius’ conversion is unique. Up to this point in the first century church, only Jews had received and obeyed the gospel. Yet, Jesus commanded the apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” and promised that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:15-16).
Due to the racial prejudice between Jews and Gentiles, Peter and his brethren would need some divine assurance. Peter also saw a vision convincing him to go to the Gentile’s house. Also God poured out a miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit, just as He did on Pentecost, to sign as a to the Jewish brethren of His approval for Gentiles to be accepted in full fellowship.
Yet, just like in every other case of conversion in the book of Acts, Cornelius was saved when he heard, believed and obeyed the gospel message that Peter preached.
“What must I do to be saved?” is a familiar question either implied or directly asked throughout Acts. Although, Luke doesn’t record word for word every single sermon by every apostle and preacher, we know that the same message was proclaimed everywhere.
On Pentecost, when the Jewish audience was convinced they were lost and cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.'” (Acts 2:38)
The same was true when Philip took the gospel message to Samaria (Acts 8). When Ananias preached to Saul of Tarsus. And when the apostle Paul traveled the Roman Empire on his missionary tours “preaching the things of the Kingdom of God” (Ax 19:8) and instructing them to be “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3).
Let’s not offer people false hope. Or a cheapened version of salvation. Morality is not enough. Neither is just being charitable. Being somewhat religious. Or praying “the sinner’s prayer.”
Salvation is not received on human terms, but according to God’s plan, and by His grace, when we believe and obey.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman