Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Praying the “Sinner’s prayer”

One of our dear friends recently told me that she wants to go and visit her father (living in the USA). This is in spite of some bad experiences she had with her father in her childhood years. Her father, who is, humanly speaking, very close to the end of his life, is not a Christian. Our friend told me that she wants to see him one more time before he dies making use of this last opportunity to explain the gospel to him so that he can pray the “Sinner’s prayer” so that she can be at peace that, when he dies, he will be with God.
Because I know the heart of this person, I fully understand that she by no means used this words lightly as if, the mere fact that he had recited a few words, would save him from eternal hell. Both she and her husband are fully committed Christians who place a very high premium on their family members as well as other Christians to live a new life in Christ.
But not all people understand it this way. For many, the “Sinner’s prayer” is still a magic formula which, once recited, becomes the guarantee to eternal life. I’ve written fairly extensively about my feelings on this in a post which you can read here.
At the same time I realise this person’s predicament. Her father is dying. Who of us would be satisfied that your father had died and entered eternal hell without God – especially if you had not done anything to change the situation? I led the funeral service after my own father’s death in 2000 and with the pain of having to cope with his death I also had the joy of knowing that he is with God. She won’t have this joy, unless if her father accepts the Lord literally on his deathbed.
One of the things which I always say when teaching on evangelism, is that we are not saved through a prayer. We are saved through Jesus Christ. My prayer could be one of the ways in which I acknowledge that I have accepted that salvation in faith. But the prayer as such cannot be my guarantee that I am saved.
So what would I have said to our friend if she had asked my advice? This is difficult, merely because this is such a deeply personal and emotional issue. Saying to her that she’s wasting her time because her father cannot be saved merely by reciting a prayer seems very unloving and insensitive. She didn’t ask my advice and I didn’t offer any advice. But I would probably have encouraged her to go if she had asked. I would have told her to share once again (I believe that she must have done it before) the full story of the gospel with her father. Her father should once again be placed before the decision whether he wants to accept it or not. And, if at that point, he does want to accept Jesus as Saviour, then she should assist him in doing this. And then she has to accept that, whether he had been sincere or not does not lie in her own hands. But what if he still refuses?
She made one remark which I corrected. She said something like: “There probably isn’t a better place to accept Christ than on your deathbed.” To which I responded: “No, you’re wrong. Accepting Christ on the deathbed is a last resort. But then you do it mainly just to get into heaven. And God wants to give us eternal life while we are still on earth. So, I can think of much better times to accept Christ than on your deathbed!”
With which she, laughingly, agreed.


Thursday, April 17, 2008 - Posted by | Theology


  1. I confess that this is a very difficult issue. I am glad you pointed out that salvation rests in Christ and not on the Sinners prayer. How to approach this issue with the grace and compassion needed to both exhibit the truth and express love is always difficult. May I suggest sharing with her the Gospel and its message. Not because she forgot it in any way, but express to her that salvation itself is an act of God. That is not to say that humans have no choice in the matter, but rather the concern must rest first with God. When we seek people’s salvation we always acknowledge in our prayes that God is sovereign and able to save to the uttermost. Second, is to reflect upon prayer itself. Prayer is intercession or communing with God. In a real sense, it is humbling the sinner and lifting up God. One of the most often overlooked passages in the Lord’s prayer is “Your will be done. . .” It is so interesting how it diverts the attention of the person to where it must rightfully rest, upon God. That is the question isn’t it? Am I satified with resting in “Your will being done?” Do I trust that all things will work together for good?

    I would not at all discourage her from seeing her father, but I would certainly gently and compassionately work to prepare her and also ground her in the sovereignty of her God. You would be amazed at what we remember when the loss seems overwhelming and even what it is we turn to when we seek comfort. It was George Mueller, as his wife lay upon her deathbed who prayed both for her health and recovery and when realizing that it would not come replied: “God, with you I am satisfied.” How could he do such a thing? I think of song I catch myself singing every now and then:

    Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side.
    Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain,
    Leave to thy God to order and provide.
    Though all shall change, he faithful will remain.
    Be still my soul, thy best, thy Heavenly Friend,
    Through thorny ways will lead to a joyful end.

    Affirm again that salvation is of the Lord and seek satisfaction in the words, “Your will be done. . .”

    In Christ,

    I would like to blog about this since it has been a concern upon my heart. Thank you for reminding us that life is evanescent.

    Comment by Dylan Barry | Friday, April 18, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] came across a post by fellow Christian who is dealing with this same thing.  Except it is not his loss, but someone […]

    Pingback by Dealing With Pain of Loss « The Reformed Filipino | Friday, April 18, 2008 | Reply

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