The $5 Sinner’s Prayer

 The other day my wife, Karen, was channel surfing when she came across a very well known preacher who’d just finished his Sunday morning message.
With a perpetual smile on his face, the preacher said something like, “As it is our custom at this church, we’d like to give everyone the opportunity to become a Christian. So, if you want to become a Christian, please repeat after me.” He then went on to pray a traditional sinner’s prayer. What got my attention was what he said after he finished the prayer.
“If you repeated this prayer, you’re now a Christian. Make sure to find yourself a good Bible teaching church,” he said as he continued to smile.
His statement reminded me of the something that happened to me over 35 years ago.
In those days many people hitchhiked. I’d been one of those people for several years. So, when I finally bought my first car, wanting to pay my debt back to all those who’d at one time or another given me a ride, I’d picked up any hitchhiker who came across my path.
One particular day going home from work, I picked up this homeless guy off the freeway on-ramp. He was a tall thin man in his 30s. As soon as he got inside the car, he began coughing and sneezing blowing his nose in the used tissue paper I had stuck in my ashtray—Yes, those days all cars had ashtrays.
As it was my custom when I had a hitchhiker in my car, I began to share the Gospel with the man. Before I could even finish my sentence, he stopped me and said something that I’ll never forget for as long as I live. Very calmly and as a matter of fact he said, “For $5 I’ll repeat the Sinner’s Prayer for you.”
I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say. I’d never had someone selling me his sinner’s prayer. He honestly thought he was doing me favor. Apparently, he’d been through this many times and by now he’d realized that by repeating some words, he was going to give me the satisfaction of thinking I’d brought him to Christ and therefore I owed him a few bucks – $5 to be exact.
Is it really true that by repeating some words one automatically becomes a Christian? Only the Lord knows since it is the faith in our hearts and not just the confession our mouths that saves us (Rom. 10:9). Could the above man had gone through the rest of his life repeating the prayer over and over again while making some money, but still end up in hell?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe a simple prayer can save a man’s soul. On the other hand, just because a man has repeated a prayer doesn’t make him a saved person. To assume that is to practice Islamic theology and cheapen the Gospel.
In order to become a Muslim, all you have to do is repeat the following phrase (known as the Shahada) in Arabic: “I testify that there’s no god but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.” Although it’s desired that one recites the phrase form the heart, a Muslim will rejoice in hearing you repeat the Shahada and will consider you a Muslim. And, it doesn’t matter if you understood a word you’ve said. Case in point, the following video-clip.
In this clip, an Arabic speaking sheikh (Muslim cleric) is guiding a Portuguese soccer player to become a Muslim by repeating the Shahada. Those who speak Arabic will find the clip quite funny, which is not the goal of this blog. My goal is to expose the danger of automatically calling someone a Christian because they have recited the words we put into their mouths.

What is the difference between this sheikh and the above pastor?
PS. I never asked my hitchhiker to repeat after me. Instead, I took him to a restaurant and bought him a nice chicken fried steak dinner.
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7 thoughts on “The $5 Sinner’s Prayer

  1. Hi Shah, I cannot believe you did not lead that guy in the sinner prayer. If he goes to hell, it will be your fault.

    No, believing in Jesus is what saves us. And the faith required to believe is a gift from God.

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  2. Hi Shah, my young son prayed last Wednesday to be on the winning team-that is, Jesus' team! He had prayed the sinners prayer many times but did not have a confidence in his salvation. He even lead his 2nd grade classmate in the sinners prayer:) But last Wednesday I believe he really came to saving faith. It was not the words, it was the realization that Christ died in His place and at that moment he came to believe. But he prayed, Jesus, I want to be on your winning team:) So sweet, God understands his heart. He told me the next day, and every day after that I have seen a difference in his life. He is so happy to finally have that assurance of his salvation. He said that when he prayed before he didn't think he really believed but now he knows he is on God's team:) Every day he wakes up he still has a look of peace and confidence in the Lord. It was nothing that we, his parents, did, but it was the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

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  3. Dennis, I know you're joking, but he knew the prayer better than I did. I wasn't about to lose my hard earned $5 to satisfy some religious superstitious, so I could add another natch on my spiritual gun.

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  4. Katie, I'm very happy to hear that. Don't you think in some ways many Christians make the mistake Muslim make? They assume their children are Christians because the kids were raised in a Christian home where they'd repeated a prayer at the age of 6 or whatever. I can't tell you how many of my Bible college students had doubts about their faith even though at some point of their lives they had repeated a prayer or had been baptized.

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  5. Shah, I totally agree. I feel bad for my kids growing up in a Christian home. They will hear the gospel preached many times a week. I had the pleasure of being an all out rebellious sinner:) So when I came to Christ I KNEW my faith was real because Jesus did a miracle in my life. He became so real and changed my stubborn, rebellious heart towards Him. But I have seen my kids struggle, wondering and doubting. But when some of them have come to saving faith it was obvious. Like with my 8 yr. old last week. I have no doubt that it is hard on kids growing up in Christian homes. Their faith needs to become a personal thing, not just something they know in their head or a prayer they repeated.

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