The Top Five Reasons People Say the Sinner’s Prayer

Guest post by ObstacleChick

The number one goal of Evangelical Christian churches is to save souls from eternal damnation in hell. Therefore, the general plan of salvation is taught to children from a very young age. Terms like “getting saved,” “making a profession of faith,” “getting your heart/life right with Jesus” are bandied about quite a bit, all with the intention of making sure children and teens publicly announce that they have accepted Jesus into their lives as their personal Lord and Savior. Children are taught that we are all sinners; that as sinners our punishment in the afterlife is eternity in hell — a place of torment and fire and demons; that God loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to earth to die on a cross in our place — for our sins — and that he rose from the dead; that all we need to do to be saved from an eternity in hell is to pray to God/Jesus, confessing and repenting of our sins, and asking Jesus into our hearts. The “Sinner’s Prayer” is the typical vehicle to salvation, and there are many versions. Here are a few basic ones listed below:

Bill Graham Version

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.

In Your Name. Amen.

CRU Version — Formerly Campus Crusade for Christ

Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.

The Sinner’s Prayer for Children

Dear God,  I know that I am a sinner. I know that you sent Jesus to be my Savior, and that He died on the cross to take the punishment for my sins.  I know that Jesus rose from the dead and is coming back someday. Please forgive me of all of my sins, and come into my life and change me. Please guide me in my life and help me to follow you for the rest of my life. Thank you for saving me and taking me to heaven when I die.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Ministry-to-Children Sinner’s Prayer

Jesus – I know that you made me and want me to obey you with all my heart. I know I have disobeyed and wanted to be my own boss. I have thought and done things against your directions. I am sorry. I know that you gave up his life to save me from these sins and make me your child again. I accept your promises and ask you to please save me now and forever.

Amen.

Children’s Version from SBC Voices

Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I know my sin deserves to be punished. I believe Christ died for me and rose from the grave. I trust Jesus alone as my Savior. Thank you for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

Among Southern Baptists, that’s all you need to do – once you’re saved, you’re always saved. You aren’t always in good standing with the Man Upstairs, but you’ll be safe from eternal hellfire and damnation.

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At some point, typically in childhood, people raised in Evangelical churches will pray the “Sinner’s Prayer.”  What follow is my list of Top 5 Reasons People Pray the Sinner’s Prayer.

Fear of Hell

Who wants to spend eternity being tortured by fiery flames in a place where the “worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44)? Eternity is a long time, longer than most of our human brains can comprehend.

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Pressure From Parents

Good Evangelical parents know that their number-one duty is to make sure their children are saved from eternal damnation in hell. Good parents CANNOT rest easy until they know that their child is safe from eternity in hell and that one day they will be reunited in the afterlife in heaven. My grandparents and my mom pestered me to death until I finally picked a day that I would go forward at the altar call and get it over and done with. (Note about myself: hell scared the hell out of me. But I do not like being told what to do, I like doing things in my own time and on my own terms, and if you pester me I will definitely not do whatever it is you pester me about. Also, at that age I did not like being the center of attention, and going forward to the altar in front of the entire church and having the whole congregation shake my hand was one of the least appealing things I could imagine doing.)

All Your Friends are Doing It/Emotional Appeal

If children have not made a public profession of faith in early childhood, they certainly will in adolescence or teenage years if their families consistently attend an Evangelical church. It isn’t uncommon for groups of adolescents or teens to make their profession of faith together at the end of a church retreat. Church retreats are designed to be fun but are also very emotionally oriented, as the youth pastor will talk about getting right with Jesus, living your life for Jesus, making sure you are following God’s will for your life early on so you don’t get into trouble and make a ton of mistakes in life. Youth pastors harp on the evils and dangers of rock music, alcohol, taking drugs, dancing, hanging with the “wrong crowd,” and having premarital sex.

Youth retreats would end each evening with an emotional altar call with many teenagers on their knees crying with the youth pastor and adult counselors chaperoning the retreat. It was common after a youth retreat for a long baptismal service to capture in baptism all those young, new converts for Jesus. The more teens who were baptized, the more successful the retreat.

Fear That You Didn’t Do it Right Before

I must have said the sinner’s prayer a dozen times during my teenage years, though I didn’t go to the altar again. The sinner’s prayer is so simple that sometimes I was afraid I didn’t do it right prior, or that it didn’t take, so just to be sure I would do it again just to reassure myself that I wouldn’t spend eternity in hell.

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A Desire to Fit In

In the church where I grew up, only members – that is, those who had been baptized in that particular church or who had moved their letter from an approved church – could participate in communion and in voting. I didn’t care about voting, but I sure cared about being able to take communion while all my peers were taking communion – the last thing a teen wants is to have to pass the communion plate while his or her friends are able to partake in the grape juice and wafers (or broken Saltine crackers if the congregation couldn’t afford the wafer tablets).

Does anyone notice how often feelings and emotions are manipulated with the salvation message? Fear is the biggest motivator – fear of hell primarily, fear of being separated from loved ones after death, fear of dying in the next three seconds and never getting a second chance. Without the fear of hell, I probably would have just gone down for an altar call, gotten baptized, and then I would have fit into the congregation. I don’t think I would have actually prayed a sinner’s prayer and meant it. Sure, I wanted to be a good person, but the fear of hell led me to pray the sinner’s prayer in private over and over and over again. I knew I had to go down to the altar call once, because the Bible said that we must do so publicly in order to be saved. And why would I – what would have been the reward for praying such a prayer without fear of eternal damnation in hell?

What was your experience with “getting saved” and praying the “Sinner’s Prayer”? Did you have any other reasons for praying the “Sinner’s Prayer”? Please let us know with a comment!

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7 Comments

  1. Matilda

    I prayed the prayer, aged 13yo. Looking back, I see now I was a prime candidate for conversion in the 4-14yo window when most convert. I was an only child of very judgemental parents and they could come down on me heavily for minor misdemeanors. So I had what was often called back then, an inferiority complex. I had no sense of self-worth, life was a confusing matter of trying to please my demanding parents. So hearing of something called ‘unconditional love’ was wonderful to me. God was an adult who actually liked me and would always show me the right thing to do and forgive me if I inadvertently didn’t stack the dishwasher right, he would understand. I now had a community of like-minded friends and older folk to guide me as I joined a church.

    Reply
  2. Dave

    I went forward during a Billy Graham crusade but it wasn’t until I was in college that the sinner’s prayer meant anything to me.

    Reply
  3. dave

    I remember raising my hand in church as a young child. Even then it didn’t feel right since I grew up in a Christian home and always believed in Jesus. Still we were told you had to do this so I did it. My mother was so thrilled after the pastor told her what I had done. Now I can look back and think what a bunch of superstitious nonsense.

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  4. Mary

    I prayed the prayer during a camp meeting where the preacher locked everyone in by saying turn to the person beside you and say see you in heaven. My parents started crying because they said we will not see our kids in heaven. So Sis and I said sinners prayer under duress to get the attention directed away from us asap. I remember feeling relief at not being bugged anymore, but also anger at the overt manipulation. Mostly feel disgusted at the extreme mind control and manipulation of the Pentecostal preachers and churches.

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  5. Brian

    I will never forget the horrible fear of eternal hellfire awaiting me as my father preached at us kids in the Baptist Church, saying that this could be the last chance, the last chance to be saved. A bunch of us standing there crying at the front, shaking with fear and my father walking along the row and shaking our hands as if we were adults. Fucking sick fuck. Thank-you Jesus indeed.
    Then there was the ‘confession’ time reserved for summer camps where children were forced to concoct some horror tale to admit about themselves at a faggot service (faggots being little twigs or sticks that you held as you confessed your sin and your thankfulness to the merciful Jesus who saved you…) After the tears of confession, you tossed the faggot into the fire..
    Then there was the ripping of fingernails till blood just to deal with the anxiety of living. Then the …..nevermind….
    My sis’s daughters, both adult now and good believers, both suffer mental problems requiring they medicate themselves. They are preacher’s kids…. what a fucking world.

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  6. Brian

    Dear Heavenly Father, Could you move a little further up and out, please? Could you fuck right off from this planet, this universe and go play with another one?
    (For the truly mind-raped, I have jst proven the existence of God… by speaking to it.)

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  7. Karen the rock whisperer

    Catholics have it damned easy, I think. The rituals involving children (first communion, confirmation) are done at certain ages after certain training. and as long as you’re quiet about it no one will catch on that you don’t believe, just say the right prayers in unison. At least, that’s what I remember–but we’re talking 1960s for me. Since Catholics practice infant baptism, you’re already in the heaven queue, and you actually have to do something bad to get yourself out of it. And even then, if you confess the sin to a priest and do whatever he tells you (pray, make restitution, turn yourself in to authorities and accept criminal penalties, whatever is appropriate), you can get back in the queue.

    As such, I never had to deal with the Sinner’s Prayer, or familial pressure to do something seriously uncomfortable. But as a child, I went to confession every Saturday, and had to admit to horrible sins like talking back to my mother, or lying about taking the last piece of candy. And what if I died during the week, with those sins unconfessed? Would I go to hell for that piece of candy? It was very frightening to a child.

    Reply

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