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Why the Sinner’s Prayer is Not Enough

Do you want to go to hell? What would you do if Jesus walked into the room right now?

I hear these questions being asked of non-believers, or those sitting on the fence between sin and salvation, all the time, and I recognize the validity of those questions – in some contexts. But in asking those particular questions in the course of evangelism, are we selling people short?

I don’t believe that frightening people into making a declaration of faith that they neither truly believe nor understand is what Jesus intended when He gave the Great Commission. Yes, people need to be made aware of the consequences of living on the wrong side of the fence – but telling them that if they don’t pray the sinner’s prayer, they’re going to hell is not the answer.


There is a difference between fear and true repentance. When fear is the motivator for praying the sinner’s prayer, it’s a shallow experience and there are little or no foundations upon which faith can be built. It’s an act of desperation that has no roots. Fear makes people grasp the notion of salvation much like you’d grab onto a life-raft if you were on a sinking ship. The problem is that often we sell salvation as a free ticket out of hell, but like most salesmen, we fail to draw attention to the small-print at the bottom of the ticket – you know, that tricky part of salvation that isn’t so easy to sell, the one that involves change, repentance, and living a life with Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. And because that’s the way we sell it, people grab the ticket out of hell, but they don’t understand that without adhering to the terms and conditions in the small print, the ticket is null and void. When fear is the motivator, it’s almost as if the small print isn’t there at all – or we’ve made it so small that no one could read it anyway. Ironically, it may be our own fear that makes the small print unspeakable – we’re afraid that if we communicate it, then no one will want the tickets we’re trying to sell.

But Jesus wasn’t a salesman – although I don’t doubt that He had the kind of personality that would have enabled Him to sell sand to the Arabians. He didn’t sell salvation. He didn’t tell stories to frighten people into making decisions they didn’t understand. He told stories to lead people to understanding – and once He had led them to that point, true repentance followed for those who wanted to take the gift that He was offering.

The difference between the ticket out of hell and the gift of salvation is that on the gift of salvation, there’s no small print, because there’s no need to keep it small. The gift of salvation is hinged on two tiny words, but possibly the most important words in the Bible: “but if”. It comes when a person recognizes the need for repentance, recognises what Jesus has done for them on the Cross, and recognizes that not only do they need to change, but that they want to. There is no need for terms and conditions, because the truly repentant heart is one which desires to please God and to be in relationship with Him. They see salvation not as a ticket out of hell but as a pass into heaven and into ever increasing intimacy with their heavenly Father.

Next time you are sharing the gospel with someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus, think carefully about your words. Ask yourself whether you are selling a ticket out of hell or bringing the person to a place of true repentance and offering a pass into heaven. Because the sinner’s prayer is no more meaningful than a piece of poetry if it isn’t spoken from the heart.

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