The older I grow, the less combative I find myself. I have no interest in compromising the Gospel or the truth of the Bible, but it does not bother me a great deal if other preachers and Christians do not agree with me on every jot and tittle. However, every now and then I see arguments put forth in public which need to be countered biblically.
I saw a hot topic by a well-known preacher – a man whom I greatly admire and respect – arguing that the term “accept” Christ and the “sinner’s prayer” are not found in Scripture. His conclusion was that a great many people who “accept” Christ or pray the “sinner’s prayer” are not genuinely coming to Christ, and that, in fact, we are therefore misleading them if we use these terms and methods.
This is not a new argument. I have heard it for years. It is a specious argument.
While the term “accept Christ” is not used in Scripture, any number of theological terms are not used in Scripture – but they do describe Scriptural truths. For example, the word “rapture” is not used in Scripture, but the description of the rapture is clearly given in Scripture (I Thess. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:50-54). The word “trinity” is not in the Bible, but the triune truth of the Godhead is clearly described in Scripture (Matt. 3:16-17). Likewise, expressing faith in Christ. The prayer of the sinner with the publican (Luke 18:13), and the prayer of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42) were both shorter prayers than anything we use today in evangelism.
The key to the act of salvation is the transfer of trust in the heart (John 6:47; John 11:25-26). While a person can clearly get saved without verbalizing a prayer at the moment of salvation – as was true in my life, we normally express that trust in our hearts in some kind of words. The goal of the evangelist is to lead the sinner in a prayer which helps facilitate that spiritual transfer of trust in the heart. By the way, “heart” is also a figure of speech. It represents the volitional faith part of the mind and soul. And it is also used in Scripture (Romans 10:9)
Personally, I have never been a big devotee of the word “accept” in regard to receiving Christ (John 1:12). However, I believe that the Bible-believing world has used that term for many years in order to show that the act of salvation is clearly of grace and not of works – that the sinner is now “accepting” the completed work of salvation which was already accomplished on the Cross by Christ – the rewards and blessings of which already await anyone who will respond in faith. And I have noticed in my readings (biographies, church history, etc.) that many of the most accomplished preachers and missionaries have commonly used the word “accept Christ” through the years. I am talking about servants of God who were sincere and committed to evangelism and missions.
The frustration we see in people who do not follow through in their Christian commitment – after “accepting” Christ through the sinner’s prayer – is not due to the choice of words in the prayer. It is due to the incompleteness of their commitment to Christ as they turn to Him in faith. Follow-up and discipleship will continue to be an on-going challenge for those of us who are active in evangelism and missions.