Do You Have to Pray To Be Saved? (Answered By Pastor)

Do You Have To Pray To Be Saved?Pin

For most people, praying a prayer of salvation is thought to be the way to “be converted to Christianity,” to “be saved,” to “become born again.”

But, do you have to pray to be saved?

Although prayer is an important part of being saved, it’s not necessary for salvation. Salvation is only possible by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. Living out that salvation is visible in actions that reflect God’s teachings and embody His righteousness and love for all people.

As a pastor for over 20 years, I’ve prayed with and for many people who were seeking to become followers of Jesus Christ. I think I can count in the single digits how many times I actually led someone through what is commonly known as the “sinner’s prayer.”

I do remember dozens upon dozens of people crying and just telling God that they needed Him, that they couldn’t live without Him, and that they wanted to follow Jesus. They were saved by God’s grace, through faith alone, whether they actually prayed or not.

What I noticed is that the people who wanted to follow Jesus wholeheartedly did so. They believed and then they began to walk that out, to live out their “being saved.”

We’re going to touch on those concepts here. I encourage you to have an open mind and heart as you read. I believe God may want to both encourage you and challenge you in understanding more about prayer and salvation.

What Does “Being Saved?” Mean?

Converting to Christ isn’t a matter of praying the right words; it’s a matter of believing and following Jesus. It means not merely receiving Him as your Redeemer, your Savior, but also making him the Lord, the Leader of your life. Most theologians call this being justified by faith alone.

Being saved, and being justified before God simply means that you didn’t do it by how good you are, only because of Christ’s death and resurrection. You are saved, justified, only by faith.

How that looks in people’s lives, however, can be different for each person. Let me explain.

For some people, following Christ begins by praying a prayer at a specific time and place. For others, the decision to follow Jesus takes place gradually, and they have no recollection of a single moment when they prayed to accept Christ. What really matters is believing and following Christ.

Think of it like light shining through a window that has blinds on it. For some people, the cord is yanked up suddenly and rapidly and the light pours through the window. Some people come to salvation suddenly, in dramatic fashion. This would be like the Damascus Road conversion experience of Paul.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” ( Acts 9.1-6, NIV).

A loud voice. Bright light. Communicating with Jesus verbally and audibly. A very dramatic and powerful encounter that altered Paul’s life forever (and ours!). Paul went on to plant dozens of churches and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote about two-thirds of the New Testament.

I’ve heard conversion testimonies of people rescued out of drug hazes by Jesus, saved from taking their own life, and escaping dark places of abuse and torment. The common theme among them was the suddenness of Christ’s presence and His salvation.

You may have heard similar kinds of dramatic, very powerful kinds of testimonies. You may have thought, “Well, I don’t have that kind of story. I just grew up in church and came to salvation pretty easily.” That’s okay, as I’ll explain.

For most other people, however, being saved is like the rod being turned slowly on the window blinds and the light gradually begins to make its presence known. Over time, they are warmed and can truly see. Some people come to salvation slowly, over time.

Either way, the person is believing who Jesus is, and following Jesus.

Do You Have To Pray To Be Saved?

Prayer is certainly a part of being saved, even if it is as simple as, “Jesus, save me.” But praying isn’t salvation. Being saved is so much more than just a prayer, and that’s the encouraging part of what I’d like to explore here.

I also want to make clear that, for example, if someone is about to die and they pray for salvation then yes, I believe they are saved. What I discuss below is about salvation, not working for your salvation, but living it out.

It is both talking the talk, and walking the walk.

Being Saved Is Believing Jesus

Let me be clear here. Going to church regularly doesn’t make you saved. Knowing all the words to the prayers and the hymns and the worship songs doesn’t make you saved. Being able to recite all the books of the Bible doesn’t mean you believe in Jesus. All of these things are good, in and of themselves, but they are not salvation. This is just talking the talk, without walking the walk of a disciple.

Being saved is about believing in Jesus. Not merely believing in Jesus as a concept or a positive help in your life, but believing in Jesus for who He is and what He has done for you.

Whether you are new to the faith, or a long-time believer, believing Jesus means you believe He is who He says He is, as seen in scripture. Believing Jesus also involves growing in that belief, because He is inexhaustible.

The closer you grow to Jesus, the more you should change and be transformed by the renewing of your mind. You shouldn’t be the same follower of Christ today that you were last year, or five years ago, or ten years ago. You should be markedly different because you are getting closer to Jesus, letting go of more of yourself.

“To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” ( Ephesians 4.22-24, ESV).

Believing Jesus means that you can answer “yes” to questions like: Am I more loving now than I was last month, or last year? Am I becoming more like Christ, or less like Christ?

Salvation is about believing in Jesus, for sure. It also involves following Jesus.

Being Saved Is Following Jesus

Believing in Jesus and following Jesus are not either/or scenarios, but rather both/and. You follow Jesus and you believe Jesus. Once you believe Jesus, you will want to follow Him.

Following Jesus means He is in the lead position. Jesus is Not your co-pilot. He IS the pilot of your life. If Jesus is Lord for you, then He is in charge and guiding you–you follow.

You can see this in the first interactions Jesus had with a few of his first disciples:

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” ( Matthew 4.18-22, NIV).

Notice Jesus didn’t say, “Come, and follow a bunch of rules,” or “Come, and act like you’re better than other people.” No, he asked them to follow Him.

To be sure, be a disciple, which is what following Jesus is, means adapting your current life and actions to the model of Christ. Following Jesus involves you changing, not God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you follow Jesus and He leads you.

If you get hung up on just trying to do the right thing and obey every rule there is, you’re setting yourself up. One, you’ll fail, because no one is perfect. And two, you’ll likely end up being like a Pharisee, only concerned with outward appearances and checking every self-righteous box. Take a hint from Jesus and don’t be like that.

“Then he said, You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’* andAnyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’* 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’* 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others” ( Mark 7.9-13, NLT).

You’ll see this same kind of interaction in Matthew 12 and Matthew 23. The way of the Pharisees is called works righteousness–earning your salvation your salvation by the good things you do–and is not the way of Jesus Christ. Being saved is through Jesus Christ alone, by grace through faith.

As you believe and follow Jesus, you will be walking the walk and talking the talk.

Being Saved Is A Journey

If you have prayed to be saved, then praise the Lord! Remember though, that just being saved isn’t the only goal of why you pray. Growing closer to God, hearing from the Spirit, and learning how to follow Jesus are all a part of why you would want to pray.

Being saved, that is, becoming justified, is a point in your journey. But there is so much more to the journey that is uplifting and is ongoing.

Think about it like this: You pray and you become saved.  Then what?

What are you going to do? How will you know how to continue to believe in Christ, to follow Jesus? What will keep you from going back to your old life?

Salvation happens, and salvation keeps on happening. 

Being saved is when you are justified, the slate is wiped clean, and you are cleared with God through Jesus Christ. Being saved is also living it out. Theologians call this sanctification, which is a great word. It simply means walking out your salvation and growing in Christ-likeness.

It is not the end, but the beginning of a lifelong relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You’ll want to strengthen this relationship with regular prayer to God.

Your Salvation Is In God’s Hands

Only God saves you, nothing else. Not your prayers or how good they sound. Not your actions and how virtuous they are. Salvation is in God’s hands.

Praying to be saved is more for you than it is for God, really. God is sovereign and knows all, so you asking to be saved is really about you acknowledging that you are not perfect, that you’re a sinner and you need God.

However, you voice that, it’s about you coming to God, needing what only God can give by His grace and mercy: salvation. You are turning to the One who made you, as only He can save you. Praying for it is accepting that God is God, and you are not.

But, you may be thinking, “Don’t I need to say a certain kind of prayer to be saved?”

You might be surprised at the answer to that, as I now explore that question.

Is the “Sinner’s Prayer” In the Bible?

No, it is not. The following prayer is a basic “sinner’s prayer” that you may have prayed, or heard prayed by televangelists or preachers for the last 100 years or so:

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.

This prayer doesn’t show up in Scripture, however. The closest thing is probably in Psalm 51, which is when David is pleading with God, after having been called out for his adultery with Bathsheba. He, of course, doesn’t reference Jesus, since Christ hasn’t been born of Mary yet in history.

But otherwise, the sinner’s prayer only really came about with the onset of evangelists in the early 1900s and only grew from there. That’s why it is used so much, or even thought to be the way to become saved.

If you pray that prayer, then you are saved, is the thinking. It’s a great prayer and if you want to ask to be saved by using it, then go ahead–God will meet you in that prayer and honor the intent of your heart. There’s no reason not to use that kind of prayer.

But saying a “sinner’s prayer” like the one above isn’t necessary to be saved. That is, you don’t have to use those exact words. Scripture declares that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10.13 10.13, NLT).  So, what does calling upon the name of the Lord mean?

Does it mean you have to pray a sinner’s prayer, or just cry out to God? Let’s look at a few examples of Jesus telling people how to become saved, without prayer.

Examples Of Being Saved Without Prayer

First, look at the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet in front of the Pharisees. I quote the passage at length here to give the full context of what was happening.

 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” ( Luke 7.36-50, NIV).

Unless you count her tears as prayers (which they might be), then she never prayed, asking to be saved. Just going by the text itself, Jesus forgave her sins based on her faith.  Salvation is by faith alone, remember?

Second, how about the thief on the cross?  One thief mocked Jesus, but the other one defended Jesus and accepted his sentence of death:

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
43Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23.40-43, NIV).

Does “remember me” count as a prayer? I guess it could. Did the thief ask for his sins to be forgiven, or invite Jesus into his heart? No, it doesn’t appear he did. But, he did know enough to call out to Jesus for help. He knew enough to know Jesus was not like himself. He acted on what little he knew, by faith.

Jesus honored that.

A third example is of the rich young man. He came to Jesus asking what was needed for eternal life. Jesus told him to obey all the commandments. The man answered that he had done so.

Jesus conveniently bypasses the impossibility of that, since no one is perfect, and tells him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” ( Matthew 19.21, NIV).

Jesus wasn’t saying that giving all of your money to the poor was how to be saved. He was trying to free the young man from his grip on his possessions which would keep him from following Jesus. “Follow me,” was Jesus’ answer to the man’s question of how to get eternal life, how to be saved.

Not say a prayer, but follow Me.

Our last example is Nicodemus. He asks Jesus some questions and Jesus tells him that he must be born again. Nicodemus doesn’t quite grasp the concept, so Jesus tells him, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” ( John 3.16-17, NIV).

His answer for Nicodemus was for Nicodemus to believe in Him. Not say a prayer, but believe in Me.

I’ve included these examples not to make a rule or anything, but rather to illustrate that the saving work of Jesus Christ can’t merely be limited to saying a prayer or not. God is much bigger than some formula or process humans can come up with.

Final Thoughts

You may have been challenged by reading this article. I hope so, because it was challenging to write it. My goal was for you, gentle reader, to grow in your understanding of how big God is and how we cannot put limits on Him.

This extends to how we can be saved. I hope you have grown in your understanding of what being saved means and deepened your appreciation for the beauty of prayer.

Remember, it’s not the words that save you. It’s the commitment of your heart that makes you a genuine follower of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, only by the grace of Almighty God.

If you have comments or questions, I invite you to leave them in the comments area below. Keep on praying!


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