The sinner’s prayer isn’t proof of your salvation.

Back in grad school I heard this ridiculous story from a preacher. Goes like so.

There was this Christian who was feeling unsure of his salvation. He hoped he was saved, but was just full of doubts. A little voice inside his head kept telling him, “Oh you’re not saved. Not really.” The preacher figured this was Satan. [Considering how such baiting will simply drive Christians to find some way to be certain we’re saved, I’m pretty sure the devil isn’t that stupid. But whatever.]

Anyway, this doubting Christian got an idea. First he said the sinner’s prayer. Yeah he’d probably said it ages ago, but bear with me: Next he made a sign with that day’s date on it, attached it to a stake, and pounded the stake into his backyard. Now every time the voice in his head told him, “You’re not saved,” he could look out the backyard window, point to the sign, and say, “I am so, devil. Get thee behind me.”

Followed by a rash of students placing signs with various dates on ’em in the yard behind the dorms… Nah, just kidding. Nobody did that. Because this story is stupid.

Because saying the sinner’s prayer doesn’t save you. Doesn’t save anyone. And is therefore no proof of anyone’s salvation. It’s like saying, “I don’t know whether my bank account has any money in it, so I’m gonna send the bank a letter, then put the date I sent the letter on a sign. And every time I’m not sure there’s anything in that account, I’m gonna look at that sign and tell myself, ‘No you do have money. ’Cause you sent ’em a letter on this date!’ ” Like I said, stupid.

What’s the proof we’ve been saved? The Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1.13-14 KWL
13 Because of God, you who heard the truthful message,
the saving gospel in which you believed, were stamped with the promised Holy Spirit—
14 who’s the deposit on our inheritance,
the release of our trust fund—praise his glory!

If God adopted you as his kid, you have his signet ring, i.e. the Spirit. Which means the Spirit lives in you, and you should be seeing the fruit of his living in you. Your attitudes and character should be evolving to look more like God’s. You should be better and better able to hear God when you pray. You should see more miracles and have more God-experiences. You should have fewer and fewer reasons to doubt God’s existence, doubt your relationship with him, and doubt your salvation.

The reason Christians doubt their salvation? They don‘t have any of these things. They’re the same jerks they were back when they were pagan, but they’ve slapped Christian labels on all their bad behaviors. They’ve managed to fool others (though not as well as they think), but know deep down they’re hypocrites. Sometimes they’re also making up stories about the miracles they’ve supposedly seen and done. Plenty of people fake speaking in tongues, y’know. I’ve caught them.

So they can’t point to the Spirit’s activity and say, “God’s involved in my life.” They got nothing. But what they can do is stick signs in the backyard. Or write down the date, if they know it, when they first said the sinner’s prayer, and celebrate that as their “spiritual birthday.” And because they’re still jerks like they were when pagan, they can even celebrate an entire birthday month over it. ’Cause it’s all about them.)

God’s involved. Now get him more involved.

Now y’notice I still refer to “when they were pagan.” I’m not saying these doubt-filled people aren’t Christian. They clearly are, ’cause pagans wouldn’t worry about it.

I’m pretty sure the reason they doubt—and the reason it’s making them bonkers—isn’t because the devil’s trying to steal their calm. It’s because the Spirit’s making them doubt. He’s trying to slap ’em out of their complacency. He’s tired of apathetic Christians. He wants us hot or cold; he wants someone who will do something for him. If that’s not yet you, clearly he’s gotta do some work on you. So that’s what he’s doing.

But too many Christians have the idea Christianity solely consists of afterlife insurance: You don’t wanna burn in hell, so you accept Jesus’s no-strings-attached offer of salvation, and then you can sit on your bum forever in heavenly bliss. And in the meanwhile, sit on your bum forever in earthly bliss. (That similarity is no mere coincidence, y’know.)

It’s not at all what the scriptures teach. God has good works for us to do. Ep 2.10 Jesus wants us to make more disciples, cure the sick, raise the dead, preach good news to the poor, love our neighbors, and love one another. As we do these things, he shows up, and we stop doubting we have a relationship with him, ’cause obviously we do. But when we nothing, suddenly the sinner’s prayer sounds like a big deal and a good idea.

Really, it’s backsliding. The Spirit’s trying to get us to go further and do more, and instead we’re falling back on the familiar and comfortable. If this stunt really does silence your doubts, I’d be very worried you quit listening to the Spirit!

The solution’s both simple and, if we’re not in the habit of following Jesus, really difficult: Start. Start developing fruit of the Spirit and eliminating works of the flesh. Start loving your neighbors—and don’t just passively think nice thoughts about them, but find something to do for them. Start loving your fellow Christians; go to church, quit badmouthing other churches, get involved, help people. Quit wishing people would get well, go to them, and pray God cures them right now. Quit imagining you know God well enough, and read your bible.

Worried you’re not saved? Maybe it’s time you started behaving like a saved person.