Often when preachers come to the end of an evangelistic message, they encourage unbelievers to trust Christ right in their seats. That can be a very effective way to handle the invitation, but we must be careful in our choice of words.
For example, some preachers make the comment, “Today if you do not know you’re going to heaven, just say this prayer.” They mean well, but such terminology may imply that one gets to heaven by saying a prayer.
No one is saved through saying a prayer and what is often referred to as “the sinner’s prayer” is not found in Scripture. It is trusting Christ that saves and prayer is how we tell God what we are doing.
For that reason, most people who trust Christ are saved a few seconds before they even pray. They have already transferred their trust from what it was on—whether it be their good works, church attendance or baptism—and are now trusting Christ alone to save them.
The moment we trust Christ, we are forever His. Jesus promised, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
Instead of the above terminology, it is better to say, “if you want to trust Christ, this is how you can tell God what you’re doing. Now, saying a prayer does not save. It is trusting Christ that saves. Prayer is only how you tell God what you’re doing. If right now you want to trust Christ, this is how you can tell God that in the quietness of your heart and the privacy of your seat.”
Then you can lead with a prayer encouraging people to repeat what you say phrase by phrase in the quietness of their hearts (pausing after each phrase).
It’s crucial to communicate, though, that it is not the prayer that saves. By their very nature, people want to trust in something they have done to get to heaven, whether it be going to church, being baptized, living a good life, or yes, saying a prayer. They need to hear that nothing we do saves; instead, it is what Christ did for us on a cross, and we are simply receiving that by trusting Christ.
When people verbalize through prayer that they are trusting Christ, it helps encourage them to verbalize it to others.