Can I Be Saved By a Simple Prayer?

The Bible unequivocally teaches that faith in God is what saves.  So the question before us is whether speaking a “sinner’s prayer” constitutes saving faith.

All people possess intellect, will, and emotions – the ability to think, choose, and feel.  When the Bible refers to faith, it seems to teach that faith involves all aspects of a person.  In other words, a person’s intellect, will, and emotions must all be involved for faith to be salvific.

Let’s look at intellect first.  Based on the NT, there seem to be six propositions that a person must intellectually believe to be saved:

  1. Existence of God
  2. Necessity of Grace
  3. Human Sinfulness
  4. Christ’s Deity
  5. Christ’s Atoning Death
  6. Christ’s Bodily Resurrection

Each of these doctrines must be intellectually held by a person to be saved.  But believing in these truths with the intellect is not enough.

Billy Graham once said:

The word believe means more than just intellectual faith, because the Bible says, ‘The devils also believe.’  The devil is a fundamentalist, and he is orthodox.  He believes in Christ.  He believes in the Bible.   Intellectually, he believes in the dogma.  He believes in the creeds.  But the devil has never been saved and he is not going to heaven.  You may be able to recite theology, but I tell you that is not enough.

Saving faith also encompasses the will and emotions.  The NT seems to teach at least six ways that our will and emotions must be involved in our faith.

First, true faith involves trust in God.  Trust is the confident expectation that God will do what he says he will do.  Trusting God involves an act of the will that is beyond mere intellectual assent.

Second, true faith involves the willingness to fully commit ourselves to Christ as the means of delivering us.  Saving faith involves a true commitment to the gospel.

Third, true faith involves our obeying God’s command to believe in His Son.  If we have saving faith, we will obey God’s command to believe in His Son.  If we truly understand who God is and what He has done for us, our intellectual knowledge is accompanied by obedience to God’s command to turn to Him.   The demons do not obey the gospel and have forever turned their back on God.  Though they know who God is, they disobey Him.  Likewise, unsaved people have no will to obey God.

Fourth, true faith involves love of God, which is the greatest command.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).  You cannot have a saving relationship with God unless you love Him.  Love of God is willing the ultimate good.  God is the ultimate good. This is not merely a feeling of warmth toward God, but a robust passion and desire for Him that manifests in all our actions.

Fifth, true faith involves childlike trust entailing humility.  There is no room for arrogance in saving faith.  Demons exhibit no humility toward God, whereas believers realize that humility is the only reasonable response because God is completely responsible for their salvation.  Dr. Gary Inrig explained humility this way:

If I try to make myself as small as I can, I’ll never become humble. Humility comes when I stand as tall as I can, and look at all of my strengths, and the reality about me, but I put myself alongside Jesus Christ. And it’s there, when I humble myself before Him, and realize the awesomeness of who he is, and I accept God’s estimate of myself, and I stop being fooled about myself, and I stop being impressed with myself, that I begin to learn humility.

Sixth, true faith involves repentance.  Faith implies the kind of commitment to and trust in Christ that will make an actual change in one’s life.  True repentance is a real change of mind about our sin and about who Christ is – our Savior.  Repentance is life-altering as well.  Therefore, faith and repentance are inseparable in the same way that the command to “come here” cannot be fulfilled without “leaving there.”  True faith and repentance, regarding one’s salvation, involve embracing right and rejecting wrong – one cannot be exercised without the other.

So, is a simple prayer enough to save?  If that simple prayer is being spoken by a person whose faith is intellectual, trusting, committed, obedient, loving, humble, and repentant, then the answer is “yes.”  If not, then that prayer may be a significant step, but until the person has truly applied all of his personhood to his faith, it has not saved him.

  • Thank you for making it very very clear that to be “saved” one must having a faith, a belief unto salvation. Not just “lip service”. There are some out there that think , in total honesty believe that all one needs to to do is say ” Jesus save me”…. It’s so much more than that!

    I love the passage in Romans 10:9

    We must confess with our mouth and believe in our heart, not just a “sinner’s prayer” but a heart felt surrender to the Lordship of the King. many people past and present think jesus is/ was a great teacher, a leader, but they do not accept Him, receive Him with their hearts as the SON of GOD – the Messiah.

    Great post!


  • Thanks for your post. I agree that it is not a prayer that saves us, but faith properly placed in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on our behalf. I would like to ask a question about part of your post. You wrote:

    “Let’s look at intellect first. Based on the NT, there seem to be six propositions that a person must intellectually believe to be saved:

    1. Existence of God
    2. Necessity of Grace
    3. Human Sinfulness
    4. Christ’s Deity
    5. Christ’s Atoning Death
    6. Christ’s Bodily Resurrection

    Each of these doctrines must be intellectually held by a person to be saved. But believing in these truths with the intellect is not enough.”

    While I believe that these are all correct beliefs (and I believe them all), I do wonder if they are all necessary to be saved. Is it possible to be saved without having a complete understanding of how God accomplishes the act?

    For instance, can one who simply believes that they are a sinner who needs God’s grace be saved by trusting that Jesus is the one and only sacrifice for his/her sins? Even if they do not fully understand that Jesus was/is God? Or how a bodily resurrection guarantees our own resurrection?

    Now, I believe that anyone who is saved will recognize the truth of the statement that “Jesus is God” through the witness of the Spirit within, but does this necessarily have to happen prior to saving faith or can it come later?

    Can one be saved by simply believing the following?:

    1. God exists
    2. Human sinfulness
    3. Need for grace
    4. Christ’s atoning sacrifice

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Tim,
    Great questions. It seems that a person needs to believe Jesus is divine because of Rom. 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Additionally, the apostles repeatedly referred to the deity of Jesus in passages like Acts 16:31 and Acts 2:21. In these passages, and many others, Jesus is called “Lord” and this word, in context, refers to deity. So, it seems that the person who merely believes Jesus is a human or angel of some sort does not really understand the gospel.

    How far does this go, though? Do you have to understand the full, technical understanding of the Trinity? No, I don’t think so. You just have to understand that Jesus is God.

    About the resurrection, again Rom. 10:9 is a primary passage. The early church stressed that you had to believe in the resurrection to be saved. The resurrection was always part of the gospel message. Now, I don’t think a non-believer has to understand all of the implications of the resurrection to be saved, but just that Jesus did rise from the dead. Why would the early church stress this? Because this was the central defining event of Jesus’ ministry. It was the final proof that he was the Son of God. A person who denies the resurrection is, in effect, saying they don’t believe Jesus was who he said he was.

    God bless,

  • Thanks for responding. I tend to agree with you in regards to the meaning of “Lord” in the Romans passage, but there is a good argument that the title is not referring to Christ’s deity, but our submission to his lordship in our lives. John MacArthur and others (I believe Thomas Schreiner takes this view in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Romans – one of your own Southern guys). This is the “Lordship Salvation” view.

    So, for them, Romans 10:9 is not about the necessity to believe in Christ as God, but to submit to him as lord of our lives. Christ’s resurrection was proof that God had given Christ lordship and was worthy of our submission (Rom. 1:4). So the statements in Romans 10:9 concerning Christ’s lordship and the resurrection are tied together.

    A further argument would be that the early church was not completely settled on the issues of the Trinity and Christ’s dual nature until the 4th and 5th centuries. The early church creeds reflect the clarification of orthodoxy as the Church wrestled with these issues.

    So, would those who take this understanding of Romans be in danger of not being truly saved? I would take a somewhat less severe view. I would say that a person can be saved by submitting to Jesus as Lord (realizing that they are sinners and that he alone saves them from their sin) even if they do not realize that he is also God. However, a person cannot deny that Jesus is God and still be saved. The internal witness of the Spirit would not allow for such a denial. A truly saved person should recognize and acknowledge the truthfulness of Christ’s deity and the Trinity when they are presented with these doctrines.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Tim,
    I thought that MacArthur did believe that “Lord” meant God but that it also means “Master.” In other words, I didn’t think he would argue that you don’t have to believe Jesus is God. Lordship salvation has to do with a person acknowledging Jesus not only as Savior and God, but Savior, God, and Master. I could be wrong about this, but your interpretation of his view is different from what I heard in the past. Do you have any quotes from him or other evidence of his view? I admit that I might be wrong about it.

    God bless,

  • I bring up Lordship salvation more to show that Romans 10:9 can be interpreted differently than you suggested. It could mean submitting to Jesus as master rather than Jesus as God.

    Wayne Grudem in his “Systematic Theology” states on p. 694 that the one who comes to salvation must understand the following:

    “1. All people have sinned (Rom. 3:23)
    2. The penalty for our sin is death (Rom. 6:23)
    3. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:8)”

    Grudem later says on p. 710 that “Saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God.”

    He goes on to say on p. 712 one must have an understanding of the facts of the gospel and also aprove of these facts. “Such agreement includes a conviction that the facts spoken of the gospel are true, especially the fact that I am a sinner in need of salvation and that Christ alone has paid the penalty for my sin and offers salvation to me. It also includes an awareness that I need to trust in Christ for salvation and that he is the only way to God, and the only means provided for my salvation.”

    I have multiple concerns if it is true that a person MUST believe that Christ is God to be saved (initially):

    1. Most eveangelistic material does not present the “plan of salvation” this way. I have been going through all of the printed tracts and Bibles I have. None of them say a word about believing that Jesus is God. They simply say he is the sacrifice for our sins.

    2. What should we think about children who make a profession of faith but are too young to be clear on Christ’s deity? They simply believe that Christ saves them from their sin. Is this enough?

    3. Not even the Apostles were initially clear about who Jesus was. They did not fully understand until after the resurrection. Many of the other converts in the gospels were likely not clear on Jesus’ deity, but they did look to him as the one who could save them.

    Again, let me be clear. I do not think a person can deny the deity of Christ and be saved. However, it does seem to be true that initial saving faith involves acknowledging that I am a sinner and that Christ is the one who saves me from my sin. I am not sure more is necessary. One who is truly saved will not reject the truth of Christ’s deity when they are made aware of this truth. The witness of the Spirit within will convince them of this fact.

    Sorry this became so long. This topic interests me greatly because of the Emergent movement within Christianity at the moment. Many Emergents do not believe there is anything one MUST believe. Clarifying the bare minimums of the gospel has become very important.

  • Bill Pratt

    I’ll get back to you soon. I’m just really short on time today and tomorrow. This is a very important topic you’re raising.


  • kay

    Hi, I’ve been ease dropping. My husband does not believe Jesus is God. He thinks Jesus is the Son of God, sitting at God’s right hand. I have shown him scriptures saying Jesus was there in the beginning, etc. He has heard preachers say that Jesus is God. But he refuses to believe it. He believes Jesus died for our sins. But don’t think he can comprehend the supernaturalness of Christ’s birth. He just thinks he is the son of God, I guess he means a human son.
    Do you think he is saved? Thanks.

  • Bill Pratt

    None of us know who is saved and who isn’t saved. However, I think there is abundant evidence in the NT that Jesus claimed to be God, equated himself with God, acted like God, accepted worship like God, told people to pray in his name as if he were God, forgave sins like God, and so on. I need to do a series of posts on this topic, as there are obviously some questions about this.

    When your husband says he is the Son of God, that’s true, because that is Jesus’ role in the Trinity. But who does he think Jesus really is? Just a human? A demi-god of some sort? What is his real hang-up with accepting Jesus as God?

    God bless,

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Tim,
    I understand your concerns. I would respond in several ways. First, I believe that there are clear indications in the NT that Jesus is God, and that the early church understood that Jesus was God. How exactly they understood him to be God took a long time to work out, but they knew the following things about him:

    1. Jesus constantly compared himself to Yahweh of the Old Testament
    2. Jesus claimed to be equal to God
    3. Jesus claimed to be Messiah-God
    4. Jesus claimed to be God by accepting worship
    5. Jesus claimed to have equal authority to God
    6. Jesus claimed to be God by requesting prayer in his name
    7. Jesus claimed to be God by his use of parables
    8. Jesus’ disciples acknowledged his claim to be God

    There are many passages in the NT where the apostles seem to show a clear understanding that Jesus is a divine being, and not just a man. It was a central teaching of the early church, so I have a hard time accepting that present day non-believers need not understand this in some sense in order to be saved.

    You mention that the apostles were not clear about who Jesus was until the resurrection, and that is true. But they figured it out pretty quickly after that. They then taught their people all that they had learned about Jesus deity, life, death, and resurrection. Today, we have all of teachings of the apostles in the NT, so we have no excuse to not understand these things. God, I believe, holds each generation responsible for what they know. He provided the NT so that these things would be clear to us, so we cannot compare ourselves to the apostles before the resurrection. That comparison is illegitimate, I think.

    In our local church, we have always talked about Jesus’ deity from the pulpit, although never in technical theological terms. But our people understand that Jesus is divine, and not just a man. I agree that the evangelistic material doesn’t talk about this much, but maybe this material is bad material!! Maybe we need to revamp this material to more fully present the truth of the gospel. I believe the evangelical church has spent too much time trying to come up with a simple prayer of salvation, and that it has started to lose the truths that were taught in the NT. Of course that’s another discussion altogether. 🙂

    In any case, I clearly need to write a series of posts on the deity of Jesus, and I thank you for raising this issue.

    God bless,

  • Kay,

    I agree with Bill that the Bible teaches that Jesus is God. I also believe that there is a difference between not understanding that Jesus is God (because a person has not been presented with that information) and rejecting the fact that Jesus is God (after receiving the information).

    My question has more to do with how much information must a person have and believe in order to come to an initial saving faith. I do not believe a truly saved person can reject Jesus’ divinity when made aware of it.

  • Bill,

    Thanks again for responding. I agree that the Bible teaches that Jesus is God. I believe all of the points you make about how the biblical writers pointed to Jesus’ divinity. I also agree that revelation is progressive as you mention.

    We both agree that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone, but what does that faith have to include at a bare minimum? Faith in what about Jesus?

    I agree with Wayne Grudem who says in his work that I quoted earlier that the basics of faith must include that “I am a sinner and that Jesus alone saves me from my sin.”

    I believe a post on the divinity of Christ would be a good one, but I am not sure it answers this question. I am asking more about soteriology than I am Christology. Specifically, I am asking, “What MUST be included in initial saving faith?”

    As a 9 year old, I trusted in Christ to save me from my sins (I was Southern Baptist as well). It was not until I was a teen that I understood that Jesus was God in flesh. Was I saved at 9 or later as a teen? I believe I was saved at 9 and that the Holy Spirit continued to teach me the truths of Christ and God’s word as I got older. When I realized that Jesus was God it only strengthened the faith I already had because now I understood in a greater way how much God loved me and how Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for my sins.

    Thanks again.

  • kay

    No idea what his hang up is. He is stubborn and just not willing to admit to any mistakes. I told him that he had been taught Jesus was God all his Bible training as a child, but evidently just did not understand. He’s just not willing to change his mind. And it makes him mad if I say much. He tunes me out. Thirty five years ago, his mother kept telling me that we get a second chance. She was referring to the millenium, I think. I had been raised Church of Christ and was not familiar with that. But the way I think I
    am learning in the Baptist belief is that the tribulation only gives those who did not know a second chance. Correct?????
    Wondering if my husband and his mother were mistaught. I am not judging as I am not sure of my salvation either. But am concerned. Thank you for answering back.
    Looking forward to your series on Jesus.
    Thanks. k

  • Bill Pratt

    I appreciate your thoughts. The reason I was going to post on Christ’s divinity is because I think it bears directly on the issue of soteriology. Here is my reasoning:

    1. Believing the gospel is what saves people (Rom. 1:16).
    2. The gospel is the deity, atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus.
    3. Therefore, a person must believe in the deity, atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus to be saved.

    If we can show that the apostles and early church taught the deity of Jesus as part of the gospel, then we prove premise 2 above. Does that sound right to you?

    God bless,

  • Bill Pratt

    “But the way I think I am learning in the Baptist belief is that the tribulation only gives those who did not know a second chance. Correct?????”

    The tribulation is the last 7 years before the second coming of Christ. The people living at that time have a chance to believe just like any other people at any other time. There is nothing in the Bible that hints at anyone having a second chance. The Bible seems to teach that each person gets enough time and information in the one earthly life we all get.

    God bless,

  • Bill,

    You said:

    “1. Believing the gospel is what saves people (Rom. 1:16).
    2. The gospel is the deity, atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus.
    3. Therefore, a person must believe in the deity, atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus to be saved.”

    First, I would disagree with premise #1 above. Believing the gospel is not what saves people. Faith (or trusting) in Christ is what saves people. The gospel is the good news that salvation is available. I can believe it, but that does not mean I am trusting Christ for my salvation.

    Second, you mentioned three facts that you define as the gospel. Aren’t there many more? The gospel is much bigger than just those three facts. Why would we say these three are the essentials and leave out others?

    Here is a quote from Charles Ryrie concerning this topic:

    “Faith means confidence, trust, to hold something as true. Of course, faith must have content; there must be confidence or trust about something. To have faith in Christ unto salvation means to have confidence that He can remove the guilt of sin and grant eternal life.” (Basic Theology, p. 377)

    In Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation, he states on p. 109:

    “To believe in Christ for salvation means to have confidence that He can remove the guilt of sin and give eternal life. It means to believe that He can solve the problem of sin, which is what keeps a person out of heaven. One can also believe Christ about a multitude of other things, but these are not involved in salvation. … The only issue is whether or not you believe that His death paid for all your sin and that by believing in Him you can have forgiveness and eternal life. Faith has an intellectual facet to it. The essential facts are that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3–4; Rom. 4:25).”

    I bring Ryrie up because I am sure you are familiar with him. There is much debate about this issue concerning what are the essentials of the gospel. I have been reading and and following this discussion since I finished seminary three years ago. I do not think we are going to solve the issue here, but I did want to bring it up.

    The reason I have come to the position that I have is because I believe that salvation is by grace through “faith”. If my understanding of “faith” is correct, it is “trust” or “confidence” (as Ryrie states) in something. Having faith in Christ to save you is more about placing your trust in him than believing certain facts about him. I only need to know what I am trusting him for (save me from my sin), not how he accomplishes the task (because he is God in flesh).

    Of course, if I am made aware of how he accomplishes the task (by being God) and then say I do not believe that, I can not truly have faith in him to accomplish the task.

    I hope this helps you understand where I am coming from.

  • Kay:

    “But the way I think I am learning in the Baptist belief is that the tribulation only gives those who did not know a second chance. Correct?????”

    I wanted to comment on this question as well. I hope I am not overstepping my bounds since this is not my blog.

    I am also Baptist. I am a Baptist pastor with a seminary degree. When you hear someone say that people get a “second chance” in the Tribulation, you have to have a full understanding of what they mean.

    Prior to the 7-year Tribulation, the rapture of the Church (all believers) will take place. Those who are left behind on earth will be unbelievers and enter the Tribulation (although the Bible never says how much time is between the rapture and the Tribulation, most believe the Tribulation will occur soon after).

    Some teach that those unbelievers who are alive when the rapture takes place will no longer have a chance to be saved. Others say that those who are left behind will still have a chance to believe during the Tribulation. I personally believe that all people alive in the Tribulation will have a chance to believe.

    However, this has nothing to do with a true “second” chance. It is still part of the person’s one and only chance. The Bible teaches that we have one life and that we must choose to place our faith in Christ in the time we are given.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for the response. I’m a little surprised you denied premise 1 as I thought that was a slam dunk. How do you interpret 1 Cor. 15:1-6 and Rom. 1:16? In my mind they are very clear that the gospel is what saves. When I say “believe” the gospel, I mean “faith.” I am using them as synonyms. I realize that faith includes more than just intellectual assent. It includes trust, love, commitment. But I thought we were just discussing the intellectual contents of faith. In other words, I thought we were discussing what a person must intellectually believe and agree with in order to be saved. I know there is more to faith than just intellectual agreement, but surely a person must acknoweldge some facts about Jesus in order for them to have saving faith. You quoted Ryrie as saying that a person must believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. Those are 2 of the three minimum facts of the gospel. The third is the deity of Christ.

    The contents of faith are the gospel, according to 1 Cor. 15:1-6 and Rom. 1:16. Do you disagree?


  • Hi again Bill,

    “The contents of faith are the gospel, according to 1 Cor. 15:1-6 and Rom. 1:16. Do you disagree?”

    I agree to an extent. I agree that the gospel gives us the information that we need if we are to place our faith in Christ. The gospel is the good news of God’s work to redeem this fallen world. It contains many facts besides the three that you mention (Christ’s deity, atoning death, resurrection). It is the entire narrative of Scripture.

    So, the contents of faith are contained within the gospel, but they are not the entire gospel. Would you agree that a person does not have to know every detail of the gospel to having saving faith? And this is exactly where our disagreement begins. What are the absolute necessities of the gospel one must have in order to have saving faith?

    I agree with Grudem and Ryrie who both say that saving faith is understanding that we are sinners and that Christ saves us from our sin. Neither of them say that belief in Christ as God is an absolute necessity for saving faith.

    Understanding that we are sinners and that Christ saves us are the two necessary elements because: 1. We have to realize there is a problem (we are sinners) and 2. We have to acknowledge the only solution to the problem (Christ’s atoning death). All of the other details are only explanations of how God, through Christ, accomplishes our salvation (but they are still a part of the gospel message). The rest of the details are to convince us of the truthfulness of the two essentials I mention so that we will be able to place our trust in Christ.

    Faith is clinging to Jesus Christ alone as the only solution to our sin problem. Can a person cling to Christ if they are not yet aware that he is God? I say yes. You seem to say no.

    Just so you are aware, I am heading out of town until Monday, April 27. I will check later today to see if you have written back, but I will not be able to respond until next week after tonight.

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  • kay

    Thanks, everyone. Appreciate all the posts. Just wish hubby would read. He does not think you need to read the Bible. Think he may think going to church is good enough. And the past 4 years, we have only watched tv preachers, which I truly enjoy. He watches Hagee, Merritt and I watch those, plus Thomas Road, Beth Moore and Ankerberg. When we did go to church, he admitted he did not listen to the sermon. And we would have an argument before we got out of the parking lot. TV is easier. I go to a weekly bible study for fellowship and hopefully learning. This can get so confusing. k