headergraphic

Repentance vs. the Sinner's Prayer

Is there a password to unlock the gates of heaven? Some Christians believe there is such a password, and it's called the sinner's prayer. But what does the Bible say on this topic? There is a vast difference between merely repeating the sinner's prayer and true repentance unto salvation. Therefore, in this article, I will compare and contrast the difference between the sinner's prayer and repentance.

by William L. Nowell

The Sinner's Prayer

Is the sinner's prayer a password that unlocks the gates of heaven? Many people believe the sinner's prayer alone will gain them entry to the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, this mindset inevitably leads to “easy believism”. To be clear, when I use the phrase “easy believism”, I have in mind the notion that all one needs to do is simply repeat the sinner's prayer to gain eternal life. These “Christians” believe that upon repeating the magic words, they become the proud new owners of irrevocable hellfire insurance policies. And so, as fully insured hellfire policyholders, they continue living in sin with no worries of eternal consequences. So, unaware that the sinner's prayer will not unlock the gates of heaven, they continue down the broad road that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13)

Furthermore, Yeshua (Jesus) said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) In other words, there are people who say they are Christians, but who are going straight to hell! Certainly, Yeshua (Jesus) is far more tactful in His choice of words, but the message is the same. And that message is that the sinner's prayer does not save one's soul.

There is nothing wrong with repeating a sinner's prayer for salvation. In fact, it may very well be a good first step onto the “narrow road that leads to life.” (Matthew 7:14) But we cannot overlook the fact that the Bible never mentions a sinner's prayer. Instead, Yeshua, (Jesus) taught repentance, as did John the Baptist, and the apostles (see Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Nowhere in all of Scripture does anyone place an emphasis on merely parroting a prayer for salvation. Instead, we read that “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). So, what is repentance, and why is it necessary for salvation?

What is Repentance?

Repentance, from a biblical perspective, is a change of mind that results in a change of action. In other words, repentance is much like being “red-pilled”. We say a person is “red-pilled” when after receiving information that allows them to see the world as it actually is, they subsequently change their beliefs, choices, and actions.

Since repentance involves a change of mind, what must we change our minds about? First, we must change our minds about sin and its consequences. And second, we must also change our minds about who Yeshua (Jesus) is and what He has done for us.

Necessarily, before we can change our minds about sin, we must know what sin is. The biblical definition of sin is the breaking of God's law. And yes, you and I have sinned; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Because sin is the breaking of God's law, whenever we sin, we are guilty of committing a crime against God

Let me phrase that another way; whenever you or I commit sin, we commit a crime against the God who “is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Sin is not something to take lightly. From seemingly harmless little white lies to the most horrific crimes imaginable, every sin is an offense to God. Thus, in the eyes of God, we are all lifelong criminals with extensive rap sheets who deserve His righteous judgment.

And let's not forget that we are all “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Furthermore, the all-knowing God will indeed judge every sin. Consequently, for those who reject Yeshua's (Jesus') sacrifice on their behalf, judgment is a nightmare waiting to happen. And as for those who simply ignore Yeshua's (Jesus') sacrifice, their judgment is equally catastrophic. This is because they too must pay the price for their sins, and the payment is exceedingly great. (See Revelation 20:11-15) The ultimate tragedy is that Yeshua (Jesus) paid the price for their sins, but they did not receive it.

Lake of Fire image
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

The Flip Side

On the flip side, there is good news. John 3:16 says, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” What's more, Romans 5:8 tells us that “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” Yeshua (Jesus) paid an exorbitant price to save us from the penalty of our sins. For us, this is indeed good news. Moreover, this salvation is a gift Yeshua (Jesus) graciously gives to all who will receive it. But how do we receive the gift of salvation?

According to Romans 10:9, “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.” Though a casual reading of Romans 10:9 might give the impression that it teaches easy believism, that is not the case at all. A mere surface-level reading of Romans 10:9 does not begin to uncover the depth of its meaning. So in order to get a more complete understanding of this verse, let's dig deeper by peeling back its layers and examining them one-by-one.

Commentary on Romans 10:9

Let's begin analyzing Romans 10:9 by looking at the word “confess.” When you confess to a claim, your confession implies that you agree with it. So this raises the question: When you confess that Yeshua (Jesus) is Lord, what are you agreeing with? What does the phrase “Yeshua (Jesus) is Lord” mean? To answer this question, it's helpful to delve into the Greek translation of the Bible. By doing so, we find that the Greek word kurios (or kyrios) meaning supreme in authority, translates into English as Lord. It is used thousands of times throughout the Bible to refer to God. Hence, when you agree that Yeshua (Jesus) is Lord, you are agreeing that He is God. Recall, Yeshua (Jesus) said, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) For this, the Jewish leaders falsely accused Him of blasphemy for claiming to be God. (See John 10:33)

Confess with your Mouth

The next layer we need to examine is the phrase “confess with your mouth,” i.e. openly. Your confession ought not to be a secret known only to you and God. But does this mean that you are saved by just nonchalantly saying “Jesus is Lord”? Absolutely not! When reading the scriptures, it's often helpful if we understand the time and culture of the original audience. Remember that the first Christians were subjects of the Roman Empire. And this is important because Roman emperors saw themselves not only as political leaders but as gods. Accordingly, Roman authorities required its citizens and subjects to say, “Caesar is Lord.” This is highly problematic for Christians, since we have only one Lord, and His name is not Caesar.

Thus, confessing Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord meant disavowing Caesar as Lord and, instead, voicing allegiance to Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord and God. (cf. John 20:28) And so, to the Roman authorities, any such confession was an overt act of treason and was punishable by death. Clearly, in that environment, confessing Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord was a deadly serious act of commitment. And since we know God does not change, then equally today, God expects from us a willingness to openly declare Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord — even in the face of death.

Believe in your Heart

The second part of Romans 10:9 reads, “believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.” Here, “believe” does not mean to assume or to consider as possibly true. Instead, this belief is an unshakable, confident assurance of what we know is true. It is not dissuaded by feelings or by counterarguments. In other words, the belief spoken of here is faith. In fact, the CEB translation uses the word faith instead of believe.

It is worth pointing out that the verse does not say “believe that God raised Him from the dead.” Instead, it says “believe in your heart...” This is because mere mental acknowledgment of historical facts or theological truths is not the same as saving faith. Even the demons believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Son of God (see Matthew 8:29), and the Holy One of God (see Mark 1:24). But as James 2:19 points out, “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Though demons believe, they are condemned. When the demons saw Yeshua (Jesus), they trembled in fear and cried out, “Have you come here to torment us?” (Matthew 8:29), and “Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24).

Saving faith goes beyond the mind and into the heart. This saving faith is a deep-seated belief that not only impacts our emotions, but is strong enough to shape our thoughts, guide our actions, and transform our lives. It is the type of faith that enables us to confidently place our eternal destiny in the hands of our loving Savior. This is the type of faith (belief) that comes from the heart.

God raised Him from the Dead

Yeshua's (Jesus') brutal death by crucifixion was the necessary payment for our sins. His death was the only payment acceptable to God. What's more, His death was not only necessary, but it was also sufficient payment for our sins. There is nothing more anyone can do to attain salvation. It is finished! (John 19:30). And to prove Yeshua's (Jesus') death was sufficient, God raised Him from the dead.

Furthermore, Yeshua's (Jesus') resurrection is crucial to the Christian faith. Messiah's death, burial, and resurrection form the core of the gospel message (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Also, if the resurrection did not occur, then your so-called "faith" is in vain (see 1 Corinthians 15:17). In other words, without His resurrection, the rest simply does not matter. Without His resurrection, there is no Christianity. More importantly, without His resurrection, there is no life everlasting.

Conversely, if we believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, then our faith is not in vain. As for those of us who do believe (i.e. know beyond any shadow of a doubt) that God raised Him from the dead, we can rest assured that He will also raise us from the dead. (See 1 Corinthians 15:20-23)

Romans 10:9
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:10)

Where is Repentance in Romans 10:9?

You may have noticed that Romans 10:9 does not explicitly mention repentance. But confessing Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord and repenting from sin belong together like two sides of a coin. To see this, just put Romans 10:9 side by side with 2 Timothy 2:19.

Romans 10:9
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.
2 Timothy 2:19
Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."

The latter part of 2 Timothy 2:19 says, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." This turning away from wickedness is repentance. So Romans 10:9 does indeed teach repentance. Hence, we can paraphrase Romans 10:9 as follows. If you confess with your mouth that "Yeshua (Jesus) is Lord," [you must repent] and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and then you will be saved.

Many of us are of the mindset that we must work to earn whatever we get out of life, and for the most part, that is true. That's why, even after studying Romans 10:9, some will still feel that a confession is nice and believing is easy, so there must be something more. It's just too nice and easy. If that is you, then consider this: Yeshua was mercilessly tortured and savagely executed to pay the price for our sins. There was nothing even remotely nice and easy about His sacrifice. For more on what Yeshua (Jesus) endured for us, read my article, Extreme Love. And be grateful that Yeshua (Jesus) went to such extreme measures to save unworthy sinners like me and you.

Application to the Church

Repentance is of utmost importance, not only for individuals, but for the Church as well. In the book of Revelation, we have seven letters written to seven churches, each having end-time prophetic significance. To each church, Yeshua (Jesus) said, “I know your works....” He then proceeded to compliment and/or encourage them as was appropriate. But He did not overlook their shortcomings, and He warned of what would happen if they did not repent. Yeshua (Jesus) admonished five out of the seven churches to repent!

Yet, in spite of their failings, Yeshua found something praiseworthy in each of the first six churches. But, in contrast to the first six churches, the last one stands out from the crowd, that being the church in Laodicea. In Laodicea, Yeshua found absolutely nothing of any merit; nothing worthy of praise. And so, unable to offer any words of approval, Yeshua had only scathing words of rebuke for the lukewarm Laodicean church.

In Laodicea, we see a troubling picture of Yeshua standing outside the church and knocking on its door. Yeshua (Jesus) wanted to go in and fellowship with them, but they shut Him out. Though the people on the inside practiced a form of religion that bore a striking resemblance to Christianity, Christ was nowhere in it.

The Laodiceans remind me of the false disciples Yeshua spoke of in Matthew 7:21-23. In that passage, Yeshua said, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

In other words, not everyone who self-identifies as Christian will enter the kingdom of heaven; the only alternative to heaven is hell. And on judgment day many will stand before our Lord touting their “spiritual résumés.” With impressive-sounding lists of accomplishments—prophecies, exorcisms, and miracles—they might expect to hear “well done good and faithful servant”. But to their dismay, they will hear, “I never knew you. Depart from Me, you evildoers!”

The members of the church in Laodicea practiced a self-made religion. Their religion encouraged them to accept Yeshua (Jesus) as Savior but exempted them from following Him as Lord. Yet, without repentance, their fate will be the same as the false disciples in Matthew 7:21-23. Tragically, on judgment day, they will come to the harsh realization that Yeshua (Jesus) was neither their Lord nor Savior. That is the subtle trap of easy believism.

The Laodicean Church in America

LGBT affirming church

With each passing day, more churches in the USA increasingly look like the church in Laodicea. More than ever before, the church is populated by self-deceived individuals caught in the trap of easy believism. Today's “Progressive Christianity”—which is no Christianity at all—is more concerned with social issues than the gospel of Christ. Consequently, the new woke social gospel gives only lip service to Yeshua (Jesus) while leaving Him on the outside looking in. While the list of examples of how churches full of Christians in name only have shut their doors in the face of Christ seems endless, I'll give just three examples.

  • Abortion

    • Today we have so-called “pro-choice pastors” who advocate for the right of women to abort their babies. Since I'm not one to play silly word games, I'll call abortion what it actually is, and that is premeditated murder. Obviously, premeditated murder is a violation of the Sixth Commandment which says, “You shall not murder.” Any “pastor” who endorses premeditated murder is a wolf in sheep's clothing leading his/her congregation down the road to hell. Furthermore, the last book of the Bible tells the chilling fate of unrepentant murders. It says, “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

  • Black Lives Matter

    • BLM is a domestic terrorist organization that will burn, loot, and murder to achieve its destructive goals. Not only is BLM anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian, but it is demonic at its very core. The group's founders actually go as far as to summon demonic spirits to empower them in their unholy work. Because it is impossible to serve Satan and serve God simultaneously, we know that any church flying the Black Lives Matter banner has lost its way. For more on Black Lives Matter read my article, BLM: A 21st Century Trojan Horse.

  • Critical Race Theory

    • Critical race theory (CRT) divides people by race and pits them against one another. CRT, which teaches racism, is antithetical to the clear teaching of scripture. In James 2:9 we read, “If you show partiality, you are committing sin.” Now since racism in its least noxious form is partiality, then racism is sin. It's just that simple. That's why, instead of teaching partiality, Yeshua (Jesus) taught us to always treat others as we would have them treat us. He also taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Yet, contrary to the clear teaching of scripture, there are churches that teach CRT. However, in doing so, they are teaching willful disobedience to the Word of God. For insights into the genetics of race and the sin of racism, read my article Race, Science & Scripture.

There was a time when the church influenced the direction of society. Sadly, those days are gone. In today's world, it is the society that is influencing the direction of the church. Here I've given only three glaring examples of secular ideologies infecting the church. An exhaustive list of false teachers, damnable heresies, and doctrines of demons practiced in many of today's churches would be endless. But this is not unexpected in light of the times in which we live. 1 Timothy 4:1 tells us that “in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” We are currently living in the latter times spoken of in the Book of 1 Timothy.

To the church in Laodicea, Yeshua (Jesus) said, “I am about to spit you out of My mouth.” And I have no doubt that when Yeshua (Jesus) looks upon many of the churches spread across America, He feels as though He's back in Laodicea. Surely, as with Laodicea, He's nauseated to the point that He is ready to spit them out of His mouth! The church in America must repent and return without compromise to the Word of God.

What's more, the fate of our nation depends largely on the church returning to righteousness. In times past, the church was the moral compass of the nation. But today's church has been infiltrated by heretics. Their godless secular ideologies have made the church weak and ineffective in an increasingly wicked world. And so without the church as a reliable moral compass, growing numbers of people today call what is good evil, and call evil good. For more on the direction of our nation, read my article, Cursed - A Nation that Forgets God. Although written in 2016, today in 2021 it is more relevant than ever.

Conclusion

As we've seen, the Bible nowhere teaches us to recite a “repeat after me” prayer for salvation. Though prayer is a reasonable first step into a new life as a Christ-follower, the Bible requires more. The Bible instructs us to confess Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord—the One Who has supreme authority in our lives. Therefore, our confession must be more than idle lip service. By necessity, our confession obligates us to live as though He is our Lord by turning away from sin and obeying His commandments.

Unfortunately, the preaching from many pulpits gives little to no direction to new converts for life after the sinner's prayer. And so, many new converts slip into a comfortable life of easy believism. But Yeshua (Jesus) asked in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” Or, why tag yourself with the Christian (Christ-follower) label and yet not follow Christ? Yet this is exactly what the church in Laodicea did, and it is what a growing number of “Christians” in America do today. But this will not end well for the individual, the church, or the nation. “Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)

In no uncertain terms, the Bible instructs us to repent of our sinful ways. So the next logical step after the sinner's prayer is to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) After we overcome the pressure of the world, the desires of the flesh, and the schemes of the devil, what can we expect? “To the one who overcomes, I will grant the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I myself overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:21-22)

Three Crosses