I know someone I think is saved, but don’t know if they have ever made a public profession of faith. Is praying the sinner’s prayer with another person without “walking the aisle” enough of a public profession of faith?
Questions like this betray how far we have strayed from simple Scripture, and allowed religious tradition and practice to become equal to the Bible. We don’t do it on purpose, we just do it, it’s our fallen nature. Then if someone questions it, they look like a fringe nut.
First, the so-called “sinner’s prayer” is not in the Bible. Not even the practice of it is in the Scriptures. This is an evangelistic method and a tradition that has evolved over time as we tried to figure out ways to package the Gospel and close the deal.
I’m not saying it’s WRONG… I’m just saying it’s not Biblically prescribed, so we might want to reconsider making it some sort of cornerstone of witnessing and salvation.
The same goes for “walking the aisle”, or “going forward” or “answering the altar call”. These are religious traditions that have no bearing on whether or not a person is truly saved.
As for the issue of public confession, there we do have Scripture to consider:
Romans 10:9-10 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (NKJV)
1 John 4:2-3 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (NKJV)
A person who has never, or refuses to profess Christ publicly, has considerable cause to wonder if salvation has ever occurred. The Bible does not give us some formula, ritual or event where/how this should occur. Salvation should result in the continual confession of Christ publicly as Savior and Lord as we tell others the Good News.
It is a very profitable and eye-opening effort to study each instance of conversion in the New Testament. You’ll see a total lack of formula, ritual and religious tradition. You’ll see a very interesting variety of how salvation occurs (the course of events), and how the convert responds to salvation.
It is very different from our ritualistic traditions, habits, formulas and patterns we see practiced throughout Christianity today. It comes as quite shock to find out there are not specifically “five steps”, “a plan of salvation”, “the sinner’s prayer” or a religious ceremony in the Bible. I know, I’m a heretic.
Of course there is only one Way, one Person, one Name by which one can be saved but you’ll find it refreshing that the actual salvation experience was quite varied in the Bible. (if the only thing you are thinking right now is “baptism” or “Trinity” or “in who’s name?”, then you’re totally missing the point).
FOLLOW UP AFTER POSTING THIS QUESTION:
I’m getting some comments like “then God doesn’t tell us how to be saved?” or “God gives us a clear pattern but your saying people can just be saved any old way they can find their own way?”
You know sometimes when we read a difficult Bible verse, we think “I’m not sure I get it, but I know what it DOES NOT mean based on everything else the Bible says”. Well based on everything I’ve written over the years, of course I’m not saying God just threw us out here to find our own way into salvation or that salvation is any way we please.
To the contrary, WE don’t find our way to God at all in reality. God draws US to Him (John 6:44, and NO I’m not teaching Calvinism, that’s plain and simple Bible), which the Bible is clear about. HE GUIDES US into salvation, of which there is only ONE way.
But He does not guide everyone through a neat little path of a 5 step evangelization program, or a Billy Graham revival, or the “invitation” after a sermon. The situations, paths and circumstances God draws people through into salvation is endlessly varied.
The destination is always the same: salvation through Jesus Christ on God’s terms… but it’s not always, and I would say more and more rarely, accomplished through some pre-packaged religious evangelization program, church tradition, sinners prayer, walking the aisle or whatever. The point of my answer is this: the salvation experience in the Bible is about people, in the situation Jesus finds them in, addressing whatever is keeping them from surrendering to Him. At a well, in the temple, in a tree, on the road… all convicted by different questions, approaches and needs.
We tend to think salvation is primarily presented with the “invitation” after a sermon or by getting someone to say “yes” after sharing with them a “Sales Presentation Gospel”.