The Bible declares that “...whosoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), but exactly how is that to be done?
Not a “Sinner’s Prayer”Many folks today view “calling on the Lord” as “praying a sinner’s prayer” in order to become a Christian. But is that what the New Testament teaches? Ironically, there is no passage in the Bible that instructs, shows, or implies that the non-Christian becomes a child of God through prayer.
Rather, we not only see of other requirements that need to be met before one can become a Christian (which I’ll list later), but also that praying for forgiveness is one of the conditions for the Christian who transgresses God’s word.
Praying For Forgiveness Is For The Christian Who Falls Into SinFor instance, in Acts 8:13-23, Simon had become a child of God, but soon sinned when he coveted the special and unique gift that the apostles had (to lay hands on people and impart the Holy Spirit to them). Simon actually offered them money for that gift; but, as a result, was then told to “. . . repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (v. 22).
Corresponding to that is John’s declaration in 1 John 1:9 that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Though this verse is sometimes used in denominational tracts, alleging that the non-Christian can be saved through prayer, people need to realize that John was not stating this to the world in general, but only to the saints, according to 1 John 3:2, where he declares, “Beloved, now we are children of God. . ..” He, therefore, urges them not to sin, but if they do fall into that, they need to seek for God’s forgiveness through their Advocate, Jesus Christ, which involves prayer on their part (1 Jn. 2:1, 1 Jn. 1:9), so that they won’t be lost (2 Peter 2:20-22, Hebrews 10:36-39, James 5:19,20).
Some folks also wrongly infer from Revelation 3:20 that lost souls can be saved by praying a “sinner’s prayer”; but, again, we need to remind ourselves of whom is being addressed. And verse 14 answers that. Jesus is stating this to the church at Laodicea that had become lukewarm (spiritually indifferent) and, therefore, had need of repenting (v. 19) and getting Christ back into their lives.
From these examples and instructions, we also understand that the Christian who falls into sin does not need to be baptized again. But there are these other conditions that he must meet in order to be forgiven.
How Is The Non-Christian To “Call” On The Lord?To see how the non-Christian is to “call” on the Lord, consider Acts 2. In quoting Joel’s prophecy, Peter ended it by saying, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 21). He then spoke of the need for them to believe in Jesus as being Lord and Christ (v. 36), which is essential (John 8:24). According to Acts 2:37, those who had come to believe, through the gospel message, were “pierced to the heart” and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brethren [simply fellow Jews, and not spiritual brethren yet], what shall we do?” Peter did not tell these believers to just pray a “sinner’s prayer.” Nor did he tell them that their belief that Jesus was the Son of God was all they needed—apart from any obedience on their part. Rather, he told them, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to “Repent, and each of you be baptized. . ..” And the purpose being “for the forgiveness of your sins” (v. 38). Or as stated in the New International Version, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. . ..’” So not only did they need to believe, and need to repent, but they also needed to be baptized in water in order to obtain forgiveness and be saved from their sins.
Corresponding to that, Saul, who had come to believe in the Lord and had repented of his sins, was then told by Ananias in Acts 22:16, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” This was said three days after Saul had met the Lord on the road to Damascus. Saul then obeyed the Lord by going to this city so that he might learn what he must do (Acts 9:6; 22:10). After three days of Saul’s fasting and praying, Ananias, who was sent by the Lord, then arrived to tell Saul of his need to be baptized in water so that his sins would be forgiven. So Saul still had sin in his life, up until that time prior to his baptism—and that was the case regardless of how many times Saul must have prayed for God’s forgiveness and mercy during that three day period of fasting and prayer. In other words, the non-Christian is not forgiven by merely praying a “sinner’s prayer.” As in the case of Saul, it was in that final step of baptism in which he was then “calling” on the name of the Lord to be saved.
This is also why Peter says that “. . .baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). In the act of baptism (and by meeting the other conditions toward salvation), one is making his “appeal” to God for a clear conscience. And since the word “appeal” literally means “to make an earnest request” or “entreaty”; to ask for help, mercy, etc., then this verse shows that we are doing that not by praying a “sinner’s prayer,” but by submitting to the necessary steps that lead to salvation—and baptism being one of those steps. It is actually the final step that puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:26,27).
So it is through our obedience to the entire gospel plan of salvation, which includes hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17), believing in Jesus (John 8:24), repenting of sins (Luke 13:5), confessing our faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38), and being baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38) that we are then “calling” on the Lord; and the result being salvation from our sins (1 Pet. 3:21), becoming a new creature in Christ by being put into Him through baptism (2 Corinthians 5:17; Gal. 3:26,27). For through water baptism, the penitent believer is raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3,4).
Since there is only one plan of salvation for all people, then when we parallel Acts 2:21 with Acts 2:36-38, we see that the one who will be “saved” (v. 21), which is the same as obtaining “forgiveness” (v. 38), is the one who “calls” on the name of the Lord (v. 21), which includes the parallel equivalent of believing, repenting, and being baptized (vv. 36-38).
The Christian is then to strive to “be faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10; Heb. 10:36-39) in order to make heaven his eternal home. So just as the non-Christian begins meeting the Lord’s conditions in those initial steps in becoming a Christian, he is then to continue in looking to Christ daily and following after Him until arriving in that wonderful place of eternal glory.