What an important subject. It relates directly to man’s salvation. Is salvation achieved by praying to Jesus and asking for forgiveness, or is it obtained some other way? Many people believe and teach that salvation is achieved by praying to Jesus and asking for forgiveness of sins. What is the truth? Can I become a child of God by praying to Jesus and asking forgiveness? Is there anywhere in the New Testament where people are told to pray that their sins might be forgiven? If so, to whom is it spoken: to an alien sinner (one who has never obeyed the gospel), or to one who has obeyed the gospel and subsequently sins? To the Scriptures we must go to answer (1 Peter 4:11).
Jesus told the apostles that “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth . . .” (John 16:13). He also told them, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). If we can find what the apostles taught sinners to do to have sins forgiven, then we will have found the truth, because they were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit.
There are some 10 cases of conversion of alien sinners found in the book of Acts. Do any of them mention prayer as the means of obtaining salvation? Let us examine a couple in particular that will help answer this question. What did Peter tell people to do in Acts 2 when, upon hearing Peter’s sermon, they were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Did he instruct them to pray? No, he told them to “repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . .” (Acts 2:38).
We read about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26. He was on the road to Damascus to find Christians and bring them bound in chains to Jerusalem to be punished. As he came near Damascus, the Lord appeared unto him. Saul was convinced He was the risen Jesus and asked what he should do. He was told to go into Damascus and it would be told him what he must do. He entered Damascus, and for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. God selected Ananias and told him where to go, for whom he should inquire, and what he was doing. He said Saul is praying. Saul was in prayer, but were his sins forgiven? Ananias came to Saul and had a conversation with him. Did he instruct Saul to pray to obtain salvation? No. What did he instruct him to do? Part of the conversation was: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
Is calling on the name of the Lord important? Yes, “for whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved . . .” (Mark 16:16). One calls upon the name of the Lord by believing and being baptized. That is exactly what Saul did, and it is what the people did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:21,36-38).
A careful study of Scripture will reveal that there is not a single time in which the alien sinner is ever instructed to pray for salvation. The first thing an alien sinner needs to do is not to pray, but obey (Hebrews 5:8,9). The things that God requires of the alien sinner for salvation do not include prayer. The one who would be saved must believe (John 8:24). Repentance of sins is a must (Luke 13:3, Acts 17:30). The alien sinner must confess faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Romans 10:9,10; Acts 8:37), and be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16). The Lord will add him to the church, the one body (Acts 2:47, 1 Corinthians 12:13). Have you obeyed the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)?
But, what about passages that instruct people to pray to God for forgiveness? Are there any such passages? Yes. One is Acts 8:22, where Peter told Simon, “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). This is an example of one being told to repent and pray to God for forgiveness. Was Simon a child of God repenting and praying for forgiveness, or is this an example of one repenting and praying in order to become a child of God, part of God’s family? The answer is found in Acts 8:13: “Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized . . .” Simon believed and was baptized prior to the events of verses 18-24. Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved . . .” Simon had done that; therefore, Simon was saved. This is not an example of an alien sinner being instructed to pray to God for forgiveness. James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9,10 are other passages that mention confessing sin. They are also passages that are written to children of God, not alien sinners. Prayer unto God to have one sins forgiven is important for one who is already a child of God, but that is not the instruction which inspired writers gave to alien sinners. God’s children need not be baptized again to receive forgiveness of sins. They need to repent, confess and pray. That is the way of forgiveness for them.
— John Priola