Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
I was asked the question in the title a few months back at the end of a Bible class. The notion that a prayer for salvation is necessary to receive salvation is so popular today that it is tightly woven into the fabric of contemporary Christianity. Question it and some look at you like you are seriously disturbed. So... I guess you can just call me crazy Larry, because... well... I questioned it...
This is not such a difficult question to answer, but it may be difficult to hear the answer. I didn't have time in that class to answer the question properly, so I wrote this answer to make it available for our members to read and carefully study. I have posted it on my blog to make it available to anyone who wants to study the subject. So… here goes… first some Bible facts:
- There is not one verse in the Bible that claims a person must pray to be saved… not one.
- Even though the Bible records various examples of people being evangelized, there is no example in the Bible of any believer asking an unbeliever to pray for salvation… not one.
- There is no place in the Bible where prayer as a component of salvation is systematically discussed. What I mean by that is there is no place in the Bible where a serious Bible student can go to find instruction on how this prayer for salvation thing works.
- There is no place in the Bible that tells me what should be said in this prayer or any example of a prayer for salvation. Some might say that Luke 18:13 tells us what must be said. But that prayer doesn’t meet the standard usually required by those who teach prayer for salvation from Romans 10:13. There is no confession, and no mention of Jesus in the prayer. This prayer contains no acknowledgment of saving faith or the Gospel, and there is no place in the context of this verse or the rest of the Bible which promotes the use of this prayer by others.
- There is also no place in the Bible where a person is requested to “ask Jesus into your heart.” In fact the two words “ask Jesus” never appear together in the Bible.
- There is no place in the Bible where prayer and salvation are discussed in the same context. Ah, but some may say Romans 10:13 meets that standard. Before I go there let me first mention that resting an essential salvation doctrine on one verse that appeared decades after the ministry of Jesus is dangerous.
Romans 10:13 is a partial quote of the Old Testament passage Joel 2:32. So in order to interpret it properly it must be studied in two locations, first the Old Testament and then the New Testament. But it is interesting that I have never come across a proponent of prayer for salvation who even knew this was a quote from the Old Testament. I'm not trying to be rude, but if a person hasn't studied the verse enough to know it is a quote, then it is clear that person hasn't studied the subject sufficiently enough to even have an opinion. Especially when dealing with the bible doctrine of salvation.
It must be noted that the word “prayer” does not appear in Romans 10:13. Paul did use the word prayer in Romans 10:1, but not anywhere else in chapter 10. The words translated prayer and call are not the same words. Confession, as it is used in Romans 10:9-10, is also not prayer. Confess means, "a public statement of what one believes." (Friberg's Analytical Greek Lexicon) The word call is used in Romans 10:12, and the Old Testament verse quoted in Romans 10:13 was used by Paul to support the statement he made in Romans 10:12. Verse 12 is part of the contextual discussion that Jews and non-Jews can now have the same standing with God.
The word call in Romans 10:12 is a present participle. Which means it defines “its subject as belonging to a certain class.” (Burton’s Greek Grammar) Call is not something done once, but it is a repetitive habitual action which identifies someone as belonging to a specific class of people. This class of people has already believed (Romans 10:14) and are, therefore, in the class of those who regularly call on the Lord. The intent of this verse is to teach that God "is rich" to this class of people no matter their race.
Call in Romans 10:13 comes from a Hebrew word which means “to enter into an intensive relationship as someone who calls.” (Koehler-Baumgartner Hebrew Lexicon) Paul’s reason for using this Old Testament verse was to support the truth that Jews and Gentiles can now both be in a relationship with the Messiah because of the “righteousness which is of faith” (Romans 10:6). Paul was not discussing how a person gets into a relationship with God, but what class of persons are in a relationship with Him. This righteousness which comes by faith to all who believe the gospel, both Jew and Greek, has been the heart of Paul's discussion since the beginning of Romans.
An understanding of the gospel is necessary for salvation along with belief in that gospel. In every case of evangelism in the New Testament people were called to believe or have faith in that gospel. Those who have believed the gospel can and will now freely and regularly “call” on the name of the Lord. This teaching of salvation by grace through faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus is supported throughout the New Testament. Prayer associated with the immediate work of salvation is supported nowhere in Scripture.
Why is this so important? Well there are at least three reasons:
- Salvation is the most important doctrine in the world and accuracy on this subject is profoundly important. Even if you differ with me on this subject of prayer the importance of the doctrine should cause you to pause and carefully seek the truth apart from your own tradition or personal desires.
- The bible is the rule of our faith and practice, so every belief should be tested by the Scriptures.
- People who have been led in a prayer for salvation, as I was, often struggle with doubts about their salvation. They may tend to examine their prayer and wonder if it was good enough... did I say the right words, or was I sincere enough? Instead of looking with faith and confidence at the gospel for salvation and trusting that Jesus did everything right on our behalf they may be forever bound to look at themselves and their performance for confidence. And that leads to doubt and spiritual struggles, because we can never be sure we did something good enough. If you were led in a prayer for salvation I am not saying you are now lost, what I am saying is there is no evidence that prayer has any essential role to play in salvation. Turn your attention to the gospel work of Jesus Christ... that is where the firm confidence of salvation is found. Prayer is a good thing... but it cannot save. Only Jesus' Gospel work can reconcile us to God.