David E. Pratte
One of the most important questions anyone can ask is, "What
must I do to be saved?" If a person is not a child of God,
having never been born again, yet wants to be forgiven of sins,
what must such a person do?
Many churches teach that such a
person should simply believe on Jesus and then pray
Consider the following quotation from a tract entitled "God's
Simple Plan of Salvation."
"Simply believe on Him as the one who bore your sin,
died in your place, was buried and was raised for your
justification. Now call upon Him. 'For whosoever shall call
upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved' (Romans 10:13). The
first prayer for a sinner to pray is given in Luke 18:13: 'God be
merciful to me a sinner.' Now you are a sinner and surely
you are sorry because of it. Right now, wherever you are,
lift your heart to God in prayer ... Just say: O, God, I am a
sinner. I am sorry, I repent, have mercy upon me, and save
me for Jesus' sake. Now just take Him at His word ... You
say, 'surely that is not all that is necessary to do to be saved.'
Yes it is, absolutely all ... After you are saved ... [t]hen
you should be baptized..." [All emphasis in the original.]
The purpose of this study is to
consider what the Bible says about this doctrine.
The gospel reveals many examples in which people who were not
children of God were converted. In which of these examples was
anyone ever told to pray to receive forgiveness? And where does
the Bible say that a person is saved before he is baptized, then after
he is saved he should be baptized?
These are serious questions because they pertain to whether or
not a person is forgiven of sin. We cannot be saved if we follow
a pattern of salvation that differs from what God reveals in the
gospel. Anyone who preaches a different gospel is accursed (Galatians
1:8,9). Following man-made doctrines makes our service to God
vain (Matthew 15:9,14).
So should a person who is not a child of God pray for
forgiveness? Is this doctrine in the gospel or was it invented by
Does the Gospel Teach People Who Are Not
Children of God to Pray for Forgiveness?
Consider what the gospel says about prayer.
Who Has the Right to Pray to
Whose prayer will God hear?
1 John 3:22 - We receive what we pray for if we keep God's
commands and do what pleases Him.
James 5:16 - The prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Proverbs 15:8,29 - God hears and delights in the prayer of the
righteous, but He is far from the wicked. If one turns his ear
away from the law, his prayer is an abomination to God (28:9). [Psalm
34:15,16; 1 Peter 3:12]
John 9:31 - God hears not sinners, but does hear those who
worship and obey Him.
So God hears the prayers of obedient righteous people. But we
are studying about disobedient, unrighteous people. What about
their prayers? These verses say that God refuses to hear their
prayers. We will see later that, if one is diligently seeking
truth, God will recognize that they are praying. But in general
He does not even hear the prayers of those who are not His
Who Can Pray for
There are, however, examples of people who did pray for
forgiveness. Who were these people?
Matthew 6:12 - Jesus said to pray,
"Forgive us our debts (trespasses)."
But who was taught to pray this prayer? Jesus was speaking to
Jews, children of Israel (4:25). These were children of God under
the Old Testament (remember, Jesus' gospel did not take effect
till He died - Hebrews 9:16,17; Colossians 2:14).
These people were also Jesus' disciples (5:1,2). They were
able to address God as "Our Father," hence they were
children of God (6:9). The instruction to pray for forgiveness
was never given to those who were not children of God but
to those who were already children of God.
Luke 18:13,14 - The publican prayed,
"God be merciful to me, a sinner," and he was justified.
The tract we quoted earlier used this to prove one who is not
a child of God should pray for forgiveness. But was this man a
child of God or not?
Notice that both the publican and the Pharisee went up to the Temple
to pray (18:10). But this was the Jewish temple, and only Jews in
covenant relationship with God were allowed to enter (Acts 21:28).
Hence, the publican was a Jew just like the Pharisee was - a
child of God under the Old Testament. This passage tells us
nothing about what should be done by a person who is not a
child of child of God.
Furthermore, remember that all this occurred while the Old
Testament was still binding. In that Jewish Temple, Levitical
priests still offered animal sacrifices to atone for sin. Surely
this case does not describe God's way of forgiveness for people
under the New Testament. The New Testament system of
justification was not yet even in effect.
Acts 8:13-22 - Simon sinned and was
told to repent and pray for forgiveness.
Was Simon a child of God or not? 8:12 says the Samaritans
believed the gospel and were baptized. This is exactly what Mark
16:16 says to do to be saved, so the Samaritans were saved.
8:13 says Simon "also" believed and was
baptized. He did just as the other Samaritans did. If they were
saved, then so was he.
But after he was forgiven, Simon sinned again and was
told to repent and pray for forgiveness (8:18-22). So again a
child of God who sins should pray for forgiveness, but nowhere
does this teach one who is not a child of God to pray for
1 John 1:8-10 - If we "confess
our sins," God will forgive us.
But who are the "we" who are here told to confess
sins? 1:7 says that "we" are those who walk in the
light, have fellowship with God, being cleansed by His blood. 2:1-6
says "we" are those who know God (v3) and are in Him (v5,6),
in contrast to the world (v2). If any doubt remains, 3:2 should
settle the matter. It says plainly "we are children of
God." The whole context refers to children of God.
All these verses show that, under the gospel, children of God
sometimes sin. They are told to repent and pray for forgiveness.
But passages that talk about praying for forgiveness are always
talking about children of God. There is not one passage or
example anywhere in the gospel that tells people who are not
children of God to pray for forgiveness. That
doctrine is a doctrine of men (Matt. 15:9).
What Should a Person Who
a Child of God Do to Be Forgiven?
If such people are not told to pray for forgiveness, then what
should they do? In particular, does the Bible agree with the
doctrine that people are saved before baptism, then they are
baptized after they are saved? Consider some New Testament
examples of conversion.
The Jews on Pentecost -
These people were the same ones who were responsible for Jesus'
death. Verse 21 says they were told, "Whosoever shall call
on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (cf. Rom. 10:13).
This is a statement the tract used to prove non-Christians should
pray for forgiveness.
But what does it mean to "call on the name of the Lord"?
How does one do this? The statement does not really say to pray
to God. Keep the verse in context and the Bible will explain
itself. The sermon isn't over yet!
As Peter preached, the people recognized their sins and asked
what they should do (v37). Here is the question we need answered.
What should alien sinners do to be forgiven?
Peter said, "Repent and be baptized ... for remission
of sins..." (v38). This tells how the people were saved.
Peter had said to call on the name of the Lord, but when asked
specifically what should be done, he said to repent and be
baptized for remission of sins.
Some people say "for remission of sins" means "because
they had the remission of sins," like "He was given a
ticket for speeding," or "He was paid for working."
So they say people should pray for forgiveness, then God forgives
them, then they are baptized because they have been forgiven.
But if that is so, then these people must have been saved before
v38, and v38 tells them how to show they have already been saved.
But if that is the case, why did Peter in v38 tell them to repent?
Do people who have just been cleansed of their sins need to
repent? No, clearly Peter was talking to people who were still
guilty of their sins, telling them how to be forgiven. So, "for
remission of sins" does not mean "because you have
remission." Rather, it means "in order that you may
receive remission," just like it means in Matthew 26:28.
So Acts 2:21 says to call on the Lord's name but does not tell
how to do so. When people say this refers to prayer, they are
assuming what they must prove. Verse 38 tells how to call on the
name of the Lord - by repenting and being baptized in His name.
This is what a person who is not a child of God must do to be
Cornelius - Acts 10
Acts 10:1,2 says Cornelius was a generous, religious man who
"prayed to God." Verses 4,5,31 say God "heard"
his prayer, and His prayers were a memorial to God. At this point
Cornelius was not a child of God, yet because he was seeking God's
will, God knew He was praying. Though the passage does not say
what Cornelius was praying for, we will see that it does tell us
what he received!
But our main question is this: Was Cornelius forgiven
when he prayed to God? Acts 11:14 says an angel told him to send
for Peter, who would tell him words whereby he could be
saved. When Peter arrived, did he tell Cornelius to pray for
forgiveness? No, he told him to be baptized in water (10:47,48).
If a person who is not a child of God is saved by praying, why
wasn't Cornelius saved before Peter spoke to him? He had surely
been praying, yet the passage clearly says that he had to hear
words whereby he could be saved. That message required him to be
baptized. Praying did not save Cornelius. He needed baptism.
Saul of Tarsus - Acts 9
Saul had been a persecutor of the church, but Jesus appeared
to him on the road to Damascus and told him to go into the city
where he would be told what he must do (9:1-6). In the
city, he fasted and prayed (9:9,11). Note that no one ever told
him to pray. He was to be told what he must do, but he did
the praying before he was told what to do!
But was he forgiven by praying? If believing and
praying are "absolutely all" one must do to be forgiven,
then surely Saul was forgiven before he was told what he
must do! But does the Bible say he was saved then?
In Acts 9:18 Ananias came to tell Saul what he must do,
and as a result Saul was immediately baptized. Acts 22:16
explains this, because it records what Ananias told Saul to do.
Ananias said, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be
baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
Note the following important lessons here: (1) Saul was to be told
what he must do, but he was never told to pray for forgiveness. (2)
Even though Saul did pray, yet he was not forgiven by prayer, for
he still needed to have his sins washed away. If a non-Christians
does pray for forgiveness, he will still be exactly like Saul -
he will still be in his sins!
(3) When Ananias arrived, Saul had been praying - the
very thing denominational preachers tell non-Christians to do.
But Ananias said, "And now, why tarriest thou?" In
effect he told Saul to stop what he had been doing and do
something else instead!
4) When Ananias told Saul what he "must do," he said
to be baptized and wash away his sins, calling on the name
of the Lord. That confirms what we learned in Acts 2. How does a
person who is not a child of God call on the name of the Lord?
Not by prayer, but in baptism!
This also confirms that sins are not forgiven before
baptism, but baptism is a necessary condition in order to have
sins washed away by Jesus' blood. This agrees with what is taught
in many other Scriptures, such as Mark 16:16; Romans 6:3,4;
Galatians 3:27; and 1 Peter 3:21.
When alien sinners have been taught to pray for forgiveness,
they need to understand what Saul was told. They need to realize
that they will not be forgiven by praying, and what they need to
do is to be baptized for remission of sins!
Consider a brief summary of what we have learned:
* Generally, God does not hear the prayers of people who are
not His children.
* The only people in the New Testament who received
forgiveness as a result of prayer were people who were already
children of God but had sinned again.
* No one, who was not a child of God, was ever told by any
inspired man to pray for forgiveness of sins. That doctrine is
therefore a man-made doctrine.
* When such people for some reason did pray to God, they did
not receive forgiveness as a result.
* In all cases, people who were not children of God had to be
baptized in order to receive forgiveness of sins. In no case did
any person ever receive forgiveness of sins before he was
Matthew 7:21-23 teaches that it is not enough simply to call
Jesus our Lord and sincerely think we are serving Him. We must do
the will of the Father in heaven. True calling on the Lord is not
accomplished simply by what we say, but by what we also do!
The Father's will is that a person who is not a child of God
needs to believe, repent, confess Christ (Rom. 10:9,10), and be
baptized for remission of sins. Those who teach such people to
pray for forgiveness have changed God's plan. They have
substituted prayer for baptism! Any church and any preacher
who teaches such is preaching a different gospel than what the
inspired apostles preached. Note Galatians 1:8,9.
Now suppose a person believed he was saved as a result of
prayer, and then he was baptized thinking he was saved before the
baptism. What should such a person do? Despite his sincerity, he
has never been baptized for the Scriptural reason, so his baptism
did not achieve the purpose for which it was intended. But the
purpose of baptism is to wash away sins by the blood of Jesus. If
a person has not done this properly, then he has never been
forgiven of his sins at all! To please God, he needs to be
baptized Scripturally, like the men did in Acts 19:1-5.
If this is your desire, please contact us so we can assist you
in truly obeying God.
(c) Copyright 2000, David E. Pratte
841 Hillandale Dr.
Antioch, IL 60002
Phone: (847) 395-8937