Five dollars and reciting the “sinner’s prayer” will buy a cup of coffee. It won’t buy salvation, so I’m bothered when preachers say, “If you said those simple words, you’ve been born again.” Maybe—or maybe not. What magic words will save us from Hell and open the gates of Heaven?
Salvation has conditions.
Jesus said those who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22), so if my actions don’t match my words, I might be in trouble. He also said it was next to impossible for rich people to be saved (Matthew 19:24), which would have to rule out many who seem blessed but only give for personal gain. “Just believe and be baptized,” Jesus said (Mark 16:16). Christian doctrine often trivializes baptism as “an outward sign of an inward work,” so the crucial part of salvation is not the confession or the works but what I believe.
Actions speak louder than words.
I’m lying to myself when my actions don’t match what my heart says I should do. Since I can’t confess something that God doesn’t already know, my words help me only when they lead to repentance. I must understand that what God wants is more important than anything I might want for myself. I think the greatest salvation prayer in the Bible is what Jesus prayed at Gethsemane before his suffering on the cross: “Father, I want your will, not mine” (Luke 22:42).
Salvation is a lifelong process of surrender.
My walk with Christ began as a toddler when I prayed every night: “Now I lay me down to sleep. If I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take.” I’ve had several turning points in my life, where my steps were redirected from what I had wanted, each time strengthening my relationship with the Lord. If I am to know I am saved, the preacher’s promise or assurance of a friend isn’t enough. The Bible says I know I am saved when God’s Spirit confirms in my spirit that I belong to him.
You are God’s adopted children, who seek to please him. God’s Spirit confirms in our human spirit that we are his children. — Romans 8:15–16, The Discussion Bible