Why do Christians think a prayer is all it takes to get to heaven?

Some have complained that Christianity promises that just by saying a prayer anyone gets a free trip to heaven. A mass murderer can do horrible things all his life and go to heaven when dies because he said the correct words right before being strapped into the electric chair. A loving mother who worked hard all her life to raise good kids will go to hell if she doesn’t ask Jesus for forgiveness. This seems unfair, unjust and just plain wrong. Why do Christian’s teach that all it takes for even the worst person to go to heaven is saying the right words any time before dying?

This objection fails to understand two vital truths about the Bible’s teaching about salvation. Salvation is not received by saying the right words. The prayer of salvation is not a magic incantation which opens heaven’s door at the persons whim. The prayer of salvation is the outward response of saving faith. Praying the right words without saving faith will not bring salvation. The words alone have no power to give a person entrance to heaven. What brings salvation is Biblical faith.

Biblical faith is a personal conviction of the truth of God’s Word particularly the truths about sin, man’s inability to do anything to save himself, the deity of Jesus, the death of Jesus for sin and the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is the conviction that these truths are true about yourself. This goes beyond a general acceptance of a broad truth. This is the personal acceptance as fact your own guilt before God, your inability to remove your guilt and bring salvation, that Jesus died to pay the punishment of your sin, Jesus is alive forever and Jesus offers you salvation. Biblical faith obeys the commands of the gospel. Saving faith turns to Jesus trusting Him, and Him alone, for salvation. A prayer for salvation is the visible expression of that last element of saving faith. Asking for salvation is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath is the massive internal conviction of that brings salvation to those who believe.

Salvation has nothing to do with anything the person does. The murderer is not going to hell for his murder. The loving mother is not going to heaven for her selflessness. Salvation is never determine by measuring a persons good against his bad. Salvation cannot be achieved by any actions of men because the standard for entrance into heaven is absolute perfection. To enter heaven one must be completely righteous without the least taint of sin. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) God’s standard of perfection is impossible for any person to achieve. Eternal life is given to those who realize their failure to measure up to God’s standard. Those who trust Jesus are promised heaven because Jesus’ perfect righteousness is transferred to the sinner. This is exactly why salvation is so difficult for many to understand. The work has been done. The one who is saved must do nothing. Salvation has been earned, in its entirety, by Jesus. Anyone who relies on Jesus to save them will be saved and have eternal life. Anyone who relies on his own goodness will not be saved.

God’s salvation has nothing to do with how much a person deserves to be saved. God justly saves the worst of men at the very last moment because He applies the infinite righteousness of Jesus to their great guilt. God justly saves the best of men any time they turn to Him for salvation because He applies the righteousness of Jesus to their great guilt. God saves all who will rely only on Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life.

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