So, what exactly does it take to go to heaven when you die? Many evangelists will be happy to lead you in a sinner’s prayer to ask forgiveness of your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior. Likewise there are many churches who routinely do what is known as an alter call, which is basically a public response in which you walk down to the front of the church to accept Christ, usually then being led in a sinner’s prayer by the pastor. There are many long-time Christians who have said a sinner’s prayer hundreds of times and responded to dozens of alter calls! They just cannot get enough of being saved. (While I certainly cannot blame them for that, once you are saved it is time to start growing in the Lord, as you cannot really be saved more than once.)
In this video an evangelist will lead you in a typical sinner’s prayer, which is certainly something you should do if you have any question about your own salvation:
Does saying the sinner’s prayer secure your entry into heaven? This is a simple question, but there is some controversy over the answer, even within the evangelical Christian community. This is because we humans are conniving by nature. We tend to think that we can fool God. A smart person might figure that they will take the free insurance policy and get this business of salvation out of the way, then get back to their busy life. Therein lies the danger of the sinner’s prayer method of evangelism. By making it seem too easy, you get converts who have little or no commitment behind their decision.
The alter call, or even the prayer itself, cannot save you unless you mean it from your heart, truly acknowledge and seek forgiveness of your sins, and welcome Jesus into your heart as Lord. Even then, if this moment passes and nothing more becomes of it, I would question your salvation as it would then seem that it didn’t take. In the Bible God says when you search for me with all your heart you will find me. The key being all your heart. Jesus told us that some seeds of salvation will fall upon the rocky soil and die because they have to moisture.
If you really mean it when you say the sinner’s prayer and die right afterward, yes you will go to heaven. If you are not fortunate enough to die immediately afterward, then you will need to water the seeds of salvation that have just been planted. Jesus told us that some seeds of salvation will be planted among the thorns which will rise up and choke them out – so don’t let that happen! A saved person will experience noticeable change in their life as a result of having received Christ. At the very least, you should find yourself thinking differently about some things.
However Christians certainly do stumble and backslide. That is going to happen as long as we are living in these corrupted bodies, in this ungodly world, surrounded by evil influences. The trick is to keep bouncing back when this happens and not let a backslidden state erode to a place where your very salvation is in question. Peter gives us some great advice on how to avoid this in 2 Peter 1:5-11. Notice in verse 10 and 11 there he guarantees us that if we diligently practice these things our salvation remains steadfastly secure.
• Virtue – display a high moral standard
• Knowledge – study the Word, the Bible, the only real source of truth and knowledge
• Self-control – resist the sinful, gluttonous urges of the flesh
• Perseverance – hang in there until the end
• Godliness – Jesus is our model for behavior
• Brotherly kindness – a fairly reliable sign of a saved person
• Love – an extremely reliable sign of a saved person
It is theoretically possible to pull all of the above off without being saved. Practicing those things cannot save you any more than an insincere sinner’s prayer can save you. The above pursuits are what Peter tells saved people to practice in order to avoid stumbling and backsliding. Personally I feel it is impossible to do them without help; that is without the spirit of God living within you, guiding you. A humble servant is capable of being guided. A stubborn, proud person is not.
The most important thing on the above list that a newly-saved person can pursue in order to make sure his seeds don’t whither (or get choked by thorns) is knowledge. You need to plant those seeds in good soil and water them and keep the weeds out of the garden. Get a Bible and start wearing it out, man. Find some good Bible teachers to read along with. An excellent teaching through the entire Bible can be found here.