The most commonly given answer to the question about salvation is, “If you want to be saved then just say the sinner’s prayer.” That prayer was unknown in the first century. It was unknown in the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth and for 15 centuries after Jesus started the church.
I am amazed how some individuals respond when they are shown the Bible’s answer to the question about salvation. Those who crucified Jesus asked the question about what they should do to be forgiven of their sins. (Acts 2:37) The answer given by the Holy Spirit was, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Heaven’s answer to the question of salvation was that those who believed were to repent and be baptized, and God would forgive them.
When Saul (who later became the apostle Paul) was confronted by Jesus, he asked Him what he should do to get the Lord to forgive him. The Lord’s response was for him to go into the city of Damascus, and there he would learn what he must do. (Acts 9:6) It was three days before God’s messenger told him what he must do in order to have Jesus wash away his sins. “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16) He still had his sins; he was not yet forgiven, even though he was a believer who had repented. Notice again, that penitent believer had to be baptized for his sins to be washed away.
The response given by those who think God’s answer to the salvation question is to say the sinner’s prayer is that surely baptism cannot be necessary because we are not saved by works. It is true that no single person has ever been or ever will be saved by his own works of which he could boast. Salvation is by faith and its response to learning of His grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Now, think about it for a moment. Is that person who says the sinner’s prayer doing anything? Yes, he is actively involved. What about the person who is being baptized? He is passive. He stands helpless before God and lets others immerse him. He is doing no “work” at all. The person who seeks salvation by saying a prayer is active. The person who is being baptized is passive — he is doing nothing but standing passively, helpless before God.
To say that those who killed Jesus were trying to earn their salvation by humbly letting others immerse them do not understand what baptism is. Read the book of Acts and study every account of salvation. They are all the same. All were humbly baptized. Not a single one said the sinner’s prayer.