Praying for Salvation
Why do we pray to God for salvation? When I was a boy, I can recall praying for the salvation of a man named Tom at church prayer meetings. Tom was an unbeliever and the husband of a Christian lady who often requested prayer for him in the church where I grew up. The years we spent praying for Tom’s salvation made a lasting impression upon me.
Praying for salvation throughout the Bible can mean different things. It can mean praying for salvation from earthly enemies as when God gave salvation to Israel from the Egyptians (Ex. 14:13). It can mean praying for salvation from physical sickness as when Hezekiah prayed and God healed him (Isa. 38). It can mean praying for salvation from earthly perils as when the disciples cried out to Jesus to save them from the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:25). It can also mean praying for salvation from sin and the just judgment of God against sin as when John the Baptist went as a herald preparing the way before Jesus giving “knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Lk. 1:77).
I would like to focus on the last sense of salvation mentioned in the paragraph above, namely praying for salvation from sin and the judgment of God. Still, we must narrow our focus further, because space will not permit us to address both praying for own salvation and praying for the salvation of others – what we might call a personal prayer for salvation and an evangelical prayer for salvation. I am going to assume that if you are reading this post that you have already prayed for God to personally save you from your own sins and His just judgment for your sins and that you are praying for the salvation of others. It was in the latter evangelical sense that I can recall praying for Tom’s salvation as a boy. There are at least four reasons why we should pray to the God of the Bible to save others from sin and judgment.
A Biblical Reason
To begin with, there is good biblical reason for us to pray for salvation in this sense, because the Bible itself encourages us to pray for the salvation of others. This biblical encouragement comes by way of example and exhortation. In both of these ways, the apostle Paul is instructive.
Paul’s example in Romans 10 confirms that there is solid, biblical reason for evangelical prayers for salvation. Paul had just been lamenting the unbelief of his fellow Jews who failed to believe in Jesus (Rom. 9:30-33) and he says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). As Paul continues in this chapter, he helps us to better understand what his prayer for their salvation likely consisted of – that they would abandon self-righteousness and find their righteousness exclusively in Christ by faith (Rom. 10:3-8), that they would believe in their heart and confess with their own mouth that Jesus was the risen Lord (Rom. 10:9-13), and to that end that God would send preachers of the gospel to them (Rom. 10:14-17).
This example of Paul’s prayer helps us understand what we mean when we pray for the salvation of others. We are praying that others would believe in their own hearts and confess with their own mouths, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). In other words, our praying for their salvation is no substitute for their praying for their salvation; we are praying that they will pray to God to save them personally from sin and judgment.
Paul not only gives us a biblical example to follow in Romans, but he also gives us a biblical exhortation to pray for the salvation of others in his first letter to Timothy. Paul says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (2 Tim. 2:1). The sweep of Paul’s prayers here is broader than that of Romans 10, because Paul not only has in mind fellow-Jews but “all people,” including “kings and all who are in high positions” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul continues by stating, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). What is good? Prayer for others. Why is it good? Because our God and Savior wants others to experience salvation, too.
A Theological Reason
Undergirding this biblical pattern of prayer for salvation from sin and judgment on behalf of others is an important theological rationale, namely that the God of the Bible is the only Savior of sinners. For instance, the Bible is full of prayers identifying God as the God of salvation. Psalm 88:1 says, “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before You,” and Psalm 18:46b says, “exalted be the God of my salvation.” 1 Chronicles 16:35a says, “Say also: ‘Save us, O God of our salvation…’” Likewise the prophet Micah says, “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7).
When the God of salvation entered into this world by His Son, His divinely given name identified Him as the Savior of sinners. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21b). The name “Jesus” is a derivative of the Old Testament Hebrew name “Joshua” or “Yeshua” which can either mean “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” A key reason God sent His Son named “Jesus” into the world to die on the cross was to accomplish salvation for sinners.
But is there salvation from sin and judgment anywhere outside of Christ and His cross? We might be able to find temporal relief from enemies, illnesses and other troubling circumstances somewhere else, but when it comes to salvation from sin and the resulting eternal judgment of God there is salvation exclusively in Jesus Christ. Peter makes this point clear in Acts 4:12 when he declares this about Jesus – “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus has a “corner” on salvation from sin and judgment, which means that we must pray to Him and to Him alone for salvation.
A Doctrinal Reason
When we pray for the salvation of others from sin and judgment and we pray this prayer to the God of salvation who saves exclusively in His Son Jesus, there is a vital, biblical doctrine prompting that prayer. It is a doctrine that reformed Christians openly affirm, a doctrine that some professing Christians adamantly deny but a doctrine that everyone who sincerely prays for the salvation of others practically affirms. The doctrine I’m referring to, of course, is the doctrine of God’s complete sovereignty – sovereignty even over one’s salvation from sin and judgment.
Although this doctrine has come on hard times in some Christian circles, it is a doctrine that is affirmed every time any Christian prays for the salvation of somebody else. In his book entitled Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God J.I. Packer insightfully writes, “Nor, again, am I going to spend time proving to you the particular truth that God is sovereign in salvation. For that, too, you believe already.” One of the reasons Packer then gives to prove his point is that “You pray for the conversion of others.” What Packer helps us understand is that we are all functionally affirming this doctrine of God’s sovereignty when we pray to Him to save someone else. This is true, because we are acknowledging that the person cannot save himself and neither can we! Only the God of salvation is able to bring to life someone dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5) and give them the gift of faith and salvation (Eph. 2:8-10).
If salvation is in God alone and if God is completely sovereign over salvation, then it stands to reason that God saves everyone whom He chooses to save, that is His elect (Eph. 1:4-5). To which someone might ask – If God has already chosen to save some, why then should I pray for the salvation of others? The answer, in short, is because prayer is one of the means that God uses to save those whom He predestined to save. John Piper put it like this, “prayer for the salvation of the lost is rooted in election. Prayer is one of God’s appointed means of bringing the elect to faith.” What a privilege that the God who sovereignly saves graciously uses our prayers to bring others to salvation!
A Doxological Reason
In addition to these reasons why we should pray for the salvation of others, we must also add a doxological reason. Though desire for the deliverance of sinners should compel us to pray for their salvation, their deliverance is not the ultimate reason we pray for them. God’s glory must be the chief reason that we pray for the salvation of others.
One way that God receives glory when we ask Him to save others is in the asking itself. In doing so, we extol God’s sovereign power to do what neither we nor others are capable of doing. If our chief end in life is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), one specific way that we can bring Him glory is by praying for Him to save others from sin and judgment.
God also receives glory when our prayers for the salvation of others are answered. The psalmist makes this point when he says, “Sing to the LORD, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:2). In the New Testament Paul also connects God’s praise with the salvation of others – “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). Our prayers of intercession for God to save others should give way to prayers of praise when He does save – doxology!
As a boy I was not conscious of all of these reasons we were praying for Tom’s salvation from sin and from God’s judgment. I think I had some idea of the biblical examples and exhortations to pray for him, but I cannot say that I took the time to think about the theological and doctrinal reasons we prayed for him. When God eventually answered those prayers, however, and Tom himself prayed for God to save him from sin and judgment, there was no lack of praise to the God of salvation!
1. Packer, J.I. (1991). Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (p.12). Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.
2. Ibid, (p.15).
3. Piper, J. (2000). The pleasures of God: meditations on God’s delight in being God (Rev. and expanded, p. 217). Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.
by Rev. Chad Mullinix