I’m not sure when it started in certain streams of Christianity, but there are whole swaths of people who believe that if you pray a “sinner’s prayer” you are saved. Praying is good, but there is an inherent problem with this idea. There are lots of people who pray the prayer, feel that they have received forgiveness of their sins, rise up justified, and have absolutely no transformation of their lives. They act exactly how they did before praying the sinner’s prayer, only now thinking they are forgiven and saved.
If you look at this passage in Romans, it can offer an antidote to this problem:
If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
On the surface, this looks like it affirms the idea that if one prays a sinner’s prayer one will be saved, except for one crucial fact. Here the confession is that Jesus is Lord. Sinner’s prayers focus on Jesus as Savior. As a result, we have a lot of Christians who happily have Jesus as Savior and have a hard time following Jesus as Lord. Paul is explicit here–Accept Jesus as Lord and you will get him as Savior as well.
If Jesus is Lord in our lives, it means we obey him. Lord is a political term. It means “the one in charge.” If Jesus is Lord in our lives, we will obey his commandments, follow his leading in our lives, and truly seek to do his will on earth as it is in heaven. By confessing this reality in our lives, we can live in an appropriate relationship with Christ, one in which he has saved us to live for him.
If Christians would focus more on Jesus as Lord, they would live a saved life. When Christians focus on Jesus as Savior, we end up getting a lot of people who gladly receive forgiveness of their sins and reluctantly (if at all) follow Christ’s commandments. There is a word for people like that: hypocrites.