Thank you for your question. When you ask, “Should we always lead them into the prayer of salvation,” you are no doubt speaking of the popular “Sinner’s Prayer” which many use in evangelism. In doing this, the believer will usually ask the unbeliever to “repeat this prayer after me” and then they say a prayer that goes something like this: “Lord, I know I am a sinner, but I believe you died for me on the cross. I want You to be my Savior, so I ask you now to forgive me and to come into my life/heart. Amen.” If you study the New Testament (especially the book of Acts where the apostles were engaged in leading souls to Christ) you will not find one example of a believer leading someone in the so-called sinner’s prayer. Instead, we see them presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ and then simply encouraging them to “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts16:31; see also Acts 10:43 and 13:38-39). This shows us that a sinner is saved BY FAITH and not by repeating a certain prayer. I have often told believers that in employing this “unscriptural method” you are asking them to pray something that may NOT be true at all. If they say “I believe You died for me” they may be expressing a FAITH that they don’t even possess. And if they do believe Jesus died for them then they are already saved, and they don’t need to ask the Lord to save them. The sinner’s prayer has done untold harm for many have gone forward to pray at a crusade or for an altar call in a church without faith and yet they are then told “You are now saved because you asked Jesus to be your Savior.” This will give them a FALSE ASSURANCE, for the Bible only gives the true believer the assurance of salvation, as we see in verses like 1st John 5:13, “These things I have written to YOU WHO BELIEVE IN THE NAME OF THE SON OF GOD, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW YOU HAVE ETERNAL LIFE” (NASB). Since you will never find the sinner’s prayer in the Bible, you will never find the assurance of salvation and eternal life based on “praying the sinner’s prayer.” So, my answer to you is, “We should NEVER lead them into the prayer of salvation.”

Having said that, we can and should pray for them (not “with them” but “for them”) and this would include praying for their salvation. We read in 1st Timothy 2:1, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of ALL MEN.” It goes on to say (in verses 3-4), “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who DESIRES ALL MEN TO BE SAVED and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Of course, our prayers for men to be saved may primarily take place when we are alone with our God (see Matthew 6:5-6), but I believe it would not be out of place to pray for an unbeliever when you are visiting them. I have often asked one who is sick if I could pray for them. If they say yes, I usually pray for the Lord to heal their body if it is His will and then I also ask the Lord to work in their heart to bring them to see their need of Jesus Christ for the salvation of their soul. Praying for them to come to see their need of Christ to be saved may cause them to respond by saying, “What did you mean in your prayer when you talked about the salvation of my soul?” This question opens the door for you to share the gospel with them and after you present the gospel you can then plead with them to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

In closing, let’s remember that salvation is GOD’S WORK. We are privileged to preach the gospel to lost souls, but the results are left to God. Salvation and the New Birth is accomplished through “the Spirit of God and the Word of God” (see John 3:3-8; James 1:18 and 1st Peter 1:22-23). We “sow the good seed of God’s Word in the hearts of unbelievers,” but it is “God who brings the seed of the Word to fruition.” The apostle Paul put it this way, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as they gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God GAVE THE INCREASE” (1st Corinthians 3:5-6).  (DO)  (506.1)