Specifically, if you want to "accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior" you need to say a prayer "accepting Jesus into your heart."
I always find this language jarring. Especially from conservative and evangelical Christians who value the bible so highly.
Because where, ever, in the whole of the bible does anyone, ever, ask someone to say a prayer "accepting Jesus into your heart"?
It's just nowhere to be found the bible. So why do bible-thumping people keep saying it?
Biblically, the proper response to the gospel is baptism. Over and over in the book of Acts that's what people do in responding to the gospel.
It's there right at the beginning on the day of Pentecost:
Acts 2.37-38It's there in Acts 8, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch:
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Acts 8.34-38How about in the next chapter, the conversion of Saul/Paul?
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
Acts 9.17-18Let's keep it rolling. What about the conversion of Cornelius and the first Gentile converts?
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
Acts 10.44-48A final example, the conversion of Lydia:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Acts 16.14-15Like I said, biblically-speaking the proper response to the gospel is baptism. Baptism is what you are supposed to do when you want to "accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior." Never once does Peter, James, John, Paul or anyone else in the New Testament ask people to bow their heads to say a prayer accepting Jesus into their hearts.
One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.
Biblically, things could not be more clear. If you want people to respond to the gospel you say, "Repent. Believe the Good News. Confess Jesus as Lord. And be baptized."
To be very clear, lest I be misunderstood, I'm working here with an evangelical frame regarding the necessity of being "born again," which is the framework of my faith tradition. I'm not trying to adjudicate here between infant baptism or believer's baptism. Nor am I saying that if you aren't baptized that you haven't accepted Jesus as Lord, which I take to be the decisive issue. What I am talking about is how weird and unbiblical--in both word and ritual--is "the Sinner's prayer."
The proclamation of the gospel is an apocalyptic event. The gospel isn't a sales pitch. The gospel is news. In Jesus something happened. The gospel is a revelation. A revelation--an apocalypse--that a new reality has broken upon us in a way that breaks us, a new reality--that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated in the person of Jesus--that interrupts and disrupts everything that we thought we knew about ourselves, our world and the cosmos.
And in the face of that apocalypse we adjust ourselves to this new reality, renouncing former allegiances to declare Jesus as King. Everything has changed. Baptism is the ritual of this adjustment.
Baptism is the ritual that signifies the apocalyptic rupture in our lives.