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The Sinner's Prayer


Recently my wife and I attended a concert. At the close of this event one of the singers with the others as background offered the "sinner’s prayer." It was quite touching. But on reflection, I wanted to know their justification and asked for an example of the prayer of faith in the Scriptures. Two pastors were kind enough to reply. The discussion that follows is based upon their response.

What is the "sinner’s prayer?"

According to one of the pastors. "The sinner’s prayer is a reaching out to God for salvation. The lost person prays to God our Father, confessing his sinfulness, asking for forgiveness. He prays and receives Christ as his personal savior."

Is this true, or is this man deceived? Each one of us has not only the right but also the responsibility before God to examine the teaching we hear and come to our own conclusion. I am convinced this individual is sincere, but the sincere can also be deceived.

Give an example of a sinner’s prayer.

According to one Pastor Luke 18: 13-14 is a great example of a sinner’s prayer. Is this an example of a sinner’s prayer? Certainly it is. A sinner is praying to God. Is this an example of how people in the 20th century should reach out to God for salvation? You decide. This tax-gather, we assume was a Jew, lived under the old covenant. There is no indication that he knew anything about Christ, or believed in Christ. There is no indication that he received Christ as his personal Savior. Was he justified? Certainly he was. Jesus said he was, but he was justified as a Jew by faith in God. At this point in time Jesus had not offered His life as a ransom for all.

What are some of the passages used to support the sinner’s prayer?

For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3: 16

What shall we conclude? Is there anything in this passage that speaks about praying to God? No, this passage says that those who believe should not perish but have eternal life. Did Jesus mean that we must only believe? Evidently not because He told Nicodemus that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." Jesus also said, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself." and "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." and "Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before My father who is in heaven." and "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." In the 36th verse we find this statement, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." See the sense believe is used? If we truly believe we will obey. If we claim to believe but don’t obey we have an incongruity.

Where is eternal life? Eternal life is in Christ. Those that believe have eternal life because faith is our authority, our power, and our right to proceed with the process. The next step is to enter into Christ and we do that through baptism. "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death." Romans 6: 3 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ." Galatians 3: 27

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those that believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1: 12, 13

What does "as received" Him mean?

"As received" means to believe in His name, as the latter part of the shows. It is contrasted with those of His own people, the Jews, who rejected Him.

Were they by so doing, children of God?

No, they were given the power or authority or the right to become children of God. Why? When you come to faith in God you are begotten by God through the word. On the regeneration level you cannot be born until you have been begotten. But also you are not considered a child of God until you have been born of water (baptism) and the Spirit (received the gift of the Holy Spirit.)

What was their status before God?

They were believers in God, but not yet children of God. When one comes to faith in God, he is by the exercise of the will of God, begotten of God. This is accomplished through the word of God, the seed. This seed is implanted in the heart and produces a new creation. When developed this new creation must be brought forth or born of water and the Spirit. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus, a believer, that he must be born again of water and the Spirit.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works, that no one should boast. Ephesians 2: 8, 9

For by grace:

By grace God formulated a plan before we were even created.

By grace God choose us in Christ before the foundation of the world

By grace Jesus tasted death for everyone.

By grace God sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

By grace God ordained that the message should be preached to the entire world.

By grace we believe.

By grace, not by law God has saved us.

You have been saved through faith:

Faith in God is the principle of life Hebrew 10 38; Romans 1: 17;

Galatians 3: 11

Faith is our introduction, our key that unlocks the door to God’s grace.

Romans 5: 2

Faith is the foundation stone upon which obedience rest. Romans 1: 5; 16: 26

We are begotten of God when we come to faith. James 1: 18

Without faith it is impossible to be pleasing to God. Hebrews 11: 6

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. Galatians 3: 26, 27

Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Colossians 2: 12

And that not of yourselves:

We are begotten of God through the word. James 1: 18; 1 Peter 1: 23

Believing is the work of God. John 6: 29

We are in Christ by His doing. 1 Corinthians 1: 30

Obedience is God working in us both to will and to do. Philippians 2: 12, 13

Our labors are a mere reflection of the grace of God working in us.

1 Corinthians 15: 10

It is the gift of God:

God gives the Holy Spirit to those that obey Him. Acts 5: 32

Does He give salvation to those who through faith obey? Hebrews 5: 8, 9

Must we obey the gospel? 2 Thessalonians 1: 8

Not as a result of works:

Not of works of the law. Galatians 3; 2

Not of works of righteousness. Titus 3: 5

Not of works of merit. Romans 4: 4

Not of works of which we may boast. Ephesians 2: 9

But what about the obedience of faith. Acts 5: 7; Romans 1; 5; 16: 26

But what about the work of faith. 1 Thessalonians 1: 3

But what about the labor of love. 1 Thessalonians 1: 3

But what of working out our salvation, as the Lord works in us both to will and do.

Philippians 2: 12, 13

For, "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved."

Romans 10: 13

What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? Evidently it means more than just believing because in verse 11 Paul quoted the Scripture "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed." The Apostle asks in verse14, "How then shall they call upon Him in who they have not believed"? Remember, Jesus said, "Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." Evidently it means more than calling out to the Lord and claiming to have worked miracles in His name. Paul the Apostle, at his conversion, was told, "And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and washing away your sins, calling on his name."

You decide. In my mind calling on the Lord has to do with doing the will of the Lord. For Paul, "calling on the name of the Lord" has to do with obeying the Lord in baptism.

The Proof Of The Pudding Is IN The Eating

We can discuss and argue about the "sinner’s pray" but sooner or later we must "eat the pudding", we must go to actual cases of conversions as they are given to us in the Scriptures. We start with the conversions on the first Pentecost after the resurrection because this is beginning of repentance for forgiveness of sins beginning at Jerusalem. Luke 24: 46, 47

Pentecost- Were the 3,000 at Pentecost told to pray to God and ask Him to forgive their sins and come into their hearts? No, Peter told those Jews that were pierced to the heart, "Repent and let each of you be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Samaritans- Did the Samaritans pray to God? No, "But when they believed Philip preaching the good new about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike." Acts 8:12

The Ethiopian- What did Philip tell the Ethiopian? The Ethiopian asked, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And Peter said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he ordered the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him." Acts 8: 36-38

Saul (the Apostle Paul)- The Lord appeared to him on the way to Damascus. He was blinded and did neither eat nor drink for three days. The Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision and told him to go to Saul, who was praying. Do you get the picture Saul was praying and fasting for three days. Ananias gave Paul the message and then say "And why do you delay? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name." If there ever was an individual who could have prayed the sinner’s prayer, it was Paul. Ananias did not tell him to pray and ask the Lord to come into his life. Later it would be this apostle who would explain the significance of baptism. "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." We through faith are baptized into Christ, we don’t pray for Him to come into our hearts. We are united with Him in the likeness of his death and resurrection. Acts 9:4-19: 22: 13-17; Roman 6: 3-5

Cornelius- Cornelius was a devout man, gave much alms and prayed continually. He was told not to pray for forgiveness, and that the Lord might come into his heart but rather to send to Joppa for Peter the Apostle. To hear a message from him. As Peter was speaking to them about Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon all of those listening. Then Peter said, "Surely no man can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can He?"

The examples go on and on, Lydia, the Philippian jailor, and the disciples at Ephesus. Read it yourself. Please! Not one word about the sinner’s prayer in the whole lot. The sinner’s prayer is a fiction designed to support a fallacious doctrine, salvation by faith alone. The Scriptures teach "salvation by grace through faith" but not "salvation by faith alone." Martin Luther was appalled by some of the teaching and practices of the Catholic Church, and rightly so, but unwittingly he overcorrected. When driving, if you run off the road, you must be very careful not to overcorrect and end up in a ditch on the other side. Balance is our goal. Any doctrine taken to the extreme will result in error. We must not suppose that faith is the result of obedience, on the contrary the Scriptures speak of the "obedience of faith." Faith is the principle, obedience the particular. But by the same token, we must not suppose that faith excludes obedience. James tells us that the faith, which does not elicit a response, is dead and useless.

Now don’t misunderstand. We should pray and we should confess our sins but if you are not a Christian there are some things you need to do first. God has warned that we were all sinners and we were all subject to the penalty of sin, which is death. But God has graciously accepted the death of His Son, the Righteous One, in full payment for our sins. To avail ourselves of that gift we must be united with Him in baptism. We cannot be united with Him in life until we have shared in His death.

If you want to find legitimate examples of conversion begin reading the Acts of the Apostles. You will find God’s way of salvation revealed. If you have questions, contact me. I would be happy to share what I can.

An old, southern preacher, Jack Exum, who I have come to respect says, "The MAINEST THING is the PLAINEST THING." He is right. If you can’t plainly read about the "sinners prayer" in the Scriptures then it is certainly not a main thing. In fact, it is no thing at all. I fear that many do not believe and obey God because of such doctrines. God bless. Arland Pafford

When we walk with the Lord

In the light of His word

What a glory He sheds on our way

While we do His good will

He abides with us still

And with all who will trust and obey

Trust and obey

For there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus

But to trust and obey


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Last Update   09/26/12