What Is the Sinner's Prayer?

By Tony Miano
edited by Matt Slick

The form of the “Sinner’s Prayer” that is under examination by CARM and that is also condemned as being dangerous is the prayer that contains biblically true elements (repentance, belief, praying to Jesus, etc.) but is then concluded with a statement such as, "Because you have prayed this prayer, you are now a Christian."  This final statement of assurance of salvation is unbiblical because we are not saved by praying a special prayer. We are saved by the grace of God who calls us to repentance (Acts 17:30), grants us repentance (2 Timothy 2:25), and grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29). Salvation is God's work in us and though the Sinner's Prayer can be used in concert with salvation, it is not the thing that saves us.

This kind of prayer is often used at the end of a church service by a pastor or evangelist when the officiant of the service makes an invitation for people to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.  Many Christians also use the “Sinner’s Prayer” after sharing the gospel with an unsaved person — using it to encourage the unbeliever who seems willing to become a Christian to make a commitment to Jesus.

We want to avoid given a person a false sense of assurance regarding being saved.

It is okay to help someone pray to receive Christ.  It is okay to inform people about what God requires, about our sinfulness, our need for repentance, and our need to confess Jesus as savior.  It is okay to guide someone in a prayer or repentance and confession.  But it is not okay to say that because they have prayed the prayer, they are now saved.  Again, it is not the prayer that saves.  It is an appeal to God through God's work in the person (John 6:44; 6:65).

What is not okay

When the “Sinner’s Prayer” (mentioned above) is employed, unbelievers are asked to repeat a prayer written by someone else (such as a prayer that appears at the end of a gospel tract); or they are asked to repeat the “Sinner’s Prayer" which is ad-libbed by the person sharing the gospel with them. Again, to make this point clear, the problem is that having prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer,” unbelievers are often assured, either by a pastor, evangelist, or Christian witness, that they are now a Christian because they “prayed the prayer.”  This, assurance, is something that should not be offered since we cannot say that salvation is by a prayer formula.

Can God use the Sinner's Prayer to save someone?  Of course he can.  But that does not excuse us from the responsibility to offer a guarantee of salvation to someone who has prayed.

An example of the Sinner’s Prayer

“Jesus, I now realize I have sinned against you. Please forgive me of my sin. Please come into my life and change my heart. I want you to be my Savior. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.”

There are countless variations of the “Sinner’s Prayer”, some longer and some shorter than the above example. Proponents will often turn to passages such as the following for support of the tradition/practice:

  • Matthew 7:7, "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you."
  • Luke 18:10-14, "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. 11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
  • Romans 10:9-10, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
  • 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
  • Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me."

Each of the scriptures contain truths that are often woven into the Sinner's Prayer in an effort to bring a person to salvation.  However, though the elements are true, we must be careful not to give anyone a false sense of assurance that they are saved simply because it offered a prayer.

 

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