The Sinners Prayer - Can It Save Us?
Today, many preachers and evangelists teach that we must pray the sinner's prayer and accept Christ into our heart as our Lord and Savior. A preacher once told me that nearly all preachers teach the sinners prayer. I suppose he thinks that just because almost all preachers teach it, this makes it right. I agree that "many," if not nearly all, do teach it. It makes sense that they do because Jesus did say that "many" will follow the "broad" path to destruction. Yes, "many" will follow what the majority follows. Jesus even tells us why... partly because of false teachers. (Matthew 7:13-15)
Many teach that at the time of the sinner's prayer, we are forgiven of our sins (washed of our sins)... and that baptism (which is when our sins are actually washed away) is obedience after we are saved.
Despite all the Scriptural evidence we have before us, they still choose to deny the truth. Many preachers and religious teachers believe baptism is an outward sign of an inward change. Ironically, this concept is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It is a man-made philosophical viewpoint with no scriptural proof whatsoever.
I am not surprised at these teachings, although they are false, as this is what I once thought myself... I was among the "many" and agreed with the majority. After careful study of the Scriptures, I learned the truth, and the truth can save us... it is able to set us free. The truth is that the sinner's prayer is not once mentioned in the Bible... men fabricate it. The truth is that the Bible teaches that baptism is when our sins are washed away, and we are forgiven unto salvation... not prayer.
Yes, we pray for forgiveness of sins when we sin after we are saved (1 John 1:9), and God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins. However, God does not respond to the prayer of an unsaved sinner.
Proverbs 15:8-9 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight. The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the LORD: but he loveth him that followeth after righteousness.
Proverbs 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
Psalms 34:15-16 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
Psalms 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:
Isaiah 59:1-2 Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Isaiah tells us that the unsaved sinners' "iniquities have separated" him from God... his "sins have hid His face."
The apostle Peter wrote a similar statement as the Old Testament writers.
1 Peter 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
John wrote that God does not hear sinners, but He does hear "any man" that worships Him... "and doeth His will."
John 9:31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
Jesus said, "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you "... we must be "in Christ" to "ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
John 15:7 "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
Think carefully about this... if we must be "in Christ" for Him to give us what we ask for, then there is no way an unsaved sinner can ask and receive salvation through prayer because an unsaved sinner is not "in Christ" yet... he is out of Christ until he is "baptized into Christ." There is no instruction, nor any example, of anyone being able to get "in Christ" by prayer. The Bible teaches that the only way to get "in Christ" is to be "baptized into Christ."
Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
If there is another way for someone to get "in Christ," God forgot to inspire someone to write it in His Word. If the sinner's prayer is how we get "in Christ," why did God not inspire Paul to refer to the sinner's prayer in the previous verses instead of baptism?
There is not one example in the Bible of a person praying to God for salvation through Christ. Not even one!
Can an unsaved sinner pray to God and receive anything? Let's consider these questions and the answers.
Can an unsaved sinner pray to God for faith? Not according to the Bible.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Can an unsaved sinner pray to God to be born again? Not according to the Bible.
1 Peter 1:22-23 Now that you have obeyed the truth and have purified your souls to love your brothers sincerely, you must love one another intensely and with a pure heart. For you have been born again, not by a seed that perishes but by one that cannot perish-by the living and everlasting word of God.
Can an unsaved sinner pray to God to be converted? Not according to the Bible.
Psalms 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
Can an unsaved sinner pray to God for salvation? Not according to the Bible.
James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
So for what exactly is an unsaved sinner supposed to be praying?
According to the Bible, there are no instructions anywhere that tell us to pray to be saved.
I would surely believe that if Jesus wanted us to be saved through prayer that He would have given us an example, or at very least, He would have instructed us to pray for salvation. Jesus nor any of the apostles ever taught or wrote that we must pray to be saved. God only hears those who worship Him and do His will.
This is not to say that an unsaved sinner cannot pray to God, but the sinner cannot pray to God and have his sins washed away by that prayer. I believe that if a person is genuinely seeking salvation, that person can pray for guidance and pray to God for help. God knows the heart, and in His providence, He can send someone our way to help us understand what we must do for salvation. In Acts 10, Cornelius prayed, and God knew he was praying. God had an angel lead him to Peter so that he could be told what he and his family needed to do to be saved (we will consider this story in more detail later). This was the providence of God at work. I also do not believe that it was a mere coincidence that when I was confused about the truth and asking God for help, that soon after, someone came to me and showed me the truth about salvation. Ultimately the Word of God (the Bible) will be what God uses to teach a person what he must do to be saved. The Holy Spirit works thru God's Word, not directly as some may suggest.
Where did the sinner's prayer come from... where did it originate?
In the 1700s, the following passage may have led to praying associated with acknowledging union with Christ, although it was not coined the "sinners prayer" at that time.
Revelation 3:14-20 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'-and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked- I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me."
Consider who this was written to... it was written to the church at Laodicea where "lukewarm" Christians assembled. Why would those Christians need to pray to be saved... they are already saved. Naturally, when we sin, we need to repent and pray for forgiveness, which is what Jesus is trying to get them to do. However, John Webb M.A. (preacher of a church in Boston) used this passage in the 1700s in an attempt to claim a new method of salvation. Here is what John Webb wrote concerning the passage:
"Here is a promise of Union to Christ; in these words, I will come in to him. i.e. If any Sinner will but hear my Voice and open the Door, and receive me by Faith, I will come into his Soul, and unite him to me, and make him a living member of that my mystical body of which I am the Head." (Christ's Suit to the Sinner, 14)
"If any Sinner"? Again, this is not written to sinners in order to be saved. Regardless I'm not sure how this translates into a prayer based on what he wrote. It sounds more like he suggests that an individual only needs to have faith that Jesus will come into his soul and he will be saved. There may have been a prayer involved in this, but this is only speculation on my part, as I find no solid evidence of it. Granted, I did not research this man in-depth, so there could be more about him that I am not aware of, although it is ultimately irrelevant.
In the late 1860s, an evangelist named Dwight Moody (also the founder of the Chicago Bible Institute) came up with an idea to bring potential converts into a room, talk with them and eventually pray with them, and they would be saved. The idea of receiving Christ by prayer took off across the United States and the United Kingdom in the late 1800s. This prayer was still not called the "sinner's prayer" that we know of today, but it was the foundation of praying for salvation becoming popular.
The term "sinners prayer" began in the early 1900s during the Billy Sunday era. Billy Sunday (see Wikipedia) was a baseball player from Iowa but was converted in Chicago and quit baseball to start his own ministry. He was extremely popular in the early 1900s, becoming a crusade leader who was big into mixing entertainment with his ministry. At times he would offer a prayer of salvation, and other times he told people they were saved just because they walked down the aisle to the front where he stood. All anyone had to do was acknowledge they would follow Christ, and he would declare them saved. Other evangelists followed suit and started the trend of walking the aisle and praying a prayer to be saved. This was when denominations began changing their philosophy on how a person is saved. It was a vast movement.
Billy Sunday died in 1935, and Billy Graham took over the crusade theme in the 1950s. Graham made the sinner's prayer super popular with a specific formula of praying to receive Christ, not only at his crusade events but also on TV in the homes, with the help of another evangelist, Bill Bright. These men created a vast following and denominations set in with the false teaching of the sinner's prayer because of its popularity.
The sinner's prayer was similar to, "Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be."
The problem is you cannot get the sinner's prayer from any passage in the Bible, and no one in the Bible, not the first person, ever prayed the sinner's prayer to be saved. It was created and made popular by men some 1700-1950, years after Jesus and the apostles had already commanded what was necessary for salvation.
C.S. Lewis used the phrase "a great cataract of nonsense" to describe how people use a modern idea to construe Bible theology. If you are not familiar with cataracts, it is basically a blind spot in the eye or haziness in the eye. I've had them removed on both eyes, which helped me see better. Billy Sunday and Billy Graham let it blind them to the truth. Here is what C.S Lewis had to say:
"Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age." (Learning in Wartime, 1939)
You might ask a preacher, or even your preacher, if you already have one, if he believes in the sinner's prayer, and if he can show you where Jesus or the apostles taught the sinners prayer. Then ask him about Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, and 1 Peter 3:21. Have him read one passage at a time and respond to it before moving on to the next passage. Watch his actions as he reacts and perhaps tries to avoid the passages. He may try to tell you these passages do not mean what they say. Generally speaking, those teaching the sinners prayer will usually try to avoid discussing these passages or attempt to explain them away. Chances are they won't finish reading them all before they'll come up with some excuse to avoid them.
Most assuredly, if Jesus Christ wanted us to pray the sinner's prayer to be saved, He would have at least mentioned it once in the Scriptures... wouldn't you think so? I believe He would have at least given us the words to pray. Instead of saying, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved," He would have said, "He who believes and prays the sinner's prayer will be saved,"... but Jesus never said to pray for salvation... not even once. However, Jesus does tell us clearly what we must do. Check out the study article in the menu to the right, How To Become A Christian, and read what Jesus says... or better yet... get your Bible out and search for it... not once does He mention praying to be saved.
The apostles never teach us that praying is what we must do to be saved. They were asked the question, "What shall we do?" and they answered, "Repent, and each one of you be baptized, for the forgiveness of sins..." (Acts 2:38). Those who preach and teach the sinners prayer for salvation have to ignore this passage. They would instead use something that is not in the Bible to instruct people on the way of salvation rather than use the very inspired words that God provided to us. Woe to them!
One preacher I asked about the sinner's prayer claimed that "deliver us from evil" in the "Lord's Prayer" is asking God to save us.
Did Jesus say that this is the prayer that we pray for salvation? No!
If you take that part of the passage entirely out of context, you might somehow come up with the thought that this could mean a prayer for salvation, but in context, we clearly understand what it means.
Consider what Jesus is talking about in the context of these passages.
Matthew 6:1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven."
Matthew 6:6-13 "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]'"
For one thing, Jesus is speaking to the Jews, who are His disciples. Notice He says, "do not use meaningless repetitions as the Gentiles do." Jesus is warning them not to practice righteousness before men to be noticed by men. If we read all of Matthew chapter 6, we will get a better understanding of what Jesus is teaching here, and it is not what to pray to be saved. He is teaching to pray not to be led into temptation but to be delivered from evil. This is to keep the Christian from being tempted by evil. This prayer is for people who are saved already, and this particular portion is to keep the saved from falling into the hands of evil.
Jesus is not teaching unsaved sinners WHAT to pray... He is teaching Christians HOW to pray... "Pray, then, in this way "... and in other translations, "Therefore, this is how you should pray."
I believe it would make sense that if Jesus is teaching us to pray for salvation, He would also teach us "what" to pray as well as "how" to pray. Furthermore, the disciples are a foreshadowing of the church ("called out" as apostles, disciples of Jesus, the church consist of all of the saved), and the teaching by Jesus would thus apply to the church (again the saved) and not the unsaved sinner.
Another passage that many preachers claim references the sinner's prayer is Roman's 10:13.
Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Supposedly when someone prays to accept Jesus into their heart, they are then calling on the name of the Lord. However, this is not what the Scriptures teach us.
It seems those proclaiming this forget that just a few verses before this verse, Paul expresses part of what calling on the name of the Lord is.
Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
We must confess with our mouth (before other men) that Jesus is Lord. Remember the eunuch's confession in the latter part of Acts 8 and how Jesus said in Matthew 10:32 that we must confess Him before men?
We must also believe. So here we have believing and confessing Jesus is Lord as part of calling on the name of the Lord. No prayer is mentioned in these verses, only believing and confessing.
Think about it... if Paul is somehow claiming that calling on the name of the Lord is nothing more than the sinner's prayer, he is contradicting himself in Romans chapter 6. We know that the Bible does not contradict itself, and Paul does not mention the sinner's prayer in these passages. Therefore it cannot be the sinner's prayer he is referencing here. Preachers that are preaching and teaching this are just plain wrong and are trying to support a doctrine made up by men, not from God.
Consider carefully Acts chapter 2, as I mentioned earlier. This is the first time the gospel message was preached in the New Testament. Remember Jesus commanded the Great Commission "beginning in Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). Peter preached and made a similar statement, quoting Joel 2:32.
Joel 2:32(a) And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered:
Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Remember that at the same time Peter was preaching this gospel message in Jerusalem that he obeyed what Jesus taught the apostles and preached exactly what Jesus commanded them to teach. We learned in Luke 24:47 that "repentance and remission of sins," not the sinner's prayer, was what He commanded them to preach. Peter finished the gospel message and told the people what they needed to do to "call on the name of the Lord."
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
You see... Peter told them exactly what calling on the name of the Lord is, and it was exactly what Jesus commanded the apostles to preach.
Let's see how these two passages (Joel 2:32 and Acts 2:38) harmonize with one another so well.
(And it shall come to pass) = (Then Peter said to them)
(that whosoever will) = (every one of you)
(call on) = (repent and be baptized)
(the name of the Lord) = (in the name of Jesus Christ)
(shall be saved) = (for the remission of sins)
Calling on the name of the Lord would include repentance and baptism for the remission of sins.
It is important to note that when the phrase "calling on the name of the Lord" is used in the New Testament, it refers to and is quoting Joel 2:32 from the Old Testament. If it somehow meant praying to God to accept Jesus into our life... how is it possible that Joel could have done this? It's not... because when Joel wrote this, Jesus was not born and had not given the great commission. It is evident that Joel is not alluding to praying to accept Jesus, and it is not what the writers of the New Testament are trying to communicate to us when they quote Joel.
We also have the story of Paul's salvation in Acts 22.
Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
It is abundantly clear that baptism washes away our sins, not prayer... and baptism is no doubt included in calling on the name of the Lord.
Calling on the name of the Lord is to call on Him in the way He has appointed for salvation.
From these passages quoted here, we learn that "calling on the name of the Lord" involves "believing "... "repenting "... "confessing Jesus as Lord "... and "baptism." Nowhere does it reference praying the sinner's prayer.
One final nail on the cross to defeat the sinner's prayer is the account of the only two examples of salvation involving prayer after Jesus rose from the grave and gave specific instructions on what to do to be saved. They were not saved because of prayer, but they did pray before they were saved, yet the prayer is not what washed away their sins. Let's consider these two accounts. One we have already alluded to, and that is Paul's conversion. Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus before he was saved.
Acts 9:10,11 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.
Notice Paul (Saul) was praying when the Lord told Ananias to go and find him. Yes, Saul was praying… but did the praying wash away his sins and cause him to be saved? No it did not. What exactly washed his sins away if prayer did not wash them away? We read it above, and here it is again.
Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
The other example is Cornelius in Acts 10.
Acts 10:2-4 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!" And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?" So he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.
Here is a man who was praying daily, and God knew he was praying. Let's continue the story.
Acts 10:5,6 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do."
Must do for what? What was it that Peter was supposed to tell Cornelius?
In the next chapter, Peter is reporting to the other apostles and brethren in Judea about how the Gentiles were to be saved as well as the Jews and how the proof was in the saving of Cornelius and his family, who were Gentiles. He was getting some contention about the whole ordeal, but he explained exactly what he had to tell Cornelius and his family.
Act 11:12-14 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. (the man's house is Cornelius' house) And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.'
Peter had to tell Cornelius and his family the words by which they would be saved. As we see again, Cornelius was not saved when he was praying. He was told what he had to do, and they were baptized.
Act 10:47,48 "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
The only two examples we have after Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave of anyone praying before they are saved are Paul and Cornelius... and we see that their prayer is NOT what saved them.
Anyone teaching the "sinner's prayer" is teaching a false doctrine. The "sinner's prayer" will NOT save you.
The blood of Christ through obedience to the gospel is what saves us... we must hear the gospel, believe in Jesus, repent of our ways, confess Jesus is the Son of God, and be baptized into the one body, into Christ. There is NO OTHER WAY!
It is what the Holy Scriptures prove... please read the evidence for yourself.
God bless you!