The Sinner’s Prayer Debate

One side of the debate says that the sinner’s prayer is not found in scripture.  Okay, I’ll give you that.  But you loose me on the premise that nowhere is such a prayer commanded nor implied anywhere in the New Testament.  The Apostle’s Creed is not found in scripture, but that is the statement of faith regularly made by many believers.  Each claim is based on scriptural truth.  Below is the sinner’s prayer text, followed by several statements quoted directly from scripture.

The Sinner’s Prayer

Heavenly Father, have mercy on me, a sinner. I believe in you and that your word is true. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he died on the cross so that I may now have forgiveness for my sins and eternal life. I know that without you in my heart my life is meaningless.

I believe in my heart that you, Lord God, raised Him from the dead. Please Jesus forgive me, for every sin I have ever committed or done in my heart, please Lord Jesus forgive me and come into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior today. I need you to be my Father and my friend.

I give you my life and ask you to take full control from this moment on; I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.

“Have mercy on me a sinner,” Luke 18:13, prayed by the tax collector in Jesus’ parable of two men that prayed.  It was this man that went home justified.

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  Acts 2, 23-24, part of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost;  Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10 all describe Christ as the propitiation of sins.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16, aka the gospel in a nutshell.

Jesus, in Col 1, makes peace by the blood of his cross.  In our natural state, the sin nature we inherited from Adam separates us from God.  Romans 5 describes how by one man’s sin (Adam) death entered the world, so by one man’s obidience (Jesus) many will be made righteous.  So, if one recognizes he or she is a sinner, and believes that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, what must one do next?  Romans 10:9-10 says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

The sinner’s prayer is a tool to help someone seeking salvation to find it.  It is not a collection of magic words that must be repeated verbatim no more than the prayer of Jabez or the Lord’s Prayer are.  Asking forgiveness of our sins, belief in God, belief in God’s son, the crucifixion, the resurrection, confessing with the mouth are all scriptural precepts.  Prayer is commanded in scripture.  Come at me again: what is not scriptural about the sinner’s prayer?

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3 thoughts on “The Sinner’s Prayer Debate

  1. No, the ‘sinner’s prayer’ is not commanded, but a sinner needs to give voice to his belief. He needs to respond to the call of Holy Spirit. I would almost say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ is mandatory, though of course, the actual wording is not.

    My objection is when salvation is based on ‘saying a prayer’. As you say, the sinner’s prayer is not a collection of magic words.

    I say this because in decades of children’s and youth ministry, I have been horrified to counsel many who say they are ‘saved’ but on further questioning, can only say ‘my pastor/father/mother/leader/teacher told me I am’ or ‘I prayed a prayer’ or ‘I went forward at Church’ or similar and have NO concept of sin or repentance or reconciliation with God or a changed life.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I go again to Romans 10:10. “With the heart one believes and is justified” comes before “with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” You cannot drag someone to salvation that is without understanding. The result is older youth or even adults that think they were saved when they were kids, or you get individuals that have been “saved” half a dozen times, or every summer at camp for 10 years. This happens because of ineffective leadership, poor counseling and lack of follow up – damage done by zealous Christians with the very best of intentions. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

    If handled correctly, the sinners prayer can be a guide to what we believe about Jesus and how one must respond to the Gospel and be saved.

  3. Baptists vote to keep the Sinner’s Prayer…again

    Preuters News Agency
    London

    Meeting today in London, a convention of the world’s Baptists narrowly endorsed the continued use of the Sinner’s Prayer as the hallmark act of Christian conversion. Here is the final draft of the convention’s statement on this issue:

    “Baptists today again affirm the Sinner’s Prayer as the act by which a sinner is justified before God. To be clear, it is not the recitation of the prayer itself that saves, nor is it necessary to endorse a set order of the words to be prayed, nor must the prayer be verbalized to others. What is necessary for salvation is this: A genuine, heartfelt prayer that 1.) acknowledges one’s sinfulness and hopeless state of perdition before God 2.) cries out to God with true repentance of one’s sins 3.) petitions God for his free gift of salvation 4.) asks Christ to indwell his heart/soul 5.) commits to abandoning his prior sinful lifestyle and promises to follow Christ and his righteousness.”

    Controversy over this statement simmered for the entire three days of the convention. A group of younger Baptists from the developing world pushed for the removal of the Sinner’s Prayer from the Baptist Statement of Faith, declaring that it was unscriptural and lacked any evidence of use in the Early Church. These young people read statements from the Early Church Fathers from the convention podium, noting that requiring a prayer (spoken or thought) for salvation was unheard of in the Early Church. This assertion created quite a stir as many of the older convention attendees were not accustomed to hearing appeals to the “catholic” Church Fathers as a source of authority for Baptist doctrine.

    The younger group put forward a new, brash, proposal as the new official Baptist Act of Christian Conversion:

    “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”

    This proposal prompted outrage from the majority of convention attendees. One prominent Baptist pastor from the United States summed up the majority’s sentiments by this statement:

    “Too Lutheran.”

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