THE SINNER'S PRAYER
Revised February 22, 2011 by Ron Hutchison

The most important question that any one can ask is "what must I do to be saved?"  There are several answers given to this question in the religious world, but one common answer has to do with "The Sinners Prayer." 

I would like to begin our study by reprinting an example of the sinners prayer that I copied from a website.  I believe it to be typical of what many preachers tell people to pray in order to be saved.  It goes like this:

"Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, in need of your forgiveness. I believe what Your Word tells me, that You died on the cross, bearing all my sins, and that You arose from death, so that I could be forgiven.  I thank You, Lord, for this precious gift, and I pray that You will help me turn away from my sins, so that I can live a life that is pleasing to You. I turn my life over to You now, as I accept You into my heart.  Thank You, Jesus, for saving me, and for being Lord of my life. In Jesus name I pray, Amen."

After this "prayer," the following words are added:

"Congratulations! If you prayed this prayer earnestly, from your heart, you are now a Christian. Your sins have all been washed away by the precious blood of Jesus. And now you have a home in heaven with your wonderful Savior! PRAISE THE LORD!"

This is not unlike many of the prayers uttered every Sunday morning on the radio and TV and in many denominations across the world.  Millions of tracts have been distributed in hospitals, restaurants, hotels and other places that have this prayer in them. 

THE SINNERS PRAYER IS NOT IN THE BIBLE

The first objection to the "sinners prayer" has to do with a very obvious fact: If the "sinners' prayer" was required by God it would be included in the Bible as a command and an example for us to follow. Would you not agree with this statement?  If God required you to pray a prayer in order to receive forgiveness of your sins and to become a Christian, He would have given us an example of what prayer to pray and He would have told us in His inspired word to pray that prayer for forgiveness.  But the following is an indisputable fact:

THE SINNER'S PRAYER IS NOT IN THE BIBLE, AND THERE IS NO RECORD OF JESUS, THE APOSTLES, ANY EVANGELIST OR ANY OTHER CHRISTIAN IN THE FIRST CENTURY EVER TELLING AN ALIEN SINNER TO PRAY FOR SALVATION! 

Look from the first verse of the first chapter of the Book of Matthew to the last verse of the last chapter of the last book Revelation, and you will never find the so-called "sinner's prayer."  It is not in the Bible! 

It is unfortunate that so few people question the authenticity of the "sinner's prayer." It is so common for preachers to tell people to pray this prayer, and people have heard it so long in their assemblies and on TV and the radio, that they just accept it as truth without question. Why are there so many who claim to follow the Bible as their authority in religion and yet teach the sinner's prayer which is  not in the Bible?  It is probable that many have accepted the "sinner's prayer" because someone they trusted and respected taught them to accept it or because it is what they have heard all their life and they have never studied the Bible for themselves to see if it is so.

I know in today's politically correct environment it is a terrible sin in the eyes of many people to question someone else's religious beliefs.  But all we ask is that you be like the noble Bereans of Acts 17:11, who upon hearing the apostles preach, "searched the scriptures daily, to find out whether these things were so."  If more people had this attitude of searching the Scriptures to see whether things they were taught were so, there would be far less error in the world today, and the so-called sinner's prayer would cease to exist.  Only the truth can set us free, Jesus said in John 8:32.  But error, if believed and obeyed, will keep us in the bonds of sin all of our lives and the result will be the loss of our souls.

So, our first objection to the "sinners prayer" is that it is not taught in the Bible.

THE SINNER'S PRAYER ADDRESSES JESUS

The second objection to the "sinners prayer" is that it is addressed to Jesus rather than the Father. Notice the prayer above begins with "Dear Lord Jesus." When Jesus gave the model prayer in Matthew 6:9 He said that we are to pray, "Our Father in heaven." He made clear that prayer is to be addressed to the Father, not to the Son.  Do you know of any example given in the New Testament anywhere, where we are taught to pray to Jesus for salvation?  Do you know of any example in the New Testament where Jesus, one of the apostles, an inspired Evangelist or any other Christian ever taught that we are to pray to Jesus for salvation?  I challenge you to find just one passage that teaches such. 

Our prayers are to be addressed to the Father in the name of the Son.  On one occasion the apostle Paul wrote, "giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20). Paul said he gave thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul prayed to the Father in the name of the Son.  He did not pray to the Son.  Paul said, "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Ephesians 3:14).  Who did Paul bow his knees to? The Father, not the Son.  We must follow the pattern Paul used in our prayers today.  We pray to the Father in the name of the Son.  Thus, the sinner's prayer begins in an unscriptural way.  The prayer is addressed to the Son rather than the Father. [See also, Are We To Pray Directly To Jesus?]

So, our second objection to the sinners prayer is that it is addressed to the wrong person in the Godhead.

 ALIEN SINNERS WERE NEVER TOLD TO PRAY FOR SALVATION

Our third objection to the "sinners prayer" is that alien sinners were never told in the first century to pray for salvation. I have already stated that Jesus, the apostles, the first century evangelists, nor any other Christian in the first century ever once taught that the alien sinner must offer prayer to receive salvation. To see this, all you have to do is examine the cases of conversion in the book of Acts, which we will do now.

The first gospel sermon was preached on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  After Peter and the other apostles had preached the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord to the Jews who were gathered there that day, some of them were convicted in their hearts that they were sinners and in need of salvation.   They asked Peter and the other apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"  (Acts 2:37). This would have been a perfect time for Peter to have answered them, "repeat this prayer after me and you will receive the forgiveness of sins and will become a Christian." Or, he could have replied, "Receive Christ as your personal Savior and repeat this prayer."  And then he could have uttered the prayer and had them repeat it after him.  But is that how Peter replied to their question?  Read Peter's reply for yourself.  Acts 2:38 says, "Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.'"  I want to ask you a question. Did Peter get it wrong?  Did he make a mistake?  Should he have said something else?  Who is right about what one must do to be saved -- those preachers today who tell you to pray the sinner's prayer or the inspired apostle Peter?  Why can't preachers today just give people the same answer that Peter gave them?  "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins...."?  Is that so hard to understand?  Is that so hard to accept?  Is that not the answer that preachers ought to be giving? If not, why not? 

[Note: The Bible does not teach anywhere that Jesus is "your personal Savior." The dictionary defines "personal" as, "of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person." If Jesus is your personal Savior, that means He can't be the Savior of anyone else because by using the word "personal" you are saying that He only saves you. Yet, the Bible teaches that He came to save the world (John 3:16; 4:42; 12:47; 1 John 4:14); that He is the Savior of the body - the church (Ephesians 5:23). If He is your personal Savior, He cannot be the Savior of the church - He could not have come to save the world. It is wrong to refer to Jesus as your personal Savior because He is the Savior of all who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25).]

In Acts chapter 8 we have the account of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch.  The Eunuch was reading the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 53, which is a prophecy concerning Christ.  The Holy Spirit directed Philip the evangelist to go to the Eunuch and ask him a question: "Do you understand what you are reading?" The Eunuch replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"  The Eunuch then invited Philip to come on board the chariot with him and the Bible says, "The place in the Scripture which he read was this: 'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.' So the eunuch answered Philip and said, 'I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?' Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him."  The Bible then says, "Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?'"  Would this not have been the perfect time for Philip to tell the Eunuch, "You don't have to be baptized right now. The only thing you must do is to receive Christ as your personal Savior and repeat this prayer after me"?  Then Philip could have uttered the sinner's prayer and the Eunuch could have repeated the prayer.  But when you read the account, you don't find Philip saying anything about a sinner's prayer.  The Bible says in verse 37,  "Then Philip 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.' So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing." Now if one can be saved by uttering a "sinner's prayer", then why didn't Philip tell the Eunuch to pray for salvation?  Why did Philip go to all of this trouble to baptize him?

Was the Eunuch converted to Christ?  Did the Eunuch receive salvation?  The answer to those questions is yes.  Did he receive salvation as a result of praying the sinners prayer?  The answer to that question is no!  The inspired evangelist Philip said absolutely nothing about the Eunuch praying for salvation. The Eunuch was saved when he did what Philip taught him to do.  Since the Eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" we must conclude that in preaching Jesus to the Eunuch, Philip taught the necessity of baptism. Why else would the Eunuch have asked this question?  Thus, the Eunuch was not saved as a result of praying the sinners prayer. He was saved when he obeyed the gospel. And involved in obeying the gospel was baptism. 

Look at the account of the conversion of the apostle Paul.  This account is remarkable because it is the only account of conversion of which we have three records given.  You will recall that Paul, who at that time was called Saul, was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and to take them back to Jerusalem.  On the way, the Bible says,  "...and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' So he, trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' Then the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do'" (Acts 9:3-6). Notice that Saul was not saved on the road to Damascus.  Jesus told him to go into the city and it would be told him what he must do.  At this time Saul did not know what to do. The only thing he could do was to go to the city and wait to find out.  Now Jesus could have told Saul right there to pray to Him to be saved. But He did not.  He told him to go into the city and he would be told what he must do. Verse ten says, "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. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.'" Please notice what Jesus said Saul was doing.  He said, "for behold, he is praying."  Now if one is saved by prayer, surely Saul must have been saved at this point.  If he was saved, then why send Ananias to tell him what he must do?  Why not just send Ananias to tell him, "you have been saved as a result of your prayer"?  In Acts chapter 22, in his defense before the Jews, Saul told about his conversion to Christ.  He repeated the things we have already read in chapter nine. In verse ten he repeated what Jesus told him when he asked, "'What shall I do Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.'"  Let me point out that there was something the Lord had planned for Saul to do in the city of Damascus.  There was something appointed for him to do.  Was that to pray?  Let us see.  Read verses 12 through 16 of chapter 22. "'Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me; and he stood and said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. 'For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'" When Ananias came and told Saul what the Lord would have him do -- what was appointed for him to do to be saved (because that was what Saul was asking about) -- what did he tell him?  "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."  Ananias told Saul that what the Lord would have him do -- what was appointed for him to do -- was to be "baptized and wash away his sins."  My friends, if sins are washed away as a result of prayer, then why was Saul's sins not washed away before Ananias came to him, because "behold he is praying."  Saul was praying. But he was still in his sins.  When did he have his sins washed away?  When he complied with what was appointed for him to do.  Now some say that the "calling on the name of the Lord" was prayer.  But that could not be, because he had already been praying.  I submit to you that the calling upon the name of the Lord was his appeal to God for a clean conscience by obeying the gospel as 1 Peter 3:21  (ESV) teaches.  The calling upon the name of the Lord took place when he obeyed the gospel.  It was not prayer but obedience in doing what was appointed for him to do.  There is absolutely nothing in the account of the conversion of Saul that indicates that either Jesus or Ananias told him to pray for salvation. Nothing.

So, our third objection to the "sinners prayer" is that no alien sinner in the first century (when the apostles were living) was ever told to pray for salvation. Surely, if God's way of salvation is to pray the sinners prayer, the apostles would have told people to do that in the first century. But there is no record that they ever did. 

CONCLUSION

We could continue to study each account of conversion recorded in the book of Acts and we would find the same truth. There is never any mention of any sinner being told to pray to receive salvation.  It is just not there!  Now, if it is not in the Bible, why teach it?  Why do it?  If it is not sanctioned by God in His word, by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by the inspired apostles and evangelists in the first century, why teach it?  How can we teach it and still truthfully claim to be teaching the Bible and honoring Jesus Christ? 

My friends, rather than the accounts of conversion teaching us that we must pray the sinner's prayer to be saved, they teach us that one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God; one must confess that belief with the mouth before men; one must turn from his sins in repentance; and one must be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins.  I challenge you to read every account of conversion in the book of Acts and see whether these things are so.   

If we can assist you in your study of the Bible, please contact us. 


RETURN TO MAIN PAGE