I have been observing comments and remarks with increasing frequency regarding the notion of "the sinner's prayer" and much of them express everything from doubt to disparagement. Is this a biblically sound concept, or a contrivance of popular Western Christianity?
To be fair, we don't see the phraseology of "the sinner's prayer" anywhere in Scripture; then again, what we commonly refer to as "the LORD's Prayer" (MATT. 6:9-13) isn't - it's more a "Disciple's Prayer" than anything else (the petition to "forgive us our trespasses" cannot be applied to the sinless Lamb of God, but certainly to us sinners!). The real "LORD's Prayer could rightly be attributed to JOHN 17 instead.
Yet the portion of Scripture found in MATT 6 is usually referred to as the LORD's Prayer any way; it's our own way of referring to it with an extra-biblical title. I suppose the same could be said regarding the 'sinner's prayer'.
Many object to the idea of saying a simple prayer, and at it's conclusion the pastor or evangelist would proclaim those who said it as "saved" and they then "welcome [them] to the family of God." I certainly would find issue with that sort of conduct and for very specific reasons.
I would like to quote a typical "sinner's prayer" and go over it, line after line and see if we can find any biblical basis for this concept.
Of course there are many different versions of this prayer, but they all (usually) contain the same elements and ideas. Here is one by way of example:
"LORD I confess that I have sinned and that I am a sinner. I admit that I have lived a life of sin against Your holy will and Your holy law. I understand that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, that He took the punishment that should have been mine, upon Himself. I acknowledge that Jesus rose from the dead, being victorious over sin and death and offers to us eternal life and salvation to all who will believe in Him. Thank You LORD for Your sacrifice. I come to you now, repenting of my sinful life and desire to give my life to you. I receive You Jesus as my personal LORD and Savior - come into my heart and life and save me from sin, death and hell. I commit myself to You LORD and believe the Gospel. I understand that I am no longer my own, but that I and all of my life now belongs to You.
Thank You God as my new heavenly Father for the gift of Your Son, in Jesus Name, amen."
Anyone who hears the Gospel, who is granted understanding by the Holy Spirit and realizes what the cross of Christ is all about, and then expresses genuine faith in Jesus for salvation is saved according to the promise of Scripture. So let's go over each of these lines (7 component parts) in this model sinner's prayer and see if we can distinguish its parts, whether they are biblical or not.
1) LORD I confess that I have sinned and that I am a sinner. I admit that I have lived a life of sin against Your holy will and Your holy law.
We have all read the account that our LORD Himself illustrated for us, that of the Pharisee and the publican as found in LUKE 18:9-14. In this account, it was the publican who humbled himself and confessed that he was a sinner, and besought the mercy of God who went away justified - rather than the Pharisee who trusted in his own (dead) works.
Scripture abundantly declares that we are all sinners (ROM. 3:23; 5:12,19; GAL. 3:22; JER. 17:9; MATT 15:19; EPH 2:3). The Word teaches us that it's the Law of God written in the conscience of humanity, as well as exposure to the truth of the Law that will drive us towards Christ, seeking salvation (GAL. 3:23-24). In the Greek the word used for sin is hamartiah, which means "to miss the mark" as in shooting an arrow at a target.
This is what we are all guilty of as human beings, missing the mark of God's holy will for us. We have sinned against His holy will. To make an admission of one's own sinfulness is truly humbling and for those who humble themselves before the LORD, what is His promise?
6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
2) I understand that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, that He took the punishment that should have been mine, upon Himself.
The LORD told us that He came to pay our ransom, something that we could not possibly do for ourselves (MARK 10:46; MATT 5:3; 2 COR. 8:9). He is the sacrifice Lamb that takes away the sin of the entire world (JOHN 1:29,36); His holy and righteous soul, entirely pure of any sin or wrong-doing was burdened with the weight of the sins of the whole of the human race - every one of us! (1 JOHN 2:2; 2 COR. 5:20-21)
3) I acknowledge that Jesus rose from the dead, being victorious over sin and death and offers to us eternal life and salvation to all who will believe in Him.
Scripture declares that any who make such a confession will be saved (ROM 10:8-11), but this must be a confession based on genuine belief from the heart - not merely mouthing words or parroting the pastor's recitation. We believe that because sin brings death, and that Christ bore our sins, He died in our place - but also that He conquered over our sin by rising again from the dead (ROM 6:23; ISAIAH 53:3-6; ACTS 2:22-36; 1 COR 15:20-23,54-57)! He is the author of eternal life and imparts such to all who believe in Him (ROM 6:23; JOHN 3:16).
4) Thank You LORD for Your sacrifice. I come to you now, repenting of my sinful life and desire to give my life to you.
He is the High Priest of our salvation (HEB 9:11-14) and He is also the perfect sacrifice for our sin (HEB 9:25-26). As we realize the vital importance and the incredible grace demonstrated by His sacrifice (EPH 2:8-9; TITUS 3:5-7), we may become convicted by such love for us sinners and this in turn may lead to repentance, as it is the goodness of God that leads us there (ROM 2:4).
Repentance is something that unfortunately is overlooked in many calls to salvation, but this is essential - not that we have power in ourselves to turn from the sins that we are impelled towards by our sinful nature. For if we could truly and fully turn from sin (as in our nature) of our own accord, what then would be the need for salvation.
But just as the man with the withered hand (MATT 12:10-13) could not possibly extend his paralyzed arm as the LORD commanded him to do, but that he showed a willingness of heart to do so, and the LORD then empowered him; likewise if we with broken heart come before the LORD with a desire to repent and in as much as is in us to do so, demonstrate such - by His Spirit He enables us as we receive God's empowering grace. Repentance is something revealed throughout Scripture - all of the prophets called for it of Israel when the nation had fallen into sin (JER 4:1-2; 35:15; EZEK 14:6; JONAH 3:9-10); John the Baptist preached repentance (MATT 3:1-2), as did Jesus our LORD (MATT 4:17) and the apostles (ACTS 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30).
For more on the issue of repentance, have a look at this article from www.loveintruth.com: Two Errors Regarding Repentance
Watch this video (under 8 mins) from The BEREAN CALL (Dave Hunt and Tom McMahon) on Must You Repent To Be Saved?
5) I receive You Jesus as my personal LORD and Savior - come into my heart and life and save me from sin, death and hell.
There are some who disparage this idea of 'receiving Christ' but this is hardly something that is absent in Scripture; further - the notion of 'accepting Christ into the heart' - yet when we are born again of God's Spirit, are we not then indwelt by the very Spirit of Christ (ROM 8:9; EPH 3:17; COL 1:26-27):
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:
7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
Jesus is indeed the sovereign LORD whether we receive Him as such or not; and if He is not my Savior personally, He is still the Savior of all who call upon Him in truth. Yet it's when I come to Christ for salvation, and receive such from Him, that He is not then only the LORD in a universal sense, but also in the intimate sense that He is mine, and I am His - it's a position of ownership: He claims me as His son, I claim Him as my LORD.
6) I commit myself to You LORD and believe the Gospel. I understand that I am no longer my own, but that I and all of my life now belongs to You.
To commit oneself to the LORD and the way of our very lives is the greatest honor we can grant to the Almighty (PSALM 31:5;37:5); for of our own free will, we step forward and offer up our paltry lives, but out of a heart of tenderness and brokenness and a yearning to know Him - this is an honor to the LORD. David had such a yearning and a heart for the LORD, His supreme desire was to dwell in the house of the LORD and to inquire in His temple, to behold His beauty: fellowship (PSALM 27). And for this kind of heart, the LORD referred to David as "a man after My own heart" (ACTS 13:22).
When we come to the LORD in true repentance, seeking true salvation, we come with an understanding that He has by His blood, purchased redemption for us, and that as the redeemed* - we no longer belong to ourselves but to the LORD (1 COR. 6:19-20): we lose what ever life we may have had on our own - all of our goals, plans, desires, etc. and forsake them and in turn, surrender our lives to live out God's goals, plans and desires which He desires to bless us with.
* A web link to another FMF article on the subject of redemption is found at the end of this article.
The LORD Himself stated clearly:
38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
It must be understood however that we are not forsaking our lives in a vain attempt to somehow be deserving of salvation, or attempting to 'pay God back' for His salvation. If we are genuinely saved, this is the natural response of that blessed regeneration.
Yet it must also be understood that we "count the cost" of what coming to Christ will mean. This is something also terribly lacking in the presentation of the Gospel (LUKE 14:27-29).
Are we willing to forsake a life of sin - which ultimately will bring bitterness and emptiness, heart ache and misery and ultimately death and hell - for a life after Christ which will bring the peace of God (ROM 5:1-2), blessings and the fruit of His Spirit - love and its accompaniments of joy, peace, patience, (GAL 5:22-24) etc - with trials and persecutions as we intend to live godly for Him (2 TIM 2:12)?
7) Thank You God as my new heavenly Father for the gift of Your Son, in Jesus Name, amen.
Salvation is not about religion; it's about relationship. God is no longer an 'angry old man waiting in heaven to strike us down if we commit the slightest error' - or some remote Creator that is impossible to comprehend or know personally. Through the LORD Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we may call God our Father, or Abba (MATT 6:6,9; JOHN 16:25-27; 20:17).
We learn about Him through the Word, which His Spirit grants us understanding; through prayer as we seek Him, and through the fellowship of other godly saints. We grow in the grace and knowledge of the truth (2 PET 3:18).
As in any prayer, when we pray in the Name of Jesus, we pray according to the reputation of His Name, that is, His holiness, His grace, His truth, His tender mercies, His will, power and glory, etc. (JOHN 16:26; 1 JOHN 5:14).
The one issue that I have about a sinner's prayer (as I mentioned at the beginning of this article) is that too often it is used as a kind of magic potion or a 'one-time-deal' event where I say these words, and 'accept Christ' but only then, once said and accepted, go about my merry way in my old life, never heeding the Spirit of God or taking time for the Word or prayer or fellowship - and somehow expect that because 'I said a prayer once and accepted Christ' so therefore I am saved no matter what. And how could a pastor or evaneglist declare any who said that prayer as being saved and secured for heaven?
Would not time prove out whether the words spoken were genuine, that wrought genuine repentance and salvation? Too freely are people declared 'saved' today - when we must leave to God to declare such in His Word and by evidence in our lives by a changed heart.
We are known by our fruit, and every one that does not bear godly fruit (that is, the nature of Christ with His love, truth, righteousness - not perfectly demonstrated, but indeed real and evidential) cannot claim with any certainty that they are saved; (MATT 7:16,20; 2 COR 9:10; EPH 5:9; PHIL 1:11).
The issue of salvation, receiving Christ and obtaining the Spirit begs a very valid question: once gained - can it be lost?? There are many arguments on both sides and this is a controversy that has raged in the church for centuries. I hope to address this question in a related article, but I want to take time and do my due diligence in the research of Scripture. This will in all likelihood be published on the parent web site of The TRUTH Under FIRE.
Until then, may the LORD Bless and Keep you in the NAME of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, our LORD and SAVIOR!
Related to this is the following article:
OUR KINSMAN GOEL, OUR REDEEMER: JESUS The LAMB of GOD