What if You Say the Sinner’s Prayer and Mean It?

There is a lot of disagreement among Christians over the use of the sinner’s prayer. Some are quick to point out abuse of the sinner’s prayer and all together dismiss it. Others seem quick to overlook its abuse and to point out its usefulness. Personally, I have witnessed its abuse. Yet, I often wonder if we will ever find a common ground on the sinner’s prayer.

But yesterday’s ethics post about the sinner’s prayer raised a question in my mind.

What if someone says the sinner’s prayer and means it?

Of course, then questions about the question begin. People will want to know what was in the prayer and what is it they meant. I’m far less comfortable with a sinner’s prayer like Joel Osteen presents which is like this: Lord Jesus, I repent of my sins. Come into my heart. I make you my Lord and savior.

While sharing the gospel followed by a sinner’s prayer is not a systematic theological treatise something must be known of Jesus, sin, forgiveness, redemption, etc. Even if those aspects of Christianity are explained thoroughly many new Christians might not immediately understand them very well.

Yet, if the gospel is shared and someone is lead in the sinner’s pray something like: Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for the punishment of my sins and rose from the dead three days later. So, I repent of all my sins and I ask, through faith alone in Christ alone, for the forgiveness of my sins. Father, thank you for granting me eternal life through your Son. Amen!

Can that prayer save you? No, it cannot.

However, if you meant that prayer when saying it, that is, it was a true profession of faith then by God’s grace alone through faith alone God will save you.

While I think Christians ought to be careful in how a sinner’s prayer is used, I don’t see how God would reject someone who confessed true belief in Christ – they meant it – through a sinner’s prayer.

Survey says?

For what it’s worth…


tagged as in Baptist,Christianity,Church Issues,Evangelism,Gospel,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ken Cook February 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I think that the sinners prayer in general should be abandoned. Can God Use it to save? Yes. Is it what the bible teaches? No.

However, the earmark of the sinners prayer is repeating after the evangelist. So if salvation isn’t dependent upon us, and our genuineness in prayer won’t save us, then it is safe to say that it is only by the good pleasure of God that we are saved.

It is God who appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48), chooses who is to be holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4), calls according to His purpose (2 Tim. 1:9), chooses us for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13-14), grants the act of believing (Phil. 1:29), grants repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

More details at: http://carm.org/sinners-prayer

2 Ajay Pollarine February 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Romans 10:9 seems to back up the idea that meaning it is enough.
But not just Romans 10:9; we can also look to Ephesians 2:8, Acts 16:31

I’m pretty sure meaning it is enough, and yes it can be a simple as the Sinners Prayer. I’ve read the stories of men who called God “Dude” and cried out “Save me” with as much conviction as the man at the altar saying all the right things. It’s Romans 10:10 and vs 13 made manifest.

Ultimately, it’s a heart thing, you shift because God’s called you forth with the Holy Spirit then it’s not the words it’s the intent and yeah…the sinners prayer is as good a way to talk to God as any. Besides, you’ll find out the truth of their conversion in time anyways. I want to say it was Whitfield who would say “Give it 6 months, you’ll know then if they truly came to Christ” after revival meetings would have scores of men and women claiming they got saved.

3 Ken Cook February 7, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Ajay –Consider V. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The passage referred to is Isa_28:16, cited before in Rom_9:33; the view with which it is produced is to prove the certain connection between faith and righteousness, and confession and salvation; or in other words, to observe that such who cordially believe in Christ, and make a sincere profession of their faith in him, shall be saved. There are some things somewhat different from, though agreeing in sense with, the words as they stand in the prophet; there it is indefinitely said, “he that believeth”, here an universal is made use of, — Gill

Can we muster faith within ourselves? The scriptures declare it is a gift from God… If that is the case the best thing we can say about the sinners prayer is that its the response of people who are already saved, or it is an empty religious rite of the damned.

4 Olan February 7, 2013 at 5:21 pm

The Publican prayed a simple prayer that expressed repentance and asked for pardon on the basis of substitution–“God have mercy on me, the sinner.” The word for “mercy” is the same word for propitiation. In essence he asked God to be propitiated to him, the sinner. Propitiation is also the word for “mercy seat.” God told Moses to make a propitiatory–mercy seat. The Publican’s prayer was simple but not simplistic. It was neither a magic formula nor the result of manipulation. It expressed more insight into the dilemma of how a holy God can pardon sinners and still remain just than 10,000 sinners’ prayers of today.

5 Ajay Pollarine February 7, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Ken, thanks for your commentary, I really appreciate your insights. I’ll definitely give it some thought. Much love homes.

6 Ken Cook February 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Olan, The Publican’s Prayer was 1. descriptive, not prescriptive 2. wasn’t a sinner’s prayer.

Again, the earmark of the sinners prayer is the repeating after a leader.

7 Olan February 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Ken, you are right, and actually that was my intended meaning. Even the dying thief, who rejoiced to see, that fountain in his day, expressed a parallel to Romans 10:9-10, 13 – without it being prescribed. He confessed Jesus as Lord (His Kingdom), believed that God would raise Him from the dead (when you come in Your kingdom), and called on His name (Jesus, remember me). All that happened before Paul penned Romans. That is why I said that the Publican’s prayer was not the result of manipulation.

8 theoldadam February 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm

God calls and chooses us…through the hearing of the gospel. He does it.

Jesus told Niccodemus as much. It has to come from above. When and where God wills.

9 Jake February 8, 2013 at 3:24 am

The sinner’s prayer is a wonderful thing! I love to hear it voiced. I believe God loves to hear it voiced. To speak out loud in public, your heart, can have a powerful influence on your life – your life with God. Whether it seals your salvation, and carries you on the same path as the thief on the cross is a different matter. That would depend on your heart. The desires of your heart. The center of your being needs to desire, and love Jesus above all else. Those are the souls Jesus wants in heaven with him, just as he wanted that thief on the cross. For many, but I do not believe all, the sinner’s prayer is uttered with the realization of that Love.

10 Ken Cook February 8, 2013 at 11:57 am


So if in my heart I believe what I am saying and hope it to be true that means God must Cause me to be born again?

Last I checked the bible said that the unsaved do not seek for God (Romans 3:11) Given that how could someone who isn’t saved utter such a prayer? Paul describes the unsaved man as unable to understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14), He describes them as Hostile toward God (Romans 8:7)… If that is all true It seems impossible that a sinner, who is unsaved, could pray the sinners prayer and “mean it.”

11 Brad February 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

People often speak of the “sinner’s prayer” as if it is in the Bible, but I have never found this expression in any of the 27 New Testament books. I do find people asking what they had to “do” to be “saved” (Acts 16:29-30; Acts 2:36-37), but none of the answers given by the apostles or others every read, “say the sinner’s prayer.”

12 gary February 1, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Did you hear that Billy Graham Ministries has abandoned the Sinner’s Prayer? It’s true. They wanted a “fresh” slogan to appeal to nonbelievers. Here is what they decided on:

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

I personally don’t like it: too Lutheran.

13 Mark Lamprecht February 1, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Gary, you’ve got to be kidding.

14 Zachary Biesecker August 8, 2014 at 12:05 am

the heart is deceitful & wicked, so why would u have confidence in a prayer u prayed & not the Gospel itself?


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