Not too long ago, one dutiful studier of Scripture asked about the sinner’s prayer. The individual asked, “Where can I find the sinner’s prayer in the Bible?” The Baptist preacher and evangelist, Billy Graham popularized the sinner’s prayer. For the last half-century, Billy Graham and other denominational evangelical preachers have taught millions of people that praying for forgiveness through the sinner’s prayer is the only way toward salvation. So naturally, a Christian with a proper mind of scriptural authority would wonder where to find this prayer in the Bible. God told Christians to examine what they have heard and compare it to the Word of God to determine whether such things are so (1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11). If something cannot be found in scripture, one must conclude that it was established by men, and therefore, cannot be authoritative in salvation, nor can it be bound on others (Col. 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11).
‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ is a prayer that Christians say after repenting and believing in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. While not all teachings on this prayer are consistent, the sinner’s prayer is meant for the alien sinner (one who has lived in sin his/her whole life and has never made an attempt to obey the gospel) or one that is not a Christian and wants to become a Christian. The sinner comes before God in prayer with a humble and regretful mindset and prays that the Lord Jesus come into his/her heart, and the sinner will be saved and forgiven of sins. The most basic version of the prayer goes like this, “Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner. I believe You died for my sins so I could be forgiven. I receive You as my Lord and Savior. Thank You for coming into my life. Amen” (https://pray.com/articles/sinners-prayer). Every year, millions of people are being told to say the sinner’s prayer, and they’ll be saved.
While this might come as a shock to many, the sinner’s prayer cannot be found in the Bible, nor can a person find justification in Scripture for saying a sinner will be saved by saying a prayer alone. There is no record in the New Testament of a sinner who wants to be a convert to Christ who prayed to Jesus to come into his heart, and when Christ came into his heart, his sins were forgiven. Paul reminds the church in Corinth not to go “above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). John also writes to the churches in Asia telling them never to add or take away from what God has written (Rev. 22:18-19). This being said, God gives no authority or recognition to the sinner’s prayer. It is a philosophy of man (Col. 2:8).
Many advocates attempt to provide a scriptural foundation and authority to the sinner’s prayer. Acts 8:22: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Advocates of the sinner’s prayer say that this verse shows a person praying to God for forgiveness to be saved. This verse does not apply to a person who has never obeyed the gospel or has never been converted to Christ because Peter was talking to Simon, who was already a converted member of the church (Acts 8:13). Simon had been saved and had allowed sin to re-enter his heart and needed to come back to God (Acts 8:20-21). Peter wasn’t talking to the alien sinner, but to an unfaithful member of the church to which this verse can only be applied in the proper context. This is Peter’s instruction to a Christian who needs to repent, not a non-Christian who needs to obey the gospel.
Likewise, Acts 2:21 or Romans 10:13: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Some attribute this to saying the sinner’s prayer. However, Christ says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Christ affirms that God requires more to enter the kingdom of heaven than a verbal acclamation or a heart-felt prayer to the Lord.
Furthermore, Luke 18:13: “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” The context here is a parable of Christ between an arrogant Pharisee and a humble tax collector. Christ concludes by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (vs. 14). Jesus teaches that people must humble themselves to be saved; Jesus does not teach a prayer alone will save a person. Moreover, this publican was a Jew living during the Mosaic era, his salvation process would have been different than a sinner seeking salvation in the Christian dispensation.
Sinners must obey the gospel if they wish to be saved. God saves believers based on what they “do” with their faith in Christ, and not just what they say. Paul recalls to have “called upon the name of the Lord” in baptism. Luke records, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). According to what Ananias told Paul, part of “calling on the name of Lord” is to be immersed in baptism, which washes away sins.
Finally, John writes, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners…” (John 9:31a). How can God send Jesus to enter into a person’s heart if He doesn’t hear? If anyone knows of a verse in the Bible that would be able to be used in context to justify the sinner’s prayer, then please call and let me know.