The Sinners Prayer Part 2: Is It Biblical?

30 04 2014

In this article on the sinners prayer I want to ask the question is it Biblical? What are the passages used to defend such a prayer? Where do we see it used in the Bible? The Bible is the final authority for all faith and practice and it behooves us to be as Biblical as possible. The truth after all is that millions of people, many with no spiritual fruit claim to be saved because they prayed the prayer.

I am not saying that all people who repeated a prayer after someone is not saved. Some do have this as part of their conversion testimony and I don’t intend to cast doubt on your salvation if that’s the case. There are however millions who have been lulled into a false sense of salvation by repeating a prayer. Praying at the time of salvation can be a Biblical thing but assuring people they are saved because they repeated a few words is not.

From this perspective the sinners prayer is both Biblical and unBiblical depending on how it is approached. Let’s start by looking at passages commonly used to teach the so called sinners prayer.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 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. 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.” (Luke 18:10-14)

This passage is often used to justify the sinners prayer but to do so is to view it without regard to context. The parable in context is the comparison of the self righteousness of the Pharisees as opposed to the humility of the publican. The Pharisees considered themselves so much better then the publicans and yet it was the publican who was declared righteous by God and not the Pharisee. Was he made righteous by the prayer? No in fact the prayer wasn’t even the main focus of the story. It was the humility of heart and contrition of the publican that justified him. That was the focus of the story.

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)

We again need to look to the context of the passage before us. If taken as two stand alone verses it could be said that these constitute a sinners prayer for salvation but when put into the context of the chapter it becomes less likely that this is Paul’s intention. Look at the first verse of the chapter to better understand his context.

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” (Romans 10:1)

So we see the clear context is in regards to the nation of Israel. Let’s look back at our text and see how this all fits together. Paul is writing to Christians first of all not unbelievers. There is no way that we can look at what he wrote here and get the idea he was saying that unbelievers need to pray a prayer to be saved. Notice also that he inverts confessing and believing in the second verse. Faith always precedes confession it never says that it is the result of it.

The context in this passage is concerning the Jews who he says in verse 3 are going about to establish their own righteousness and are not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God by faith. If they will believe in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead this is to say if they believe He is Lord and they confess with their mouth that He is Lord they will be saved.

The confession in question is not a prayer but the confession that every Christian has concerning Christ. Paul is saying that if they believe and confess and go on believing and confessing they are saved. This is not an indication that praying a single prayer to receive salvation is necessary for salvation. Often times we get people to pray a prayer then they never come to make a public profession of faith and we call them saved. This passage is not a sinners prayer at all but it is saying a person must confess Christ if he is saved. We have turned it completely on it’s head and switched the meaning.

Look at the next verse used to defend the sinners prayer.

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

I doubt I need to spend much time here since it is in the same chapter and context. He is writing to believers not unbelievers and his topic in this chapter is his desire for the Jewish people to be saved. He is not saying that any individual who prays and asks Jesus in his heart will be saved. You would have to ignore context and add those thoughts into it. He is saying that anyone can call on the name of the Lord whether Jew or Gentile. We have here the declaration that all can be saved not that all need to pray a prayer to be saved.

To call means to follow or be followers of. You can no more add a prayer in here then you can into Genesis 4:26:

“And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Moses isn’t saying that then began men to pray and ask Jesus in their heart is he? Of course not he is saying that men began to be followers of the one true God. They began to call on His name and to be known by His name.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

This verse is another that is used to try and make a sinners prayer Biblical but it falls short. This letter was written to believers and is for us. It’s not referencing unbelievers. This has to do with when a Christian sins.

There is no place in the Bible where we see a command to “invite Jesus into your life” or “pray to receive Christ” or “pray to be saved.” When we use terms like pray to be saved it gives the impression that praying saves us. When Paul was asked how to be saved he didn’t say just pray and receive Christ.

“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:30-31)

Philip didn’t tell the eunuch to invite Christ into his life.

“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:36-37)

In fact there is not one instance in the entire New Testament when we see someone led through a prayer to be saved. This is not to say that if someone prays and asks forgiveness of sin they are wrong but there is no Biblical basis to say that a so called sinners prayer is needed or required for salvation. In part 3 of this series we will ask if the sinners prayer is necessary.

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