The foremost way of worshipping God in ancient Israel, from antiquity through the year 70 C.E., was through sacrifice, primarily of animals. Alongside that worship, though, there existed another form of worship: prayer. Unlike sacrifices, biblical prayer was not an established, ritualized communal practice. Reprinted with permission from Jewish Worship, published by The Jewish Publication Society.
In addition to the sacrificial rites there was a collateral form of worship, unofficial but fully recognized–private prayer. The Bible records private prayers by almost every important personality with whose life and activity it deals. The religious men and women turned to God in prayer, and their prayers, as recorded in the Bible, touch the heart and stir deep religious sentiments.
In general, the personal prayers in the Bible–exclusive of the Psalms–are very much like the prayers that we would utter today. Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple may serve as an example. It contains all the elements of prayer-praise and thanksgiving, confession and intercession:
“0 Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like Thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath; who keepest covenant and mercy with Thy servants, that walk before Thee with all their heart; … Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded! Yet have Thou respect unto the prayer of Thy servant, and to his supplication, 0 Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer which Thy servant prayeth before Thee this day; that Thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day…. And hearken Thou to the supplication of Thy servant, and of Thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place; yea, hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place; and when Thou hearest, forgive” .
Like all the prayers uttered by biblical personalities or ascribed to them, Solomon’s prayer is addressed directly to God. There are no priests or other intermediaries, nor does Solomon offer any sacrifices to win God’s favor. Solomon supplicates God with words that come from the heart, and his prayer is uttered in the utmost faith that if he is deserving his prayer will be heard and answered.
To be sure, some biblical prayers contain primitive elements, such as prayers that are conditional in content. The suppliant formulates his prayer in the framework of a vow to do something which he assumes is pleasing to God if his prayer is answered. The classic example of this type of prayer is Jephthah’s vow before going to war against the Ammonites:
“If thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace … shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering” .
The Bible also contains a number of prayers in which the suppliants argue with God and persuade Him by their logical arguments to alter His intent. God graciously yields to the logic of the prayer and changes His original decree. Abraham’s plea for Sodom and Gomorrah is the classic example. Abraham argues with the Almighty:
“Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” .
Unfortunately, Abraham’s logic was not backed by the facts of the situation, and his plea did not save the doomed cities.
These primitive elements in some of the biblical prayers, however, are the exceptions. Most biblical prayers are so sophisticated in their formulation that they have been adopted as patterns of prayer for all time. These prayers usually consist of two basic elements-introductory words praising God for His might and mercy, and a concluding petition, often universal in scope. King Solomon’s prayer, only part of which was quoted above, follows this pattern.
Prayers of Praise
Not all biblical prayers are petitionary. Many of them concentrate solely on praising God or thanking Him for His mercies and blessings. One such prayer is the Song of Moses which he and the Israelites sang after safely crossing the Sea of Reeds and escaping from the pursuing Egyptians:
“I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and might; He is become my salvation.
This is my God and I will enshrine Him;
The God of my father, and I will exalt Him”
The ancient Hebrews found no contradiction between the two forms of worship: the sacrificial rites of the Temple and the informal words of prayer uttered by individuals. They coexisted without infringing upon each other. In those early times prayer was essentially a spontaneous “cry” to God for help. It was based on the intuitive feeling or the deep conviction that God gives ear to the supplications of the devout and answers the prayer that comes from the heart.
In connection with the Temple functions only one brief prayer is prescribed in the Bible.
When the farmer brought his first fruits to the Temple, he was to recite a formula in which he briefly summarized the story of the bondage in Egypt, the redemption, and the “land flowing with milk and honey” which God had given to the children of Israel.
To these formulated prayers one may add a number of blessings which achieved official usage and later found their way into the siddur . One of these is part of the blessing which Jacob bestowed on Joseph’s sons: “God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20), which is to this day the paternal blessing that the Jew bestows on his sons on Friday evenings. Another biblical blessing that has been repeated innumerable times is the blessing which the Kohanim pronounced in the Temple. It, too, has been incorporated into the synagogue worship:
“The Lord bless you, and keep you! The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!; The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!” .
During the period of the First Jewish Commonwealth prayer was generally spontaneous, free, and independent. Except for the brief formula recited by the farmers, the priestly blessing, and some of the Psalms, prayers occupied no place in the official worship of the Temple. The introduction of public prayer as a form of worship was, as we shall see, one of the great contributions of the Jewish people to world culture. But this took place during the Second Commonwealth.
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- When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid; The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me; In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears. 2 Samuel 22:5-7
- My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. Psalms 5:3
- For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. Psalms 22:24
- And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. Psalms 50:15
- Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. Psalms 55:17
- Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Psalms 62:8
- O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; Psalms 63:1
- If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Psalms 66:18,19
- He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. Psalms 102:17
- Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry: And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies. Psalms 106:44, 45
- I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. Psalms 116:1,2
- Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. Psalms 119:2
- With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Psalms 119:10
- He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. Isaiah 30:19
- Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. Isaiah 45:11
- Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Isaiah 55:6
- And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. Isaiah 64:7
- And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. Isaiah 65:24
- And ye shall seek me, and find me , when ye shall search for me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
- Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. Jeremiah 33:3
- Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street. Lamentations 2:19
- Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens. Lamentations 3:40, 41
- Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: Joel 2:12
- And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Matthew 6:5
- But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Matthew 6:6,7
- Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: Matthew 7:7
- Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. Matthew 17:21
- Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:18, 19B, 20
- If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. Matthew 21:21B, 22
- And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Matthew 26:39
- Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. Mark 11:24
- And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Luke 11:9, 10
- And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. Luke 22:31,32
- And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it . John 14:13, 14
- If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. John 15:7
- Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23B, 24
- He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Romans 4:20, 21
- Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26,27
- Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Ephesians 3:20
- Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; Ephesians 6:18
- Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
- I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 1 Timothy 2:8
- Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
- Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25
- But without faith it is impossible to please him : for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:6
- But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. James 1:6, 7
- Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. James 4:8
- And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. 1 John 3:22
- And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 1 John 5:14,15
by Tony Miano and Matt Slick
Is the sinner’s prayer biblical? Yes and no. It is biblical for a sinner to pray to Jesus to forgive him of his sins. It is not biblical to say someone is saved “because of reciting the Sinner’s Prayer.” It is biblical to confess one’s sins and ask for forgiveness and put trust, hope, and faith in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. But, again, it is not biblical to give someone assurance of salvation based on reciting a prayer – on simply saying the words. Salvation is the work of God, and the manifestation of that work is sometimes seen in people publicly confessing, even publicly praying to receive Christ as Savior.
So, we want to be clear that elements of the sinner’s prayer are biblical. However, we also want to be very clear that a person is not saved “because he prayed a prayer.” Faith, assurance, and hope should never be placed in the prayer. Instead, faith, assurance, and hope should be placed in Christ via the proper presentation of the saving message which consists of presenting the Law (that we are sinners before God and deserve judgment) and the gospel (that only through faith and trust in what Christ has done on the cross where he bore our sins and died with them can we be saved from God’s righteous judgment). People must repent of their sins and believe the gospel. That is what the Bible says.
- Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
- Acts 16:30, “and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.”
Table of contents
- 1 What we are not saying about the Sinner’s Prayer
- 2 A Familiar Story: Sinner’s Prayer Evangelism
- 3 The Sinner’s Prayer, False Conversion, and Tradition
- 4 Does Matthew 7:7 support the Sinner’s Prayer?
- 5 Does Luke 18:10-14 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
- 6 Does Romans 10:9-10 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
- 7 Does 1 John 1:9 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
- 8 Does Revelation 3:20 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
- 9 Conclusion
- 10 What’s Next?
What we are not saying about the Sinner’s Prayer
Many Christians have a prayer of repentance and faith as part of their conversion testimony. We know there are genuine, Christ-loving, born-again followers of Jesus Christ who will forever testify that someone shared the gospel with them and asked them to repeat a prayer, which they did, and they were saved. This article should in no way be interpreted or construed as an effort to bring into question one’s salvation because he “prayed a prayer.”
That being said, no one is saved because they “prayed a prayer.” It is not reciting a phrase or the words of a prayer that saves anyone. We are against formula salvation. Those whom God sovereignly chooses to save (1 Peter 1:3; 2 Thess. 2:13) and draw to Himself (John 6:44) may pray a prayer – on their own or at someone else’s urging – as part of the first fruits of their salvation.
There are many Christians who will testify, to the glory of God, that they prayed a “Sinner’s Prayer” the day God saved them. But there are also people in the world who, as a result of being led in a false “Sinner’s Prayer,” are now apostate. They were false converts (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31). They have turned their back on Christ and have left the faith they thought they had because they had never really come to genuine repentance and faith in Christ. They are and were false converts because they put their hope of salvation in “saying words”, in “reciting a prayer”, in “doing the Christian prayer thing”, instead of truly trusting Christ to forgive them of their sins against God.
The purpose of this article is not to discourage genuine Christians or cause them to question the authenticity of their faith because their conversion story includes a “Sinner’s Prayer.” Many people have truly been saved along with saying the Sinner’s Prayer. Rather, the purpose of this article is to warn Christians, to plead with Christians to preach the gospel biblically and if/when a person wants to trust in Christ and receive him as Savior, that it is done properly.
A Familiar Story: Sinner’s Prayer Evangelism
- “So, do you understand what I’ve shared with you?”
- “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, right now?”
- “Umm. No. I guess not.”
- “Great. Then just pray this prayer after me. There’s nothing magical about the words. What matters is the condition of your heart.”
- “Out loud?”
- “Yes. Jesus said if you confess me before men I will confess you before my Father.”
- “Right here? Right now?”
- “Well, it’s up to you, of course. But what could be more important than making sure you’re right with God. After all, tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.”
- “Great! Just pray this prayer after me. Lord Jesus…”
- “Lord Jesus…”
- “I know I’m a sinner…”
- “I know I’m a sinner…”
- “I want my sins forgiven…”
- “I want my sins forgiven…”
- “I don’t want to spend eternity in Hell…”
- “I don’t want to spend eternity in Hell…”
- “I want to be in Heaven with you…”
- “I want to be in Heaven with you…”
- “Please forgive me…”
- “Please forgive me…”
- “Come into my life…”
- “Come into my life…”
- “Save me…”
- “Save me…”
- “Make me a new creature…”
- “Make me a new creature…”
- “Be my Lord and Savior…”
- “Be my Lord and Savior…”
- “In Jesus’ name, I pray…”
- “In Jesus’ name, I pray…”
- “Praise God! Welcome to the family, brother!”
- “Now, it’s real important you start reading your Bible and praying every day. And you’ve got to start going to church. You need to be around other believers. You need to be discipled. You need to begin the life-long process of growing in your faith. And I’m here to help in any way I can.”
Please not that we have underlined those parts of the prayer that are biblical. So, there are biblical elements to the sinners prayer but it is not the sinners prayer itself it saves and again, it must be made clear that it is not reciting the prayer that saves anyone.
It happens thousands of times every day around the world. It happens in one-to-one conversations between friends, relatives, and even strangers. It happens in pastors’ offices. It happens via email. It happens in online chat rooms. A well-intentioned Christian shares the gospel with someone (hopefully a gospel that is consistent with the Word of God). The listener seems to understand and even seems emotionally moved by the conversation. The Christian, with eagerness and sincerity, asks the person if he wants to know Jesus as his personal Savior. If the other person responds favorably, then the Christian leads him in a “Sinner’s Prayer.”
The Sinner’s Prayer, False Conversion, and Tradition
This is important. Many Christians make the cataclysmic and unbiblical mistake of giving the other person a false sense of assurance of salvation, by asserting the person is saved because he prayed a prayer. So, many people walk away from such a conversation still dead in their sins, but believing what they’ve been told. “I believed what my friend told me, and I prayed a prayer. So, now I’m a Christian!”
It is unbiblical confidence in the “Sinner’s Prayer” (instead of repentance and trust in Christ) that often leaves me thinking American Evangelicalism is much closer to Rome than she realizes. The reason is that like the apostate Roman Catholic Church, which holds up church tradition as equal or superior to the Word of God, American Evangelicalism sometimes does the same with her own traditions. The “Sinner’s Prayer” is a case in point.
My presupposition regarding it is an easy one to articulate. Simply put…
There is not a single verse or passage in Scripture, whether in a narrative account or in prescriptive or descriptive texts, regarding the use of a “Sinner’s Prayer” in evangelism. Not one.
However, proponents of the use of the “Sinner’s Prayer” will cite several verses/passages of Scripture in a failed attempt to support the unbiblical practice. Here are several:
- Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.”
- Luke 18:10-14, ” “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. 11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
- Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
- 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
- Revelation 3:20, “‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
A brief exposition of each of the above texts will show they should not be used to support the practice of the “Sinner’s Prayer.”
Does Matthew 7:7 support the Sinner’s Prayer?
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” (Matthew 7:7).
When trying to interpret Scripture, especially if one is seeking to establish or support a belief or practice as biblical, never simply read a verse. Read many verses. Read passages. Read chapters. Read books. Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Let’s look at the verse in its near context.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him,” (Matthew 7:7-11).
The first step in biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) is observation. In this step, the student asks three basic questions of any given verse or passage: What does the verse say? What doesn’t the verse say? What questions come to mind as I read this verse?
Matthew 7:7 says nothing about evangelism. It says nothing about the conversion of the lost. It says nothing about what, if anything, the unsaved person should or could do to be saved.
In order to rightly understand the verse we must not only look at the surrounding verses, but we must go all the way back to the beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount”– back to Matthew 5:1.
“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him,” (Matthew 5:1)
Jesus’ primary audience during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was His disciples. His extended audience was the crowd that followed Him (Matthew 4:25). Jesus began His sermon with the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes served as Jesus’ description of the Christian life. The Beatitudes were not instructions for becoming a Christian. Jesus’ primary audience remained the same in Matthew 7:7, His disciples, believers. This truth is further evidenced by what Jesus said in Matthew 7:11.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
“Your Father who is in heaven…” Unsaved people have no Father in Heaven. They have a Judge in Heaven. Jesus’ words about “asking” in Matthew 7:7 are words of instruction and encouragement to believers, not the lost. Therefore, to suggest Matthew 7:7 supports unbelievers asking Jesus into their heart or to save them is utterly contrary to what the verse actually says and means.
Does Luke 18:10-14 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
This is another passage, with specific emphasis placed on Luke 18:13, that many Christians use to justify the implementation of the “Sinner’s Prayer” in an evangelism strategy. After all, the tax-collector cried out to God in prayer.
Again, context is critical to understanding this beautiful and important parable.
Who was Jesus’ audience when he shared the above parable? Yes, it was His disciples. But there were others present, so we must go back to Luke 17:20-21 to discover who else was there.
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21).
If one looks closely at the parable, the prayer is not the primary focus. Jesus’ point is to emphasize the self-righteousness and sinful arrogance of the Pharisees. The parable was an indictment against the Pharisees, not a treatise on how one should pray to enter the Kingdom of God.
Look closely at the parable. Why was the tax collector justified? Was it because he prayed? No! It was his humility that exemplified the justification He had received from God (cf. Romans 8:30). “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” (Luke 18:14).
God opposes the proud (the Pharisees), but He gives grace to the humble (the tax-collector). ( See James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5.) It is far better and far more accurate to use this tremendous parable as an encouragement to call unbelievers to humble themselves before God than to errantly convince unbelievers they can be reconciled to God if they pray a prayer. Again, it is not simply the prayer that saves anyone.
Does Romans 10:9-10 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation,” (Roman 10:9-10).
Who is Paul’s audience? Believers or unbelievers? He is writing to believers, the Church, in Rome. The recipients of his letter would have never taken from this text that Paul was instructing unbelievers to pray a prayer in order to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nor would his readers have received Paul’s teaching here as a suggestion, much less a mandate, to lead the unsaved in a “sinner’s prayer.”
I could not find one legitimate Bible scholar who suggests that Paul’s words in Romans 10:9-10 is an example of either a “sinner’s prayer” or a suggestion that believers are to lead unbelievers in such a prayer, or to “ask Jesus into their heart.” In fact, there is no place in the Bible where it says we “ask Jesus into our hearts”.
It is also interesting to note how Paul switches the ideas of confession and believing, from verse 9 to verse 10. Paul makes it clear that justification by faith (Romans 1:17) comes before confession. Justification does not come as a result of confession.
Both verbs in Romans 10:10, “believes” and “confesses,” are in the present-passive-indicative in the Greek text. This means that those who are truly born again will continue to believe by faith and they will continue to confess Jesus as Lord. The wording in Romans 10:10 in no way whatsoever supports the notion of praying a one-time prayer as a means of receiving salvation and the gift of eternal life.
Romans 10:10 ends with these words: “…and with the mouth he confesses and is saved.”
I appreciate what John Gill wrote about this phrase.
“This is to be understood not of confession of sin, though that is proper and requisite to be made, both with respect to the participation, and enjoyment of salvation, particularly pardoning grace and mercy, and to an admission to Gospel ordinances; but of confession of Christ, as appears from the preceding verse, which lies in a frank and open acknowledgment of what Christ is in himself, as that he is truly and properly God, the Son of God, the true Messiah, the Mediator between God and man, and the only Saviour of lost sinners, and of our faith in him, with respect to ourselves, to our pardon, justification, acceptance and salvation in him and through him; in ascribing the whole of our salvation to him, and giving him the glory of it; in declaring to the churches of Christ what he has done for our souls, and in subjecting ourselves to his ordinances. This confession must be made both by words and facts, must be open, visible, and before men; and also real, hearty, and sincere, the words of the mouth agreeing with the experience of the heart; and such a good profession made before God, angels, and men, highly becomes all that believe with the heart. This was the practice of the primitive saints; yea, all nations own, acknowledge, and profess the God they worship; and should not we confess our God, Saviour and Redeemer? 1
Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the pattern of the born-again follower of Christ. Those who are saved, those who will forever be saved, are those who confess Jesus as Lord — not as a means of salvation, but as evidence that the salvation to which they cling has been wrought by God and secured in heaven by Him for all eternity (1 Peter 1:3-9). Those who claim to be Christians but do not confess Jesus as Lord as a regular course and pattern of their lives should examine themselves to see if they are even in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Does 1 John 1:9 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
“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).
Who are the “we” in this verse? The “we” is John’s audience. John is writing to Christians in the Church of Ephesus as well as believers in the region. Unbelievers are not included in the “we,” as indicated by Paul’s warning to the brethren about false teachers (1 John 2:18-27).
God is faithful and righteous to forgive the sins of His adopted children (Romans 8:12-17). Until God causes the unregenerate person to be born-again (1 Peter 1:3), their prayers are an abomination to Him (Isaiah 1:15). Christians should call unbelievers to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:1-5), not to pray a prayer of confession and trust in it as the means by which they are then saved. Instead, people need to trust Jesus and what he did on the cross.
Does Revelation 3:20 Teach the Sinner’s Prayer?
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me,” (Revelation 3:20).
We prayerfully long for the day when pastors, evangelists, and Christians, in general, will stop proclaiming a man-centered gospel by misusing Revelation 3:20 and drawing an emotional and often-times false response from the hearer.
Jesus is not standing at the locked door of any sin-corroded human heart, longing to be let in. Jesus doesn’t need the acceptance of anyone. Everyone needs His. Jesus isn’t the blonde haired, blue eyed, surfer standing at the door of your heart waiting for you to let him in. He’s God. He is sovereign. Not you.
The context of the before-mentioned verse finds Jesus not speaking to the unsaved, but to a disobedient church. It is not an evangelistic verse, nor should it be used as such. It is a call to repentance to the church.
Jesus never asked people to let Him come into their hearts. Jesus is not lonely without the unrepentant sinner. Jesus is not chasing after people, hoping He will one day catch them and save them. Jesus needs nothing from His creation. He demands everything from His creation.
Jesus commanded people to repent and believe the gospel. He is not looking for acceptance. He is demanding obedience. And those who obey the commands of Christ, those who repent and believe the gospel–by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone–will be saved.
Walking an aisle in response to the emotional and caring invitation of a pastor does not save anyone. Asking Jesus into one’s heart does not save anyone. Writing the date in the back of one’s Bible to commemorate the day a decision was made to follow Jesus does not save anyone. And praying a prayer does not save anyone.
But can God use even the sinner’s prayer in his sovereign work of salvation? Of course. But we need to be very careful and not urge someone to recite a prayer and have them put their hope in that, so as to be saved. In that sense, the “Sinner’s Prayer” has done a great disservice to Christ and the untold millions of people who, as a result of praying a prayer but never being converted, will one day hear Jesus say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,” (Matthew 7:21-23).
If you have read this article and are asking yourself, “how should I end a discussion with someone, if not with the sinner’s prayer,” please read: “Closing the Deal: An Unbiblical Element of Modern Evangelism”
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Sozo prayer and the Sozo ministry are not biblically based. Sozo prayer is, in fact, strongly mystical.
Sozo prayer utilizes a mediator or guide to help participants delve deep within themselves to discover any deterrent to drawing close to God. While drawing close to God should be a goal of every Christian, Christians don’t need a mediator or a guided journey through their subconscious to do so. Sozo also draws much of its practice from new age mysticism, including entering into a mild trance state and exploring internal rooms or stages of the mind. This is not biblical.
Prayer, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and fellowship with other believers connect us to God, and Christians should cultivate these spiritual practices, or disciplines, to draw closer to God.
Jesus tells us to rely on the Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13– 15).
While we do not need a mediator to help connect us to God, it is true that other people can be helpful in our relationship with God. Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This is one reason regular church attendance is important. Additionally, God has specifically equipped His people with various ministries that are helpful to others. First Corinthians 12:7 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In Ephesians 4:11–14, Paul writes, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
Our need for spiritual enlightenment or opportunity for relationship is fully met by the Holy Spirit and our study of God’s Word under His guidance. The following passage from the first chapter of 2 Peter is long, but shows us how God has provided for us and what we are to do to build on our faith.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3–8)
Finally, we are instructed to practice discernment and wisdom.
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).
In conclusion, Sozo prayer is not a biblically-based practice and is not something that is necessary or likely beneficial for Christians in seeking to draw closer to God. Intimacy with God is a product of fellowship with Him through the work of Jesus, the illumination of His Word through the Holy Spirit, and continually seeking to lead a life that brings Him honor and glory as we submit to His work of transformation in us.
Related Truth: What types of prayer are mentioned in the Bible?Is centering prayer biblical?Why pray? What is the purpose of prayer?Is silent prayer biblical?Persistent prayer – Is it biblical? Is it acceptable to repeatedly pray for the same thing, or should we ask only once?
Truth about Prayer