IS THE “SINNER’S PRAYER” REALLY NECESSARY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Is repeating the “sinner’s prayer” the way to soul salvation unto eternal life? What exactly is the “sinner’s prayer” anyway? To the Scriptures we go without delay, to see what Almighty God has to say!
There are many dear, sincere Christian souls who use the so-called “sinner’s prayer” to share the Gospel with lost people. Actually, there was a time when I used it when witnessing to others. Since I have come to understand God’s Word, God’s way—dispensational Bible study, or right division—I better understand the matter of the “sinner’s prayer” and its doctrinal deficiency. Beloved, it is my great hope and fervent prayer that we can here use the Holy Scriptures to educate lost and saved alike regarding this most important topic. After all, soul salvation unto eternal life is the most critical issue you will ever face. We need not confuse a clear grace message by introducing a works-religion message.
Every “sinner’s prayer” has different words in it and each one highlights different concepts. Here are some sample prayers to give you an idea of what the “sinner’s prayer” is all about:
- “Jesus, thank You for dying for me, save me from my sins, come into my heart, and fill me with Your Spirit. Amen.”
- “Lord, be merciful to me. I am sorry for all the bad things I have done, I turn from (or “repent of”) my sins, and I give my life to You. Amen.”
- “God, I confess all of my sins and I ask for Your forgiveness. Please take me to heaven when I die. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
- “Lord Jesus, I surrender everything to You. Come into my heart and make me new, and I promise to serve You all the days of my life. Amen.”
Beloved, these are nice-sounding prayers and they involve many emotions, but they are not a clear presentation of the Gospel of the Grace of God. Usually, people do not understand the dispensational layout of Scripture, how God’s good news varies from group to group throughout history and throughout His dealings with man. Rather than focusing exclusively on God’s current plan of salvation, Christians (whether ignorantly or deliberately) usually “copy” other Gospel messages in the Bible, and “paste” them into the current plan of the salvation. They take 2 Chronicles 7:14, Proverbs 23:26, Psalm 51:1-11, Mark 1:15, Luke 14:27, Revelation 3:20, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, Matthew 24:13, Luke 18:13, et cetera, and mix them with Romans 4:1-5, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Romans 3:19-28, Ephesians 2:8-9, et cetera. All of these passages teach different matters, so to conflate them is to burden the sinner who wants to be saved. This amalgamation only makes the Gospel less clear to a person already confused in religion and sin.
Remember, our primary task as Christians is to present the Gospel of the Grace of God ever so clearly, ever so plainly. Satan wants them blinded from our gospel, that they not understand that their works play no role in a right standing before God, justification unto eternal life, forgiveness, a home in heaven, etc. We should be careful not to mix works with faith when sharing the message of God’s grace with them (2 Corinthians 4:3-4); works done to become a Christian and a Christian doing good works are two separate issues that must be clearly distinguished. The Bible says, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). The plan of salvation is so simple even a child can comprehend it—even if seminary preachers and theologians cannot!
The Holy Bible is very clear that we are saved by grace through faith without works:
- Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
- Romans 4:1-5: “ What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
- Galatians 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
- Ephesians 2:8-9: “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
- Titus 3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”
The Bible says that, unlike faith (Romans 4:5), prayer is a work; faith is not a work, but prayer is a work. Notice Colossians 4:12: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Prayer is something believers do; prayer is what Christians do, not lost people. Never in the Bible, particularly Paul’s epistles, do we read about someone praying in order to be saved. Again, in the Bible, prayer is not something lost people do in order to be saved. The Holy Spirit through Paul said that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork without our works. Prayer is a work and our works cannot and do not save us. Thus, no “sinner’s prayer” can save us.
According to Romans 1:16 (“the gospel of Christ … is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth”), Romans 3:22 (“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”), Romans 3:26 (“To declare, I say, at this time [God’s] righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”), and 1 Corinthians 1:21 (“it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”), there is nothing about people saying a sinner’s prayer to be saved. Paul did not say, “Say the sinner’s prayer, and thou shalt be saved.” He preached to a lost man in Philippi, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). The Bible is ever so clear if we have an ear to hear, an eye to see, and a heart to believe. If we have a denominational agenda to push, it is then that we ignore these simple verses and follow up with objections.
At this point, someone may interject to say, “What about….” They proceed to flee to passages such as Psalm 51, Luke 18:13, Romans 10:9-10, and Revelation 3:20. At this point we would be glad to answer these precious people’s objections using the Bible! Provided that they are being asked in faith, Bible questions are very enjoyable to answer.
OBJECTION #1: WHAT ABOUT PSALM 51?
Psalm 51 is a passage that is sometimes used when evangelizing people. Often called “David’s prayer of repentance,” it should be noted that King David is not a lost person. David is a believer, a saint who acknowledges his sins (he has just committed adultery with Bathsheba, and he has conspired to murder her husband in battle; see 2 Samuel chapter 11). The LORD sent the Prophet Nathan to rebuke David in chapter 12.
After meeting with Nathan, David prayed in Psalm 51: “ Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.  Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.”
Again, David was a believer, for he prayed in verse 11 that God’s presence not leave him and that His Holy Spirit not leave him. But, again, David lived under entirely different circumstances. He lived under the Mosaic Law, of which we have no part in this the Dispensation of Grace (Romans 6:14-15). David lived approximately 1,000 years before Calvary’s crosswork, and we live on this side of the cross almost 2,000 years. Beloved, David is not our pattern. Would you as a believer want to pray Psalm 51:11, begging God not to leave you, that He not take His Holy Spirit from you? That would be awful, that would be heresy. The Bible says we are secure in Christ, and that we cannot lose the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30; 2 Timothy 1:12).
OBJECTION #2: WHAT ABOUT LUKE 18:13?
Someone might be asking about Luke 18:13, which we now analyze: “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.” This verse is occasionally inserted into “sinner’s prayers,” “Gospel invitations,” and Gospel tracts. However, it must be remembered here that this publican approached God on the basis of the shed animal blood on the Mercy Seat in the Temple in Jerusalem (see Leviticus chapter 16). This tax collector was under totally different circumstances than where we are today on this side of Calvary. We now approach God the Father on the basis of Jesus Christ’s shed blood. We do not have to ask God for mercy; He is already offering His mercy, His compassion and fellowship that we do not deserve, through Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork. We need God’s mercy, compassion, and fellowship applied to us by us trusting Jesus Christ and Him alone!
OBJECTION #3: WHAT ABOUT ROMANS 10:9-10?
There are some who are probably wondering about Romans 10:9-10, verses that appear on nearly every Gospel tract in the world today, verses that are quoted in probably every Evangelical Gospel sermon: “ 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.”
While the Bible is clear about what it says in these verses, these verses have a context that must be faced head-on. Dear friend, before you stumble over verses 9 and 10, please notice verses 1-3: “ Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.  For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Whose salvation is being discussed in Romans chapter 10? Our salvation? No, verse 1 says this is Israel’s salvation. There were two issues that unbelieving Jews did not want to accept as true during the Acts period—Jesus’ Messiahship and His resurrection (hence the language of Romans 10:9).
Today, some groups teach that, in order to be saved, a lost person must audibly confess Jesus as Lord of his or her life, and that they must then believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. Romans 10:9-10 is not our plan of salvation—this was how unbelieving Israel was saved in the Acts period under Paul’s ministry. Paul wrote the book of Romans during the book of Acts, and Romans chapter 10 is what Paul preached in the synagogues to evangelize Jews during the book of Acts. He never mentioned Romans 10:9-10 in any remaining epistles; it was unique to the Acts transition period. For more information, see the link at the bottom of this study, for our article on Romans 10:9-10 and the often-confused doctrine of confessing Jesus as Lord.
OBJECTION #4: WHAT ABOUT REVELATION 3:20?
It is commonly taught that Jesus is knocking on the door of a lost person’s heart, and that person must let Him inside in order to be saved from their sins. Dearly beloved, this is good denominational doctrine but it is poor Bible doctrine. Revelation 3:20 teaches no such concept. Before we repeat something that we have heard all of our lives in missions meetings and revival services, we need to read Revelation 3:20 within its context: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Verse 14 says that this is Jesus Christ’s message to the church of the Laodiceans. Revelation 3:20 is written to Jewish believers, not lost people! Verse 20 is God warning Jewish believers that there is impending chastisement when Jesus Christ returns at His Second Coming (cf. James 5:8-9), and the Bible says that God chastises believing Jews, not lost Jews (see Hebrews 12:5-10). For more information about Revelation 3:20, see the link at the bottom of this study, for our study on Revelation 3:20 and the often-confused doctrine of Jesus knocking on the hearts of lost people.
The Bible says, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth” (Luke 9:31). God hears Christians, not lost people (the context of this verse is Jesus healing a blind man, and the Jews know that God does not heal anyone on the basis of a lost person begging for healing on their behalf). What God wants from lost people is not for them to pray to be saved, to work to be saved, but for them to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” to be saved, to rest entirely on His Son Jesus Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Bible is not difficult to understand once we toss out denominational interpretations.
Please re-read Romans 4:5: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Faith is the only thing that you can do without doing anything. Faith is just believing/trusting what Jesus Christ already did for you at Calvary’s cross. You are not doing anything but relying on what someone else did. If you want righteousness, a right standing before God, you must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, relying exclusively on His death, bloodshed, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for your sins. That is what the Bible says. Either you believe it or you do not.
Prayer is a work that believers do, and after salvation unto justification (forgiveness of sins and imputed righteousness), Christians can and should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). However, no one becomes a Christian by reciting a man-made formula, a so-called “sinner’s prayer.” Salvation from sins unto eternal life is totally based on Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork. It has nothing to do with a work on our part (a confession, a profession, a prayer, an aisle-walking, a water baptism, a monetary donation, an emotional upheaval, an “altar”-kneeling, et cetera). Let us read Romans 4:5 again: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
» What is “Lordship Salvation?” (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)
» Must I audibly confess “Jesus is Lord” in order to be saved? (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)
» Is “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock” really a Gospel invitation?