The Sinner’s Prayer
The “sinner’s prayer” is a canned recitation used by Christian Evangelicals in their efforts to convert unbelievers, and as they say, “bring them to Christ,” and get them “born again.”
There are probably a number of versions of it, but in the interest of space, I am going to quote the one that I have most often seen used. It is as follows:
Heavenly Father, I come to you in prayer, asking for the forgiveness of my sins. I confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that Jesus is your Son, and that he died on the Cross at Calvary, that I might be forgiven and have Eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Father, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and I ask you right now to come into my life and by my personal Lord and Savior. I repent of my Sins, and will Worship you all the days of my life! Because your word is truth, I confess with my mouth that I am Born Again, and cleansed by the blood of Jesus. In Jesus name, amen.
Evangelicals are taught (I know this, because I used to be one) to “lead” unblievers in this prayer to “get them saved.” In other words, in order to insure yourself that they’ve said “the right words,” it is necessary to do a “repeat these words after me” kind of thing with the adherent.
So what’s wrong with this?
In the first place, there is not one word of actual Scriptural text in it–it is a total paraphrase–and Scripture plainly states that “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation…”1 not our version of it.
Second, it mixes doctrine from two different gospel messages, which, according to Paul’s command in 2 Timothy 2:15 to rightly divide the word of truth, is a no no.
Third, it puts words into the adherents mouth, which takes from him/her the personal nature of the salvation event/experience.
So, what is the gospel of Christ? Before I show what it is, allow me to say what it isn’t: it is not the same as “the gospel of the kingdom,” which the Lord proclaimed in his earthly ministry to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”2
There were three requirements in the G of the K: 1. Adherents (which were all Jews) must confess their sins;3 2. repent of sins and be baptized (physcially, in water) to prove that they had, indeed, repented;4 and then 3. keep the commandments, sell out and “endure unto the end” to be saved.5
What the prayer does, in addition to putting words in the adherent’s mouth, is incorporate elements of the above gospel with what the Apostle Paul referred to eleven times in his epistles as “the gospel of Christ.” which he referred to three times as, “my gospel,” once as “the gospel of the uncircumcision” and “that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles,” and at least a couple of dozen times simply as “the gospel,” all of which plainly alludes to the fact that this gospel was a different message than that which the Lord’s 12 disciples were given to take to Israel, and indeed it was, as I will now show in the scriptures. The gospel of Christ is briefly stated in the following passage in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures 6
Notice that it says nothing in this passage about confessing and repenting of sins, getting baptized, selling out, keeping the commandments, etc. etc. That’s because these things are NOT a part of Paul’s gospel. After he had preached the gospel of Christ to the Philippean jailor in Acts 16, he (the jailor) asked: “what must I do to be saved?” Paul’s response was: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…”7
Moreover, notice in Paul’s sermon in Antioch in Acts 13 that, unlike Peter’s command to Israel to repent and be baptized in Acts 2, belief in what Paul preached to them was all that was required to possess the forgiveness of sins:
“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” ((Acts 13:38-39))
Corroborating this idea that with Paul’s gospel all one must do to be saved and justified before God is to believe, is his doctrine of justification by faith in his letter to the Romans:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: (my emphasis) for there is no difference: 8
Notice two things in the italicize phrase of this passage: The faith that justifies is Christ’s faith, and the righteousness of God (justification) is imputed (see chapter 4:24) to all them that believe.
Furthermore “works,” which would include repenting, getting baptized, selling out, keeping the commandments, enduring unto the end, are excluded from Paul’s gospel. In fact, in Romans chapter 4 it says that those who add works to this equation will have their works counted against them:
“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.” 9
And finally, there is no requirement to confess sins in order to get them forgiven as there is in the gospel of the kingdom, because with Paul’s gospel the sin issue was taken care of on the cross, 2000 years ago:
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
There are two things established here : 1. God is now reconciled to the entire world, “not imputing their (the world’s) trespasses unto them.” And this is because he “made him (Christ) to be sin for us” at Calvary, where he took upon himself the sin debt of the world, i.e., the sins of everyone who ever lived or will live in it. It’s paid for, lock, stock and barrel; like someone else paying off a debt you owed to a bank. 2. But there is something that it DOES NOT say in this passage that needs to be pointed out: Just because the sin debt is paid for does not mean this results in righteousness of God (justification) being imputed to everyone’s heavenly account, for it says, “we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” This is the call to the people of the world to reconcile themselves to the God by believing and receiving the gospel, (see 1 Cor. 15 above), which is the requisite to being justified, saved and sealed “unto the day of redemption.” 10
This last command to the world summarily shoots down the contention by Christian Universalists that verse 19, along with 1 Timothy 2:3,4, automatically confers salvation on everyone in the world, from beginning to end, effectively putting them into the family of God. Indeed, Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary made the way for anyone in the world to become a part of the family of God, but God has left it up to us to decide if we want this. The offer of salvation is there for us up to our last breath, and no one knows for certain when that last breath will come. So, if you have never believed and received the gospel, as Paul urges (beseeches) you in the passage, do as the Philippean jailor did, and reconcile yourself unto God by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
All Scripture references are taken from the King James Bible
Related articles for further reading on this subject:
Are Members of Christ’s Body Born Again, or Saved? Baptism in the Grace Dispensation Choosing Jesus Evangelism vs. Evangelicalism