The Sinner's Prayer


by Bob Myhan

The so-called sinner’s prayer is the prayer of an alien sinner for the forgiveness of sins. An alien sinner is one who has never been saved and is not yet a citizen in the kingdom of God. The sinner’s prayer has had many incarnations over the years but it usually goes something like this,

“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a lost sinner deserving nothing better than eternal hell. I believe You died on the cross in my place, paying my sin debt, so I could be saved. Right now I put my faith and trust in You to forgive my sins, come into my heart, and save me, giving me eternal life and a home in heaven.

“Thank You, Jesus, for Your free gift of eternal life, and for forgiving my sins. Amen.”

While the above prayer is, indeed, indicative of humility and contrition, the idea that one who is an alien sinner can pray for forgiveness—with an inherent right to expect his sins to be forgiven—is foreign to the New Testament. Neither Jesus nor the apostles nor any New Testament prophet or evangelist ever said or implied that an alien sinner need only pray for forgiveness of sins in order to be saved. Since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), such a prayer cannot be prayed in faith.

One who was encouraged to pray such a prayer might well be asking, “How, then, is an alien sinner to be saved?” One must believe, repent, confess and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.

And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)

The “sinner’s prayer” is mistakenly based on a misunderstanding of the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14. The fact that the tax collector was already a child of God under the Law of Moses is implied by the fact that he was praying in the temple. Gentiles, being “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12), were not allowed in the temple.

Another passage sometimes appealed to, in support of the “sinner’s prayer,” is Acts 8:22. But this man was already a baptized believer (Acts 8:13).

The once-blind man had it right.

“Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.” (John 9:31; see also Proverbs 28:9)