The Sinner's Prayer - Is it new or New Testament?

Title: The Sinner's Prayer - Is it new or New Testament?
Category: Evangelism Issues
Subject: Prayer, Sinner's

You’ve read it at the end of gospel tracts and you’ve heard evangelists encourage people to pray it during a gospel invitation -- the sinner’s prayer. While the words may vary, the intent seems to always be the same, to help a lost person turn to Christ in repentance and faith. But, is this “sinner’s prayer” biblical? Do lost people need this kind of help? What evidence of it do we find in the New Testament? Did Jesus use it? Should we use it today? Some Christian leaders believe the use of a sinner’s prayer is unnecessary and even unbiblical. They seem to believe such a prayer is foreign to Jesus, the early church, and represents an easy believe-ism among modern day evangelicals. While I do not see the sinner’s prayer as a “magic formula” of special words that suddenly pulls the trigger on a born-again experience, I do see the need in sometimes helping a lost person call upon the Lord for salvation. At the age of twenty-three, my pastor helped me pray a simple prayer to God while kneeling at the church altar during a gospel invitation. My pastor led me in that prayer - phrase by phrase. I did not know what to pray, I had lived an ungodly life. Yet, I know the Holy Spirit was powerfully speaking to my heart. I prayed to God in godly sorrow as I trusted Jesus to forgive me. Thirty years later, I believe that the Father heard my heart cry and He changed my life forever. I and millions like me have needed some extra help in calling of Jesus. I am not defending the “sinner’s prayer” by saying it has undeniable biblical support. In its traditionally written gospel tract format, certainly no one would claim that these exact words are found in the Bible. Also, I certainly would never support the use of this prayer as a mechanical prayer that sinners “mouth” or simply quote to acquire forgiveness. The Bible is very clear, without faith it is impossible to please God. We are not saved by our good works, or our good words. I’m writing to ask certain questions that will give credence to using the sinner’s prayer as a tool -- just like we would use a gospel film, a gospel song, an evangelistic book, or sharing one’s testimony. There is no mention in the Bible giving clear instructions to writing and sharing your testimony based on your life before Christ, how you accepted Christ, and your life now -- but Christian leaders have used this evangelistic tool to prepare thousands of Christians for witnessing. Consequently, many people have been won to Christ. My premise is the simple fact that many sinners need spiritual help in calling on the Lord. Here are my simple questions. I. Who did Jesus come to call to repentance? Jesus called sinners to repentance * Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus’ focus was on reaching out to sinners. He modeled this lifestyle continually. From the woman at the well, to the demoniac, to the rich young ruler, Jesus always sought the sinner and called them to repentance. This does not prove the need for a sinner’s prayer, but it does prove that all sinners stand in need of forgiveness. II. How does a sinner answer Jesus’ call to repentance according to Luke 5:32? The atoning act of Jesus Christ has made salvation complete. God initiated salvation and fulfilled it. Man had nothing to do with God’s salvation. However, every person must fulfill certain conditions to make God’s salvation effective for oneself - repentance and faith. A person must turn from their sin (repentance) and turn to God (faith). The term “conversion” is a good word that encompasses the negative response (repentance) and positive response (faith) as one act (human response) in accepting God’s free offer of salvation. The great thing about God’s salvation is the fact that God calls all people to repentance. God’s Spirit is at work drawing and wooing people to Himself. He brings conviction of sin. He convinces people of truth. He, also, brings about faith. The Bible teaches that faith comes by hearing the word of God. So God is always in the business of getting His Word into hearts and lives. God works in the hearts of people to make himself known. At conversion, the Savior saves the sinner because he or she has responded to God’s offer with the right attitude (repentance) and right action (faith). Could this happen without audible words spoken by the sinner (sinner’s prayer)? Yes. God knows our heart! Remember, we are not saved by our works, or by our words. Some people are speechless, they cannot speak or hear. Certainly God would not limit his salvation to only those who can utter sounds and syllables. However, words convey what we think, feel, and believe. A Christian witness seeking to help win the lost must be spiritually sensitive to what is taking place in the life of the sinner. If the witness senses a lack of spiritual understanding or commitment on the part of the lost person, then pushing that person to pray a sinner’s prayer may result in a false confession. III. When does heaven throw a party? Heaven celebrates when a person (a sinner) comes to repentance and faith. * Luke 15:7 “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than ….” * Luke 15:10 “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This does not prove that a “sinner’s prayer” is biblical, but it does point of the fact that all of heaven agrees that sinners are to be celebrated when they are born again into the Kingdom of God. Amen! Do we have Biblical role models of sinners praying to God for forgiveness? * The Tax Collector in Luke 18:13 as he prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” * The Thief on the Cross in Luke 23:42 as he prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” No, no, no … the words are not identical to a modern day “sinner’s prayer” but nevertheless … these two men are sinners calling out to God in prayer. Some evangelicals may feel that these prayers are theologically thin and lack the correct words for calling on Jesus for forgiveness of sin and exercising saving faith. Aren’t you glad that Jesus understands the heart (and words) of a person? However these two men do model a kind of “sinner’s prayer” for future generations. V. What about the Lord’s Prayer -- does it model a kind of “sinner’s prayer”? Luke 11:4 “Forgive us our sins ….” Jesus gave us a model for praying in the gospels. The Lord’s Prayer models … relationship “Father”, adoration “hallowed be your name”, supplication “give us each day our daily bread”, and a prayer for forgiveness. If God’s people are to call on God for forgiveness in maintaining fellowship with the Father, then doesn’t it make sense that a lost sinner would need to call on Jesus for forgiveness in beginning a new relationship? Yes. In closing, the sinner’s prayer is a great tool in helping lost people call on the Lord Jesus for salvation. It should be used with spiritual sensitivity. Soul winning should never be a game of getting people to “pray the prayer” so we can put another notch on our gospel gun handle. No, we should be more concerned about genuine conversion. I’m sure many stand opposed to the use of the sinner’s prayer because they have seen certain abuses -- I have. Some are opposed to it because it doesn’t line up with their “steps to salvation”. However, if you believe that Jesus has the power to save anyone, anywhere, anytime, and salvation is by grace through faith (plus nothing), then being armed with ways of helping lost people call on Jesus for salvation is a good thing. (