What is the Sinner’s Prayer? Is it in the Bible? If not, why is this believed to exist? If so, where is it in the Scriptures?
The Sinner’s Prayer
There really isn’t a “sinner’s prayer” per say in the Bible. Just recognizing that we are all sinners should make us pray and acknowledge that we are. First John 1:8, 10 says “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” That is the first place to begin in prayer; to ask for forgiveness and confess that we are sinners and confess them to God because “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). To try and believe that we are not sinners is to “make him a liar” and this means that “his word is not in us.” I once had a man who didn’t like it when I prayed for God to forgive us of our sins as he said “I am not a sinner” to which I said “Well, I am so sorry, then Christ didn’t die for you because Jesus died for sinners and if you aren’t one, then I guess He didn’t die for you.” The man was rather offended and never came back but I am not ashamed to admit I am a sinner and need forgiveness every single day. That is why a sinner’s prayer is a Christian’s prayer and needs to be prayed each and every day.
All Have Sinned
Paul understood that even after conversion he was still a sinner. He wrote that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12). When Paul says that there is “none righteous” and that “all have turned aside” as well as the fact that “no one does good, not even one” I would say that covers everyone who is alive today or who has ever lived. Even the spiritual giant that Paul was he still struggled just like you and I do every day with sin. He wrote that “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19) and “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom 7:18). Can I get an amen? I don’t have the ability to do good. I have the desire but not the ability and in me, that is in my flesh, there also is nothing good but He makes us good in this way: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
A Self-Righteous Prayer vs. a Sinner’s Prayer
Luke 18:9-14 “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “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.”
The difference here is that the Pharisee, or someone today who is self-righteous (like the man who left our church declaring that he was not a sinner) “trusted in himself” that he was “righteous” and as a result “treated others with contempt.” He compared himself with the tax collector which is the wrong standard of measurement for “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor 10:12). He trusted in his works even though no one is saved by works (Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). He trusted in his tithes, his fasting’s, and said “Well at least I not an extortioner or adulterer.”
Compare this self-righteous man who trusted in his works to save him to the tax collector which is an obvious reference to a sinner. He “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” What did Jesus say about the tax collector who confessed himself as a sinner? He said that “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.” There is the huge difference. He was justified by his confession and trusting in God to forgive his sins and so he humbled himself before God. The other man, the self-righteous Pharisee exalted himself and the one “who exalts himself will be humbled.” Would you rather humble yourself or have God do it for you!?
Although the exact phrase the “sinner’s prayer” is not precisely found in the Bible, the concept is. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and the wages that are due us is eternal death (Rom 6:23; John 3:18) but here is why the gospel is called good news: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:9-13). Today if you will confess your sins, repent of them, and trust in the saving work of Christ, then you too will be saved. That is because God hears and answers the prayers of the sinner, even after they sin time and time again, just like I do.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon