The “Sinner’s Prayer” is not without its critics. Because no such prayer or conversion is found in the Bible, some evangelical scholars have even labeled the sinner’s prayer a “cataract of nonsense” and an “apostasy.” More than one pulpit minister has raised questions over the authenticity of the conversions of people using the sinner’s prayer based on research by George Barna.[i]
An early proponent of the sinner’s prayer was the well-known American evangelist Dwight L. Moody.[ii]
Another version of what some would consider the Sinners’ Prayer is found in Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, published in 1678, Ninth Stage, Chapter 18:
Hopeful: He bid me go to him and see. Then I said it was presumption. He said, No; for I was invited to come.[Mt 11:28] Then he gave me a book of Jesus’ inditing, to encourage me the more freely to come; and he said concerning that book, that every jot and tittle thereof stood firmer than heaven and earth.[Mt 24:35] Then I asked him what I must do when I came; and he told me I must entreat upon my knees,[Ps 95:6] [Dan 6:10] with all my heart and soul,[Jer 29:12,13] the Father to reveal him to me. Then I asked him further, how I must make my supplications to him; and he said, Go, and thou shalt find him upon a mercy-seat, where he sits all the year long to give pardon and forgiveness to them that come. I told him, that I knew not what to say when I came; and he bid say to this effect:
God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world; and moreover, that thou art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name.
Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ)
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
St. Paul Street Evangelization
God our Father, I believe that out of Your infinite love You have created me. In a thousand ways I have shunned Your love. I repent of each and every one of my sins. Please forgive me. Thank You for sending Your Son to die for me, to save me from eternal death. I choose this day to enter into (renew my) covenant with You and to place Jesus at the center of my heart. I surrender to Him as Lord over my whole life. I ask You now to flood my soul with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that my life may be transformed. Give me the grace and courage to live as a disciple in Your Church for the rest of my days. Amen.
Paul Harrison Chitwood, in his doctoral dissertation on the history of the Sinner’s Prayer, provides strong evidence that the Sinner’s Prayer originated in the early twentieth century.[iv] One question we might ask is, “if THE Sinner’s Prayer is a salvation issue, then why are there so many different ones, and how can each denomination claim it puts the sinner into their fellowship? Another question we must consider is: Why is the sinner’s prayer not found in Scripture anywhere?
I recently saw one well-known, modern day author claim that Luke 18:10-14 teaches the “sinners prayer” because Jesus used the words *justified,* *prayed,* *sinner.* Here is the text of that affirmation. But there is more here than appears on the surface. It is not merely God’s mercy that is needed, for He has already been merciful to let us continue to live at all. His mercy gives us our breath and life and all things (Acts 17:25).
This parable of the Pharisee and the publican is set in the context of the Jewish temple worship, where sinners would bring their sacrificial offerings to cover their sins, knowing that “it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). How do New Testament Christians come in contact with Christ’s blood?
When studying Bible subjects, it is always important to distinguish the Old Testament from the New. A basic dividing line between the two testaments is Jesus’ death and resurrection. Since the information in Luke 18:10-14 was prior to Jesus, death, this would naturally fall under the covenant God made with the Israelites when He led them out of Egyptian bondage to become a new nation. Considering the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, “conversions” under the Old Law would not be applicable to New Testament examples today.
Matthew 28:18-20—And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Such is also true for the penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:32-43). As you read, be sure you know and apply the difference between the two testaments! In verse 32, we see there were two malefacors led with Christ to be put to death. One of the two mocked Christ saying, “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself (Luke 23:37). But in Luke 23:38-42 the second malefactor rebuked him saying, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Although this conversation between the theif and Jesus Christ is true and right, it was under the old law and not the new. Such a situation could not be applicable to today’s salvation.
[i] Viola, F. & Barna, G. (2007) Pagan Christianity? Exploring the roots of our church practices, Tyndale, p.104