Is The Sinner’s Prayer Biblical?
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16
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You’ve probably heard what’s known as The Sinner’s Prayer. Maybe you’ve told someone to pray it. Or, perhaps you have even prayed it yourself. In some form or another it goes like this:
The Sinner’s Prayer
“Lord, I stand before You a sinner. Thank You for sending Your Son to die for my sins. I believe and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Thank You for forgiving my sins and saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The question is: Is it Biblical? Do we have Scripture to back up the claim that praying a prayer will save you?
The answer is: No. Nowhere in Scripture do we see anyone praying to receive salvation. We also don’t see what is deemed The Sinner’s Prayer.
Sinner’s Who Prayed
We do, however, see sinners praying. Recall Saul of Tarsus (also known as Paul) who persecuted Christians. After the Lord met him on the road to Damascus, Saul prayed for 3 days (Acts 9:9-11). It wasn’t until Ananias came to him and restored his sight, immediately, Saul arose and was baptized (Acts 9:18). It was then that he was saved.
Cornelius the centurion was a devout man who also prayed to God, but he was not a Christian – he wasn’t saved. The Bible says that his prayers and alms went up to God as a memorial (Acts 10:1-4). The Lord sent Peter to his household, and Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and all who were present in his home. The Holy Spirit fell on them, and he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 10:48). It was then that they were saved, not before that.
Calling On The Name of The Lord
Some people posit that texts like Acts 2:21, which says, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” are scriptural basis for The Sinner’s Prayer. However, in that same passage in Acts chapter 2 where Peter was preaching to the Jews, he told them, after they asked what they needed to do, to “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).
Furthermore, scripture tells us what calling on the name of the Lord means in Acts 22:16: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” One calls on the name of the Lord by being obedient to His will and being baptized.
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). So, just calling Him Lord, or even declaring that He is Lord in a prayer, does not save a person. Only those who obey God will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus expounded on this same idea when Nicodemus came to Him at night. He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). A person is not born again, or saved, unless he is born of water (baptized) and of the Holy Spirit.
The Sinner’s Prayer arises from the teaching that a person is saved by faith only. I discuss that idea here. It is not scriptural, hence the Sinner’s prayer is not biblical either. Belief is not enough to save anyone. Therefore saying that you believe in Jesus in a prayer to God is not enough to save you. We saw examples of people in the Bible who prayed, yet their prayers didn’t save them. They were commanded to be baptized. Jesus made it plain and clear what one must do in order to be saved. He said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Anyone who has been teaching The Sinner’s Prayer for salvation must abandon that teaching. We must teach only what is biblical – what we can find in our Bible. If you want to be saved, the Bible teaches that you must believe and be baptized (Mark 16:16), you must repent (Acts 2:38), you must confess that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), and you must live a faithful life until death (Revelation 2:10).
That’s how you get saved – not by The Sinner’s Prayer.