There has been a longstanding debate within Christian circles around the use of the Sinner’s Prayer. Is it biblical? Can saying this prayer lead you to salvation?
The Sinner’s Prayer is a prayer that one prays to God when they acknowledge that they are a sinner and in need of a Savior. Because there is no Sinner’s Prayer referenced in the Bible, many Christians have been skeptical about its use. The prayer has roots in Protestant Christianity. Evangelists like Billy Graham brought the concept to prominence in the 20th century. Televangelists often asked viewers to pray a Sinner’s Prayer with them, one phrase at a time, to become a Christian and this prayer led many to accepting Jesus Christ in their lives.
The prayer takes various forms. It is a matter of one’s personal will, often prayed silently, aloud or read from a model, or repeated after someone who is saying the prayer. One of the earliest proponents of the sinner’s prayer was American evangelist D.L. Moody connected with the Holiness Movement. An early version of this prayer is found in Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, published in 1678. This version goes like this:
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.
Another popular version that Billy Graham shared is written:
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.
The first facet of the Sinner’s Prayer is understanding that we are all sinners. We know from Scripture that we have all sinned and in need of mercy and forgiveness from God. The Bible says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). This prayer is not only a plea for grace instead of judgment but also a request for mercy instead of wrath.
The second facet of the Sinner’s Prayer is knowing what God has done to remedy our sin. Salvation, commonly referred to as “being saved” means deliverance or redemption from sin and its consequences. We are told in Romans 5:8 that God demonstrated His love for us through the death of His son, because of our sins. Ephesians 2:5 tells us “even though we were dead because of our sins, [God] gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved.” In order to receive salvation, we have to be born again.
Another crucial aspect of salvation is God’s gift of grace. We are told in Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God.” Grace is God’s love in action. Biblical scholar Paul Enns describes grace as “the unmerited or undeserving favor of God to those who are under condemnation.” Though we are undeserving of grace, God loves us so much that He continues to save us. We needed to be rescued. God made us “in His own image.” Genesis 2:7 tells us “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God energized them through His breath. Given man was created in God’s image, we know that they were perfect. But their disobedience showed not only their distrust of God, but their own brokenness. We are similar, being that we are like God, yet ungodly, victims in a world of sin. We are living in a world of lost souls. But God doesn’t want this for us. In fact, God rescues us from our sin.
To be saved, or born again is to accept the plan of salvation that Jesus offers us. In order to understand salvation, it’s imperative that you understand the death and resurrection of Christ which points to our salvation. The Son of God was made human, and during His earthly life, he lived a perfect life, and died not because He wanted to but because we needed salvation. He was made to die for us. Amazingly, God raised Him from the dead into new life, and promises to resurrect us when Jesus comes again. The salvation we need is Jesus, and can only be accessed through Him.
When one says the Sinner’s Prayer, they are declaring to God that they rely on Jesus Christ as their savior. Ultimately, saying the Sinner’s Prayer won’t accomplish anything on its own. Saying it alone won’t result in your salvation. We can only achieve that through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection and becoming born-again. A true sinner’s prayer only acknowledges what a person knows, believes and understands about their sinfulness and need for salvation.