The Sinner's Prayer is an evangelical term referring to any prayer of repentance, prayed by individuals who feel convicted of the presence of sin in their lives and desire to form or renew a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is a popular phenomenon in Protestant circles, and has been called "a hallmark of evangelical conversionism". It is not intended as liturgical like a creed or a confiteor. It is intended to be an act of initial conversion to Christianity, and the only way to receive salvation.
It also may be prayed as an act of "re-commitment" for those who are already believers in the faith. Often, at the end of a worship service, a minister or other worship leader will invite those desiring to receive Christ (thus becoming Christians) to repeat with him or her the words of some form of a sinner's prayer. It also is frequently found on printed gospel tracts, urging people to "repeat these words from the bottom of your heart".
The "Sinner’s Prayer" takes various forms, all of which have the same general thrust. Since it is considered a matter of one's personal will, it can be prayed silently, aloud, read from a suggested model, or repeated after someone modeling the prayer role. There is no formula of specific words considered essential, although it usually contains an admission of sin and a petition asking that Jesus enter into the person's heart (that is to say, the center of their life). The use of the sinner's prayer is common within many Protestant churches such as Baptists, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and charismatics. It is sometimes uttered by Christians seeking redemption or reaffirming their faith in Christ during a crisis or disaster, when death may be imminent. It is not used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Mormons, Orthodox Lutherans, Christian Churches, Churches of Christ or the International Churches of Christ.
The "Sinner’s Prayer" is not without its critics. Because no such prayer or conversion is found in the bible, some biblical scholars have even labeled the sinner's prayer a "cataract of nonsense" and an "apostasy". David Platt has raised questions over the authenticity of the conversions of people using the sinner's prayer based on research by George Barna.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Typical examples
- 3 Support
- 4 Criticisms
- 5 References
- 6 External links
The Sinner's Prayer, as popularly known today, has roots in Protestant Christianity. Some affirm that it evolved, in some form or another, in the early days of the Protestant Reformation movement, as a reaction against the Roman Catholic dogma of justification by means of meritorious works. Others believe it originated as early as the eighteenth century revival movement. However, 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.
Evangelists such as Billy Graham and evangelistic organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ brought the concept to prominence in the 20th century. Televangelists often ask viewers to pray a Sinner's Prayer with them, one phrase at a time, to become a Christian. Quite commonly, such a prayer appears at the conclusion of a tract and is recited in a religious service or other public service as an invitation for congregants to affirm their faith, sometimes as part of an altar call. It is said to happen many times every day around the world—in one-to-one conversations between friends, relatives, and even strangers; in pastors' offices; via email; in online chat rooms; in addition to both small and large worship services.
An early 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.
The Peace with God organization, and other evangelistic organizations and preachers, messengers (delegates) to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) 2012 annual meeting reaffirmed the "Sinner's Prayer" after some debate:
We affirm that repentance and faith involve a crying out for mercy and a calling on the Lord (Rom. 10:13), often identified as a "Sinner's Prayer", as a biblical expression of repentance and faith. A "Sinner's Prayer" is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the gospel (Matt. 6:7, ).
The absence of any specific examples of people praying the "Sinner's Prayer" in the Bible is also used by some to argue against it. There are also no examples of conversions in the Bible with people praying such a prayer. Though a more prominent concern is voiced by those who say it creates within the sinner a false sense of security.
David Platt, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor in Birmingham, Alabama, has said that "Many assume they are saved simply because of a prayer they prayed. It's not that praying a prayer in and of itself is bad—but the question in John 2-3 is what kind of faith are we calling people to?" Speaking at the Verge church leaders' conference said the emphasis on the Sinner's Prayer is "unbiblical and damning." he continued,
"I'm convinced that many people in our churches are simply missing the life of Christ, and a lot of it has to do with what we've sold them as the gospel, i.e. pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, invite Christ into your life. Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrase, 'accept Jesus into your heart' or 'invite Christ into your life'? It's not the gospel we see being preached, it's modern evangelism built on sinking sand. And it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls."
Platt says he is concerned that some people "say they believe in Jesus, …say they have accepted Jesus, …say that they have received Jesus, but they are not saved and will not enter the kingdom of heaven". While he affirmed that people calling out to God with repentant faith is fundamental to attaining eternal life (salvation), he said his comments about the "sinner's prayer" have been deeply motivated "by a concern for authentic conversions".
Subsequently he has written:
My comments about the sinner's prayer have been deeply motivated by a concern for authentic conversion and regenerate church membership.... Do I believe it is "wrong" for someone to pray a "prayer of salvation"? Certainly not. Calling out to God in prayer with repentant faith is fundamental to being saved…. (I) urge us, as we go to all people among all nations with the good news of God's love, to be both evangelistically zealous and biblically clear at the same time (Matthew 28:18-20).
Possible shallow, or insincere commitment
A second and related criticism is that many believers fail to mature as Christians after their supposed conversion using the Sinner's Prayer. An article in Christianity Today claims that "mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians".
Anyone can, and most Americans do, "believe" in Jesus rather than some alternative savior. Anyone can, and many Americans sometimes do, say a prayer asking Jesus to save them. But not many embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God's will, and radical, costly discipleship.
— David P. Gushee
The writer encourages believers to go beyond a sinner's prayer and "embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God's will, and radical, costly discipleship". "Love of God" and "Love of neighbor" are the Great Commandments. See also Disciple (Christianity).
Does the reciter truly understand what the commitment to Christ really means? Praying a sinner’s prayer with someone who isn’t genuinely repentant may create a false sense of security in the one reciting it. According to John 6:44, if a sinner is ready to accept Jesus as Savior, a biblical prerequisite is that the sinner (Christian prospect) has been drawn by the Holy Spirit.
Not Taught in Revelation 3:20 or Romans 10:9-10, 13
Another criticism of the Sinner's Prayer is that passages used to support it actually are not about the lost repeating a prayer in order to become Christians. The Sinner's Prayer is often employed in conjunction with Revelation 3:20 and Romans 10:9-10, 13. Revelation 3:20 is employed to teach that Christ is knocking at the door of one's heart, and when a lost person asks Him to come inside, Jesus comes into the sinner's heart. Romans 10:9-10, 13 are employed to affirm that one must confess with his mouth, that is, say the sinner's prayer, in order to become a Christian. However, the Baptist Greek professor Thomas Ross argues that Revelation 3:20 is about members of a church turning to the Lord, not about Christ entering into the heart of the lost. He provides 14 reasons that Revelation 3:20 is not about the lost asking Jesus into their hearts to become saved. He similarly argues that Romans 10:9-14 refers to Christians confessing Christ publicly before men and manifesting a life of prayer, rather than to the lost becoming saved by a one-time repetition of the Sinner's Prayer.
Another form of this criticism of the sinner's prayer states that simply praying the sinner's prayer does not actually grant salvation to the one praying. One essay on the topic from the "Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry" asserts that "The 'Sinner's Prayer' is, today, an effective tool of Satan to dupe people into believing they are saved when they are not".
Many Christians make the cataclysmic and unbiblical mistake of giving the other person a false sense of assurance of salvation, by asserting the person is saved because he prayed a prayer. So, many people walk away from such a conversation still dead in their sins, but believing what they've been told. "I believed what my friend told me, and I prayed a prayer. So, now I'm a Christian!"—Tony Miano
Absence of the Sinner's Prayer in historic Christianity
Other opponents of the Sinner's Prayer point out that no classic Christian confession of faith from any evangelical denomination in Christendom affirms that one must say the Sinner's Prayer to be saved; on the contrary, Baptist, Presbyterian and other Reformed, and other evangelical groups unanimously teach justification by faith alone. They argue that the Sinner's Prayer is a modern deviation from orthodox evangelicalism  and a deviation from classic evangelical methods of evangelism.
Doctrine of baptismal regeneration
Baptismal regenerationalists—those Christians who believe that when one is baptized in water is the actual moment that an individual receives salvation include Roman Catholics, the Churches of Christ, International Churches of Christ, Christian churches and churches of Christ, and the United Pentecostal Church International. This is based on passages in the New Testament that some interpret to require water baptism for salvation. Examples of these may be found in Mark 16:16, John 3:3-5, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21.
In what is termed the Great Commission of Jesus just prior to his Ascension in Matt. 28:18-20, he instructed his followers to go, make disciples, teach them, and baptize them. Jesus was baptized in water by John the Baptist. His disciples baptized converts, but Jesus never personally baptized anyone, according to John 4:2 which says that "Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples" did. Opponents of baptismal regeneration understand baptism to be a means of identifying with Christ, and that when performed by immersion it is symbolic of his death, burial and resurrection. Some dispensationalists believe the baptism that saves a person is the Baptism with the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives, and not water baptism. Many other evangelicals and fundamentalists recognize that texts such as Mark 16:16, John 3:5, and Acts 2:38 refer to baptism in water, but argue that such verses, interpreted in their context, provide no support whatsoever for baptismal regeneration. Historic or Landmark Baptists affirm that the baptism with the Holy Spirit was a completed event that took place in the first century and is not for today, arguing that texts employed to support baptismaal regeneration are actually totally consistent with justification by faith alone.
Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches also teach that forgiveness is received in baptism (although they practice this in the "Christening" with water of infants or adult converts). A leading Roman Catholic authority defines "baptism" in the following fashion:
A sacrament of the New Law instituted by Jesus Christ, in which, as a result of washing with water accompanied by the words "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," a human being is spiritually regenerated, and made capable of receiving the other sacraments…. Baptism of the unborn. If there is not a probable hope that a child can be baptized after birth, Baptism may be administered in the womb: in the case of a head presentation, on the head; in other presentations on the part presented, but then it has to be again baptized conditionally if it is living on complete delivery. Should the mother die in labour, the child is to be extracted from the womb and, if certainly living, baptized absolutely; if life is doubtful, conditionally. An aborted fetus must also be baptized, unconditionally or conditionally according to the circumstances
— Donald Attwater
Rebuttal arguments include such as the following:
The clear teaching of the New Testament is that it is faith and faith alone that saves. At least sixty times the New Testament states that salvation is received by faith with no mention of baptism. In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul parallels baptism with circumcision and in Romans 4:9-12, denies the "grace plus works for salvation" heresy by stating that Abraham was justified by God before he was circumcised. Circumcision was a practice commanded by the Lord to Israel and in believing God and outwardly acknowledging Him as a Jew by this sign, showed that he believed and identified himself with Jehovah God and as an Israelite. Circumcision never made anyone a Jew and likewise baptism does not make one a child of God. Like baptism, circumcision was an act of identification.
— Cooper Abrams
Evidence presented to advocate baptism being necessary for salvation includes the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul). After Christ had told Saul to enter Damascus where Saul would be told what he "must" do,[Acts 9:6] Saul was blind for three days and was praying during this time.[Acts 9:9-11] Ananias arrived, cured Paul of his blindness and baptized Saul.[Acts 22:16]
Others see it as an example of apparently instantaneous salvation coming through repentance without water baptism or any kind of work, citing the assurance Jesus gave to the penitent thief on a cross next to him during the crucifixion.[Lk 23:39-43]
An opposing position here is that the penitent thief was dying under the older Mosaical law which did not require baptism (cf. Mikveh) and that before Christ's death He had authority and did forgive many without any of the salvation requirements found after His Death, Burial and Resurrection found in the rest of the New Testament.[Heb 9:15-17] Additionally, it is unknown whether the thief had been baptized at a stage in life before being crucified. John the Baptist and Jesus' disciples already had baptized many individuals.
Baptismal regenerationalists refer to water baptism as the "washing of regeneration", believing it to be part of the "born again" conversion experience in the Bible. The passage states, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord".[Acts 22:16] Opponents of baptismal regeneration argue that vast numbers of texts in John's Gospel, the only specifically evangelistic book of the New Testament (John 20:31), promise eternal life to every single believer (John 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:47, etc.) and so demonstrate that eternal life is received by faith alone before baptism. Similarly, while texts affirm that those who do not repent and believe are damned (Luke 13:3; Jn 3:18, 36), no Biblical text affirms that the unbaptized are damned, so baptismal regeneration is false. Advocates of the Sinner's Prayer also believe verses such as Romans 10:13 show that people are saved before baptism when they pray and ask to be saved, while evangelical and fundamentalist opponents of the Sinner's Prayer believe that a defense of the Sinner's Prayer plays into the hands of opponents of justification by faith alone by enshrining a human tradition over the Biblical mandate to repent and believe to receive eternal life (Mr 1:15).
- Christian views on the old covenant
- Conversion to Christianity
- Decision theology
- Four Spiritual Laws
- Jesus Prayer
- Lord's Prayer
- Ministry of Jesus
- Olsen, Ted. "Southern Baptists Debate the Sinner's Prayer". Christianity Today.  18 Mar 2013
- Howard, Robert Glenn. "A Theory of Vernacular Rhetoric: The Case of the 'Sinner's Prayer' Online". Folklore 116.2 (2005): 175-91
- Jackson, Wayne. "The "Sinner’s Prayer"—Is It Biblical?"  18 Mar 2013
- Steven Francis Staten. "The Sinner's Prayer". The Interactive Bible. Retrieved 12-03-2007. Check date values in:
- "Barna Study of Religious Change Since 1991 Shows Significant Changes by Faith Group".  Accessed 3 May 2013
- Jackson, Wayne. "The 'Sinner’s Prayer' — Is It Biblical?" Christian Courier.  Accessed 2 May 2013
- The Sinner's Prayer: A Historical and Theological Analysis, Paul Harrison Chitwood. (Ph. D. Diss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001)
- Miano, Tony. "Why The Sinner's Prayer Is Unbiblical". Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  18 Mar 2013
- Viola, F. & Barna, G. (2007) Pagan Christianity? Exploring the roots of our church practices, Tyndale, p.104
- Exod. 25:22; Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89; Heb. 4:16
- Billy Graham Institute
- The Four Spiritual Laws on the Campus Crusade for Christ website
- Platt, David. "David Platt: What I Really Think About the 'Sinner's Prayer,' Conversion, Mission, and Deception". Christianity Today. 6/28/2012 
- David P. Gushee, "Jesus and the Sinner's Prayer: What Jesus says doesn't match what we usually say". Christianity Today, March 2007. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/march/29.72.html
- Will I Be Saved if I Ask Jesus to Come into my Heart or Repeat the Sinners Prayer?
- Is the "Sinner's Prayer" in Romans 10:9-10 or Romans 10:13? An Exegesis and Application of Romans 10:9-14 for Soulwinning Churches and Christians, by Thomas Ross
- For example, one scholar lists reason #11 not to ask Jesus into one's heart as: "An examination of centuries of early Christian writings reveals no evidence that anyone thought that salvation came to those who aked Jesus into their hearts. Furthermore, no Baptist or evangelical Protestant confession of faith, or any other significant confession of faith of Christendom whatever, has affirmed that salvation comes by asking Jesus into one’s heart. Church history reveals that this idea is a modern innovation that would have been foreign to the vast majority of believers since Christ started His church in the first century. Someone who thinks that asking Jesus into his heart is proper because "everyone does it" ignores the position of vast numbers of modern Bible-believing churches who oppose this extrabiblical practice. Such a person also ignores the fact that for century after century not only was it false to say that everyone did it, but in fact absolutely nobody did it." Will I Be Saved if I Ask Jesus to Come into my Heart or Repeat the Sinners Prayer?
- Olson, Norman A. "Did Jesus Ever Baptize Anyone?" Baptist Bulletin. . Accessed 19 Mar 2013
- Compare the book Heaven Only for the Baptized? The Gospel of Christ vs. Baptismal Regeneration, by Thomas Ross
- Spirit Baptism: A Completed Historical Event; An Exposition and Defense of the Historic Baptist View of Spirit Baptism
- Attwater, Donald. A Catholic Dictionary. New York, NY: Macmillan. 1961. p.45
- Abrams, Cooper. "Does the Bible say Baptism is Necessary for Salvation?"
- Pohle, Joseph. "Regeneration." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Accessed 3 May 2013 
- Staten, Steven Francis. "'The Sinner's Prayer:' Modern apostasy and false teaching that prevents men from being saved".  Accessed 3 May 2013
- "What about the thief on the cross?
- Heaven Only for the Baptized? The Gospel of Christ vs. Baptismal Regeneration, by Thomas Ross
- Compare the discussion at: http://faithsaves.net/baptismal-regeneration/