Why The Sinner's Prayer Is So Powerful
Keith G. Ball - Minister, the church of Christ at Delaware, Ohio
Prayer is powerful! Every Christian should appreciate the wonderful resource of prayer that God has given us. The inspired writer James says, "...The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much..." (James 5:16). There have been many wise and respected men who have expressed their opinion about the virtue of prayer in their lives. Richard Trench said, "Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness." Abraham Lincoln said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day."
Our Lord Jesus Christ has given many instructions concerning prayer. On one occasion, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, "Lord teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Jesus proceeded to teach his disciples how to pray and even how not to pray. Based upon this verse, it is this writer's conclusion that prayer is a Christian virtue in which God's people need biblical instruction and grounding. Prayer, in many ways, is a natural outpouring of the heart; however, we need to give consideration to the instructions on prayer found in the word of God. For example, we need to follow bible guidelines on humility, how to reverently address God, thanksgiving for daily bread, asking for forgiveness and forgiving others who have sinned against us. In prayer, we must seek the will of God, the Father, as Jesus did while in the Garden of Gethsemane, "...not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). James says that a reason for unanswered prayer is because the petitioner asked with a selfish intent. "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3). An example of this is with the Pharisee who was totally void of any humility and was so absorbed with himself and his own self-righteousness, that his prayer was rejected by God (Luke 18:10-14).
It is equally important that when we pray and ask for gifts and blessings from God that we ask for things that are consistent with the nature of God. It would be wrong for me to pray that I might win the multi-million dollar sweepstakes because (a) it is a selfish worldly request and (b) it shows a lack of faith in God to care for me without having the millions. It would be wrong for me to ask God to give me wisdom that I might be able to cheat and defraud my neighbor. God is not going to bless me to be able to do that which is sinful. The Psalmist has said, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18).
Thus, the reader will understand that some prayers are impossible for God to grant because they are inconsistent with the divine nature of God. Let us consider a prayer that has been prayed by thousands, maybe even millions. This is a prayer that has come to be called "The Sinner's Prayer." There have been different variations and wordings of this prayer, but the idea remains the same. Oftentimes, the individual is encouraged to use his/her own words and is prompted to include a confession of his own unworthiness, an acknowledgement of Christ as the Son of God and a sincere desire to be saved from sin and condemnation. The following is an example of "The Sinner's Prayer."
I confess that I am a sinner. I do believe that Jesus died for me to pay my sin debt. I ask you to forgive my sins, and the best I know how, I trust Him now as my Saviour. From this moment on, I will depend on Him for my salvation.
The idea behind this prayer is that it is to be prayed by the individual who is coming to Christ to receive salvation, thus becoming a Christian. The problem with the prayer is, it is amiss. It is amiss because it is asking God to answer a prayer that is contrary to His plan to redeem man. It is wrong because it lacks biblical authorization. In other words, there is not a single example in the bible where an individual coming to Christ, has their sins remitted by praying that God would receive them and forgive their sins.
On the day of Pentecost, when Peter and the other apostles preached the first gospel sermon after the resurrection of Christ, they were asked by the multitude listening to the sermon "what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). The question was a question regarding salvation. Peter did not tell these sorrowful listeners to humbly recite after him a prayer of salvation. Rather, he told them "...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). Prayer is not mentioned until verse 42, and here it is in the context of those who are saved and are "continuing in the apostles' doctrine." There are many examples of conversion in the book of Acts that are all consistent with the example just considered. Consider the example of Saul of Tarsus. Saul, also known as Paul, had made havoc of the church and had caused much harm. He was on his way to Damascus to find Christians and have them arrested. While on his way, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him (Acts 9). Jesus identified himself to Paul as the one that Paul was persecuting and informed him that he should go into the city and he would be told what he must do. Although Paul did not know it at the time, Jesus was planning to send a man named Ananias to give him God's instructions. For three days Paul prayed and fasted. We do not know the content of this prayer. Was it "the sinner's prayer?" No, but it was the prayer of a sinner. Paul retained his sins up until the time he was baptized to wash away those sins. "Then one, Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, "came to me; and he stood and said to me, `Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, `The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:12-16).
Dear friend, do not think that this is an attempt to minimize the importance of confession. The inspired apostle Paul stated quite clearly in Romans 10:9-10, "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation."
It is not our intent to minimize anything that God has made important! We would not dare minimize important bible themes such as the blood of Jesus, the Gospel, repentance, sanctification, the church, baptism or confession. (Note, many more themes and subjects could be added to this list.) While it is not our intent to minimize the important bible theme, it is likewise as important not to elevate theme or subject to the point that other themes are neglected. Such is the case with "the sinner's prayer" and confession. If I emphasized and preached only repentance, I would be guilty of not preaching all of God's plan of salvation. Repentance certainly is necessary for salvation, for Jesus himself said "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). If I preached and emphasized faith only, I again would be guilty of neglect. Faith/belief is an essential part of God's plan of redemption (John 3:16), but it must not be the only salvation theme that is emphasized! The inspired writer said, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Such is the case with "the sinner's prayer", which falls into the category of faith-only doctrine.
The reader will note that the title of this tract is, Why The Sinner's Prayer Is So Powerful. The answer to this question is one that I ask you, the reader, to please consider very carefully. We have established that prayer is a wonderful, powerful virtue! We have also established that some prayers God cannot grant because they are inconsistent with the nature of God. Yes, prayer is powerful, but God will not and cannot save someone by prayer alone. Someone may be quick to reply, "God can do anything." To this I would answer, "Yes, God is all powerful but no, God cannot do anything." God cannot lie or do anything inconsistent with his nature and being. It would be inconsistent with who God is as well as His word to save man when he prays, "The Sinner's Prayer." The reason "The Sinner's Prayer" is so powerful is that so many have prayed this prayer sincerely believing that they have done that which is necessary to obtain salvation. The truth is that they retain their sins. This is one of Satan's most effective tools in getting multitudes to believe a lie. Sincerity does not matter when the masses have "faith only." Sincerity does not matter when the masses utter words "Lord Jesus come into my heart and same me from my sins."
Dear friend, never forget that salvation is a free gift from God (Romans 6:23). One should also keep in mind that there is nothing that anyone can do to merit or earn his way into eternal life. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9). However, there is something that man must do. Man has an active part in his own salvation. It is as if God has extended the hand of salvation to man, but man must reach out in obedience to God and take His hand. Jesus said "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). This is why Peter told the multitude on Pentecost, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (KJV)(Acts 2:40). It was then that three thousand were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Indeed Jesus is our only hope of salvation. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is the "author of eternal salvation" but note that Jesus cannot save us unless we OBEY him. "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). What must I do to obey Jesus? Please note these progressive steps of obedience and thus steps toward God and closer to heaven.
Hear: Romans 10:17; Matthew 7:24
Believe: John 3:16; John 8:24
Repent: Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38
Confess: Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9,10
Be Baptised: Mark 16:16; Romans 6:1-6; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21
Growth & Faithfulness: 2 Peter 1:1-11; 1 John 1:7; 2 Peter 3:18