Sinner's prayer

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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 his Son Jesus Christ. It is a popular phenomenon in Protestant circles, and has been called "a hallmark of evangelical conversionism".[1] 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”.[2]

The “Sinner’s Prayer” takes various forms, all of which have the same general thrust.[3] 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 generally not used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Lutherans, Christian Churches, Churches of Christ or the International Churches of Christ. [4]

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".[5] David Platt has raised questions over the authenticity of the conversions of people using the sinner's prayer based on research by George Barna.[6]


The Sinner's Prayer, as popularly known today, has roots in Christian Protestantism. It probably 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.[7] Others believe it originated as early as the eighteenth century revival movement.[2]

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.[8]

Typical examples[edit]

An early proponent of the sinner's prayer was the well-known American evangelist D. L. Moody.[9]

An early version of 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.[10] 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.

Billy Graham[edit]

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.


Campus Crusade for Christ[edit]

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.[12]


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, 15:7–9).[1]


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. A more prominent concern is voiced by those who say it creates within the sinner a false sense of security.

"Authentic Conversions?"[edit]

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?"[1] 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."[13]

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).[14]

Francis Chan, a well-known evangelical Christian, has been making statements that contradict the sinner's prayer and emphasizing baptism and the Holy Spirit [15]

Possible shallow, or insincere commitment[edit]

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[16]

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).[16]

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.[16]

Another form of this criticism of the sinner's prayer states that simply praying the sinners pray 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[8]

Doctrine of baptismal regeneration[edit]

Baptismal regenerationalists—those Christians who believe that when one is baptized in water is the actual moment that an individual receives salvation. They 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. They believe the baptism that saves a person is the Baptism with the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives, and not water baptism.[17]

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[18]

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[19]

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][20]

Others see it as an example of apparently instantaneous salvation coming through repentance without water baptism or any kind of work but saying and believing the Sinner's Prayer, citing the assurance Jesus gave to the penitent thief on a cross next to him during the crucifixion.[Lk 23:39-43][21]

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 Baptizer and Jesus' disciples already had baptized many individuals.[22]

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] Others believe, even though not stated in the biblical text, it was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that washed away his sins as a result of his calling on the name of the Lord.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Olsen, Ted. "Southern Baptists Debate the Sinner's Prayer". Christianity Today. [1] 18 Mar 2013
  2. ^ a b Howard, Robert Glenn. "A Theory of Vernacular Rhetoric: The Case of the 'Sinner's Prayer' Online". Folklore 116.2 (2005): 175-91
  3. ^ Jackson, Wayne. "The “Sinner’s Prayer”—Is It Biblical?" [2] 18 Mar 2013
  4. ^
  5. ^ Steven Francis Staten. "The Sinner's Prayer". The Interactive Bible. Retrieved 12-03-2007. 
  6. ^ "Barna Study of Religious Change Since 1991 Shows Significant Changes by Faith Group". [3] Accessed 3 May 2013
  7. ^ Jackson, Wayne. "The 'Sinner’s Prayer' — Is It Biblical?" Christian Courier. [4] Accessed 2 May 2013
  8. ^ a b Miano, Tony. "Why The Sinner's Prayer Is Unbiblical". Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). [5] 18 Mar 2013
  9. ^ Viola, F. & Barna, G. (2007) Pagan Christianity? Exploring the roots of our church practices, Tyndale, p.104
  10. ^ Exod. 25:22; Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89; Heb. 4:16
  11. ^ Billy Graham Institute
  12. ^ The Four Spiritual Laws on the Campus Crusade for Christ website
  13. ^
  14. ^ Platt, David. "David Platt: What I Really Think About the 'Sinner's Prayer,' Conversion, Mission, and Deception". Christianity Today. 6/28/2012 [6]
  15. ^ [7]
  16. ^ a b c David P. Gushee, "Jesus and the Sinner's Prayer: What Jesus says doesn't match what we usually say". Christianity Today, March 2007.
  17. ^ Olson, Norman A. "Did Jesus Ever Baptize Anyone?" Baptist Bulletin. [8]. Accessed 19 Mar 2013
  18. ^ Attwater, Donald. A Catholic Dictionary. New York, NY: Macmillan. 1961. p.45
  19. ^ Abrams, Cooper. "Does the Bible say Baptism is Necessary for Salvation?"[9]
  20. ^ Pohle, Joseph. "Regeneration." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Accessed 3 May 2013 [10]
  21. ^ Staten, Steven Francis. "'The Sinner's Prayer:' Modern apostasy and false teaching that prevents men from being saved". [11] Accessed 3 May 2013
  22. ^ "What about the thief on the cross?
  23. ^ Ward, Jim. "The Washing of Regeneration". The Lost River Bulletin, Vol. 58, No. 4, September 2008. [12] Accessed 3 May 2013

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