The sinner’s prayer
One technique used by evangelists is to ask those who respond to their message to pray what is called the “Sinner’s Prayer”. The wording of this prayer varies; here is one version.
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.
This practice isn’t found in the Bible. There are several accounts of people believing the gospel and being saved but there is no record of any convert being asked to say this or any other prayer.
The Bible doesn’t say anything about this specific prayer but it does record prayers made by sinners and tells us what the results were. I would like to examine four of these prayers and try to learn from them what kind of prayer God answers.
The first two are found in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
A good name for this prayer would be the Jack Horner prayer.
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said “What a good boy am I!”
The Pharisee was doing what Jack Horner did, bragging about what a good boy he was.
The tax collector prayed.
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Jesus gave his evaluation of the prayers.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
The prayer of the first sinner, the Pharisee, was rejected because he wouldn’t acknowledge that he was a sinner. The tax collector confessed that he was a sinner and his plea for mercy was granted.
The other two prayers were made by the criminals who were crucified with Jesus.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
He had no interest in anything beyond an end to his suffering and a continuation of his present life.
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He knew that he and Jesus would both soon be dead and he didn’t ask Jesus to change that, but he also believed that Jesus was a king and wanted to be part of his kingdom.
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus gave him more than he asked for; he would not only be part of Jesus’ kingdom but would be with Jesus in Paradise until the kingdom was established on earth.
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Repentance and faith are essential for salvation. The only “sinner’s prayer” that God will listen to is one that expresses these elements.