The “Sinner’s Prayer” is not without its critics. Because no such prayer or conversion is found in the Bible, some evangelical scholars have even labeled the sinner’s prayer a “cataract of nonsense” and an “apostasy.” More than one pulpit minister has raised questions over the authenticity of the conversions of people using the sinner’s prayer based on research by George Barna.[i]
An early proponent of the sinner’s prayer was the well-known American evangelist Dwight L. Moody.
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.
St. Paul Street Evangelization
God our Father, I believe that out of Your infinite love You have created me. In a thousand ways I have shunned Your love. I repent of each and every one of my sins. Please forgive me. Thank You for sending Your Son to die for me, to save me from eternal death. I choose this day to enter into (renew my) covenant with You and to place Jesus at the center of my heart. I surrender to Him as Lord over my whole life. I ask You now to flood my soul with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that my life may be transformed. Give me the grace and courage to live as a disciple in Your Church for the rest of my days. Amen.
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.[iv] One question we might ask is, “if THE Sinner’s Prayer is a salvation issue, then why are there so many different ones? How can each denomination claim to put the sinner into their fellowship? Another question we must consider is: Why is any one of the sinner’s prayers not found in Scripture anywhere?
I recently saw one well-known, modern day author claim that Luke 18:10-14 teaches the “sinners prayer” because Jesus used the words *justified,* *prayed,* *sinner.* Here is the text of that affirmation. It is not merely God’s mercy that is needed, for He has already been merciful to let us continue to live at all. His mercy gives us our breath and life and all things (Acts 17:25).
This parable of the pharisee and the publican is set in the context of the Jewish temple worship, where sinners would bring their sacrificial offerings to cover their sins, knowing that “it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Under the new covenant, at what point do New Testament Christians receive redemption by Christ’s blood (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Acts 2:38; Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14, 20; Heb. 9:11-28; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; Rev. 7:14)?
When studying Bible subjects, it is always important to distinguish the Old Testament from the New. A basic dividing line between the two testaments is Jesus’ death and resurrection. Since the information in Luke 18:10-14 was prior to Jesus, death, this would naturally fall under the covenant God made with the Israelites when He led them out of Egyptian bondage to become a new nation. Considering the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, “conversions” under the Old Law would not be applicable to New Testament examples today.
Notice the three (3) commands in Matthew 28:18-20—And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (this word “teach” is actually “make disciples” in the Greek), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Such is also true for the penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:32-43). As you read, be sure you know and apply the difference between the two testaments! In verse 32, we see there were two malefactors led with Christ to be put to death. One of the two mocked Christ saying, “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself (Luke 23:37). But in Luke 23:38-42 the second malefactor rebuked him saying, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
The second thief knew Jesus. He also knew that after the cross, Jesus would come into his own kingdom. The heart of this man was attuned to Jesus work and world. He must have been a disciple before he committed his terrible crime. Although this conversation between the thief and Jesus Christ is true and correctly recorded, it took place under the Old Law and not the New because Jesus still had not died. The New Testament did not come into effect until after the resurrection. Such a situation could not be applicable to entering the kingdom of God and the New Testament church.
[i] Viola, F. & Barna, G. (2007) Pagan Christianity? Exploring the roots of our church practices, Tyndale, p.104