The sinner’s prayer refers to a prayer that a person recites where he trusts in Jesus and accepts Him as his personal savior. The prayer typically involves confessing one’s sins, committing to repentance, and asking Jesus to “come into my heart” to be saved. The wording of the prayer varies, but the intention is to receive Christ and trust Him. So the question is whether or not this is biblical. Yes, it is, and no, it is not. Let me explain.
A formula does not save us. We don’t recite words as if their recitation saves us. Instead, we are saved from the righteous judgment of God by a faithful appeal to the work of Christ (not by our works). Whether or not it’s called the sinner’s prayer doesn’t matter. It is certainly biblical to pray to Jesus (John 14:14) and receive Him (John 1:12). Furthermore, the Bible says if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that he’s been raising the dead will be saved (Rom. 10:9-10).
But I must include this comment. The phrase, “Ask Jesus into your heart,” is problematic. There is no biblical mandate to do that. But I understand the sentiment. Christians want sinners to trust Christ and to have Jesus live in them (John 14:23). Plus, since we are to receive Christ (John 1:12), sometimes people summarize this by saying, “Ask Jesus into your heart.” I never use that phrase. Instead, I tell people they need to receive Christ (John 1:12) and trust Him (Romans 10:9-10). I tell them that they must recognize that Jesus is the only way by which they can be forgiven of their sins (John 14:6). I tell them to seek Him. After all, Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). I point them to Jesus and tell them they can pray to Him and ask Him to forgive them of all their sins.
But there’s a point I need to add. I always tell them that they need to count the cost. After all, that is what Jesus said to do (Luke 14:28). I tell people that they need to understand that once they become a Christian, God will work with them and sanctify them. He will gradually change them to be more like Christ. All right, so back to the main topic.
A sinner’s prayer in the Bible
There is a sinner’s prayer in the Bible. It’s found in Luke 18:9-14. In that section of Scripture, Jesus told a parable about two men, a Pharisee and a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee went to the temple to pray and thank God that he was not a thief, an adulterer, or like a tax collector. He fasted twice a week and paid tithes. But the tax collector wasn’t even willing to lift his eyes to heaven and instead said, “God, be merciful to me the sinner” (Luke 18:13). Jesus said that the tax collector was the one who was justified and not the Pharisee. The point is there is a sinner’s prayer in the Bible, and it resulted in salvation.
Salvation is not by a formula
On the other hand, we need to be careful. Salvation is not based on someone reciting a set of words, for example. Let’s say there is a church service. The pastor asks people to come forward to receive Christ and then says, “Repeat these words after me. ‘Jesus, please come into my heart and forgive me of all my sins.’” Reciting a set of words does not guarantee salvation. The person who has prayed like this must put his trust in Jesus, not in the prayer. Far too often, people say that when they were younger, they recited the sinner’s prayer, and so they are saved. But, they don’t live like a Christian (1 John 2:4). So it would mean they were never saved. The danger of “The Sinner’s Prayer” is that people might believe they are saved because they recited a set of words in a prayer. But that’s not the case.
Instead, were justified by an appeal to God by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:1-5; 10:9-10). That aappeal can be worded in different ways. But the key thing here is that the person is confessing his or her need for forgiveness of sins and deliverance for the righteous judgment of God. In so doing he or she recognizes that Christ is the only way and he or she confesses him as Lord and Savior and asked Jesus to forgive him or her of all of your sins. That is okay. That’s biblical.
So, on one hand, the sinner’s prayer is biblical, as we’ve seen in Luke 18:9-14. It’s okay to pray and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins. But on the other hand, we are not to put our trust in reciting a set of words that we think saves us. We must be careful and teach people to trust in Christ, not a prayer formula.