“The Sinner’s Prayer” – All You Need to Get to Heaven?

by Steve Ray on January 3, 2018

When I was a kid, the “Sinner’s Prayer” was a big deal. It was at the heart of everything we knew about Jesus and getting saved. It was almost used as an incantation.

My mom coached me to pray the Sinner’s Prayer when I was 4 years old. We knelt together in front of the green vinyl couch, and she helped me pray,

“Dear Heavenly Father, I know that I am a sinner and the wages of sin is death. You sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sins. I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I ask Jesus to come into my heart. I know my sins are now all forgiven past, present and future. Thank you Jesus for saving me and assuring my entrance into heaven. Amen.”

Saul of Tarsus reciting the “Sinner’s Prayer”? I don’t think so :-)

It never dawned on me as a young man that such a prayer is never found in the Bible. Nor do we ever see anyone coach sinners to pray such a prayer. The Bible never encourages us to “ask Jesus into our heart.” And the whole idea of sins forgiven into the future with no guilt for future sins is – so unbiblical that I can’t even believe now I ever believed it.

I am grateful to my good mother for loving Jesus and wanting me to be saved. She believed what she was taught and never questioned the Baptist tradition she learned after hearing Billy Graham.

But now that I have read widely and studied these matters from Scripture and the early Church I realize there is much amiss with this Sinner’s Prayer. The Catholic Church is the fullness of the faith and explains salvation as faith in Christ, repentance and water baptism.

You never find St. Paul espousing such a prayer nor St. Peter on the day of Pentecost. My, it is good to be Catholic and cling to the rich and full teaching of the faith.

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One of my old favorite Protestant writers, A. W. Tozer wrote, “I believe that a true ‘sinner’s prayer’ will gush out of anyone who is truly seeking God and is tired of being enslaved to sin. (Matthew 5:6) The very act of ‘leading someone in a prayer’ is utterly ridiculous. You will find nothing even remotely like it in the Bible, or among the writings and biographies of those in Church history. It completely savors of crowd and peer pressure tactics, and (please forgive me) brainwashing techniques. I do not believe that Jesus wants to have his disciples ‘repeat after Me,’ I believe He wants them to follow after Him!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

De Maria July 2, 2012 at 10:17 PM

There’s actually nothing wrong with the “Sinner’s prayer”. As long as one doesn’t combine it with the false doctrines of Sola Fide and Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS).

In fact, we have a Catholic equivalent:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

And, yes, it is in Scripture (Luke 18:13).

Sincerely,

De Maria

John July 3, 2012 at 10:15 AM

I said this prayer 2 or 3 times growing up and afterwards the guy at the door told me “Welcome to heaven” or something like that. They left happy because they “saved my soul” but I also never saw them again. I was about 12 or 13 and did not go to church at this time so for me the “sinners prayer” had no impact. I think the issue to the prayer now is that it’s well known and linked so much to the sola fidei, sola scriptura. I said it later in life at an “altar call” but again it was a routine or more of a welcome to this church. Now as a Catholic I see things much different so the harm I see is that the “sinners prayer” is sold as one complete act that gets you into heaven. This is in opposition to an everday offering of oneself to the Lord where deeper conversions may be experienced. This is my experience with it but with that said I’m guessing others may have similar experiences.

theresa in Alberta July 4, 2012 at 12:22 PM

Past present and FUTURE!?!? so I can just pray this prayer with great Sincerity, then go out and steal some money, foreclose on a widow or take andvantage of my employee’s, eat drink and be merry, not go to church on sunday because I am commiting adultary and kill anyone who try’s to stop me or tell me no!?!?!? Gee thanks for the great news Steve, I didnot realize I was doing things all wrong eh ;-)

Joe July 6, 2012 at 10:25 PM

The origin of the sinner’s prayer goes back to the Anabaptists of the 16th century, like the Mennonites, and then took greater prominence during the 17th century and Great Awakening of the 18th century. Many Christians today don’t realize that the radical reformers of the 16th century who espoused Believers Baptism didn’t get along with the reformers who supported liturgy to a degree, like Luther and Calvin.

Ken August 6, 2012 at 6:19 PM

Wow, as one who grew up as a Fundamental Baptist this is shocking. I mean it strikes at the core of the purpose one is on earth, namely to lead others to Christ by getting them to say the sinners prayer. We carried New Testaments with us with the “roman road” marked out just for the purpose of leading people to the sinners prayer. We did it at work, the store, at the alter, on Tuesday evening visitations, you name it. To a Baptist (Fundamental), getting people saved was the evidence of our own salvation. The Southern Baptists may adopt this but I doubt the Independent Fundamental Baptists will.
These protestant religions are always evolving and splintering. One reason I came to the Catholic Church, it is a rock.

Alex November 14, 2012 at 4:12 AM

As far as I can make out, that site is not saying the sinner’s prayer is unbiblical, but that it is used in an unbiblical way. I.e., pray this prayer and you’re in. Christ never said “repeat after me”, he said “follow me”
The key words of David Pratt is “when they have not biblically responded to the gospel.”
The sinner’s prayer is sufficient, if the person saying it really has their heart behind it, and as that page was saying, it is very easy for you to make them believe they are “in” when all they did was repeat the words.
(I am protestant, as you have probably guessed by now)

Poor Knight for Christ March 21, 2016 at 8:56 PM

I’ve often wondered if the “sinner’s prayer” leading to Once Saved Always Saved is not the ultimate “work”? For all the accusations that we Catholics rely on our works for salvation (which is a strawman, BTW) wouldn’t this be the ULTIMATE WORK? I say the prayer and I’m saved no matter what.

Carl W. Smith December 7, 2018 at 9:51 PM

I note the issue of the sinner’s prayer, also noting the different religion you each follow as if there are serious issues with each the other person follows. I don’t know where you find the religions named in either the catholic or baptist bibles. That being the case, where do you find the designations of each of the religions that are being referenced in your discussions. It appears that you all are using man’s opinio, rather than using the word of God to resolve your issues. Jesus Christ said, “man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Believe in the word of All-Mighty God, and use it at all times when attempting to serve our Heavenly Father. God Bless you all.

Leeland Hollis June 24, 2019 at 9:23 AM

This is comparing "populat" Baptist religion with "official" Catholicism. The religion practiced by people with IQs of 85-110 in the pews is often very different from the religion in the minds of the church's leaders. Usually, the leaders learn to accommodate the "popular religion" and not ruffle feathers for fear of losing their flocks. In the Baptist churches, the "popular religion" is often the belief that one has been "saved" as a result of asking Jesus into your heart, and that "the Rapture" is likely to happen in the next generation or so. In Catholicism, the "popular religion" is that you're saved because you were baptized as a baby and take some sacraments from time to time – and the Virgin Mary is, in fact, worshiped as part of popular Catholicism, even though official Catholicism denies this. (I mention it hear to demonstrate the gulf between popular religion and official religion.) Popular Catholicism also believes in Novenas, magical properties of Holy Water, and has a sentimental, deeply anti-intellectual quality.

It's better to compare apples to apples – "popular" Baptist religion to "popular" Catholicism. On the whole, "popular Baptist religion" does a better job of giving simple people some basic Biblical literacy. "Popular Catholicism" seems more geared toward making people feel connected to their ethnic groups, where Catholicism is supposed to be a uniting force (as it is, for example, among the Portuguese). The problem with "popular Baptist religion" is that it lets people think they're good with God because they said a prayer once. The official Baptist religion teaches no such thing – a reformed life is a necessary evidence of salvation, and continual repentance through-out life is important. Similarly, the official Catholic religion teaches many good things that are lost on much of the laity.

Both religions need to come to grips with the fact that "popular religion" distorts the true teachings of the religion, and do more to communicate the genuine substance of Christianity to people of ordinary or even limited intelligence. Catholicism tried to do this by setting up a rigid system of sacraments to move people through the proper steps in a scheduled, ritualistic fashion – Confession before Communion, etc. The Baptists often tried to do this by creating easily-grasped and memorized verbal formulas that were meant to enable people to give voice to their need for repentance and closeness to God. In both cases, the rituals and formulas took on a life of their own and eclipsed the substance of the religion. And the truth is that this happened because people want to stay close to religious structures – if for no other reason than to keep their mothers happy – but they really don't want God or a life of holiness. A pinch of salt over the shoulder will do just fine.

STEVE RAY HERE: Leland, thanks for writing and sharing your opinions on my blog. I have lived in both camps: 39 years as a Baptist and 25 years as a Catholic.

While I can agree with much of your thoughts on “popular religion“ I think you do a great injustice to the Catholic faith and her teaching. Maybe in the general population many just view it as you say but in reality I have found that far more Catholics understand the faith and holiness and justification and a proper view of sacraments and sacramentals than you give credit for.

All of us should be working towards a real vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ and because we’re human beings that is often done through symbols and rituals and words. I have found the Catholic Church to be much closer to the truth than what I used to teach and preach as a Protestant, and 2000 years of sustained existence and growth in the production of saints and social action demonstrates, I think, that I am correct in this.

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