Does the “Sinner’s Prayer” Really Work?

The “Sinner’s Prayer” is a popular term used in Protestant and Evangelical Christian circles. It refers to any form of prayer that conveys repentance and the desire to start or form a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ.

For most preachers and Christians, they see the Sinner’s Prayer as the defining moment of one’s salvation. The moment you prayed this prayer, you are saved. But is this belief biblically accurate? Does the Bible support the idea that you will be saved when you pray a certain prayer — like a “password” to God’s Kingdom?

What Exactly Is the Sinner’s Prayer?

There are a lot of variations to the Sinner’s Prayer. But in most cases, a person is to pray after a suggested model or pre-written prayer. The Sinner’s Prayer includes an admission of sin, the acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice, and a petition for Jesus to come into their lives.

Here’s an example of a Sinner’s Prayer by one of the most popular evangelists, Billy Graham:

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,
Amen.

The use of the Sinner’s Prayer is a common practice among Protestant denominations, Anglicans, Lutherans, Fundamentalists, and Evangelicals. There are different instances when the Sinner’s Prayer is recited. Most commonly, it is done as a part of the “altar call,” at the end of a worship service. The worship leader would call on everyone to accept Jesus Christ into their lives and become “born again.” He will then utter words that the audience should repeat after him.

Another common way the Sinner’s Prayer is uttered is when televangelists ask viewers to pray it. Others would even ask viewers to touch their TV screen while praying the Sinner’s Prayer.

Some people who have lived a sinful life but have recited the Sinner’s Prayer on their deathbed are even considered to be saved in the nick of time.

Does the Sinner’s Prayer Really Work?

If you believe that uttering the Sinner’s Prayer alone can save you — like most Christians would love to believe — then you are making a fatal mistake. This satanic deception has made a lot of people complacent about their salvation. Because of this false belief, they don’t take their Christian calling seriously enough. Yes, because of this belief, so many people live and act as their own god and just “repent” and recite the Sinner’s Prayer when they feel like they don’t have enough time left on this earth.

While the Sinner’s Prayer may sound effective, it is not. Saying a Sinner’s Prayer does not accomplish anything if it does not lead to genuine repentance and conversion. Believing that a Sinner’s Prayer alone can save you cheapens and insults the great sacrifice Christ has made for us.

What Must We Do Then?

Of course, we all need to recognize that we are sinners in need of a Savior to gain eternal life. However, that is just the start. The Apostle Peter urges us:

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…
~Acts 2:38
[COMMENT: The Greek word for “repent” is metanoeo (Strong’s number G3340), which means to change one’s mind for the better, or to heartily amend with abhorrence one’s past sins.]

To “repent” means more than feeling sorry. It means a literal 180-degree change of life direction from sin to righteousness. However, the process of conversion lasts our whole lifetime — it doesn’t all happen overnight. So the Sinner’s Prayer — if prayed sincerely — is just the beginning, and it shouldn’t be the only thing you ever do as a Christian.

Remember, we are not Christians because of what we know, but what we do with what we know (James 1:22). Our belief in God and Christ must be accompanied with the evident change in our lives (James 2:26).

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9 Comments

  1. Macario Cadatal

    The doctrine of imputation renders the so called “sinners prayer” unnecessary. It’s pure religiosity.

    • Edmond Macaraeg

      That’s a theological issue that will be best discussed in another article.

  2. Lorna Macaraeg

    Wonderful TRUTH indeed…to God be the glory…thanks for sharing…

  3. Nestor

    What would you say about that one thief that was crucified along with Christ at the calvary? He asked Jesus not to forget him when He come to His kingdom and Jesus replied that he will be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:42-43). Obviously, the man didn’t have the chance to prove anything that he must do to obtain that salvation because he died later that day. I think you are mistaken about the free gift of salvation obtained through faith in Christ. There are no other strings attached to be saved and the fact that one has uttered that sinner’s prayer is enough to be saved. God bless.

  4. Rotsen

    Need to review our theology on this. Salvation by grace need no other “works” for us to obtain it (Eph.2:8-9) but we need to show the proof of our salvation by means of our “good works” which is the fruit of our walk with Christ. We need to do it but it is not a requirement for salvation. God bless.

  5. Joshua Infantado

    Thanks for your comment, Nestor. I have written a full article about this question. Here’s the link:

    http://www.biblicaltruths.com/thief-cross-go-paradise-day/

    But for the sake of answering your question, I’ll be posting a quick reply:

    First of all, we need to make sure that we don’t make scriptures fight each other. The Bible is in complete harmony, and there are no contradictions.

    If we understand Luke 23:43 as a verse suggesting that the man obtained salvation through faith in Christ, then we need to deal with what the Apostle James said:
    “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). If you read the whole chapter of James 2, you will arrive at the conclusion that faith is not enough.

    With this in mind, we can conclude that Luke 23:43 wasn’t saying that the thief on the cross had been saved right at that moment.

    We need to realize to take a deeper look at what Luke 23:43 is really saying here. Let us read this passage for better context.

    And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
    The KEY to understanding this passage is the comma placed between “you” and “today.” If you put the comma just after the word today, it will entirely change the statement of Christ. Notice:
    And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
    We need to remember that there is no punctuation in the original Bible texts. Notice what Dr. E.W. Bullinger explained about this topic:
    “None of our modern marks of punctuation are found [in Bible texts] until the ninth century…The punctuation of all modern editions of the Greek text, and of all versions made from it, rests entirely on human authority, and has no weight whatever in determining or even influencing the interpretation of a single passage” (The Companion Bible, 1990, Appendix 94, p. 136, emphasis in original).
    Now, if you want to insist that the thief went to Paradise on that day with Christ, then you need to explain these verses:
    “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3-4).
    Question: Did Christ went to Paradise or heaven on that day? Obviously, He didn’t. Instead, we see in the scripture that He went to the GRAVE! (In some translations, the grave is even called HELL.) So, if Christ was telling the thief that he will join Christ in Paradise on the same day, then we understand the Scripture wrongly.
    Moreover, you also need to remember what Christ said to Mary when He was resurrected.
    “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father” (John 20:17).
    After three days and three nights after the death of Christ, we can see here that Jesus did not ascend to heaven immediately.
    With all these verses, there is one clear conclusion: the thief on the cross did not go to heaven that DAY because Jesus Himself did not go to heaven or any paradise.

  6. Rotsen

    Are you saying that when Christ said to the thief that “today you will be with me in paradise” is not true at all? Are you implying that He lied to that man when Christ said it? Regardless of that punctuation marks, whatever, you’re taking a whole new different meaning to what Christ said it plainly. So i guess for you, salvation means FAITH + WORKS and without “WORKS”, no ONE will be saved. Then i guess the word GRACE for you is not actually GRACE (unmerited, undeserved favor)but YOU have to “EARN” it by doing SOME “WORKS”. Brother, pardon me but this teaching of yours is dangerous for you and for the readers who have no idea or learning about the scriptures. God bless and i rest my case.

    • Joshua Infantado

      Hi Rotsen, thanks for your comment. First of all, Christ is perfect, and He never lied and will never lie. The problem is in our interpretation. We need to remember Christ Himself said that NO MAN has ascended into heaven. This statement is found in John 3:13. That’s a very plain scripture. Even King David did not ascend to heaven. Read Acts 2:34.
      Now, if we are to assume that the thief went to heaven, was Christ lying when He said no man has ascended to heaven? Was the thief greater than David who is called the man after God’s own heart, the thief went to heaven and David did not? Something’s not right here. It is either Christ was lying in John 3:13 or He was lying to the thief on the cross. So how can you reconcile this seemingly contracting scripture?

      Obviously, the answer is that the thief did not go to heaven. Just like the spiritual giants like Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and the rest of the dead did not go to heaven. All of them are waiting for the first resurrection.
      For the record, let me be clear with you: we can NEVER earn salvation no matter what we do. In the same manner, salvation is not given to those who stubbornly and continuously break God’s commandment. Salvation is a gift. It is by grace that we are saved. However, grace does not give us license to continue sinning. Notice Philippians 2:8-10:
      8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
      The problem with today’s Christianity is that they stop at verse 8 and won’t continue until verse 10. God’s salvation is a gift. We didn’t do anything to deserve it. However, God will not give eternal life to those who won’t follow His commandments. God expects us to perform good works.

      I’m sure that we will write an article addressing this topic. So please stay tuned. J

  7. Edmond Macaraeg

    Thanks for asking the question. Prayer by itself is incomplete. It should also be accompanied by sincere faith and obedience by the believer to all that God requires.

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