So is the Sinner's Prayer wrong?

The day I met Christ, I was told to pray “the sinner’s prayer”. It went something like this: “Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe that your death on the cross paid for my sin. Thank you for dying for me. Come into my heart and forgive me for my sin.”

I said this prayer clumsily, awkwardly, repeated verbatim after the person who had walked with me up to the altar, and I said it with less than half a mustard seed’s worth of faith (if that were possible). And yet, Christ met me there. Praise God.

Strangely enough, we don’t find the sinner’s prayer in scripture. Neither do we find the phrase “ask Jesus into your heart” in Scripture. Interesting, considering many Christians are taught that this prayer is a requirement for coming to faith. So is that wrong?

Maybe a better question is this: What does the Bible say about how we receive God’s salvation through Christ?

The Bible is clear that we are saved by:

  • believing in the Lord Jesus; that is, in His atoning death and resurrection (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9, Hebrews 10:19, Romans 3:24–25)
  • God’s grace, not any good things we do (Ephesians 2:5, 9–10; Titus 3:5)

Romans 3 : 21-24 (NIV)
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known,
to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

An important thing to remember: The gospel is about Christ. It’s about what God has done to rescue us, to buy us back for Himself, to reconcile us to Himself.

Our part is just to believe it. It’s an important part, don’t get me wrong. God gives us the dignity of choosing Him or rejecting Him and never forces His love on us if we insist on having our own way. But I worry that we sometimes overemphasize our part by talking about special prayers and words as though one comes to Christ through some sort of magical incantation. As though it is our words that save us, rather than our mustard-seed-sized faith in the God who saves us. 

Prayer doesn’t save. Only Christ can.
— Ray Pritchard, An Anchor for the Soul

So is the sinner’s prayer wrong? No, I don’t think so. Romans 10:9–10 teaches that believing the gospel in our heart and confessing with our mouth is how we are saved, and praying a prayer that verbalizes this belief is certainly a way to confess it with your mouth. I think things get sticky, though, when we question whether someone is a believer if they can’t recall the specific time that they prayed to accept Christ. We can fixate on whether someone has “prayed the prayer” instead of asking questions to find out whether they understand and believe the gospel. 

Salvation is a matter of the heart more than it is a matter of reciting the right words. And believe me, I am extremely grateful for that! The day I “prayed the prayer,” my words were floundering, bumbling, and stumbled out of my mouth like a graceless toddler. I thank God for running toward me and scooping  me up in His arms like the loving Father He is.

Erin D.