2 Sides of a Round Ball: The Sinner’s Prayer

At the Southern Baptist Convention a few weeks ago, convention goers supported a resolution affirming the use of “The Sinner’s Prayer.”

The whole thing became an issue when David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL, said the “emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer is unbiblical and damning.”  Other pastors responded, most notably Eric Hankins, who pastors First Baptist Church, Oxford, MS, who said “invitations to pray the Sinner’s Prayer are usually accompanied by calls to repentance and costly discipleship.”

So, a resolution was borne to affirm the prayer.  It stated:

We affirm that repentance and faith involve a crying out for mercy and a calling on the Lord (Rom. 10:13), often identified as a ‘Sinner’s Prayer,’ as a biblical expression of repentance and faith,” the resolution said. But it added, “A ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the gospel (Matt. 6:7; 15:7–9).
You can read the article here.
When I was 8 years old, I said “The Sinner’s Prayer”.  It may not have been exactly like the one you said, but the content was the same.  In essence, “I’m a sinner and I want to make Jesus Lord of my life.”
As a minister, I’ve used the “The Sinner’s Prayer”.  In revivals, in witnessing, on mission trips…the goal was to get to the prayer.
I understand the arguments on both sides here.

On One Side of the Ball

There must be a call to repentance and, as the SBC resolution stated, “a crying out for mercy and a calling on the Lord.”  A person who realizes their sinfulness and the need for salvation will, no doubt, cry out for mercy.  When the Gospel is shared and that person receives grace, there needs to be an acknowledgment of it.  Draw the line in the sand and a confession that “I stand here…a sinner forgiven who will follow Jesus.”

On the Other Side of the Ball

The prayer is not a sacrament.  It does not give grace, and it does not make you a Christian.  Just saying a directed prayer will not make you a believer anymore than proclaiming to the world that you are a giraffe or an oak tree or whatever.
Here’s what I do know:
1.     Romans 10 says,
…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.   Romans 10:9-10 ESV
2.     To be saved, we must first realize three things: 1) who God is, 2) we are sinners, and 3) Christ died in our place and received the judgement for us.  When we truly realize this, we can’t help but respond.  One commentator says,
…our response is to believe and trust God’s promises in Christ, and to commit ourselves to Christ, the living Lord, as his disciples…Frequently, this initial repentance and faith can be simply expressed to God himself in prayer.
3.     There is no prayer in Scriptures that can be labeled “The Sinner’s Prayer.”
4.     Once a sinner confesses Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised him from the dead, there must be repentance – a changed life – and there must be discipleship – a desire to know God more, growing in holiness.
5.     Revivalism in the late 19th century was most likely the germ for “The Sinner’s Prayer.”  It continued on into the 20th century as revivals and evangelists became more prominent.
I will conclude by saying there is no popish magic recitation that a sinner can say that will confer grace upon him.  Yet, I will hold to Scripture and believe that a sinner, when confronted with the Gospel, and who becomes aware of sinfulness in the presence of a holy God, can do nothing else but respond with a cry of mercy, acknowledging that Christ is Lord.

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