The Sinner’s Prayer is it biblical???

Please note:

This article was not written to put into question people’s own salvation; it is to look at the theology of the prayer, in other words, its origins and contemporary application.

It is often said (and infers a Scriptural prerogative) that a candidate for the gospel needs to be offered a prayer invitation with a directing content; this being the sole way a person is introduced to Christ. The question we should ask is: ‘Should we employ such methodology; is it Biblical?’

Historically speaking this prescriptive prayer is Catholic in origin and around 500 years old. It was originally known as the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and was recited something like this:

“Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” this prayer formula was employed by the desert fathers as an esoteric spiritual practice (like a mantra) rather than a theological statement.

In popular usage it is a liturgical insert, often applied in a formal and rote manner (i.e. recited without the application of full attention and comprehension of the participant, which often characterises Catholic and Orthodox liturgical responses). We know from church history that any form of prayer that is deep rooted in Catholic mysticism is something to be well avoided.

The foundations of this prayer formula are known simply because we have the records:

”Antoine Guillaumont reports the finding of an inscription containing the Jesus Prayer in the ruins of a cell in the Egyptian desert, dated roughly to the period being discussed – Antoine Guillaumont, Une inscription copte sur la prière de Jesus in Aux origines du monachisme chrétien, Pour une phénoménologie du monachisme (a), pp. 168–83.

(a) Translation: A Coptic inscription on Jesus’s prayer from the origins of Christian Monasticism. For a phenomenology of Monasticism). In Spiritualité orientale et vie monastique (Translation: Eastern spirituality and monastic life), No 30. Bégrolles en Mauges (Maine & Loire), France: Abbaye de Bellefontaine.”

What does the Jesus Prayer have to do
with the sinner’s prayer?

[1] The Sinners prayer bears strong structural resemblance to the Jesus Prayer, it is also known that the Jesus Prayer is
used by mainline Protestants.

This prayer that states “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” its origins are Roman Catholic, this was later adapted by an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1824, [2] Charles Finney who was a Pelagian [3] heretic.

One of the forms of this prayer, Is the verbal form this begins with “Heavenly Father, have mercy on me, a sinner.” [4] This is the formula that Finney would have used and we can see this has its roots originally in the Jesus Prayer.

The sinner’s prayer is based on an extra biblical source. It is encouraged that the recipient should “pour out their heart to Jesus in their own words.” This is called the prayer of the heart, in other words the belief is that there is power in the name of Jesus alone. This prayer in itself becomes ‘sacramental’ by repetition. It was said in this, for the pray to be effectual, you would have to be in a position where you humble yourself and acknowledge your sinfulness through this sacrament of prayer as a way of offering yourself to God.

The Sinner’s Prayer has two points, one for worship / devotion and discipline of the state of mind, in other words to gain control of any thought we may have so that we can allow the sinner’s prayer to direct our communication to God.

There are accordingly different stages of practice with this type of prayer, for example the verbal confession, this is what the sinner’s prayer is based on. With the Jesus prayer it is known that most evangelical denominations that have this, use it in order to demonstrate the confession of the recipient. It is said aloud and the belief is that in doing so we receive Christ in our hearts and minds. To get to this state we must remove all other distractions, this is a form of programming through an emotional application.

It is often believed there is power in the prayer that is used to reconcile sinners to Christ, this is contrary to the Scriptures that teach Romans 1:16. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”.

It is said that even if it is not biblical at least people are being saved, but that is not for us to decide, the Sinner’ Prayer is not the power many evangelicals believe that it is. Through the prayer it is inferred that God hears and responds to extend His Hand of salvation to us. Nowhere does the Bible teach the sinner’s prayer will save anyone for that matter, or that this formulated method would lead anyone to Christ.

If Gospel faith alone is sufficient for salvation we do not need to add anything to it, we just need to take people through the Word of God.

The Bible teaches it is the work of the Holy Spirit that reconciles a person to Christ, as He convicts the world of sin, in order to bring the sinner to repentance, (John 16:8). It is our job as believers to convince the sinner through the Gospel itself.

Our position is not for us to stand in the place of the Spirit of God and claim that it was through the messenger who has led a person to Christ when it is the message of the Cross itself.

A question would be for that matter, if you came across a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon would you use their methods as an effectual tool to bring men to salvation? The answer would be no because the views held about its teachings are incompatible with Scripture, why use an unbiblical formula or methodology (sinner’s prayer) devised by Charles Finney, who was an unrepentant mystic. It is reported in 1821 he had a mystical experience in which he believed he stood face to face with Jesus.

In this his mystical experience it caused him to focus on revivals [6], Finney rejected the teaching of [7] Justification by faith alone, rejected the doctrine of original sin, rejected Christ’s substitutionary atonement and taught the doctrine of [8] sinless perfectionism. Finney’s definition of terms were not Biblical. Finney had shown his unbelief of the gospel message itself. He shifted from the faith of the gospel itself and removed the focus to an act of a rhetorical prayer. This method did not largely lead people to (work out their own) salvation, as Philippians 2:12 speaks about.

Charles G. Finney when he started in ministry was a young believer, [9] in 1821 he headed out into the woods near his home in Adams, New York to find God. “I will give my heart to God, or I never will come down from there,” he said. After several hours, he returned to his office, where he experienced such forceful emotion that he questioned those who could not testify to a similar encounter.

After his conversion, Finney prepared for ministry in the Presbyterian church and was ordained in 1824. Hired by the Female Missionary Society of the Western District, he began his missionary labours in the frontier communities of upper New York. A rigid Calvinism dominated the theological landscape, but Finney urged his listeners to accept Christ openly and publicly. His style differed too; his messages were more like a lawyer’s argument than a pastor’s sermon.

Two years after his conversion he was ordained prematurely as a Presbyterian minister in 1824, it was straight after his conversion he began preaching. Prior to his conversion Finney admitted that he had little or no knowledge of Christian teaching.

Finney states [10] “When I was teaching school in New Jersey, the preaching in the neighbourhood was at that time almost altogether in German. I do not think I heard half a dozen sermons in English during my whole stay in New Jersey, which was about three years. Altogether I was, when I went to Adams to study law, almost as ignorant of religion as a heathen. I had been very much brought up in the woods.” Religion he refers to as Christianity it is common that any unbeliever in Finney’s view would see anything Christian to be religious; hence his use of the term religion becomes synonymous with Christianity.

An Examination of the Prayer

The Prayer will often be something like this [11] “Heavenly Father, have mercy on me, a sinner. I believe in you and that your word is true. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he died on the cross so that I may now have forgiveness for my sins and eternal life. I know that without you in my heart my life is meaningless.

I believe in my heart that you, Lord God, raised Him from the dead. Please Jesus forgive me, for every sin I have ever committed or done in my heart, please Lord Jesus forgive me and come into my heart as my personal Lord and Saviour today. I need you to be my Father and my friend.

I give you my life and ask you to take full control from this moment on; I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.” Amen.

The first point about “Heavenly Father, have mercy on me, a sinner”; it does not matter if you change the first part to Lord Jesus Christ originally prayed like this [12] “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus was not showing us that this prayer was a principle of salvation or that this prayer has anything to do with a method for salvation. In particular the passage tells us the Publican prayed by himself. We do not find anywhere in the Bible that this is part of the gospel message and because the Publican was in the Temple this indicates that he was a believer to begin with. What I have found when looking at extra biblical source material, we can trace ties to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

The next section – The Prayer.

“I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he died on the cross so that I may now have forgiveness for my sins and eternal life. I know that without you in my heart my life is meaningless.

I believe in my heart that you, Lord God, raised Him from the dead. Please Jesus forgive me, for every sin I have ever committed or done in my heart, please Lord Jesus forgive me and come into my heart as my personal Lord and Saviour today.

I need you to be my Father and my friend.
I give you my life and ask you to take full control from this moment on; I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.”

The some of the teachings here are adapted from Catholic Teaching such as “come into my heart” whist the statement “Raised him from the dead” comes from the Apostles Creed. We do not find this even taught in Scriptures as a method for receiving salvation through a prayer. Romans 10: 9 -10 is often quoted “confess with thy mouth” comes from the Greek word homologeo this means:[13]

1) to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent
2) to concede
a) not to refuse, to promise
b) not to deny
1) to confess
2) declare
3) to confess, i.e. to admit or declare one’s self guilty of what one is accused of
4) to profess
a) to declare openly, speak out freely
b) to profess one’s self the worshipper of one
5) to praise, celebrate

This does not translate to the words ”to pray”. Homologeo – Statement or profession, but cannot be used to infer ”to pray”. People are reading things into the Bible that are not actually there. There is no proof that the sinners prayer is in the Bible. People quote from Acts 2:21 as a justification for repeating the prayer. The context in which the word epikaleo is used is shown in Vines definition [14]

5) to call upon by pronouncing the name of Jehovah

a) an expression finding its explanation in the fact that prayers addressed to God ordinarily began with an invocation of the divine name

To do a prayer of invocation, this is a call by name to whom you are addressing. In this case Jehovah, Jesus or God. This does not indicate a prayer by the means of repetition as a form of making a decision.

When the people who were instructed to call upon the name of the Lord, this does not indicate that the sinner was commanded to repeat a prayer for his or her own salvation, the scriptures command’s that we are to Believe. Acts 16:31 Repent and be baptised Acts 2:38 then pray Acts 2:38. Then Christ allows us to have a relationship with him as he so desires Gal. 3:27 then we enter into the one spiritual body of Christ.

Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.

Calling on his name is the last thing you do.

Acts 2:21 demonstrates no justification for the sinners prayer or the “Quick Prayer” this has no foundational doctrinal bases for salvation.

Acts 22:16. This is the manifestation on calling on the Lord’s name, after submitting to what Jesus prescribed.

If all people had to do was say Lord then we simply did not obey him then anyone who prays this can still live their unregenerate lives and not live in repentance, but we read in Luke 6:46: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”.

How does a person compose himself before God in Prayer Jesus shows us in Matt. 6:9: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” In John 3:3-5 it speaks of the need to be born again the scripture here does not instruct us it is by praying we become born again.

In Acts 9:11; 22:16 this does not say Paul prayed the quick prayer (AKA, sinner’s prayer) it is recorded in the scripture Paul received Christ when he met Ananias and after he received his sight he came to faith and was baptised. Having said that, baptism is not an essential for salvation but it is an act of obedience.

If you remove the sinner’s prayer, you need to clearly explain how you receive Christ to replace it.

We in fact do not find in the Bible where anyone prayed Lord save me but as believers we are required to live as Christ instructed us by faith.

John 3:16 does not teach the sinners prayer. A person responds to Christ’s invitation because of what he did. We did not invite him to hear the gospel. We are not inviting someone to repeat a prayer, even when Revelation 3:20 is quoted out of context in Rev 3:14 – 22. The letter this refers to is a letter to the Church in Laodicea the indication as who this is addressed is in verse Rev 3:22. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

The Bible does not teach a gospel of works, but at the end of faith the produce is the work of Christ in you in saying this an unbeliever should be able to tell naturally that you are different.

[15] David Cloud wrote:

“It is an evangelistic methodology that is quick to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer after a very shallow gospel presentation and usually without any hint of the necessity of repentance. It is quick to pronounce people saved and to give them “assurance” and to try to baptize them even if they barely show any interest in the presentation and even if they give no evidence whatsoever of having been born again.

Frequently, Quick Prayerism incorporates the manipulation of psychological salesmanship. In Quick Prayerism, an empty “sinner’s prayer” has too often replaced Holy Spirit conviction and miraculous regeneration. Quick Prayerism is characterized by soul winning reports that are grossly exaggerated, since the number of real conversions are minute compared to the overall statistics.

Call it “prayerism” because it focuses on a prayer. I call it “quick prayerism” because it specializes in quick presentations and quick decisions and an overall lack of spiritual and biblical depth.

An example of this was communicated to me some time back by a friend who had the following experience at a prominent independent Baptist church which operates a large Bible college. The soul winner in question is a veteran Independent Baptist missionary to Japan, a man with significant influence in the Independent Baptist movement.

“We went out with their staff on Saturday morning for soul winning. We were immediately partnered up with some of the veterans. The first door we went to, we spoke to a friendly Catholic guy and to my surprise, the guy got ‘saved’ before my very eyes as ——- took him from a few scripture passages to the sinner’s prayer so smoothly that I was caught off guard. I caught myself and while ——- was recording this man’s contact details and writing it down, I asked the man whether (1) he believed that he was a good person and (2) that it is possible to go to Heaven by being a good person. This man who had just got ‘saved’ told me ‘YES.’ I looked around and the other two men beside me said nothing and did nothing. We went to a few more places and eventually reached a home with a Roman Catholic young lady who came to the door. She said she was a professing Christian. Even though she said that all churches were the same ——- gave her assurance of salvation by quoting 1 John 5:13.”

This is Quick Prayerism, and this is a church and school that claims to believe in repentance and to be serious about proper soul winning!

Quick Prayerism destroys the spiritual character and biblical stance of a church for many reasons.

For one, it tends to produce a mixed multitude because many of the members have prayed a prayer but haven’t been supernaturally converted. They have been gotten down the aisle and baptized but their Christianity is an external conformity rather than an internal reality.

With each generation the church becomes spiritually weaker because it is a mixed multitude and the percentage of nominal Christians increases until it outnumbers that of true ones. The church can’t practice discipline because too many of its members would need to be disciplined! It can’t effectively disciple the people because so many are unregenerate and thus unresponsive.

Children who grow up in a Quick Prayerism environment typically “pray the prayer” at a young age, receive assurance and even in many cases a “spiritual birth certificate,” and their salvation is not questioned thereafter even if they live like the devil and show no real interest in the things of Christ beyond conforming externally to the church’s minimum requirements

The spiritual program has to be kept on a very low level.

Unsaved people don’t have spiritual discernment and don’t love the truth and therefore can’t be expected to support biblical separatism.

The redefinition of repentance by Hyles/Hutson and the corruption of biblical evangelism that is so widespread among independent Baptists is a fundamental issue that lies at the very heart of salvation and church life and missionary work. A building established on such a corrupt foundation is destined to collapse, even if a lot of other things are right.”

When we look at Finney we find that through these methods very few were actually truly converts to Christianity as Finney admits himself “During ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that his real converts are comparatively few. It is declared, even by himself, that “the great body of them are a disgrace to religion”; as a consequence of these defections, practical evils, great, terrible, and innumerable, are in various quarters rushing in on the Church.” The Literary and Theological Review, March, 1883, p. 39; quoted in Warfield, 23

Many today are always looking for great numbers rushing to see “how many have you saved today?”

They had been associating this question with a prayer, but historically speaking we see that the prayer had no effect if at all very little effect in a permanent outcome where few actually remained in the faith would have been the same for the Billy Graham crusades.

In the Billy Graham crusades Decisional Regeneration was one of the main tools to advance the ecumenical movement, [16]

“I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost–were going to hell–if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God–through nature, for instance–and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying ‘yes’ to God” (“I Can’t Play God Any More,” McCall’s, Jan. 1978, p. 156).

“I’ve found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics, for instance….We only differ on some matters of later church tradition” (ibid., p. 158).

Terry Mattingly to Graham: “Is the Pope an evangelical?” Graham: “This one is” (“Billy, Catholics, and Evangelicals–A Flashback,” Current Thoughts and Trends, Jan. 1995, p. 24).

“We can talk to one another as Christian brothers” (“Catholics Laud ‘Dr. Graham’,” Christianity Today, Dec. 8, 1967, p. 41).

“There’s no group of people in the world I’d rather be with right now than you” [the National Council of Churches staff members]. I think of you, I pray for you [and] follow with great interest the things you do” (“The Graham Touch: Salvation and Unity,” The American Baptist, Jan./Feb. 1992, p. 11).

“When I hear the Pope plead, ‘Come to Christ, come to Christ,’ he sounds like me when I invite people at the end of my services to come forward and make a decision for Christ” (“The Split-Up of Evangelicals,” Newsweek, April 26, 1982, p. 89).

We need one another” (“Latino Catholics Boost Graham Crusade Attendance,” Christianity Today, May 19, 1997, p. 51).

Billy Graham’s Universalism

In an interview with Robert Schuller, Graham speaks: “I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ…. He’s [God] calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.”

Schuller: “What, what I hear you saying that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?”

Graham: “Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived..”

Schuller: “I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.”

Graham: “There is. There is” (“Graham Believes Men Can Be Saved Apart from Name of Christ,” Christian News, Oct. 20, 1997, p. 15).

Decisional Regeneration

What is Decisional Regeneration?

Decisional Regeneration is a man centred approach that is today very much part of transformational theology in other words people coming to Christ by cultural relevance. Through entertaining means that has led many in receiving only half of the gospel through a method called the sinners prayer, it is proclaimed by those who use the prayer if you have said this accordingly you are “born again”, this concept that men can decide whether they want to invite Jesus into their hearts because they were all so emotionally led to by the speaker to make a decision. People react to this in many cases the key is the use of music, they claim you can become a follower of Christ through a quick prayer this is what is known as decisional regeneration.

The decision to follow Christ is not contained in the gospel. Actually the gospel is seen to be to offensive and therefore some decide that Christianity has to be presented in a way that is attractive and people are comfortable with.

Decisional Regeneration tells people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear, in other words positive assurance says things that make people feel good about themselves. The late Norman Vincent Peale a 32o Freemason, who is held by so many in high regard, calls this the power of positive thinking. He used marketing techniques in his strategy win friends and make ‘converts’.

Decisional Regeneration de-emphasises the teaching of original sin. The emphasis is on a declaration of salvation even though many who had said this remained in an unregenerate state yet were declared saved by the person who has invited the recipient to repeat a prayer.

The sinners prayer is incompatible with the gospel, it is based on Finney’s flawed theology and has left his impression on most of the Pentecostal evangelical churches today whist many through no fault of their own have adapted this as the only way for people to come to Christ.

For those who have read this, do not feel discouraged just because this article may not approve of the sinner’s prayer. This article is by no means meant to send the message that puts anyone’s salvation into question. It was written to give you some understanding of the background and history of the sinner’s prayer or Finneyism.

We also encourage you to check this article with the Scriptures for yourselves. We refer you to the example in Acts 17:11. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”.




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