Volume 13, Issue 6: Doctrine 101
The Sinner's Prayer
Scripture teaches, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). Some Christians have taught that if an unsaved sinner will pray for Jesus to come into his life or heart, or something closely akin, this prayer qualifies as a sufficient act on the part of the sinner for God to save him. Some have even argued such a prayer may be voiced in doubt, but, if voiced, nonetheless the sinner has met the criteria of "calling on God," and therefore God is obligated to save him. Such a prayer has been deemed the "sinner's prayer," and it is also taught in some Christian circles that this is the only prayer that a sinner can pray which God will hear. But will God really hear it?
The author of Proverbs records for us, "The Lord is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous" (Prov. 15:29). Now surely Christians, without debate, would characterize a sinner as being wicked. The Bible says, "His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins" (Prov. 5:22); and "...the fruit of the wicked [tends] to sin" (Prov. 10:16b).
But what about the prayer of the wicked? Proverbs also says, "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is His delight" (Prov. 15:8). Someone may say, "Sure, but the Bible says the sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination, not his prayer!" Yes, but in the context of the verse, the writer compares the sacrifices of the wicked to the prayers of the righteous. Indeed, the writer goes on to say, "The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 15:26). If the thoughts of the wicked are an abomination, how much more his prayer? Yet some may still not be satisfied, as though a person's thoughts could be separated from what he says. Proverbs goes on to say, "the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things" (Prov. 15:28).
Now if the sinner's thoughts are an abomination, and his words are evil things, why should God hear and forgive him? The best a sinner can do, that is, his most righteous deeds, are still vile to God, as the prophet Isaiah says, "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Is. 64:6). And even the soul of the unconverted sinner is bent only towards evil: "The soul of the wicked desireth evil" (Prov. 21:10). How is such a person to call upon the very God he hates? How is God to hear such a prayer? "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear" (Is. 59:1_2). The plain fact is, God doesn't hear the prayer of the unconverted sinner.
So then, who can be saved? Proverbs does say that God hears the prayer of the righteous (Prov. 15:29). But if all are condemned in their sin, and God doesn't hear the prayer of the unconverted sinner, then who is righteous? Whose prayer will God ever hear?
God hears the prayers of the righteous. "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." (1 Pet. 3:12) So then, if a man cannot be made righteous through the "sinner's prayer," how is he made righteous?
The apostle Paul answers this question, "But of Him [God] are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:30). God has placed some in Christ whom God has made to be their righteousness. Man can't boast that he prayed a prayer that God heard, and therefore moved God to save him. If man is to glory in his salvation, he may only glory in the Lord, who made him and caused man to be righteous through
the righteousness of Christ. Paul also speaks of being "found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). Our righteousness is through the faith of another, the faith of Jesus Christ.
If a sinner is in Christ, then he shares in His faith and believes. If a sinner is not in Christ, he can never believe, nor can he ever pray a prayer that will result in his believing or salvation. The only way a sinner can be in Christ is if God placed him in Christ. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us
unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph 1:3_5). No, God won't be manipulated by "the sinner's prayer," but He does hear the prayers of those He has saved, those He has made righteous in Christ Jesus. Who else would call upon Him in faith?