I agree with your friend, for the so-called “sinner’s prayer” that is used in many evangelical circles cannot be found in Scripture. An example of this prayer goes something like this: “God, I admit that I am a sinner and I can’t save myself. I believe You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to die for my sins and I now accept Him as my personal Lord and Savior. Amen!” One will look in vain for a prayer like this in the Bible. So, at the very least, this prayer is “Extra-Biblical,” and in my opinion it is also “Unscriptural.”

Before we examine WHY it is unscriptural, I would point you to what I believe we could call the true “sinner’s prayer” that is recorded in Scripture. The prayer is found in a parable that the Lord told in Luke 18:9-14 where He was contrasting a proud, self-righteous Pharisee with a humble tax collector. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (verses 11-12…NKJV). This man was truly “filled with himself” and failed to see that he was a sinner before a thrice-holy God. In verse 13 we read, “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’!” Even before he spoke a word his actions revealed that he was humbled in God’s presence and that he realized his unworthiness to approach Him. His prayer was short and to the point, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” In his actions and in his words he illustrated the truth of Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yet his prayer ended on that note, for he knew nothing about the Lord Jesus Christ dying on the cross, for in truth the Savior hadn’t died yet. Thus his prayer only contained the first part of the so-called “sinner’s prayer” that has become so popular today. He knew he was a sinner and he cries out to God for mercy! This would indeed be the proper “sinner’s prayer” for those living BEFORE the cross.

The “sinner’s prayer” that we just examined “could” be used today but ONLY if the one praying it was ignorant of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel declares that God has indeed shown mercy to sinners by sending His only begotten Son to the cross to take our place in death and judgment, and that the sinner who BELIEVES this good news IS SAVED. We could multiply verses but here is a sample of good “gospel verses” that speak of salvation for the sinner who simply believes.

*Acts 10:43, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

*Acts 13:38-39, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

*Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

This is the only message that believers preached to sinners in that day; they spoke of Christ’s suffering and dying for our sins on the cross so we could be forgiven and saved, and then they encouraged those who heard them to BELIEVE. There was not one word about “praying to be saved,” for the simple reason that you are saved by FAITH, not by PRAYING! I challenge all who read this to study the whole New Testament to see if you can find a prayer that resembles the “sinner’s prayer” that is used today in evangelism. You will look in vain, for there isn’t one to be found. This is why I believe it is not only “Extra-Biblical” (ADDING to Scripture), but also “Unscriptural” (CONTRARY to Scripture).

I know there are passages that people use to support their use of the sinner’s prayer (such as Romans 10:9-10, 13 and Revelation 3:20) but when you examine these verses in the context in which they are found, you will see that they have nothing to do with a sinner “praying to be saved.” The verses in Romans are teaching us that “once a person is saved, they will publicly confess Him as their Savior to others and manifest their new life by a life of prayer.” Revelation 3:20 is actually speaking of “true believers repenting and being restored to fellowship with their Savior.”

I will close with a word of caution. I have met hundreds of people who have repeated the “sinner’s prayer” and in many cases they are “trusting in the prayer to save them, and not in Jesus Christ.” They have been led to believe that saying these magical words saves them. They then go out and tell other sinners that they are saved and going to heaven because they “prayed the prayer,” and yet their lack of a real change in their lives causes others to make fun of Christianity. The person themselves have no real “assurance of salvation” (and thus they lack real PEACE), for there is not one scripture that gives one assurance for praying for the sinner’s prayer. Assurance is only given to THOSE WHO BELIEVE. 1st John 5:13 declares, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (NASB). (289.5) (DO)