part of the what is truth? series

The sinner’s prayer is something frequently referred to by preachers today. In fact, at the close of every sermon from Joel Osteen he asks those that are not saved or have fallen away to pray with him. The prayer is asking Jesus to “come into their lives.” He might also ask them to raise their hand in the air (for dramatic effect?).

He’s certainly not alone in this and we don’t mean to single him out. In fact, the idea of a “sinner’s prayer” or a “salvation prayer” is widespread. Wikipedia documents several examples including from Billy Graham, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.”

So what does Scripture say about this?

sinner’s prayer

how Scripture answers "How is the sinner’s prayer used in scripture?"

There is literally no passage that describes a “sinner’s prayer” or any prayer related to or connected with one’s being saved or converted. The only passage used to justify such a prayer1 does connect “calling on the Lord” to being saved, but no prayer is mentioned.

Actually, in the full context1, Paul qualifies “calling on the Lord” not as any sort of prayer. Rather, he ties it to belief (heart) and confession (mouth). Further, we see the phrase used again by Paul2 to describe the ongoing worship that the saved engage in as a local church. Indeed, we can go to other passages to see a complete more definition, including in Paul’s own conversion. But never do we see anything about a “sinner’s prayer.”

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Anyone that “calls on the Lord” will be saved.

Paul’s letter to Gentiles primarily, arguing their equal inclusion/access to God. However, he also speaks to his kinsmen (Jews) stating his desire for them to be saved as well (vs 1). He goes on to say they are zealous for God but without knowledge…specifically knowledge of His word (vs 8). He then says they need to believe with their heart and confess with their mouth in order to be saved – all of which seems to be summarized into “calling on the name of the Lord” in vs 10.

The verses immediately following lay out the process — “How then will they call on Him…”  (vs 14) and proceeds to walk through what leads someone to “call on the Lord.”  The prerequisites are first hearing (someone being sent to preach) and then believing/obeying the gospel message.

How does it inform?

It appears in this context “calling on his name” is confessing that Jesus is the Christ (obviously, after one believes that he is). There is no “prayer” mentioned in this context at all.

!! study note: context is extra important here !!

Does it apply? No

2

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Salutation to the church in Corinth, those sanctified in Christ and all those that “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s introduction to his letter to the church in Corinth. Just after this Paul says, “I give thanks to my God always for you…” (vs 4)

How does it inform?

It’s evident in Paul’s use of “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” in his address to the church in Corinth that it means worship — all ongoing worship that the saints in Corinth, and indeed any congregation (“every place”) would engage in.

Does it apply? Yes

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If you know of some other verses or you have something to add to the verses already listed for this question please leave a comment below! We welcome the public discussion and will incorporate your input into the Framework above. We have nothing to hide and invite your help in considering all that God’s word has to say.

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