The Sinner’s Prayer: Superstitious or Scriptural?

May 3, 2012

By Ron F. Hale.
He has served as Pastor, Church Planter, Strategist (NAMB), Director of Missions, Associate Executive Director of Evangelism and Church Planting for a State Convention, and now in the 4th quarter of ministry as Minister of Missions.

“You will not find a place where a superstitious sinner’s prayer is even mentioned. And you will not find an emphasis on accepting Jesus.”[1]

Chuck Colson died recently. Nixon’s former hatchet man is now with Jesus! Out of crisis, Colson came to Christ many years ago.

A friend influenced Mr. Colson’s salvation experience by giving him a copy of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. The Holy Spirit began convicting and convincing Colson of his sin and need.

Colson finally said, “No, I knew the time had come for me: I could not sidestep the central question Lewis (or God) had placed squarely before me. Was I to accept without reservations Jesus Christ as Lord of my life? “[2] He went on to say, “And as something pressed that question home, less and less was I troubled by the curious phrase “accept Jesus Christ.” It had sounded at first both pious and mystical, language of the zealot, maybe black-magic stuff. But “to accept” means no more than “to believe.” Did I believe what Jesus said? If I did, if I took it on faith or reason or both, then I accepted.”[3]

So early one Friday morning, in a secluded cottage along the coast of Maine, Charles W. Colson prayed a kind of “sinner’s prayer” to God, as he cried out, “Lord Jesus, I believe You. I accept You. Please come into my life. I commit it to You.”[4]

The “Sinner’s Prayer” has been getting a lot of negative press over the last few years. People showing disapproval of the “Sinner’s Prayer” will also say something like, “The Bible never talks about asking Jesus into your heart.”

This article will deal with two questions: Can Jesus Christ come to live in our hearts as Believers? And, can a sinner call on Jesus to be saved? Hopefully, some confusion will be cleared up as we look at the Scriptures. I will not be addressing Dr. Platt’s assertion that the sinner’s prayer is superstitious. Hopefully, he can explain more about that in the days to come.

Can Jesus live in our hearts?

“. . .  and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith, I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love” (Ephesians 3:17; HCSB).

Q: Who will inhabit or dwell in our hearts at salvation?
A: The Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Q: How will He dwell there? How is the door opened?
A: “through faith” the Bible says.

Q: Are there other verses to support the teaching of Jesus living in our hearts?
A: Yes, John 14: 23 is speaking of Jesus as He says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and we will come to Him and make our home with Him” (HCSB).

Q: What other words besides “home” can be used in John 14:23?
A: “Abode” is used in the KJV; this implies that the Father and the Son will manifest themselves by their permanent presence in the believer. They will reside in the heart as their dwelling place.

Q: Is there another verse of Scripture that drives this point home?
A: “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are” (I Corinthians 3:16-17; HCSB).

Q: Can we say “where” the Spirit is there is the living Son of God?
A: Yes, where the Spirit dwells, the Lord Jesus also dwells!

Q: I Corinthians 6: 19 . . . asks a very important question: “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (HCSB). Paul is teaching the Christians in Corinth that their bodies were sacred vessels — why?
A: Because every true believer has the Spirit of God indwelling their lives and we are to be reminded that we have been bought at a great price! Jesus, our living Lord, paid the price for our salvation. He lives within us. We need to live in a way that honors and glorifies Him!

Q: Is there another verse that refers to this internal relationship with the Lord?
A: “You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (I John 4:4; HCSB).

Can a sinner call on (pray to) Jesus to be saved?

Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we saw how Chuck Colson accepted Jesus by calling on Him for forgiveness and salvation. Maybe not as dramatic, but Colson’s testimony is that of many Southern Baptists. We realized we were sinners. We understood the claims of Christ in the gospel. We prayed . . . calling on Jesus to save us!

Q: When does Jesus come into our hearts and lives?
A: As we call out to Jesus in repentance and faith, after hearing the gospel — “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13; HCSB). This verse is referencing the Prophet Joel in the Old Testament (Joel 3:32).

Q: Does the Old Testament speak of God indwelling His people?
A: Yes, the writer of the book of Hebrews (10:16) in the New Testament is quoting the Prophet Jeremiah as he says, “… I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33; HCSB).

Q: Is this saying that in God’s New Covenant, He will have an ongoing “internal” relationship with His people?
A: Yes, the Ten Commandments were “external” tablets of stone, for those who are “in Christ,” the relationship is personal, intimate, and eternal.

Q: Can anyone (any sinner) call on Jesus to be saved?
A: Jesus said of Himself, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10; HCSB). The Bible teaches that “whosoever will” may come to Jesus!

Q: Did the thief on the cross pray a kind of “sinner’s prayer?”
A: Yes he did and Jesus told him that He would see him in paradise (heaven) that very day!

Q: Does Jesus give us an example of someone praying a kind of “sinner’s prayer”?
A: Yes, in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story of the Pharisee (a very religious man) and a Tax Collector (a lost sinner). Both men went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee displayed an air of pride and self-righteousness before God. But, the tax collector prayed a sinner’s prayer to God. He said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus said this concerning the humble sinner, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18: 14; NKJV).

C. H. Spurgeon preached a message on this passage and entitled it: “A Sermon for the Worst Man on Earth.” It was preached on February 20, 1887, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. At the close of the message, as the great preacher pleaded with his hearers, he said,

Perhaps, my Hearer, you have never been to the Tabernacle before. Possibly, my Friend, you are one those gentlemen who spend Sunday mornings in their shirtsleeves at home reading the weekly paper. You have come here this morning quite by accident. Blessed be God! I hope you will go home “justified!” The Lord grants it! Perhaps you always come here and have occupied a seat ever since the Tabernacle was built – and yet you have never found mercy. Oh, that you might find mercy this morning! Let us seek this blessing. Come with me to Jesus. I will lead the way! I pray you say with me this morning –”God be merciful to me the sinner.” Rest on the great Propitiation – trust in Jesus Christ’s atoning blood! Cast yourself upon the Savior’s love and you shall go down to your house justified!

Spurgeon was careful to point sinners to Jesus, not just a “prayer” to repeat. However, he did see a need in helping people call on the Lord according to Romans 10:13. Another great preacher from a later generation said, “There is no salvation apart from Christ. And only the gospel tells us the plain and simple truth about how to be saved. The gospel is not so high and mysterious that few will get up to it. It is so simple that few will get down to it.”[5]

[1] David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, (Multnomah Books: Colorado Springs, 2010), 36.

[2] Charles W. Colson, Born Again (Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen Books, 1976), 129.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 130.

[5] Adrian Rogers, The Passion of the Christ and the Purpose of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 57.