Why the Private, Personal “Sinner’s Prayer” is Completely Unbiblical

Part IV of our series on Opening Your Home

Becoming a Christian is often described in terms of hospitality—e.g., “accepting” Christ or “opening your heart” to Christ. We read in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” and we add in the words, “at the door of your heart.”

The whole transaction is described as a private, personal experience—the “sinner’s prayer.” Here’s a sample version from www.sinner-prayer.com:

“Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I believe you died for my sins and rose again. Please forgive me of my sins. I am trusting you, and you alone, to take me to Heaven when I die. Thank you for saving me. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.”

In fact, people praying this kind of “sinner’s prayer” are often told to pray it “with every head bowed and every eye closed” so that the individual can focus completely on what is happening inside.

The problem is, such a concept is absolutely, completely, emphatically unbiblical. Nowhere in the Scripture is accepting Christ portrayed as something that happens privately, in your heart.

Remember the spirit/soul/body diagram? In the Bible, the way that you receive Christ into your spirit…is to receive him bodily. We receive Christ by hosting him and those who he sends in the real, live, flesh and blood world. (Remember: Christianity is a physical religion!) The Bible makes clear that if we do not accept Christ “in the flesh,” we cannot accept him “in the spirit.”

If we wanted to do a biblical “sinner’s prayer,” we’d do it something like this: We’d shake the person and tell them to keep their eyes open and say to them, “Now, stay awake! Be ready! You do not know the hour or the day he is coming. Stay awake! Be ready! For the Lord will be visiting you soon!” And through the Scriptures we’d show them the “guises” the Lord most often travels in, and the messengers he most often sends in his name, and we’d say: “Now keep an eye out for such, for to receive them is to receive the Lord personally. The Lord will be coming to you soon; be ready to receive him!”

In other words, receiving Christ is a physical act of hospitality that changes you spiritually, not a spiritual act of will that changes you spiritually.

Last week we talked about prevenient grace—how God surrounds his creatures moment by moment with his love, wooing them and creating within them the capacity to respond to him even through their spirits are dead and enslaved to sin. Well, the grace of justification is an extension of that prevenient grace. Christ comes to us “from the outside in,” and we are enabled to receive him, in real life, in the real world.

That’s what happened at Christmas: Christ came in the flesh! He didn’t come into the world through the spirit, but through the body. And it is the consistent witness of Scripture that this is the way Christ still comes to us today.

Are you awake and ready for the Lord’s visit today? You sure?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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4 Responses to Why the Private, Personal “Sinner’s Prayer” is Completely Unbiblical

  1. Pingback: How to Receive Christ as Lord | Rev. Eric Foley

  2. Pingback: How to Get Ready For Christ’s Second Coming…Today | Rev. Eric Foley

  3. gary says:

    Isn’t it odd that if the Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, the term “born again” is only mentioned three times in the King James Bible? If “making a decision for Christ” is the only means of salvation, why doesn’t God mention it more often in his Word? Why only THREE times? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?

    Why is it that the Apostle Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, NEVER uses this term? Why is this term never used in the Book of Acts to describe the many mentioned Christian conversions? Why is this term only used by Jesus in a late night conversation with Nicodemus, and by Peter once in just one letter to Christians in Asia Minor?

    If you attend a Baptist/evangelical worship service what will you hear? You will hear this: “You must be born again: you must make a decision for Christ. You must ask Jesus into your heart. You must pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). You must be an older child or adult who has the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to make a decision to repent, and to make a decision to ask Jesus into your heart.”

    It is very strange, however, that other than “you must be born again” none of this terminology is anywhere to be found in the Bible! Why do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

    Maybe it’s because…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT the manner in which sinners are saved!


    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • EFoley says:

      Good questions, Gary. I’m in the middle of writing a post now for next week related to Jesus’ own post-resurrection method for sharing the gospel. Fascinating to see what he talks about. He certainly doesn’t talk about the Romans Road as he walked along the Emmaus Road…

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