In evangelical churches the sinner's prayer is a very much emphasized aspect for someone to become or convert to being a Christian. In fact, most church services I attended growing up ended with the pastor inviting anyone in the congregation who wanted to be saved to pray it.

Now, when I was very young, my parents actually compelled me to pray the prayer, thereby defeating the purpose of the prayer. For years I struggled with the question of whether or not I was actually 'saved' or not, since I had not actually prayed it under my own volition.

  • What is the meaning or purpose of this prayer in the context of becoming or being a Christian?
  • Should I (or those in a similar situation) pray it again?
  • What about people that pray it earnestly, then reject their faith and then come back to it again?
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    If we add the tag "evangelical" and clarify "evangelical Christian" in the question, does that make it less opinion based? In the context of Evangelical Christianity, this question looks to be on topic. Jan 31, 2017 at 14:18
  • @KorvinStarmast Certainly an option. The answers, though, make me pause -- while I don't see anything here obviously out of accord with at least some strands of evangelicalism, I don't see any attempts in any of them to demonstrate that they represent evangelical theology. Borderline, but I've still voted to close. Jan 31, 2017 at 16:39
  • @KorvinStarmast There are still divergent opinions over this amongst Evangelicals. Jan 31, 2017 at 17:09
  • @bruisedreed Are we tripping over the problem of the term "Evangelical" being too broad? Jan 31, 2017 at 17:49

7 Answers 7


The sinners prayer has no place in Christ's Gospel

Why did Christ die? Have you thought about that? If Christ was somebody that everybody loved, why was the entire town chanting that He be killed? Have you thought about that?

John 15:25 NKJV

But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’

WAIT A MINUTE! I thought that everybody loved Christ?? Read further.... you must always read further...

John 7:7 NKJV

The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.

No, the world HATED Jesus Christ, because Christ came and told them that they were sinners and then He told them that they had to repent or they would go to Hell. We learned more about Hell from our Lord Christ than we did from all of the other prophets put together.

Jesus Commanded!

Mark 1:14-15 NKJV

14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Isn't it funny that you never hear Jesus taking people aside and having them repeat a prayer..? Ever thought about that? Don't you think that somebody would have been smart enough to ask Jesus how to be saved? What do you think He said to them? "Say this prayer?" haha! Never!

Luke 10:25-28 NKJV

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” 27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

Jesus answered that we needed to obey the commandments.... But I thought that was work? Let's keep reading..

Romans 13:8 NKJV

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:10

Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:14

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:38-40 (NKJV)

38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Mark 12:31

And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”


It's all about loving people. Not by just telling people that you love them though! It's about actually going out and DOING. Going out and taking care of the widows and the orphans, not cursing people on the road, turning the other cheek and showing your enemy that you forgive them even after they spit in your face.

John 15:17

These things I command you, that you love one another.

John 15:12

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:10

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

John 14:21

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

John 14:15

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.

1 John 5:3

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

Are you beginning to see?

The sinner's prayer wraps all of the mentions of salvation into a thirty second "repeat after me" that is all about yourself! The sinners prayer has nothing to do with this command to love it completely throws it out the window.

Paul Washer IS your man on this one. Here's a clip from one of his sermons: Declaring War on The Sinner's Prayer


Understand that people DO NOT want to love one another. This is why they keep throwing the idea out! Go listen to your pastor next weekend and I guarantee that his message will be about "a better life now" or some other BS.

The Bible is here to tell us how much we HATE one another and how much we HATE GOD. It's no wonder that God has been transformed into Santa Claus.

Go to God now and fall on your face and ask for forgiveness, because of your wickedness!

What about faith?

Galatians 5:6 (NKJV)

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

James 2:24 (NKJV)

24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

1 Corinthians 13:13

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This is not an option

Let's get one thing clear. This is not an option. You MUST turn from your wickedness and if you do not then you will be sent to Hell.

2 Timothy 2:19 (NKJV)

19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

Matthew 7:22-23 (NKJV)

22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Luke 6:46

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?

In the last days this is exactly how you will be judged

Revelation 20:12

And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

Revelation 20:13

The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.


You will never find in the gospel of Christ that you need to repeat a prayer in order to be saved. Know that the only place in the Bible that mentions "faith alone" was in James 2 when James said that it is not by faith alone.

Throw out that prayer and call out to God to be saved! When God grants you repentance He will take you under His authority and HE will teach you Himself, about Himself. Your eyes will be opened and you will WANT to obey Him.

  • 2
    "A prayer alone cannot save you. This would be considered working for your salvation." Wouldn't repentance be considered working for your salvation too?
    – user23
    Sep 18, 2011 at 22:39
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    @JustinY: In one way, repentance is evidence that you HAVE BEEN saved -- both the emotive and practical living out of having been given a new heart and new mind.
    – Caleb
    Sep 18, 2011 at 23:00
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    @Caleb - But even if you ask for repentance, you can still go back to how you were. We are all tempted. There are no guarantees. That is why 2 Tim 4:7 is so important, this is a marathon, there are no shortcuts. We should hope to be able to say: I fought the good fight, as we prepare to die, but, then we should be able to say this every night as we go to sleep, I believe. Sep 19, 2011 at 1:29
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    @JamesBlack You do not ask for repentance; repentance is something you do. By definition if you turn back, you have not truly repented. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/554/…
    – a_hardin
    Sep 19, 2011 at 18:12
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    @a_hardin - King David repented, then fell back, that is human nature. That is why this is an endurance race, we will fail, then have to go back to God on our knees. Sep 19, 2011 at 20:19

Support For It

The foundational support (not the source) for the sinners prayer is found in these three concepts:

  1. Confess with your mouth

    Romans 10:9-10 ESVEmphasis added
    because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

  2. Humble yourself

    Luke 18:13-14 ESVEmphasis added
    But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

  3. Ask and you will receive

    Matthew 7:7 ESVEmphasis added
    Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

The sinner's prayer is a formula, but it is not something that will grant immediate salvation. I know no preacher who believes this. They see it as a tool to help guide people to know what to say. They believe that the words said in the sinner's prayer are foundational to Christianity (belief that we have all sinned and that only through Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son, may we be saved).


Is the sinner's prayer in the bible? No! Absolutely not! But neither is the Apostle's Creed.

Is it important for salvation? Yes and no! A formula will not save you, but confession of some sort will.

The formula simply:

  1. makes sure that your heart is in line with the truth.
  2. makes sure that you truly confess that Jesus is Lord.

It won't justify you, but confession with the mouth (any confession, not a formula) will save you (Romans 10:9-10).

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    You may not know any preachers who believe the repeating the words is like a magic spell that saves you, but I have. I've even met ones who get people to repeat the words in a second language they don't even know and pronounce them saved since the syllables came out. <shudders> Good argument for the value of confessional statements (+1), but I believe the 'sinners prayer' is one of the most counter-productive confessional statements I know of (phantom -1).
    – Caleb
    Sep 19, 2011 at 11:27
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    The world is filled with bad teachings and poor doctrines. (I'll refrain from pointing my finger.) That's why it's important to seek the Truth first and foremost.
    – Richard
    Sep 19, 2011 at 12:35
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    @Richard - I have been in many churches where people ask if I have said the Sinner's prayer, as you can only be saved if you have, and if you did then you are going to Heaven. That is the danger, Christianity boiled down to sound bites. Sep 19, 2011 at 20:21
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    @JamesBlack Wow. That's scary and clearly wrong. (Well, per my translation of the Bible, at least.)
    – Richard
    Sep 19, 2011 at 20:24
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    @Richard - It is wrong, but, when you are only taught the parts of the Bible that back up the beliefs of the minister, then it is no wonder that people think they know they Bible, but walk through life living as incomplete Christians. Sep 20, 2011 at 23:41

I think the problem with the sinner's prayer is what it claims to do, once you have said it you are saved forevermore.

The problem is that the NT disagrees with this idea.

For the bible quotes I will use this: http://www.newadvent.org/bible/, but just about any Bible translation will be similar.

For example, see James 2:24, where we are saved by grace, not by faith, so our salvation is a gift from God.

Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?

Then you have James 2:17:

So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.

It is a bit long, but if you start with Matt 25:34 and read on for a bit, basically, if you didn't help those that needed it, then you will burn.

There are other parts of the New Testament that would apply, but basically, salvation is given by Grace, we cannot earn it, as we are all born sinners, but we work with the hope that we will be graced with seeing God.

For more on this you can look at http://www.biblequestions.org/archives/BQAR258.htm.

Ephesians 2:8-9 may be applicable, as this prayer is a work, of which people are proud that they said, so they boast, whether verbally or not, as they ignore the homeless or infirmed around them, their actions are enough of a boast to state that they are assured salvation, they don't need to do anything else.

That is the danger of this prayer, if there is no risk of burning in Hell then why continue to do what Jesus taught, about loving those that hate us, for example.

I will end with one of my favorite verses, Rev 3:16, where, if you are lukewarm, you are to be spit out of God's mouth. I don't care if it is holy spit, it is still bad, I believe. So be on fire or be cold, there is no middle ground, according to this part of Revelations.


Technically, it's not a sinners prayer that saves you. It's not the words that save you.

According to John 3:15-16 there is no mention of saying some words and getting saved. The key word in John 3:16 is "believe".

John 3:15-17

15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.


Wow! What a great question! The short answer is both yes and no. The long answer is that the sinners prayer is given as a form of "template" or "recipe" for the heart. This is reflected upon the verse: "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."(Romans 10:9- also quoted before). These two things are to show that an internal and external response is necessary. Not that words themselves have the power, but they declare the change in our heart because, "..out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks"(Matt. 12:34). In the end, the Bible says that "..by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.". This also draws from the idea that our words really reveal what's in our heart. Also, I don't believe baptism saves us (growing up Baptist you think I would). Baptism is a necessary public symbol of the death we have to ourselves and the joining in death (and life) that we have to Jesus. That's why it's such a powerful and necessary act. Now, will someone who gives their life to Christ and doesn't get baptized go to Hell? NO! Of course, God alone is the Judge, but He also says that we should have a mind to judge and know these things.

My advice comes in two parts. 1. Don't worry about if you're saved. If you have to worry about whether you're saved or not, then you probably are. Instead, read Matt. 6:25-34. Although this talks about worrying about basic provisions from God, the principle of "laying worry down at Jesus' feet (1 Peter 5:7)" is still the same. The Bible literally tells us to give our anxieties to Jesus because it's his job to care for us. This could be a key of complete freedom from anxiety if we let it be! Now, this doesn't mean I support the idea of "once saved always saved" because we should "..work out your own salvation with fear and trembling..(Phil. 2:12)". 2. Spend more time loving on Jesus. This is the best advice I can give anyone. All of our "problems" are solved here. It's when we love Jesus that we're confident in His love for us and can love other people. The first commandment is first for a reason. Spend time talking to the Holy Spirit. Just because He's the third person of the trinity doesn't mean He's third place (or less than). A lot of people get really uncomfortable talking about the Holy Spirit, but Jesus Himself said that He is our Teacher and Counselor. I know for a fact that we're a studious bunch here. What teacher did you have that you didn't talk or ask questions to? And what counselor did you ever hear of that didn't give advice? In a crazy whirlwind of awesomeness and humility Holy Spirit exalts Jesus, Jesus exalts Holy Spirit, Jesus exalts the Father, and so on. Most people say, "I just want to focus on Jesus". Trust me, no one loves Jesus more than the Holy Spirit. He's been given to us to empower us to love Jesus more (among many other things).

In conclusion, don't worry and love Jesus. Salvation is such a hard word to talk about because we're not saved so much from something as we are ** unto** something. Our salvation isn't just a "whew, now I'm free from hell". Salvation extends so much farther than the shallow definition of "saved from Hell". Do a word search on salvation and you find numerous results in the Bible. Sure, we're saved from Hell too, but we're salvation is unto the knowledge of Jesus and an eternal life with Him when He comes back and establishes His kingdom here on the Earth. I hope this helps :)


Lesslie Newbigin, theologian and missionary, helps us here ('The Gospel in a Pluralist Society' p173):

We must look first at the strictly exclusivist view which holds that all who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are eternally lost...

The concern for a correct 'acceptance of Jesus' in order to be saved lies behind your questions about the 'sinner's prayer'. Newbigin continues from the above:

... There are several reasons which make it difficult for me to believe this. If it were true, then it would be not only permissible but obligatory to use any means available, all the modern techniques of brainwashing included, to rescue others from this appalling fate. And since God alone who knows the heart of every person, how are we to judge whether or not another person truly has that faith which is acceptable to him? If we hold this view, it is absolutely necessary to know who is saved and who is not, and we are then led into making the kind of judgments against which Scripture warns us. We are in the business of erecting barriers: Has she been baptized? Has he been confirmed by a bishop in the historic succession? Or has she had a recognizable conversion and can she name the day and the hour when it happened? We are bound to become judges of that which God alone knows.

Newbigin skillfully shows how wrong theology leads to anxiety about getting the entrance into the saved Christian life wrong. The same worries that you have lead other Christians to seek re-baptism, for example, because the previous time they were baptized did not make them 'feel' that they have really been saved.

So the fundamental issue you have is this: do you believe the being saved is a matter of getting the 'entrance' right so that you 'really' accept Jesus... or is it a matter of the grace of God that we rely on and choose to trust?


Saved by Faith vs Works

The bible in multiple places teaches that we are saved by Grace, through Faith. Ephesians 2:8 comes to mind, but much of Romans communicates the same message. This is often expressly contrasted to being saved by Works (or sacraments), especially in light of the book of James.

Many Christians resolve the two by understanding that the result of saving Faith is works. It's like cause and effect, where works are the effect, and faith is the cause. If the works are not there, one must ask if the cause (a saving faith) is there also. Lack of works does not always prove lack of faith — recent converts, converted prisoners, handicapped individuals, and many other situations can provide examples of individuals who's faith far outstrips their works — but generally you expect Christians are showing their faith by their works.

Isn't the Sinner's Prayer a "Work"?

No. The Sinner's Prayer, done appropriately, is the result (effect) of a faithful and repentant heart. It is an appeal to God for salvation by a broken and repentant sinner.

What is the scriptural basis for the Sinner's Prayer?

The closest example we have in scripture is in Luke 18, where the Tax Collector "went home justified" for his prayer. Aside from this, there is no mention of The Sinner's Prayer. It is not mentioned, alluded to, shown by content only, or shown by example anywhere else in all of scripture, and even this one example is weak, as it takes place before the death and resurrection of Jesus.

What about another way to appeal to God for salvation with more scriptural support?

I'm glad you asked ;) To contrast the Sinner's Prayer, baptism is mentioned more than 80 times in the New Testament alone. Some of those are in reference to John's baptism, but most are post-John examples like Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8), direct commands to baptize or be baptized (Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38, others), and commentary such as 1 Peter 3:21 ("and baptism, which now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clean conscious").

That last passage is especially appropriate here, as it shows that baptism is also not a work, in the same way that the Sinner's Prayer is not a work, and it shows that baptism is a proscribed way to appeal to God for salvation. There is also Mark 16:16: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned". This tells us that baptism is the only sure way to make this appeal, but it leaves room for God to choose to save those who do not choose to be baptized and declare their repentance through alternate means.

Baptism has the same caveat as the Sinner's Prayer. Done appropriately, it is the result (effect) of a faithful and repentant heart, rather than the act of repentance itself; an outward sign of an inward change. The primary difference is the repeated direct commands by scripture that we should be baptized.

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