Some Sinner's Prayers
I am sure we are familiar with the old doctrine that says if we just pray a prayer to God, saying words to the effect, “God be merciful to me a sinner, please forgive me”, then we will be saved from sin. This has been a popular doctrine in our world for many years. Often, when refuting this, someone might be tempted to say that there is no such thing as a sinner’s prayer found in the Bible. That statement is not entirely accurate.
While there is no where in the Bible where we see non-Christians commanded to pray a certain prayer in order to be saved, we do see where there were sinners who prayed to God! Does this surprise you? Let us study the Scriptures and see.
When we read about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the account begins by telling us he was traveling toward Damascus in order to receive more authority to put Christians in prison and persecute them for their belief and obedience to Christ (Acts 9:2, 22:5). While on the road toward Damascus, “Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:3-6). Blinded after this experience, Saul reached Damascus with the help of his friends. He then fasted and prayed for three days and nights (Acts 9:9-1 l). In other words, this sinner was praying for three days! There, in Damascus, a “sinner’s prayer” took place as Saul’s prayers ascended to God for those three days.
Acts 10-11 records the conversion of a Gentile, a centurion named Cornelius. The Bible describes this man in glowing terms. He was, “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 1 0:2). Notice this sinner was faithful in offering prayers to God. From the description of Cornelius, I understand him to have been praying for much longer than three days, like Saul. Yet, there came a day when an angel spoke to Cornelius and said, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God” (Acts l0:4). Here was a man in sin who had offered prayers and God sent an angel to say that his prayers were not in vain.
What Kind of Prayers Were These?
Now that we have established that there were sinner’s prayers in the Bible, the question is just what kind of prayers were these? Were these prayers akin to “God save me?” Or, “God be merciful and save my soul?” No, they were not. How can I say this? I say it based upon the evidence. When we read Acts 9 and Acts 10, neither of these praying men thought he was a saved person because he had offered prayers to God. In fact, the men understood clearly that they needed someone to tell them what to do to be saved (Acts 9:6, 10:5-6, 30-32). Then later, the message coming from the mouths of Ananias and Peter to Saul and Cornelius was a message of their need for being saved from the sins they had committed; not that they were saved already based upon their offering prayers (Acts 9:6, 22:10, 16, 10:6, 30-32). Notice that neither man protested or contradicted the words of Peter or Ananias, saying, “l am saved already, I’ve been praying to God”. Rather, they understood they were lost, and listened intently to the truth in order to do what they were taught (Acts 26: 19, 10:32-33). In fact, in the case of Cornelius, he invited “kinsmen and near friends” together so they could hear and obey the truth as well (Acts 10:34)!
So, what kind of prayers were offered by Saul and Cornelius? Put simply, I don’t know what these men said. I do know, however, that whatever they said resulted in getting the preacher and the sinner together! Notice that neither Jesus that Saul saw on the road, nor the angel in Cornelius house, told them what to do to be saved. It has always been God’s intention that His plan of salvation be spread man-to-man (I Cor. 1:18-23; Matt. 28: 19; Mk. 16:15). While the prayers of Saul and Cornelius did not save them, their prayers did result in their salvation, because God in His providence made a way by which the preacher talked to the sinner and told him what to do to be saved (Rom. 10:13-16; Acts 10:47-48, 22:16).
Now that we know what kind of “sinner’s prayers” are found in Scripture, let us be busy looking for those who are lost (I Tim. 4:16; II Tim. 4:2). Who knows, but your interest shown and focus on the Bible will be an “answered prayer” for them!
preaches for the
Caneyville church of Christ