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Should We “Pray the Sinner’s Prayer” for Forgiveness?


Should an alien sinner pray for forgiveness?Religious teachers commonly tell people, who have never been baptized, that they need to pray so God will save them from their sins. Does the Bible teach this doctrine? If so, what passage teaches it?

Acts 8:12-24 tells about Simon the Sorcerer who became a child of God by belief and baptism (verse 13), but then later he sinned and was told to repent and pray for forgiveness (verse 22). So this shows that baptized children of God must pray for forgiveness of their sins. But what about people who are not children of God? What should they do?

Someone may remind us of the publican in Luke 18:13,14 who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” and he was justified. But verse 10 tells us this man was praying in the Jewish temple. Since only Jews were allowed in the temple, it is clear that this man was a Jew – one of God’s children under the Old Testament law then in effect. Again, this passage speaks about children of God who need forgiveness, but it fails to show what must be done by one who is not a child of God.

Someone else may refer to Acts 2:21 “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Many people assume without proof that “calling on the name of the Lord” refers to prayer. But verse 38 explains more fully that the people there must “repent and be baptized … for the remission of sins.” Acts 9:9-11 tells us that Saul of Tarsus prayed for three days. He was not saved by prayer, but he was later told, “Arise and be baptized and wash away they sins, calling on the name of the Lord” – Acts 22:16. An alien sinner calls upon the Lord to forgive his sins by baptism, not by prayer!

We have found verses where people are told they must be baptized to be forgiven, and if the sin after that, then they should repent and pray. But can you find a New Testament passage anywhere that tells an unbaptized person to pray for forgiveness? Could it be that modern preachers have perverted God’s plan by substituting prayer for baptism?


(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2018

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