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Is ‘the Sinner’s Prayer’ Even Biblical?

Is ‘the Sinner’s Prayer’ Even Biblical?

Sometimes when I hear people speak about sharing the Gospel and inviting others to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” it sounds completely underwhelming. Can I be honest about that? I do not think the Gospel is something to be ignored or that it’s no big deal. But at times, the way we talk about it makes it seem rather small and inconsequential.

For some, the Gospel claims my sin has brought separation from God, and because God is holy, He cannot be around sin. However, through the death of Jesus, God dealt with individual human sin, and made a way for us to go to heaven when we die. The good news (or Gospel) is that God, in His graciousness, did not abandon us in our time of need. He sent his Son, Jesus, to us, and He died the death none of us could die, paying for our sin.

If I believe in this, then I pray to confess my sins, ask Jesus to come into my heart, and accept Jesus as my savior. Some call this the “sinner’s prayer.” I’ve heard this gospel from many, and it is this message that often strikes me as underwhelming. It’s not that this message is wrong; it’s just incomplete. Whenever the Gospel is a simple matter of any one person getting his or her sin taken care of and getting their ticket punched to heaven, it is a reduction of a larger story.

This kind of thinking about the Gospel can move the story from being centered on the person of Jesus, and to being centered on you and me. The story becomes about our sin, our salvation and our ability to live forever in heaven. It’s holy escapism. Heaven becomes the main goal and the reward for us. When we stop there, the Gospel is little more than a story about something God has done for our benefit.

But this is not the Gospel.

This message is an invitation to experience personal salvation. And contrary to the belief of some, this is not the central issue of the Gospel. The Gospel is far bigger than a message about a personal conversion experience.

The Gospel is a story not only about something done for us. The biblical writers claimed the Gospel was not about Jesus only coming to pay a debt. The good news was so much more! The good news was about the redemption, and restoration, of all things in heaven and on earth. The Gospel is the story of how Jesus’s life, death, burial and resurrection forever defeated the powers of sin and death.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, said sin entered the world through one man. Sin ravaged the earth, actively working against God’s good creation, and sin brought death to all humanity. Now through Jesus, the earth will be repaired and God’s creation will again become good, and through Jesus’ resurrection, all people can be made alive.

God is interested in seeing all things redeemed—not just you and me. Paul wanted to be sure we did not miss what he meant when he said “all things.” So he added “whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:15-20). In case you missed his point, he means everything in all of creation: rocks, moons, relationships, squirrels, our work, streams, stellar nebula, trees, our desires—all things will be reconciled.

To reconcile is to bring something back into a harmony that once existed, and God is not the one who is out of tune. All things are being reconciled to Him; He is not the one who has to reconcile Himself to all things. And all things are being reconciled to Him through the death of Jesus. Through this He will bring peace, wholeness and healing.

No doubt, this is a cosmic story. Do you see how, when we think the Gospel is just about our sin and getting to heaven, it can feel underwhelming? We ought never to think we have come to the place where we can package the Gospel so it’s easy to share and be done with it. Rather, we must always find ways to keep talking about it. News this good must be told and retold, because some things are beyond words. Certain times defy explanation.

After the birth of my children, I could not fully describe the absolute and total joy I experienced. My heart broke with happiness. How do you tell someone about that? If all I had said was, “my wife gave birth to a child,” well, yes, that would have been true, but that explanation feels incomplete.

If we can talk forever about memorable, beautiful moments, which are locked into our memory, with our friends and family, then how much more the Gospel? Are we content with thinking of it as a presentation we can share? Is it enough to make the good news of Jesus only about our sin and getting our ticket punched for heaven? Should we reduce the response to this message to nothing more than a prayer?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a story far bigger than we can imagine. As such, we should never tire of telling and retelling it. As the people of God, we should have deep joy as we continually discover new contours to this cosmic redemption story. The Gospel is the message that shouts to us, “Do you see all the renewal, redemption and restoration I am doing in this world? I want to do it in you too.”

This is the massive, cosmic story of the Gospel—which has the power to redeem all of creation—that is also at work in our bruised, battered and broken hearts. This is why the Gospel is so beautiful. It is universal in its scope yet extremely personal and intimate in its healing of you and me. This is why we will forever be able to speak of the good news, discovering new words and ways of expressing the vast truth of God’s story.

*This article was adapted from Michael’s upcoming book Unlost: Being Found By The One We Are Looking For which releases March 7, 2014 with InterVarsity Press. It is now available for pre-order at

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