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The Prayer of Repentance in Time of Need

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What Exactly Is the Sinner's Prayer or the Prayer of Repentance?



It's written in the Bible that, "...God heareth not sinners..." (KJV, St. John 9:31). Although everyone has sinned (Rom. 5:12, 1 John 1:8), and many Christians occasionally sin (1 John 2:1), the Bible makes clear that if one habitually lives in sin, he is a sinner. He is not a believer who has committed a sin, but rather, he is an unbeliever living a life of sin on a regular basis (Rom. 6:1-2, 1 John 3:8-9). An amplified Bible explains that "committeth sin" is in the present participle in the original text of 1 John 3:8-9, indicating an ongoing action, in this case, sinning.

It would be simple to conclude that sinners need not bother to pray to God who doesn't hear them. However, the prudent student of the Bible must be sure that his scripturally based deductions don't fail even when confronted with facts that appear to contradict God's word.

A real life example helps to illustrate the need for caution and humility when teaching the Bible to others. The friends of Job offered their philosophies on God's ways when attempting to offer an answer for why Job had been suddenly flung into great tribulation. They made reference to things they thought they understood about God, but didn't. In the end, they were found to be wrong, and angered God to such extent that Job had to pray that they be spared the Lord's wrath and that they receive forgiveness for sins (Job 42:7-9).

There was a youth counselor who often shared her life experiences with the teenagers whose lives she so greatly influenced. One testimony she shared with them recounted how she had made the foolish decision to leave town in order to worry her family in revenge for what she had viewed as a wrong committed against her. She had knowledge of God, but was not living a life of obedience to him at the time. When she came to her senses in the new city to which she had run away, the gravity of her troubles hit her with force. She was far from home, penniless, and knew no one to go to for help. Her parents were poor and did not have money to wire to her for her immediate needs and return to home. Evening was approaching as she walked the streets, praying to God for help.

The youth group listened intensely as their counselor told how she called on God, repenting to him for her wrong action that had brought her to desperation, and asking him to rescue her. God heard the young woman's prayer and that same evening she was warmly welcomed into safe shelter and fed.

There are other real life accounts of sinners who called on God in desperation and received forgiveness of sins, help and salvation from life-threatening situations. Some of these people don't even tell of having said the "sinners prayer", asking Jesus to come into their life or following the other instructions of Romans 10:9-10.

What about the sinners who have done none of this but whose prayers for help have been heard by God? What about the sinners who have called on God and have not been heard? The answers lie in the vast number of scriptures that teach exactly what salvation is, and the true meaning of calling on God.

When God called Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, scripture doesn't say he said the "sinners prayer". Of course he was a sinner because he was an idol worshipper at the time of his vocation (Joshua 24:2-3). Nevertheless, Abraham was called righteous because he believed God, and because he believed, he obeyed. It's recorded that, "...the Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee" (Gen. 12:1). The fourth verse of the same chapter says,..."Abram departed as the Lord had spoken."

This act of obedience, along with so many others, is why the Bible says that, "...Abraham believed God, and it (his obedience) was accounted to him for righteousness" (Gal. 3:6). Abraham forsook the idols he had served, his homeland, his people, his family, and culture, to wander indefinitely toward an unknown land--all because God told him to.

What has the faith that Abraham had in God to do with explaining why God heard the youth counselor's prayer or that of any other sinner? It has everything to do with it because the moment one sincerely trusts enough in God to turn to him as their sole source of help, obeying his instructions, and refusing to commit sin to help himself, he is no longer a sinner in God's eyes. In a moment, he ceases to be a sinner, and becomes a believer. God said, "if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven. And (I) will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now mine eyes shall be open and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made..." (2 Chron. 7:14-15). God didn't say he would think about hearing the people's prayer. He didn't say he would hear tomorrow. He said, "now mine eyes shall be open and mine ears attent unto the prayer". God said "now". The prayer of faith opens God's eyes and ears because faith is belief and true belief is obedience, and obedience is righteousness.

The same truth that applied to Abraham, applies also to everyone else as God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).

It's written that, "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:13-14). To receive forgiveness for sins is to be saved.

Since there's no mention of sincerity in these scriptures when calling on God for help, why can't anyone just live any sinful life and simply call on God whenever he's in trouble?

If one will observe the scriptures in their entirety, he will find that there is always a requirement that man must meet when calling on God--he must depart from iniquity. He must turn from his wicked ways. 2 Timothy 2:19 says, "...let every one that nameth the name of Christ (calls on him), depart from iniquity." Far too many sinners want to call on God for help, but, continue in the iniquity of their sinful life styles. Remember, even thought can be sin against God who knows man's every intention. If one refuses to depart from wicked thought, he refuses to depart from iniquity. Often when sinners don't receive help, they attribute it to a belief that God can't be trusted to answer prayer. How can God answer prayer he refuses to hear because of the praying person's refusal to hear his word to depart from iniquity?

A man, facing a prison term prayed to God for deliverance from the sentencing, while he harbored the thought of returning to the same life style that caused his trouble. He only desired God's rescue, he didn't desire God. It's amazing that man actually believes he can hide his intentions and insincerity from the all-knowing.

Another real life testimony of a young woman who called on God's help involves her also being stranded and homeless. After calling on God, she was offered the opportunity to earn money in a sinful way. She refused the offer knowing that God's help doesn't involve disobedience to him.

Finally, there is the question of why the scriptures teach that man must confess his sin. They also teach that he must confess Jesus as his Savior and believe that God raised Christ from the dead in order to be saved?

Many people who called on God in time of trouble and received his help, not having really said a "sinners prayer", continue to walk with him. Do they somehow have less salvation than those who said the sinner's prayer of confession of past sins, asking Jesus into their lives, according to Romans 10:9-10?

Why does the Bible give this other "set" of instructions for salvation? Romans 10:9-10 which speaks of confessing the Lord Jesus with one's mouth, and believing that God raised him from the dead, translates to calling on the Lord. Remember, when one calls on the Lord to save him from his sins, he is acknowledging that he's in trouble. He's just as aware of his spiritual desperation as the young woman was of her natural one. God's salvation from physical destruction is the natural counterpart to his salvation from spiritual destruction.

The instructions for salvation given in the tenth chapter of Romans are not another set of instructions for receiving salvation. They lead a person who may not be in any kind of natural trouble, into calling on God for help. When a person submits to God's conviction of their unforgiven sin, he realizes that his soul is in spiritual trouble from which he needs to be rescued. Spiritually, he has acted foolishly and has run away from home which is the communion that all men are to have with God. He realizes he is poor, lost, naked, blind, stranded, and desperate. He may be thought of as walking a spiritual street, praying to God to save his soul. This is why Jesus said, "...knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17).

God hears the sinner that calls on him, and who departs from iniquity, whether that call is for salvation of the body, or salvation of the soul. True righteousness is to entrust the natural and spiritual body, mind and soul to Christ who saves and rescues to the utmost.

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