A Sinner's Prayer

Be gracious to me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Psalm 51.1

This prayer of David was a “sinner’s prayer,” but not in the sense that David was praying to enter into a covenant relationship, for he already was in the relationship as a descendant of Abraham in the flesh. He was under the law given at Mt. Sinai and he had been circumcised in the flesh (Genesis 17.11,14). Why then may David’s prayer be called a “sinner’s prayer?” This prayer was a “sinner’s prayer” because David, being an Israelite, had broken one of the commandments of the covenant (Exodus 20.14). This prayer was to be restored to the covenant relationship. The heading at the beginning of this chapter reads: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

There are several lessons for the child of God from this prayer of David. Here are two:

  1. One does not become a spiritual Israelite (Romans 9.6-8) by praying a prayer, but as the apostle Paul stated in Galatians 3.26-27, “…You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” 
  2. One can sin after being in a covenant relationship, thereby breaking the relationship he or she entered by obeying the command of Jesus to be circumcised in the heart (Deuteronomy 30.6; Romans 2.29).

God offered Israel a covenant relationship with him upon these terms: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people…” (Exodus 19.6). The people responded as follows: “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord” (Exodus 19.8). Moses reminded them of the blessings if they continued in obedience in Canaan, as well as the punishment if they continued in disobedience (Deuteronomy 28). Persistence in disobedience would eventually cause the nation to be destroyed, with only a remnant being spared (Romans 9.29).

Whenever the covenant was broken, the remedy was to confess sin, repent, and obey the terms of the covenant. We see this from the words of Solomon, spoken at the dedication of the temple: “When they sin against you…and you are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near, if they take thought in the land where they are taken captive, and repent and make supplication to you in the land of their captivity, saying, ‘We have sinned, we have committed iniquity and have acted wickedly;’ if they return to you with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been taken captive, and pray toward their land which you have given to their fathers and the city which you have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for your name, then hear from heaven, from your dwelling place, their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you” (2 Chronicles 6.36-39). 

Please notice that this is a prayer that is commanded to be prayed by God’s people, not by anyone who was not in a covenant relationship with him. It is not a prayer to become one of God’s people. The next chapter (2 Chronicles 7) contains a verse that is often misapplied, and used in support of a prayer for salvation by an alien sinner. It reads, “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 I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (v. 14). Did you catch the phrase “my people?” This is not referring to an alien sinner.

To have a right to pray to God, one must be in a covenant relationship. So likewise today, prayer is not for the purpose of becoming a child of God (i.e., a Christian). It is a resource whereby a child of God may petition God for forgiveness when he breaks the terms of the covenant.

His relationship and responsibilities are stated in 1 John 1.7-9: “…but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Again, this text is not speaking of an alien sinner, nor is it the “sinner’s prayer” to become a child of God.

David’s prayer was to be restored after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. David was not praying to become an Israelite. This prayer (if you read the remainder of the chapter), contains David’s confession of sin and avowed repentance. 

The new birth of John 3.3-5 is the means whereby one is born anew. It is by means of water and the Spirit, not by a prayer. As Solomon said of prayer, it is for “my people.” 

Let us distinguish between “ye must be born again” and prayer to be restored to fellowship, after being born again.