Please comment on the so-called sinner’s prayer in Luke 18:13. Should we pray this kind of prayer for salvation today?
The “sinner’s prayer” is part of one of the Lord’s parables. It shows that our heart attitude, not our religiosity, counts with God. The self-righteous, religious Pharisee prayed erroneously. On the other hand, the publican, despised for his cheating and dishonesty, saw his true condition and prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
When we feel merciful, we probably feel sorry for someone in need. However, the word “merciful” in Luke 18:13 means much more. We are not redeemed by mercy per se but by what God has done because of His mercy. He provided the way of salvation through the shed blood of His only begotten Son.
The meaning of “merciful” is significant. It is the word we know as “propitious.” Propitiation is God’s turning away divine wrath by a sacrifice that appeases. That sacrifice, of course, was Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ gave the parable recorded in Luke 18 before He went to the cross. Therefore, the publican sought and received forgiveness basically the same way as David did in Psalm 51. The publican’s prayer in essence was answered, for soon afterward Christ went to the cross. Today we don’t have to beg God to be merciful to us, because He already was and is merciful (propitious)—His Son died on the cross for us. The penalty for sin has already been paid. If a person were to pray at the moment of salvation today, his prayer in reality would be, “Father, I now place my faith in the finished work of Your Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for me. It is because of Your mercy this provision is possible” (see Titus 3:4–7).
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