"And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." Luke 18:13
The Lord spoke the parable in Luke 18:9-14, unto a group that considered themselves to be righteous. He compared the actions of the self-righteous Pharisee to that of the publican who represents a sinner. In verse 13 the publican or sinner prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner," and as a result was justified or saved from his sins.
This prayer in many circles has come to be known as the "sinners' prayer" and has become a means whereby one is saved when they pray this prayer. Many make statements such as, "We had 42 pray the sinners' prayer last Sunday;" and refer to those as being saved because they prayed the "sinners' prayer". They refer to the "sinners' prayer" as meeting the requirements of Romans 10:13, "calling on the name of the Lord." Prayer does not save, Jesus saves! Oh, you may have been praying when you got saved, but it was not the prayer that saved you, it was a work of the Lord because salvation is of the Lord.
This publican was a Jew, one who grew up in a Jewish home that was familiar with the custom of offering sacrifices, thus having a knowledge of the reason these sacrifices were offered. Therefore, he used the word merciful, which in the Greek is a kindred word to the word in Romans 3:25 translated "propitiation". This verse says that "God set forth Jesus to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood." "Set forth" means to be looked at, or to be exposed to public view. "Propitiation" is translated "mercy seat" in Heb. 9:5 and means that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament mercy seat. What does that involve? Sacrifice, substitute, and sprinkling of the blood.
In the Old Testament, once a year there was a day of atonement. On this day there would be two kids of the goats presented at the door of the tabernacle to the high priest. Lots would be cast to see which one would be offered for a sin offering or sacrifice and the other would be a substitute, called a scapegoat. The high priest would then slay the sacrifice, following proper procedure, and carry the blood to the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat seven times. Then he would take the scapegoat and lay both his hands upon its head, and confess over him all the iniquities (sins) of the children of Israel. Once this was done, the scapegoat was taken out of the camp into the wilderness where it would be devoured by wild animals so as never to return into the camp again.
Once all of this was completed and accepted by God, then the sins of the people were covered for one more year. This practice was continued year after year until Jesus came on the scene and John the Baptist announced in John 1:29, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." He was to be the fulfillment of these Old Testament practices and He was, when God set Him forth to be a propitiation. This speaks of Jesus as our Sacrifice, Substitute (scapegoat), and Mercy Seat.
The sacrifice was an innocent lamb that died for the guilty. Jesus was innocent. He had no sin. He was sacrificed for me, the guilty. I Peter 3:18, "For Christ also hath once suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust."
Also Jesus was my substitute (scapegoat) when He took my place on the cross. He did it willingly, for He said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Then God allowed my sin and your sin to be placed upon the sinless Son of God, thus fulfilling the scapegoat typeology. At that point He cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" That was my sin crying out. There on the cross God "set forth", exposed to public view, the terrible suffering of the cross as Jesus became my sacrifice, my substitute.
While hanging on the cross, Jesus, by a miracle of God I don't understand and can't explain, paid an eternity of suffering in hell for me. When He cried, "I thirst", that was the same thirst that the rich man suffered in hell. When He cried, "It is finished", my sins had been paid for. Finally, He died and they took His body and buried it in a borrowed tomb. There He was hidden from view of man, thus fulfilling the type, the scapegoat taken into the wilderness never to be seen again.
After three days and three nights Jesus was resurrected and ascended to the Father. There in the Holy of Holies in Heaven, Jesus sprinkled His own blood upon a mercy seat not made by hands and sat down on the right hand of the Father, signifying the Father had accepted the perfect sacrifice for sin. Isaiah 53:11 speaks of the Father being satisfied, "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." What would have been a judgment seat now is a mercy seat.
The songwriter who wrote the song "One Day" summarizes this very well: "Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me; buried, He carried my sins far away; rising, He justified freely forever..." This chorus reveals Jesus as our sacrifice, substitute, and sprinkling His blood on the mercy seat.
It is not enough that this has been done, it must be appropriated by each individual, and this is done by faith in His blood. (Rom. 3:25) This faith is more than an intellectual belief, for the devils had that. (James 2:19) It must be trusting with the heart and to do so there must be a work of the Holy Ghost in that individual. The Holy Ghost must work Godly sorrow, conviction, lostness, repentance, and faith in one before he can ever call on the name of the Lord. I Cor. 12:3 says, "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."
Therefore, when the publican cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner," he understood that Jesus was his sacrifice, substitute, and mercy seat. He had this understanding because he grew up in a home that taught him some things about the truth, and then one day the Holy Ghost pierced his heart and he cried out from the heart exercising faith in His blood and he was saved.
Now to call that the "sinners' prayer" is to put God in a box, and stereotype all salvation experiences in one package. God is a God of originality. Every man's salvation experience is different because it is personal, yet each one's salvation contains the same ingredients.
You may have prayed this prayer and got saved, but it was not because you prayed. It was because the Holy Ghost had done a work in you. The problem today is that many are using a plan and asking men to pray the "sinners' prayer", then they mark a notch on their "gospel gun" claiming to have won "so many" to the Lord, when in essence, all they have done is made them "twofold more the child of hell." (Mat. 23:15) You ask, "Why?" Because most who pray this prayer have no concept of what "merciful" means. They do not understand that Jesus is their sacrifice, substitute, and mercy seat, and they won't until they allow the Holy Ghost to do a work in their hearts.
May we ever be conscious that we're dealing with the souls of men. We're not God. Just because someone prays, "God be merciful to me a sinner," does not mean they are saved. Therefore, we don't have any right to tell them they are saved. Just because they called with the mouth does not mean they are calling with their heart.
As for me, I just want to let the Holy Ghost do the work and then God will get all the glory, which is the way it should be. By His grace I'll just plant and water. I Cor. 3:7 states, "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."
My prayer is, "Father, help me to be faithful to plant and water and then watch You give the increase. Amen."
THE PERSUADER Feb.-March, 1989
ARTICLES FROM THE PERSUADER
VOLUME 1 (1987-1993)
The Sinners' Prayer???