By Randy Blackaby
In John 9:31 it is recorded that a blind man healed by Jesus told the Pharisees, in defense of Jesus, “Now we know that God does not hear sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.”
Do we conclude from this that anyone who is not a Christian is wasting his time to pray to God?
Notice in Acts 10:1-6 and 24-33 the case of Cornelius before his con- version. He was not a Christian. He was not even a part of God’s covenant with Israel. But he was a worshiper of God, generally righteous and a seeker after God. The text also says God heard his prayer.
But the statement of the formerly blind man isn’t without scriptural support. From the Old Testament we learn that God doesn’t listen to hypocrites (Job 27:7-10). He turns his ear from men full of evil pride (Job 35:9-13). Scorners, fools, those who hate knowledge, the wicked and those who turn away from the truth are similarly given a divine deaf ear (Prov. 1:28-30; 15:29; 28:9).
A better understanding of this issue probably will involve our definition of “sinner.” The most general meaning of the word would simply be anyone who has ever sinned. That includes all men (Rom. 3:23). Use of this definition would preclude prayer even by Christians who sin. The instruction to Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:22) would be erroneous.
A more common biblical use of the word “sinner” applies it to those who habitually practice sin, as opposed to inadvertent or occasional sinning.
At least one commentator suggests an even narrower use of the word “sinner” by the ex-blind man. He may have been contrasting heathens with worshipers of God.
We must be careful not to construct an interpretation that precludes a sincere but unsaved man from seeking God’s help. Cornelius was unsaved when he first prayed — but his prayers were answered.
His prayer was answered when God sent Peter to tell him words by which he and his household might be saved (Acts 11:14).
On the other hand, let us see from Cornelius’ example also that he was not saved by prayer but by faith in the sacrifice of Christ and obedience to the gospel preached to him.