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Would you please explain John 9:31, which says that God does not hear the prayers of sinners. Aren't we all sinners? If so, does this mean that God hears none of our prayers?

An important tool in understanding a particular passage in Scripture
is to look at the passage in context, as well as in the light of other
Scriptures. In John 9, Christ healed a man on the Sabbath who had been
born blind. The Pharisees and the Jews accused Christ of breaking the
Sabbath and concluded that He was not from God (verse 16) and a
“sinner” (verse 24, in Greek, “hamartolos”). In response, the healed
man said: “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is
a worshipper of God and does His will, He hears him… If this Man were
not from God, He could no nothing” (verses 31, 33).

As a
consequence, he was put out of the synagogue (verse 34), and Christ
later told some of the Pharisees that they were not blind, but that
their unrepented sin remained (verses 40-41).

The Pharisees had
made terrible accusations against Jesus. They had accused Him of
casting out demons with the help of Beelzebub, the “ruler of the
demons”–another designation for Satan (Matthew 12:24). Some even
claimed that He was possessed by Satan (Mark 3:22). Christ warned them
in that context that they were in danger of committing the unpardonable
sin, which cannot be forgiven, for they were blaspheming God’s Holy
Spirit dwelling in Christ (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30).

When
the Pharisees, Scribes and other leading Jews accused Christ of being a
“sinner,” they did not just refer to Him as One who might occasionally
sin. They were implying that He was influenced or even possessed by
Satan, and that He did miracles through demonic powers. Paul later
said, in Galatians 2:15, that “we… are Jews by nature, and not
sinners of the Gentiles,” which do not know God. In addition, as we
will see, when Christ was called a “sinner,” He was also accused of
having a depraved character and of deliberately and intentionally
rejecting God.

In the majority of cases, the Greek word for
“sinner” is used to describe those who are practicing, as a way of
life, a depraved and ungodly lifestyle. Christ was “betrayed into the
hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45). He ate with “publicans and sinners”
(Matthew 9:10-11), because He had come to call “sinners” to repentance
(Mark 2:16-17). He said that God’s angels in heaven would rejoice over
a “sinner” who repents (Luke 15:10). Christ came into the world to
“save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). He warned His true disciples not to be
ashamed of Him and His words in this adulterous and sinful generation
(Mark 8:38)–literally, in this “generation of sinners.” Peter
would later ask: “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will
the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). A woman who
anointed Christ’s feet with fragrant oil was a well-known
“sinner”–apparently a prostitute (Luke 7:37-39).

Paul places
“sinners” in the same category as “the lawless and insubordinate… the
ungodly… the unholy and profane,… the murderers of fathers and
murderers of mothers… manslayers…, fornicators,… sodomites…
kidnappers…, liars… [and] perjurers” (1 Timothy 1:9-10). He also
stated that he was a “chief” sinner (1 Timothy 1:15), as he had
persecuted the Church of God. Peter adds that even converted Israelites
“spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles
[the “sinners”]–when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness,
revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3).

The
implication is that Jesus, when He was called a “sinner,” was accused
of being a “pervert” and a “bastard,” born of fornication (John 8:41),
influenced and possessed by Satan the devil and his demons (John 7:20;
8:48, 52; 10:20).The man who was healed of his blindness responded that
Jesus could not have been guilty of such accusations, because if He was
such a “sinner,” God would not have heard Him and used Him to heal his
eyes.

The Bible does not teach that God does not hear us when we
slip and fall occasionally, committing a sin because of weakness or
neglect. All of us sin occasionally (1 John 1: 8). We are told that if
we sin, we can repent of and confess our sin to God, and ask God for
forgiveness, and “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and
cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This shows that God
WILL HEAR us when we pray to Him, even though we have sinned.

However,
Isaiah 59:2-3 tells us that God does not hear us when we live in
iniquity and when we are unwilling to repent of it: “But your
iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden
His face from you, So that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled
with blood, And your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity.” God says in Isaiah 1:15: “Even
though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of
blood.”

God clearly states in Micah 3:4: “Then they will cry to
the LORD, But He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from
them at that time, Because they have been evil in their deeds.” Verse 2
explains that they “hate good and love evil” and that they steal and
rob mercilessly from the people.

David understood that if he “had
cherished iniquity in [his] heart, the Lord would not have listened” to
his prayers (Psalm 66:18, Revised Standard Version).

God told
Jeremiah that He would not hear those who rebelled against God and who
continued to live in rebellion: “Do not pray for this people, for their
good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry… But I will consume
them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence” (Jeremiah
14:11-12). In fact, the prayers of those who REFUSE to listen to God
and to obey His law are called an abomination (Proverbs 28:9). God will
NOT LISTEN to prayers of people who REFUSE to hear His law (Zechariah
7:11-13).

The way to be heard on high is to “Seek the LORD…
[and to] Call upon Him… [and to] Let the wicked forsake his way, And
the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He
will have mercy on Him” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

God may hear the
prayers of people whom He did not call to salvation at this time, when
He sees genuine remorse on their part. He listened to the prayer of the
Ninivites and spared their city (Jonah 3:5-10). Jesus confirmed later
that their “repentance” was sufficient for God to relent from the
disaster that He had intended to bring upon them (Matthew 12:41).

Christ
listened to the prayer of a Gentile woman and healed her young
daughter, by casting out a demon, when He saw her faith (Mark 7:25-30).
In that case, we don’t even know whether she was conscious of, and
whether she had repented of her sins, but God honored her faith in Him.
God says that until He calls someone to repentance, He overlooks the
time of ignorance (Acts 17:30), but even then, He desires that people
“seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him,
though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

Someone
who is looking to God and who is trying to do what is right, as much as
he or she understands it, might very well be heard by God. Christ
healed many people who had faith in Him, even though they did not
understand many things about God and His Way of Life. But once God
calls us to salvation, He expects of us to respond to His call, repent,
get to know Him and His Way better, and to obey Him. We have to forsake
the ways of this world and choose to live God’s Way of Life. 1 John
3:22 says: “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep
His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
And 1 John 5:14 adds: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him,
that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

However,
if we continue to openly rebel against God; refuse to listen to Him and
His Word; refuse to repent of our sins; refuse to keep His law and to
be obedient to Him; then God will not listen to our prayers. If we want
to remain “sinners,” even though we have been taught the truth–if we
choose to continue to follow the dictates and devices of our own evil
heart–then we cannot expect to be heard on high.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link