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.”
Some will quickly turn to Cornelius to contradict the above verse. In Acts 10:1-6 and 24-33 states the case of Cornelius before his conversion. He was not a Christian but he was a godly (devout) man under the law of Moses. Up to this point, no Gentile had become a Christian. Cornelius was the first, and as such, God chose a pious man who worshiped and prayed to the God of Israel always. Thus, the idea that Cornelius was a sinner is purely ludicrous.
It is note worthy that no where in the scripture is John 9:31 ever refuted. No one calls the blind man a liar, not even Christ who was in his presence. 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). “The apostle Peter also quoting from the OT wrote, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil”(1 Pet 3:12).
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.
Cornelius’ was not saved by prayer but by his obedience to the gospel of Christ. Yes, Cornelius prayed to God as a non-Christian, but this is the beginning of Christianity, not centuries later. His story is the transition of the law of Moses and the law of Christ. Cornelius was a worshiper of God and did God’s will under the old law. When confronted with the gospel (the new law), he obeyed it. Thus, the story of Cornelius does not contradict God’s Word, but confirms it.
Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isa 59:1,2).
The bottom line is that God will not hear or adhere to a sinner’s prayer. Even a Christian’s prayers are hindered when they turn from God. In order for God to hear a Christian who has gone astray he must first repent from his sins. Repent and then pray (Acts 8:222). Therefore, if a Christian man is living in the state of adultery, God will not hear his prayers. Why? Because he is not doing the Will of God.
If we want God to hear our prayers, we must first obey the gospel of Christ, worship God in spirit and in truth, and do the Will of God.