Problem: John said here, “Now we know that God does not hear sinners.” Yet Jesus said God heard the publican who prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Does He hear sinners when they pray?
Solution: God hears sinners when they confess they are sinners and accept His forgiveness. For “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). Jesus promised, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).
However, God does not promise to answer the prayers of sinners who are not serving the true God. Jesus said, “if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He [God] hears him” (John 9:31). Even so, God’s grace exceeds His promise, and He apparently does on occasion respond to the prayer of an unsaved person as part of His overall providential plan to bring them to Himself (cf. Jonah 1:14–15). In this sense, God’s response to the prayer of the unsaved is part of the “goodness of God [that] leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4).