Don’t stop asking Jesus into your heart! But, by all means, clearly communicate what is meant by such statements.
In case you’ve been out of the theological loop, there has been a discussion in recent years about whether or not it is “biblical” for someone to “ask Jesus into his or her heart.” Actually, the conversation has likely been around as long as the language. I remember discussing the issue with an evangelist friend twenty-five years ago. He had a problem with the phrase, and I agreed with his reasoning.
Let me make a few acknowledgments before I offer a counter perspective.
First, I am extremely grateful for the ministries of men like David Platt and J D Greear. These men, and many others who have voiced concerns over this phrase, have a heart for God and a desire to see the Gospel articulated with clarity and conviction. Their books, sermons, and denominational leadership in the areas of missions and evangelism have been invaluable resources to me. I learn from these young men.
Next, I get it. I understand the danger of a child, or even an adult, hearing the phrase “just ask Jesus into your heart” without a clear articulation of the Gospel. Subsequently, It’s possible (even likely) that many have prayed such a prayer without appropriating faith, repentance, and a certain embrace of core essentials of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Finally, I have also been very reluctant to use the phrase. Why? Not because I think it is unbiblical. I usually choose to move beyond some biblical imagery, whether in personal evangelism or from the pulpit, and go straight to the explanation of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s perfect work from the cross to an empty grave!
Having said that, I find it an overreach to call such language unbiblical or to be critical of those who still use the words “ask Jesus into your heart.” But if you choose to use this language, it must be accompanied by explanation and clarification. Most of the ministers and church leaders that I know do a superb job at this, but I can’t speak for all of them.
So before you are too critical of those who use these words in their communication of the Gospel, keep the following in mind.
- “Christ in your heart” IS biblical language and imagery. While we have to be careful of children imagining a two-inch Jesus walking into a literal heart’s door while taking Revelation 3:20 out of context, the language of Christ in your hearts is still biblical. Peter challenged the persecuted church to “sanctify (lit. set apart, honor) Christ as Lord in your hearts (1 Peter 3:15).” That word is kardiais, literally “hearts”, though the picture is figurative. Oh, but that’s a verse about sanctification, not salvation! True. However, most of those who argue against the language also argue, as I do, against a false dichotomy between evangelism and discipleship. We are to lead people to become sanctified Christ followers. It begins and continues with the heart. YES, FAITH! But how has God communicated to us the inward expression of faith? Romans 10:9 speaks of confessing with the mouth and “believing in the heart.” The context clarifies the heart imagery.
- The idea of inviting Christ “into your life” is also a biblical concept. In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel the woman at the well discovers that the life Christ has to offer can become the Living Water that overflows in us. The New Covenant is superior to the Old in part due to the fact that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, fills us, and seals us for the day of redemption. The Holy Spirit is not a “force.” He is a person, the third person of the Trinity, the very Spirit of Jesus Christ. Once again, the context of the John’s Gospel and the rest of the Bible help one to more clearly draw the analogy of Living Water and the life of Christ in us.
- All biblical language used in communicating the Gospel requires some explanation and clarification. Call it “exposition” if you will. Obviously, the Spirit of God brings about illumination often allowing the simple reading of Scripture to bring one to faith in Christ. But when we proclaim these rich inspired texts with statements of principle, we usually provide explanation. Even when we avoid the allegorical language like “you must be born again” or “ask Jesus into your heart” we still have to offer explanation. We explain the meaning of words like “faith”, “believe”, and “repent.” So I have no problem with the fact that if someone uses a statement like “ask Jesus into your heart” they will have to explain what they mean by that. Even Jesus had to interpret (do hermeneutics) and explain the Scriptures concerning himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27).Whether you use the words like “you need to believe on the Lord Jesus,” or “take up your cross and follow Christ,” or “call on the Lord Jesus Christ”, or “ask Jesus into your heart and life,” you must still expound on the core essentials of the Gospel. The Gospel writers, the writers of the Epistles, and even Jesus used a variety of terms and phrases in clarifying the Gospel. Imagery is used on occasion, but full context and the whole of the New Testament keeps us from making oversimplifications.
- The concept of “asking” is also biblical. I understand the danger of communicating that there is some “magical” prayer or formulation of words that provides one with a secure eternity. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Our faith does begin with a confession. A confession of our sinful condition is accompanied by a confession that embraces the Lordship of Christ and his Gospel. The Gospel is expressed in words. While there is no magical prayer that can save by mere rote repetition, prayer is still a wonderful way to help people articulate their confession to God and their confession of Christ. A “sinner’s prayer” is often the verbal expression of sincere faith that communicates in words that there is comprehension of and response to the Gospel. It’s the Romans 10:13 moment of drawing it all together and nailing it down! And those who lead such prayers almost always make the comment, “It’s not the words of the prayer, but the response of the heart to the truth of the Gospel.” Ironically, many who seem most concerned about this prayer also remind us constantly that salvation is the work of God. Seems odd that we would place so much emphasis on the respondent to irresistible grace (to whatever degree you embrace this doctrine) to “get it right.” Isn’t God the one getting it right?
Obviously, we must all heed the admonition to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).” But when we communicate the Gospel by expounding the Scriptures the best we can under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and the hearer responds with faith and repentance as best they know how to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ, we can rest assured that God will do the saving work!
Doctrine matters. Words matter. And, yes, some are placing false hope in perverted forms of the gospel. But there are also many rock-solid Christians leading people to become Christ’s disciples for life beginning with a prayer that includes many elements in addition to the phrase “ask Jesus into your heart!”