“All you have to do is ask Jesus into your heart and He will come in a make you a new person.”
Asking Jesus into your heart is probably one of the most frequently used phrases by followers of Christ when evangelising.
There’s only one problem – this term is never used in the Bible. Nowhere – zilch – it isn’t there!
The book of Acts tells us of the spread of the very early church and exactly how and what people did to be saved and become Christians. Yet there is not one single instance of anyone asking Jesus into his or her heart. Jesus never said it – the apostles never said it. In fact, nowhere in the Scriptures is there even one example of any individuals ever asking Jesus into their heart. So if it is never found in the Bible, why use it? Especially when the Bible is very clear about how to be saved.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is no ‘formulaic terminology’ prescribe in the Scriptures to describe a ‘process’ whereby one becomes a Christian. So what’s wrong with this phrase?
I need to state up front that I doubt that God is hindered by, nor dependant upon evangelical terminology. If a person truly repents of sin and expresses a belief in Jesus Christ, I am confident that God, who looks on the heart of men and women, will redeem that confessing sinner, regardless the words used. I suspect that from God’s perspective, terminology is somewhat irrelevant.
So why make an issue of this?
Well, words contain ideas, and ideas shape understanding. The concept of ‘inviting Christ into our hearts’ carries with it an incorrect, or worse still, a confusing picture of what takes place when one becomes a Christian. Although the expression is common enough, I am still unsure what it is supposed to mean even after over fifty years of being a Christian. If I am still puzzled by this cliché, I can only imagine the effect it has on a non-Christian adult, leave alone a child… any child.
I can only imagine what a non believer must think when exhorted to ask Jesus into their hearts? – How does it work? Is it literal or is this some kind of metaphysical/ supernatural experience? Is it symbolic? If so, what is it supposed to mean and what is it supposed to do? The confusion is completely understandable considering no good clarification of this phrase actually exists. Is it any wonder that so often presented with completely meaningless phrases that communicate nothing intelligible, much of the world dismisses us as a credulous superstitious bunch?
The confusion can only be intensified with children who think in very literal terms and who probably imagine a literal Jesus literally living inside their hearts.
It Bypasses A True Understanding Of The Gospel.
The biggest problem is not that we may phrase something a little differently, but that this ill-defined cliché, whatever it may mean, misses the point entirely. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done to save lost sinners from the just penalty of their sins. That God releases us from the demands of eternal justice on the basis that someone else paid our fine.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
God has also instructed believers to proclaim the Gospel to others…
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)
and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
…and obscuring the primary issue is not how to do so. Anyone one, young or old, can ask Jesus into their hearts without the faintest idea that salvation is by God’s grace, based solely on Christ’s death on the cross and that it is received through faith in Christ alone. They could ask Jesus into their hearts without any knowledge of the person, work, and accomplishment of the Lord Jesus Christ, or the need to trust in and follow Him.
How exactly then can this popular phrase be construed as the Gospel? When speaking to a non believer the only issue is sin and the need for forgiveness… “Repent” and “believe” are the Biblical instructions given to any non converted person.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
“I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish..” (Luke 13:3)
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
Perhaps the best way to realize someone’s understanding of the Gospel message is by asking them the simple question.. “If you were to die tonight and God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say?”. The answer to this question will tell you whether they are on track or not.
Isn’t This All Simply A Matter Of Semantics?
The single most consequential decision a person will make is to determine where they will spend eternity..
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
Yet, when it comes to pointing a person towards eternal salvation we tolerate biblical inaccuracy and doctrinal fuzziness, yet in matter of considerably less importance we demand extreme accuracy and exact wording.
As has been shown above… trusting in Jesus Christ alone and asking Jesus into your heart are not necessarily saying the same thing.
Even believers in other religion may be willing to ask Jesus into their hearts as many of them believe that He was a very wise man and a great teacher. However trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation involves a basic understanding of the Gospel and that Jesus died for your sins. It involves believing He is the only way to salvation and forsaking all other ‘gods’ and following Him come what may.
Those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible ought especially to be concerned with accuracy in communicating the truth. Words are the means God chose to tell us the good news, and words are the means we employ to explain the Gospel to others. Therefore “a correct choice of words is important, even essential, in stating the Gospel well.” [Charles Ryrie. So Great Salvation. p. 24]
Is Gospel clarity really that big of a deal? Yes, it certainly is according to Paul …
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8-9)
This post is a modified version of “Why Not to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart” by Carol Brooks.
Words are important, and your comment that ‘you doubt God is hindered’ is so true. He saves us in spite of ourselves or our words.
There is an element of truth here that has led to this common phrase, and points to the difference that separates some believers. The emphasis of your article is on ‘the head’. The emphasis of another group of believers is ‘the heart’. In truth we need a good measure of both.
John 14 and 17 highlight the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our bodies, which is described as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
As with so many contentious areas which divide believers, it is important to acknowledge the truth that some emphasise beyond what we may believe to be a proper balance, and the ‘teach them the way of God more perfectly’. The reason that this is necessary is that people do not generally leap from one position to another, they need to be led. To lead someone we need to meet them where they are, establish an understanding, turn them in the right direction and help them take their first steps towards what we see as a balanced position.
We are agreed, David. My emphasis was not so much on God’s work of salvation in believers as our understanding of this work.
I suppose the ‘take-away’ here is a discipleship issue.
According to Matt 28, that’s our role – disciple making. If we start with erroneous concepts, it makes the job of mentoring/discipling more difficult. The doctrine of salvation is the foundational doctrine on which our entire understand of God’s work in the life of a believer is anchored.
We should endeavour to start right.
I’m not justifying a loose theology, Don, but I’m trying to point out that the ‘cliche’ is a language which is more comfortable with those who would say ‘it is better felt than tell’t’.
There is a spectrum of views shares by believers which can’t be neatly wrapped up by a ‘biblical argument’. I agree that entrance into the kingdom is through the narrow gate of REPENTANCE and FAITH. This is all well and good, but the modern day ‘Pharisees’ will soon want to define repentance and faith in their own unique terms. Do this … stop that … believe this … reject that…
If you want to engage with the people who preach the very thing that you are opposing, I think you need to understand and acknowledge the primary reason they hold this view. My understanding of that reason is that they have been exposed to the sterile, cold and lifeless space occupied by those who hold to a biblical system, with not a glimmer of life in them. They are repulsed by those who have all knowledge and theory, but no life. It is a reaction against an error, of course, but if we are to help such people (which I hope is the purpose of your article), then we must acknowledge what is behind the position they take (unless of course you think they are wilfully disobedient to the Word, or peddling their doctrine for bad motives).
How are we to engage with people who are wedded to the notion that you have argued against?
I suppose this post in one way we can engage. And of course if our churches take seriously the teaching of God’s Word, believers will be better equipped when evangelising.
This is exactly what I am trying to avoid. I think the closer we stick to the teaching of the Bible, on this or any other subject, the less likely it will be that error creeps in. Although, I’m not sure I would go as so far to characterise these people as “modern day Pharisees’; misguided perhaps.
Nathan W. Bingham
Don: Christians and their cliche’s are everywhere.
One of the significant reasons why I dislike this cliche’ is because it puts the horse before the cart. Asking Jesus into your heart isn’t the biblical response to the Gospel proclaimed. “Christ in [us]” (Col. 1:27), or Christ in our hearts, is the fruit of a biblical response to the Gospel proclaimed; namely, repentance and faith.
Nathan, I assume that you meant to write, “puts the cart before the horse”.
That’s exactly what this cliché implies and that is why we need to be more careful in the terminology we use to explain God’s work of salvation.
I like your cryptic explanation of the Gospel, I would add one more word.
Gospel proclaimed: sin – repentance – faith
Nathan W. Bingham
Ah yes. I got the saying the wrong way around. I guess it depends on which way you’re looking at the horse and cart (front view or back view).
I didn’t offer an explanation of the Gospel, only our response to it. I don’t believe repentance and faith is the Gospel, it is only our response to the Gospel (good news). The Gospel is the objective declaration of what God has done in Christ.
Welcome to Hills blog, Nathan. Spot on!
This is the one phrase that gets thrown around my church so casually, and my husband and I flinch every time it’s said. But truth be told, we’re probably the only Calvinistic believers in a church full of personal-choice Arminians and altar-call-heavy Finneyists. That’s not to say that they are headed straight to Hell–by no means!–but they do use a lot of terminology that drives us batty, because they place entirely too much power into the hands of Man, that has absolutely NO place there. Without God pulling our strings, we are dead puppets, with all the animation of a zombie. It is God and God alone that draws us to the altar and places His life in us, not any choice of our own. To “let Jesus into our hearts” implies that we opened the door of our heart with our own hand, and that is impossible. We wouldn’t even have comprehended His existence; the Bible would be just another book and every act of God would be mere chance or luck, if He hadn’t pulled the blinkers from our dull eyes and expanded our field of vision. Otherwise we’re as incapable of removing those blinkers as your average Clydesdale is.
Love your ‘Texas imagery”, Denita.
And I also appreciate that you fellowship with believers that interpret the Scriptures differently than you do. From our understanding, these Christians have a wrong perspective of their faith and the teaching of God’s Word. But this hasn’t stopped you from breaking bread with them.
Whilst I believe it is important to correctly understand God’s Word, I also know that God is more gracious than we ever can imagine. As I originally stated in this post, “God is not hindered by, nor dependant upon evangelical terminology. If a person truly repents of sin and expresses a belief in Jesus Christ, I am confident that God, who looks on the heart of men and women, will redeem that confessing sinner, regardless the words used. I suspect that from God’s perspective, terminology is somewhat irrelevant”.
I think of it this way; when my daughters were mere children, they had a very vague understanding of what brought them into existence and what understanding they had was very “Polly Anna”. But that didn’t matter – they enjoyed life. As they matured their knowledge of procreation clarified – they are now both Moms.
Perhaps that was a weak analogy, but I believe truth is objective. No matter what we believe about truth, truth remains constant, it is not dependant upon how one understands it. So the outworking of truth will be the same, regardless our understanding of it.
And perhaps this is David’s point. We need to live with brothers and sisters in the Lord without rancour. If God uses us to help them come to a proper understanding of His Word, so be it. But whether He does or not, the truth remains and all His redeemed will reap the benefits of that truth, regardless their understanding of it. Creating barriers between people holding to different perspectives will make dialogue impossible.
And, of course, we will all learn the truth when we get to heaven.
If you are serious about using the blog to engage with those who hold a different view, then the approach has to be closer to the one I described, I think. Otherwise, it is simply a medium for those who are already part of the same club to slap each other backs and congratulate each other on holding the same views!
Ancient roads had two ditches, one on each side to drain the surface effectively. When I was learning to drive, I remember quite well not mastering the art of steering. As I started to see that I was headed for one ditch, I applied the steering too much, and started to head for the other. It took me quite a lot of weaving down the road to get the hand of steering a straight course. To change the analogy slightly, there are plenty of christian people in each of the ditches we have described who justify their presence there as ‘I don’t want to be in the other ditch’ (often with suitable supporting verses)! You don’t get very far in a ditch! We all start out on the road. To stay on the road (and help others to do so) there must be a balanced treatment of an error that states the position from the ‘errorists’ position. Otherwise the treatment is one sided, and with the click of a mouse the reader can silently and anonymously move on unmoved, and unhelped.
David, I understand the appeal of the idea of “inviting Jesus into your heart”. It has a warm Hallmark Cards feel about it. It conjures up an image created by pictures like this. This image is a depiction of this verse.
However, there are two problems in quoting this verse in support of the “invite Jesus into your heart” understanding. First, look at the verse again – tell me where you find “ask Jesus” and “into your heart”. It’s not there. Second, the context of the verse is not about personal salvation.
The context is a letter from Jesus to the church of Laodicea, within the larger context of the seven letters written to seven real churches that existed at the time. The church of Laodicea was a particularly well-to-do church, but their material prosperity had somehow caused them to believe that they were spiritually rich as well. Jesus was warning them that He was still ‘outside’ of their church.
Using Revelation 3:20 to support this cliché is superimposing a meaning on the text that simply does not exist.
Back to my point, I understand people using this terminology. I used it myself for many years. It is a ‘picture’ that resonates with us because it paints a picture of us being in control. And of course that’s the whole issue. Until we understand that our salvation is fully and only the work of God through the faith that He gives, we are in error. It is an incorrect depiction of salvation and to continue propagating it is to propagate error.
The correct teaching of God’s Word is very powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It doesn’t need us to finesse the message to make it more palatable to the hearer. It stands on its own and when read by the searching believer, the Holy Spirit illumines the mind, conforming and transforming it (Romans 12:2).
David, your driving analogy is cute, but does not accurately depict this scenario. I think a better analogy is of a train on the tracks that has come to spur-line. The driver chooses to take the spur-line rather than stay on the tracks that will take it to the correct destination. The further the train travels along the spur-line, the further from its intended destination it travels.
There are some notable and very skilful preachers who have used the illustration in Rev 3:20 as an evangelistic text. Charles Spurgeon once remarked to other preachers that wherever he was preaching from in Scripture, he would cross field and ditch to ensure he preached Christ. Absolutely right! These Scriptures speak OF HIM.
Preaching the word is all about communicating at the right level. The Lord Jesus Christ used parables, and similes (which were not understood without further explanation), and he taught with great patience those who were very slow to understand. Pauls advice to Timothy was to exercise patience in teaching.
Trains are a relatively new invention, and they don’t fit too well as an analogy. They conveniently carry lots of people along a pre-determnined path at high speed. Life isn’t like that.
There are no train tracks in Scripture, but plenty of road and paths. For example I know that the Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I don’t ask if I’m on the right train, I listen to hear Him say to me “this is the way … walk in it”. Its a slow process, and we build our understanding carefully, and gently and patiently re-direct those who stray from the old paths.
Agreed, David, analogies are by their very nature always weak.
Here’s one that seems to work.
Yes it’s a great analogy for building! And that is exactly what we need to do – build people up little by little. The task in these days is absolutely enormous. It reminds me of the quip: ‘how do you eat an elegant’? Answer – a bit at a time.
Don – Thank you for this post!
You know, it is great to have been reminded about this unbiblical “gospel” presentation. I was a “victim” of it and I cannot stand it!
Bless you as you seek & contend for Him in a loving gracious manner.
Thanks, Matthew. Your last sentence is important to me. I know that my more formal writing style is sometimes misinterpreted as reflecting a militant heart. I guess I can blame my Canadian English major for this. 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to go to the Word and challenge this particular doctrine. I have always disliked the image sometimes given in this belief; and others; that Jesus is begging us for a chance to prove Himself. I appreciate that your article puts us in the right place; which is recognizing His rightful place.
Thanks for your kind words of encouragement, Glenn. And welcome to Hills blog.
As indicated in one of my responses to David, I too, used this terminology or derivatives of it, for many years. When I was first challenged about the biblical accuracy of it, I dismissed the observations claiming the person was a ‘nit-picker’. What harm could it do?
However, secretly, the observation sent me to the Word to see for myself. I think differently now.
It is the believer’s responsibility to disciple new believers. Our job is to baptise, make disciples and teach (Romans 28:19 & 20). I suggest that this commission carries with it the necessity of accurately presenting the gospel. If we lay a faulty foundation, the building will be out of kilter and perhaps flounder.
So, whilst it may sound innocent enough, it both puts the believer at risk and complicates discipleship. Why introduce a ‘picture’ that deviates form biblical teaching?
It’s been great reading the responses to this blog. Good points made Don. This highlights more then ever the importance of centring preaching in churches on the Gospel as articulated in the Bible. People think that only “non-Christians” need to hear the gospel. However with all the watered down and distorted gospel messages being taught these days, we should never assume that the tag of “I’m a Christian” means they are going to be with the Lord. Jesus says very clearly that He will turn away people who may say “Lord” with their mouth’s but in reality don’t know Jesus.
The Gospel does four critical things. 1) it tells us how we can be redeemed before our holy God despite our sinfulness (WOW! – that is good news), 2) it keeps us humble as it has nothing to do with our ability or superior intellect that we choose God and therefore deserve to be saved – God alone saves! 3) Christ’s atoning and redemptive work for us enables us to turn from sin and reflect Him more (without justification there can be no sanctification) and 4) by realising and meditating on these things, it naturally causes us to glorify God alone and treasure Him more then anything else, even though our sinful struggles cause us to have many bumps in the road.
We are saved by grace alone, however as Paul explains in detail in Romans, if there is not the progressive sanctifying work in our lives (once again there are ups and downs) as EVIDENCE that we are born again and the Holy Spirit is working within, we should seriously examine whether we are sincere in our commitment and embracing of Christ in our lives. Becoming a Christian isn’t just about receiving Christ as our Saviour, but also TREASURING and revering Him as our Lord.
Is Christ THE treasure of our lives?
If He is then we should bit by bit turn from what dishonours Him as we enjoy Him more.
You know, I never really thought about it, but you do hear this alot and it is not in the bible. When reading this, a scripture came to my mind, the one about one cannot spoil a strong man’s goods except a stronger than he bind him, then he will spoil his goods. I don’t know about you, but Jesus saved me all by himself. I had nothing to do with it. According to the bible, we are saved the moment we believe, not by doing anything else like asking God into our heart. He comes in the moment we believe.
Teri Lane Muckleroy
I’m not debating anyone one this but after reading Revelations 3:20 that says
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
I know without Jesus in me I wouldn’t be the person I am today so regardless of whether the words taking Jesus into your heart is the right way to term accepting the gift of salvation or not it’s the only way I know how to describe the change in me.
Thank you, Teri. I appreciate the spirit of your comment. In no way am I intending to question the genuineness of your salvation. I am sure that the Holy Spirit uses many different ways to draw people to God, even the ill-thought tactics of Christ followers. The main purpose of this post is to challenge Christians to be careful in how they interpret, or misinterpret Scripture.
Many people include this verse in their evangelistic attempts to lost people. Usually saying something like, “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart waiting for you to open it”. Such is not the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, nor the clear context of Revelation 3.
In Revelation 3, Christ is speaking, not to group of unredeemed people, but to the Church; the Church of Ladocia in particular. Jesus was trying to get back into the Church, not trying to get into the heart of an individual person or persons in Salvation. These people were already saved. To use this verse in an evangelistic sense is to take the verse from its context and force a meaning on it the Holy Spirit never intended.
This is another example of so many people just taking a verse to mean a certain thing because they have always heard it taught like that. The Scripture must be allowed to speak for itself, not the way we have always heard it spoken of. Let us be faithful to allow the Word to speak for itself.
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