apologetics, Arminianism, Biblical Authority, Christ, christianity, christians, church, Contending for the truth of the Word, Disobedience, Doctrine, Evangelism, God's Word, Jesus Christ, Knowledge, Preaching, Salvation, Scripture, Solid Scripture, theology, Truth, Word of God
Questioning the unquestionable…
Is “Asking Jesus into our Hearts” Biblical?
We have all heard it taught. It is taught to children in Sunday schools, private Christian schools, and in Christian homes across the land. It is taught as being the Gospel message, the plan of salvation, and in modern times it is even presented to adults as such. What I am talking about is the message “You need to ask Jesus into your heart”. With so many preaching this message as the gospel, would it not be wise to verify that it’s truly biblical? I have found that very, very few in our modern Christian culture have ever dug into the Scriptures to verify this message. So that is what this will article will try to do. But many who read this will take offense that an article like this has even been written. “Why is someone questioning the gospel message?” they will ask, “My Church has taught this message for years. Surely this author is trying to spread doubt and false doctrine!! It isn’t even worth reading such negative and questionable articles!” But please read what Paul warned us Galatians:
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 (Galatians 1:8)
This is a HUGE warning not only to beware of false Gospels, but also to be very diligent in biblically verifying the message we present to others. So won’t you please stay and read this article? This is not a topic to be dismissed casually or taken lightly!
There are two groups of people who hold to the “Ask Jesus into your heart” message (which from here forward I will refer to as the “Heart” message for the sake of brevity) as being the Gospel message. The first group of people consists of those that believe it truly is the Biblical message. The second group of people are those that acknowledge that the message isn’t taught anywhere in the Bible, but feel it is a good, modern way of delivering the more wordy and theological message that is found in Scripture. By now, many of you will have concluded that I the author hold the view that the “heart” message is not found in Scripture, and you’re right! The reason I am of that opinion is because… well… it isn’t found in Scripture! But I understand that there are those who might question this, so the first thing we need to do is take a good look at the three proof-texts that are usually used when defending this message. The first passage we usually hear in support of the “heart” message is found in Revelation 3:14-22…
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
The underlined portion is this passage is often quoted when delivering the “heart” message. But please note the context of this passage. This is a letter from the Lord Jesus to one of His churches. He is writing to His people… to Christians!! He is disgusted with their lukewarm state and, because He loves them, is warning them that discipline is coming if they do not repent. He is telling them, “Wake up! I am knocking on the door right now… don’t bring discipline down on your own heads!” The phrase, “I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” is a promise of fellowship, friendship and intimacy if they as a local church obey the call to repentance. Do you notice anything missing here? There is absolutely no mention whatsoever of the heart, nor of salvation! In fact, this was written to church, a group of believers, so the subject of salvation isn’t even being addressed! When verse 20 is quoted as part of an altar call or as part of a “gospel” message, please understand that it is being pulled out of context and twisted to be used where it has no business being used. I know this is a harsh criticism, but please look at the text for yourself. It is simply the truth.
The other two texts often used when one defends the “heart” message are both found in Ephesians. The first being 2:22 and the other being 3:17. Since these are so close together, I will address them together. Please look carefully below at verse 2:22 in context…
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
In context, it is obvious this verse is a teaching regarding the church as a whole, not the individual. The church is the collective group made up of those who are truly redeemed. It is made up of all true believers throughout the Earth. This verse clearly states that we (the corporate group of believers) are being built into a dwelling place for the Spirit of God. This passage in no way teaches us as individuals to ask for the indwelling of His Spirit as a means of salvation. In fact, this passage doesn’t pertain to salvation at all. So am I saying that the Spirit of Christ doesn’t live in the individual? Not at all! As we will see in the third and final commonly used proof-text, the Spirit of God does indeed live in the individual believer. Let’s examine this incredible & beautiful promise in context. It is found in Ephesians 3:14-19…
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
The Spirit of Christ does indeed indwell the believer! But what is the context here? This passage is describing the prayers that Paul makes for the believers in Ephesus. The Spirit of God indwelling the believer is one of the many blessings that come with salvation and, according to Paul, to an even greater degree for those who are “strengthened with power through his Spirit.”
But this incredible truth can in no way can be defined as the gospel message! Please pause for a moment and consider the logic behind this common misuse. The indwelling of Christ is a promise, it is something promised to happen when someone becomes a true believer, right? Another promise given is that of everlasting life. Would it then be appropriate to tell an inquisitive friend, ‘Just close your eyes and say these words, “Jesus, please make me live forever. Amen’”? Of course this promise could not be preached as the gospel! Yet another blessed promise is that when a believer leaves this earthly life, he will be present with the Lord in Heaven. So, should we then tell schoolchildren to bow their head, close their eyes and repeat this prayer, “God, someday I want to go to heaven. Amen”?? Again, no! When we take other promises regarding salvation and briefly envision them as the gospel message, they seem ridiculous. I submit to you that presenting the promise of Christ’s spirit abiding in our hearts as the gospel message is just as ridiculous (maybe even more so). Telling someone to “ask Jesus into your heart” is preaching an effect as a cause. It is putting the cart before the horse. Like all effective false teachings, it has an element of truth to it, but nowhere in Scripture is the “heart” message taught as the gospel or preached as the gospel.
It is my opinion that no further examination of biblical texts should be needed to convince you the reader that presenting the “heart” message as the gospel is unbiblical at best, and is a violent twisting of Scripture at worst. But for the sake of those who are profoundly set in their tradition, we will look just a little further. We will look at the most damaging evidence imaginable; we’ll compare the “heart” message with the true biblical gospel. When the light of Scripture shines upon this teaching it will then be obvious to all what the “heart” message is…and what it isn’t.
To look at this subject in a brief but thorough manner, we will first look at a brief summary of the gospel as taught by Jesus and Paul. Let’s start by examining Jesus’ statement regarding this crucial teaching:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15
We see here that when Jesus preached the gospel, He commanded a response from those that heard it. He told them to, “Repent and believe.” And exactly what is the gospel message that He preached? We will let Paul give us his answer…
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 1 Corinthians 15:1-5
At this time I would ask you to read one more passage of Scripture in order to have perfect clarity of the Gospel message, that being Romans 3:9-25
“For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
So we see that according to the teachings of the Apostle Paul, and those of our Lord Himself, the gospel message is essentially this: All men have sinned and broken God’s laws. We have all lied, hated, and lusted. Every one of us has indulged in gossip, wicked fantasies and idolatry. Because of our guilt, obeying the laws of God now will in no way absolve us of our existing guilt. Because God is a just judge, a punishment must be handed down. Because of this situation, we are all guilty and hopelessly headed for eternal torment, but God stepped in and sent His only Son to be tortured and killed on the Cross, paying our punishment. Repenting of our sins (repenting is a change of mind regarding sin, a turning from our own passions) and clinging to Christ alone, trusting His work alone makes us right with God, we are then made in right-standing with in the courts of the almighty. Upon Him is our sin laid and we inherit the righteousness of Christ. We are saved through faith in Christ alone (not our own efforts… that is why it is called “good news”!!) Christ proved to all His true identity and that His sacrifice was acceptable by rising from the dead. That is the gospel! It is the good news that helpless and wicked men have a savior who has done the unimaginable in order to save His people!
Do you see now what the “heart” message is missing? It preaches no law of God, so sin & guilt are not exposed. Nor does it preach the consequences of sin. Without the knowledge of the law and guilt, how can a person even know what they need to be saved from? But that is not the only shortcoming of the “heart” message. It doesn’t issue the call to repent, to change one’s mind concerning sin. It does not teach the truth that without a turning from sin and embracing Christ as master and Lord there can be no salvation. And, ironically, the “heart” message fails to proclaim the heart of the biblical gospel, that being Christ died on the Cross bearing our sin while giving the believer His righteousness. It could be argued that these things can all be preached beforehand, and the “heart” message is simply used as the closing call, or call to act and respond on what has been shared.
While this is true, it is an obvious and blatant deviation from what our Lord used as a closing call when he commanded men to, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” And, sadly, the simple fact is that the vast majority of the time when the “heart” message is presented, it is not accompanied by sound and biblical teaching. When the content of the “heart” message compared to the content of the biblical gospel, it is plain to see they are completely different messages. Many will claim that a child is incapable of grasping the more complicated biblical message, so use of the “heart” message is excusable in the case of children. But where are we the messengers taught that the intended audience dictates the message content? This isn’t a biblical concept, to be sure! Explaining the true gospel using simple terms so that a child can understand is no sin, but changing the message content to fit an audience is strictly prohibited. Children throughout the ages have been able to understand the biblical gospel, and I submit to you that the apparent inability of modern children has more to do with lack of effort on the part of parents and teachers than on the child’s ability to understand. If you take the time to read through Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-39), or through Paul’s sermon in Athens (Acts 17:22-31) you will see a few common themes. While the messages are presented in different terms and styles, the content remains the same. In one way or another they heighten the listener’s awareness to their guilt before God, and call on them to repent and believe in Christ’s atoning work on the Cross to be put in right-standing with God. With it being evident that the “heart” message contains none of these elements, can it truly be said to be representative of the biblical gospel message? I think not.
Now that we have taken a look at the legitimacy of the “ask Jesus into your heart message”, let me now take a few moments to address two possible reactions to this article. One common reaction to an article like this is anger, and I understand that. It is often very difficult (and unpleasant) to be confronted with the fact that a precious belief or hope is wrong. Often this anger will influence the one being confronted into adopting a compromised viewpoint. “Okay,” many folks reason, “it isn’t a biblical message, but it works! It is a good summary of the Gospel and it is how I got saved!” Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a local youth pastor who held this compromised position. He defended teaching children the “heart” message” and his defense was along these lines: “I know it isn’t biblical, but that’s how I got saved. God straightened me out in seminary.” The problem with this position of compromise is that God left us no room to hold it without being charged with the crime of rebellion. Let us look again at the Apostle Paul’s warning regarding messages other than the biblical gospel:
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 (Galatians 1:8)
As you can see, the Apostle left no room for a semi-submissive, compromising stance. The youth pastor I was talking with had somehow reached the conclusion that his pilgrimage out of false doctrine somehow gave him license to preach it himself. But Paul couldn’t be clearer, the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16) and cannot be amended, changed or be subjected to tampering. Carefully take note of the consequences in this warning … “let him be accursed”!
There are very few warnings this severe in the New Testament, and it would be wise to take a great pause so as to carefully and prayerfully reconsider before casually ignoring it simply because you feel tradition and culture demands it. In addition to anger, another common reaction to this message is doubt, fear or panic. “Oh no!” some may ask, “Am I not saved?!??” Let me very clear here (so please read carefully before sending me angry emails): There are many soundly-saved Christians who said this prayer when they were put in right-standing with our Lord. As discussed above, the true gospel is that forgiveness is available for those who come in belief and repentance while clinging to Christ to save them. Many, many times people have been convicted and broken over their sin, realized what Christ did on the Cross and clung to Him alone while repeating the “heart” prayer after some well-meaning but misguided preacher. God knows the intents and thoughts of a man, and just as there is no magic-formula prayer to obtain genuine salvation, there is also no magic-formula prayer that will repel genuine salvation. Many folks have come to our Lord through the fog of false teachings, only to see truth more clearly at a later date (is He clearing your vision today, dear reader?) However, if you are in doubt of your salvation, you should take it seriously. Many will tell you to never question or examine your salvation, but I am not one of them. The Apostle Paul made it clear we are to examine ourselves:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5
Even here we see Christ resides in the believer, and because He does, there are tell-tale signs in the life of those His Spirit inhabits. John, the “disciple of love” wrote the entire book of 1st John about examining these signs so that we might “know if we know Him”. I would strongly encourage you to read 1st John (it’s very short) and prayerfully examine your faith. Do you have a life trademarked by sin, or marked with signs of following hard after God? Do you seek the company of other Christians, or avoid them? These are just a few of the questions John will bring up as you read. Just remember as you consider these things that your trust and faith concerning salvation must be in what Christ has done, not what you have done (or are doing). The inward state determines the outward actions, not the other way around.
Folks, the content of the gospel message we believe and preach is an incredibly important . It’s more important than politics, health care, taxes and even more important than our finances. This is the gospel we are talking about…the power of God unto salvation. This is the message that brings spiritually dead men back to life and the message for which our Lord Jesus was tortured and killed so that He might bring it to His people. I hope that you the reader now have a full understanding as to what the true gospel message is (repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name) as well as the warnings and dangers of tampering with the message. Please take some time to read through all pertinent biblical passages regarding the gospel message as well as prayerfully considering what your stance will be going forward. It is incredibly important that you do.