The common understanding of salvation as “asking Jesus into your heart” is problematic for those who lack assurance that they “asked” enough or Jesus left, as well as for those who have a false sense of security, believing that because they “asked,” Jesus was obliged to enter and remain.
J.D. Greear addresses this issue, and hints that we are not left with either false insecurity or false security in his subtitle: How to know for sure you are saved.
Greear rightly points out the many difficulties with using the “asking Jesus into your heart” formula:
- ‘you can “ask Jesus into your heart” without repenting and believing”
- overemphasizing such phrases give assurance to some who shouldn’t have it and keeps it from some who should’
- by using it, ‘we run the risk of obscuring the one thing necessary for salvation — a posture of repentance and faith in His finished work’
- ‘people with no remorse for their sin might still be excited about Jesus providing them with an eternal vacation home’
Greear even concludes ‘I believe it is time to put the shorthand aside and preach simply salvation by repentance toward God and faith in the finished work of Christ.’
However, with all the danger posed by using the “ask Jesus into your heart” language, Greear hedges and does not propose that we cease using it altogether. He claims that ‘ “asking Jesus into your heart” is among the more biblical summations of salvation, if the concepts behind the words are understood’ (emphasis added). And, though he believes it’s time to put the phrase aside, he allows for its use if the one using it “is careful to explain exactly what we mean when we call for a response to the gospel.”
With much clearer language at hand, that in order to be saved a person must “repent and believe the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ,” it is amazing that Greear and any pastor would leave any room for unbiblical language that poses such difficulty.
For example, consider these examples of queries from those who have heard the gospel and responses from the believer to whom it is addressed:
- What must I do to be saved? Ask Jesus into your heart.
- What must I do to be saved? Repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Repent and believe” might need to be explained, but it difficult to imagine that “ask Jesus into your heart” makes anything more clear.
Greear does, however, present a good explanation of the “heart posture” toward Christ that repentance and faith reveal. In discussing why assurance of salvation is important for the believer, Greear describes well how “present heart posture” is a better indicator than things like the sinner’s prayer, “asking Jesus into your heart,” commitment cards, and other external measures.
Be aware of some questionable hermeneutic. For example, Greear repeats an error of equating Jesus’ parable about children with the possibility of youthful repentance and belief: “…I know that children are capable of faith. (In fact, Jesus tells adults that for them to be saved they must become like, children, not vice versa!).”
Stop Asking Jesus is a good reminder that shorthand, lazy language in our evangelism and discipleship does more harm than good, and calls particular attention to arguably the most problematic shorthand, “ask Jesus into your heart.” However, there are better treatments of assurance of salvation and of the “ask Jesus” language.