The Southern Baptist blogosphere has erupted in conversation on whether it’s proper to use phrases like “asking Jesus into your heart,” “accepting Christ,” or methods like the “sinner’s prayer” when sharing the gospel. Like many online conversations, this one has tended to generate more heat than light, and I get the feeling that good folks on both sides of this issue may be talking past one another.

This discussion over methods and terms has been bubbling under the surface for a good while now. A younger generation of pastors look out at the state of evangelicalism and are rightly concerned that many people with cultural Christianity in their background cling to assurance they are saved despite an overwhelming lack of evidence of genuine conversion. It’s no surprise that some pastors are blaming the methods and terms that became prevalent in the previous generation. That’s why we hear a pastor like David Platt consider a phrase like “asking Jesus into your heart” to be “dangerous” and “damning.”

The response to this critique has been to trot out the biblical and historical precedent for using such terminology. That’s not hard. The idea of “receiving Christ” is all over the New Testament. It is certainly a part of the good news that we are not only in Christ, but that Christ is in us. Pastor Steve Gaines’ rebuttal to David Platt, for example, focused on the biblical preponderance of such language and how it offers a full-orbed view of what takes place when a sinner places faith in Jesus Christ.

A Global Perspective

The first time I questioned the legitimacy of expressions like “ask Jesus into your heart” was when I was a student in Romania. Several Romanian pastors challenged the use of such terminology. They considered it to be another example of the American tendency to water down the nature of true repentance, and they recommended the use of such phrases only if fully explained. They saw these expressions as distinctively “American” and worried that they did not give sufficient weight to the idea of surrendering one’s life to King Jesus in repentance and faith.

Though some in the Southern Baptist Convention want to make this a debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, a broader perspective shows that this is part of an ongoing conversation between Christians in the U.S. and Christians in other parts of the world. The pastors I knew who had concerns with this language were not Calvinistic at all. Still, they were afraid of creating false converts and offering them false assurance. It ought to at least give us pause that many Christians in other parts of the world are uncomfortable with this terminology.

The Real Issue is False Assurance

At the end of the day, the conversation about “the sinner’s prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart” is not really about the legitimacy of such methods or the biblical justification for using expressions like “having a personal relationship with Christ” or “receiving Jesus.” I believe that properly understood and explained, any of these methods and terms can be used, to good effect. And I bet David Platt would have no problem at all with the careful way that Steve Gaines explains what it means to “receive Jesus.”

The real issue comes down to finding our assurance in these methods and phrases. False assurance is when a pastor says, either explicitly or implicitly, “as long as you walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or asked Jesus into your heart at some point in time, you’re safe.” It’s the kind of false assurance that doesn’t take into account a Christian’s fruitfulness (as Jesus commanded us to) and tries to convince tares they are wheat. The debate is not really about the usefulness of a sinner’s prayer, but the grounding of one’s assurance in a particular moment in time where one felt remorse for sin, regardless if true repentance was present or later evidenced.

Growing up in independent Baptist circles, I recall how much emphasis was placed on the moment of conversion. Revival speakers would come into town and scare us as teenagers, telling us, “If you don’t remember the when, the where, the how, and the who of when you got saved, you’re probably not. So come down and get it settled today!” Multiple baptisms were good for the evangelist’s PR and dozens of teens getting re-baptized made the church feel good (“Look what God is doing in our young people!”).

Despite the hype, I never got re-baptized. I couldn’t articulate all the reasons why this was wrong, but I knew something wasn’t right. It felt like the shenanigans of these revival speakers put way too much emphasis on a moment in time and not on a life of fruitful faith.

True Conversion

This conversation about our methods and terminology in evangelism is an important one. I just hope that people who share a lot of the same concerns will understand the common ground they have and not impute mistakes to one another.

To my young pastor friends, we are often more apt to express concern about the precision of evangelistic language than we are to celebrate the passion of evangelistic outreach. Let’s not impute the excesses of revivalism to everyone who uses terms that are familiar within that stream of evangelicalism.

To my older pastor friends, please don’t assume that those who critique shallow evangelism are necessarily criticizing you or your ministry. And don’t think that young guys are gun-shy when it comes to evangelism, afraid to call people to personal faith and repentance, or have a problem with a moment of conversion.

Again, the issue is one of false assurance. No pastor wants to stand before God and find he offered false assurance to someone who showed no signs of genuine repentance and faith. We all ought to tremble at the thought.

Meanwhile, is it biblical to ask Jesus into your heart? Absolutely. We ought to say more than this when we evangelize, and our main focus ought to be on the biblical terminology of repentance and faith, but surely it is proper to speak of receiving Jesus.

Let’s just make sure we explain our terms and phrases so that the nature of true repentance and saving faith is communicated clearly, boldly, and graciously. I hope that’s something all of us can agree on.

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Comments:


61 thoughts on “Is it Biblical to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart?”

  1. One of the big things I also think we need to be careful of here is the use of magic catch phrases. The idea is if I say a certain thing everyone will automatically understand it. Even if a phrase is legitimate and biblical, if we use it without making it clear what we mean, we are liable to make false converts, because people will read into it what they presume you mean rather then what you meant to say. I do not think the solution is just to throw out certain phrases, but to be sure we speak with the understanding that many people in current American culture will not understand what we say without an explanation.

  2. Good article. Thanks for unpacking the issues of false assurance and “put[ting] way too much emphasis on a moment in time and not on a life of fruitful faith.”

  3. Luke Dubbelman says:

    great topic to talk about, one I have been learning alot about lately, thanks for bringing it up

  4. Very well said, Trevin! Thank you for summarizing the main points with graciousness. Here in the M.E. we’ve also been challenged to clarify our use of Christian phrases when speaking about conversion with people whose first (or second) language is not English.

  5. Andy says:

    A good study about this is covered here:

    http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/heart.html

  6. Chris Gagner says:

    I’m not against saying the sinner’s prayer, but I would say that it’s not necessary for someone to say any special words in order for Jesus to save them. If you do say the sinner’s prayer, I believe you must already have faith in Jesus in order to say the prayer and truly mean it (even if you had only put your faith in Christ a few seconds before saying the prayer.)

    However, the Bible does say that we must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, so perhaps the sinner’s prayer is necessary. Now I’ve gotten myself all confused. Help!

  7. bob says:

    Chris, romans 10:9 is refering to the fact that the christians getting fed to lions were truly saved, nobody dies for a lie! That is the background context there. If it were talking about words then no mute person could be saved….

  8. Chris Gagner says:

    Bob, That’s an excellent observation. It’s easy to forget that some people can’t speak. That puts things into perspective.

  9. Andy Fortner says:

    I really appreciate the approach of your article. I have had numerous conversations with people caught in the crossfire of this debate, who at some time or several times asked Jesus into their heart. Being someone who was raised in and remains in such an atmosphere, I have had to search these things out for myself several years back because I could not reconcile what I did multiple times when I was younger and the lack of the Spirit’s work in my life. While I agree that it is a biblical truth to receive Christ, I do not believe that using the language of “asking Jesus into your heart” or of “a sinner’s prayer” is biblical but a great deceiver of many and ultimately eclipses the gospel by which someone is saved and finds assurance. When speaking with others, in evangelistic efforts or in counseling about assurance, almost everyone who has come from a culture or experience of this type of extra-biblical language, rests their “being saved” or being “born again” on the point in time that they asked Jesus into their heart or prayed a sinner’s prayer, rather than resting/trusting in the person and work of Christ and their repentance, faith and Spirit-empowered sanctification until that day. The solution should not be “well it’s useful in explaining things as long as we cover all the bases” but rather we should forsake language that deceives, confuses, and, for many, makes their latter state worse than the first as they become harden to the future work of evangelistic efforts because they rest on something they did in the past. We must recover the language of the Word. It is that we to which we are to be faithful and will give account not how easy we made it for people to receive Christ. Jesus, Himself did not make it easy for people to follow after Him but called them to come, receive, follow, die, repent and believe and we should do no less. If it’s “helpful” but needs much explanation why not forgo it’s use and stick to the words which have stood the test of time and alone have the power to give new life?

  10. Andy Johnson says:

    Trevin,
    Thanks for helping people think through this. One thing I would add to the conversation is that churches try to stick with a consistent language. You don’t want them to hark on making Jesus your “forever friend” in preschool, hear “give your life to the Lord” as the elementary mantra, listen to the student pastor hark on “getting saved,” and then have a Senior Pastor who is devoted to the phrase “Trust in Christ.” I think there is room in church life to talk through these items of inconsistency in their own body.

    I do think we need to converse more about what a clear gospel is. I’ve tried to help this conversation in a few articles linked below.

    http://becomingsaturated.com/2012/02/askjesusintoyourheart/

    http://becomingsaturated.com/2012/02/counseling-kids-for-salvation/

    http://becomingsaturated.com/2012/03/leading-your-child-to-christ/

  11. Beyond this initial concern is what does the text proclaim with clarity as the metric by which a persons profession is validated? TRANSFORMATION, a changed life. No TRANSFORMATION = the very likely prospect that there is no REGENERATION.

    THE SBC has a vile and woefully flawed metric; one dimensional, numbers. More is better, bigger is best. We continue to lie about the actual membership – 16.3 million is ludicrous. On the best Sunday AM there is not 7 million in attendance.

    When we humble ourselves and stop the charade God will bless us with His Power and Presence but not until!

  12. Brian Roden says:

    One of the essay questions on a take-home final exam in seminary this spring was to analyze the four stages of American evangelicalism according to Randall Balmer’s “The Making of Evangelicalism” and comment on what things have changed and what things have stayed the same. Here’s part of what I wrote:

    —-
    Another constant in evangelicalism has been the importance of a conversion experience. Whether holding to the Puritan and Calvinist view that God converts a person from unbelief to faith, or taking the Arminian approach espoused by Wesley and Finney that an individual makes a free-will decision to turn from sin and follow Christ, being able to say that one “has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is a core component of evangelical belief. Unfortunately, this has been taken to extremes by some who say that if a person can’t name the date and the place he or she put their faith in Christ, that person may not really be saved. My response would be that remembering the date and place isn’t nearly as important as the state of the person’s faith at the present time. Is an individual trusting in the finished work of Christ for salvation and allowing the Holy Spirit to progressively sanctify him or her? Or is that person depending on his or her good works or the fact that he or she one time prayed a prayer at an altar many years ago?
    —-

    I think we have to look at salvation as past, present, and future. I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. I have been saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ — I have become a child of God. I am being saved from sin and its consequences as I am progressively sanctified by the Holy Spirit working in my life as I continually surrender my will to God’s will. I will be saved at the final judgment if I remain in Christ.

  13. Sean Cole says:

    Thanks Trevin for this post. I stopped using the term “asking Jesus into your heart” about ten years ago as a youth pastor because I had seen so many false conversions due to SBC summer camp and evangelism conference manipulations.

    Although I would “label” myself a Calvinist, I don’t think this is a Calvinist or Arminian issue at its core although an understanding of monergistic sotierology does come into play. This is an issue of using Biblical language clearly and compelling to present the gospel.

    I am currently preaching through Acts and not once do you find the apostles calling for people to “ask Jesus into their hearts.” What you do find is a clear and Spirit-empowered proclamation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the exalted Lord and the command to repent and believe.

    I like what my friend Art Azurdia often says about this. The response to the gospel is not an invitation that can be politely declined, but a summons from the King. To not repent and believe is defiance.

    I appreciate men like David Platt and Steve Gaines who can discuss these issues among our SBC tribe. I pray that we never lose our evangelistic zeal as Southern Baptists but makes sure that we are more precise in our Biblical language when we call people to repentance and faith.

    This issue has sparked a great discussion out here in Sterling, Colorado.

  14. Bill says:

    Great article. I think this topic gives credit to many of us who have grown up in a Christian home and can’t remember a time when they did not have Faith.
    Did I have times of doubt? Yes. But working through strengthened my Faith. I can also recall definite experiences of conviction and turning from sin for which I credit the Holy Spirit. I can also recall period of time when experience has caused me to seek and resulted in further transformation.
    I never felt the need to respond to a Salvation Alter Call in my adult life even though sometimes the message at the time was telling me that growing up a Christian was not enough. Often times when someone of my experience is asked to share a testimony, their childhood Faith is downplayed and they focus on a story of a “conversion” in their young adult life to make it a legitimate testimony that people expect to hear. Two times in the Gospels, Christ says the Faith of a child is legitimate, and Paul instructs parents to raise kids in the Faith. That’s my testimony and I am proud of it.

  15. Eric Roberts. says:

    I appreciate the discussion, however, if we would just obey God’s Holy Word and examine ourselves starting with 1 John, I think we would have assurance or not. This self-examination should be part of all discipleship. I have family who walked down, said “the prayer”,& were baptized. Knowing them for 40 years, watching them live like hell, showing NO FRUIT, but they will say “I’m saved!” Some preacher led them astray! So be aware, the eternity of many are at stake.

  16. Caleb B says:

    A closely related issue is lack of church discipline.
    If a local church baptizes and accepts into membership someone who goes on to live an unrepentant life, the church has the responsibility to rebuke/discipline that person. But many are assured tgat they have a good relationshi with God as this latter role gets neglected by local churches.

    Trevin, I think this is a great post, but I fear the solutions won’t get very far without church discipline.

  17. Bo says:

    Trevin, This is an excellent article. It is fair-minded, and clearly explained. I plan on passing this along to my church members.

  18. MF says:

    “Blessed are the peacemakers…” Thank you for a thoughtful response to this question.
    I always go back to the Word when questions like this arise. I feel that it’s far safer to use the words of the Bible to reach the lost rathe than my own words exactly because language is so easily misused by mere mortals like us.
    “Believe on Jesus and ye shall be saved,” is my favorite thing to bring up to people when they are asking about salavation. To me this means all these things: trusting in Jesus, confessing Him as Lord, making your heart open for Him, and walking in his ways.
    No prayer can ever make up for sincerety of spirit. My “sinner’s prayer” to the Lord was as follows:
    “I want You. Come back to me.”
    And He said: “I never left.”

  19. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Thanks Trevin for this article.

    Good connection between Sinner’s Prayer and False Assurance (or False Converts).

  20. Jaycen says:

    Great read and fair discussion, though I tend to side with Platt rather than Gaines’ explanation. Here is a clip from Washer where he recounts leading a terminally ill man to Christ with out the fabled “sinner’s prayer”.

    http://vimeo.com/21462147

  21. Nate Dodson says:

    I have a very close friend named Christopher. We are kindred spirits. I do not remember the time and place I met him. I do not remember how we met, or when we crossed the imaginary threshold from acquaintances to friends, and from friends to best-friends. I do know that remembering that “time and place” is inconsequential to our amazing friendship.

    I remember when a revival preacher came to our church, and my wife stood weeping in the church foyer, unsure of her salvation. Two IFB preachers tried to console her. All they offered her was “time and place” methodology. I remember how empty and useless it felt. Later that week we sat on our front porch swing and discussed it. I told her, “You have so much of the fruit of the Spirit in your life. You hunger for righteousness and you live a life free of guile. You daily believe in and trust in the salvific life, death, resurrection, and Lordship of Christ. If you need confirmation of your salvation, don’t trust in a ‘time and place,’ look at what Christ is doing in your life right now, and discuss your insecurities with Him.” Then we prayed together.

    This “method” approach (invitational music, sinner’s prayer, time-and-place, etc.) to belief is simply man’s way of manufacturing converts. We’ve made soteriology a science. Once you know the science, you can engineer it. However just like science, no matter how good our engineering, we can’t create life from what is totally dead. We will never regenerate the sinner by making him sing 4 stanzas of “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus”. Dead people don’t follow anybody.

    What we have today are churches that have been heavily influenced by the sciences and modern manufacturing via process assembly lines. If it can be done, it can be done better and more efficiently with an engineered process. Enter Charles Finney. However, Jesus clearly has a problem with the material-methodological approach to religion. Because the the material and the method become the god. When Nicodemus asked Jesus how to be born anew (the neglected first half of John 3) Jesus did not offer a process. He did not say, “1) Repent of your sin; 2) invite me into your heart, 3) get baptized and join the fellowship of the church.” He didn’t even tell Nico to “believe”! Rather, Jesus spoke at length of the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit and His regenerative work. As humans, we hate leaving regeneration in the hands of an unpredictable Spirit – that’s not nearly efficient enough for us. We need a process by which we can check off the boxes on the “decision card”. We can’t make regenerated Christians, but with our efficient, scientifically dialed-in, convert-making assembly lines, we can fill churches with people who walk and talk like them.

    1. Jen says:

      I am not your wife, but I am THAT wife who has struggled with that same thing… especially since my theology leans towards at least 4 of the 5 points. I kept looking for assurances that I was one of the “elect” and was so lost in it all I didn’t know where I stood!

      Your words are like a healing balm to me right now. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Debbie says:

    I grew up as an Independent Baptist as well. I well remember all of the preachers who declared that if you didn’t have the date written down then you really weren’t saved. Well, it turns out I had the date written down (August 26, 1985) and I still really wasn’t saved. As a good, rule following ten year old I didn’t really see myself as a sinner or that I needed a Savior. I prayed the prayer though and began my pharisaical life. By God’s grace He delivered me from legalism and saved me in my mid twenties; and no, I don’t know the exact date. I can go back to that moment though when in total desperation, tears flowing and my face buried in the carpet at my home I completely surrendered to Christ. I haven’t been the same since. The Gospel has transformed me! Everything has changed! Ps. 40:2-3

  23. Tani says:

    Jesus said unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God. He said you must be born of the water and the spirit John 3:3-5. What does that mean? Peter was asked by men convicted on the day of Pentecost, “What must we do?” He told them, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sin and then you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This is the plan of salvation, the rock that Jesus promised to build his church on and said He would give Peter the keys to. It is the Gospel of Christ his death, burial and resurrection that we all must obey in order to be born again. Every time people were brought into the church they repented were baptized in the name of Jesus and received the gift of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of tongues. I Cor. 15:1-4. I Pet 4:17. Repent equals death, we repent which is turn from sin and surrender to Jesus, baptism equals burial 1 Pet. 3:21 and the infilling of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of tongues equals the resurrection Romans 8:9 and Acts 10:44-48 and Rom. 6:5.

  24. Josh Knierim says:

    As a student minister this issue has been such a burden for me. Numerous times I have had to clear up the aftermath of a speaker or conference leader who asked students to repeat after him and then declared them to be Christians who are destined to heaven when in reality the kids were just doing what an authority figure asked them to do. I understand that we want conversion to be simple, but after hearing a student say that this is the fifth time they have become a Christian, I can’t help but think that we need to rethink how we present the gospel.

  25. Lindsay says:

    Thank you for this interesting post, Trevin! The Elephant Room: Round 1 had a good discussion about a similar topic, the use of altar calls. I have been SBC a long time, and love many things about my denomination, but I’ll be the first to admit that for all of the emphasis on being Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, and Bible-teaching, we cling to some rather unbiblical traditions. I noticed this once again on Mother’s Day when we did baby dedications.

  26. Matt R says:

    The Lord looks at the heart, not at the specific words that are read or said out loud. He alone knows what true repentant hearts look like.

  27. Patrick Nix says:

    This is something that I just wrote about here: http://wp.me/pElZC-oO

    God knows I’m NOT being judgmental or critical – let me just read a few vss and you tell me… Matt 7:13-14 says that salvation is a narrow path and few will find it. Matt 7:21, 23 continues: many unbelievers say ‘Lord’ (it’s easier to call Him Savior than Lord) and still be unsaved. Implying salvation is more than a confession / profession! THe parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-25, 30, 37) is about lost people in churches. Jesus said that there are some in your church and the Angels will sort it out and pull them from among us and throw them into Hell.

    I think it’s important that we think about what it is that keeps people from Heaven? Rom 3:23 says sin is falling short of God’s glorious perfection. Praying a little prayer and believing in Jesus/cross as a historical person/event isn’t enough to undo that lack of glory and perfection. Salvation involves faith, yes, but in no way does it stop there. Salvation is more than believing… it is: confession (Romans), repentance (Acts), commitment (John), application (James). I’m not preaching works-salvation. It is not by works… I’m actually emphasizing grace more than most do. Many who say it boils down to a ‘sinners prayer’ will trust in that prayer and experience to get them to Heaven. But:

    Jesus + ANYTHING = False Gospel (leads to Hell). Jesus + NOTHING = True Gospel (leads to Heaven).
    How about a little test:If you plug your ears at talk of Hell you might not be a Christian! If you quit fighting against sinful habits and hold on you might not be a Christian. If you enjoy people of the world (unbelievers) more than family of God then you might not be a Christian. If you don’t feel conviction when you hear preaching / read God’s word then you might not be a Christian.

    Sorry if I sound like a know-it-all because I’m definitely nothing more than a student of the Word… nothing more. I’m very interested in your feedback! Thanks.

  28. RJ says:

    My wife and I had this discussion last night. I’m curious as to anybody’s thoughts on Christ being seated at the right hand of the Father and Galatians 2:20 “…Christ in me…”. Who indwells – the Spirit, right? I know this is slightly off topic but does relate to “asking Jesus into your heart”. I think Scripture is clear – repent and believe…so what is the genesis of “ask Jesus into your heart” anyway?

    Thank you in advance for clarification and input!

    1. Tom M says:

      RJ: Revelation 3:20 is a good place to start.

      “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.”

      This is one of the reasons TW states, “Meanwhile, is it biblical to ask Jesus into your heart? Absolutely.”

      Rev. 3:20 is of course directly after Jesus’ declarations to the seven churches which, put together, is one cold face splash against false assurance.

    2. Victoria says:

      RJ, you’re absolutely right-Scripture is perfectly clear, and I would like to respond specifically to one part of your comment, “so what is the genesis of ‘ask Jesus into your heart” anyway? The answer: we cannot ask Jesus into our hearts, specifically, when it comes to our conversion. God alone takes us from our state of unbelief (1 Co 2:14; Eph 2:1; Ro 8:7) to having faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin (Ac 26:18; Pe 2:25). We cannot choose Christ; we have no part in our conversion or our salvation (Eph 2:8-9). By nature, we are hostile to God, so we can’t ask Him into our hearts. As stated in Romans 8:7,8- “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God”. If God allowed us to have any part in our own conversion or salvation, we would never come to him (Ps 14:3). Therefore, we do not and cannot “ask Jesus into our hearts”, God alone puts faith into our hearts. He converts us, and we can be sure of our salvation because He has done Everything for us. There is a lot more I would like to share if you’re interested. I encourage you to keep diving into Scripture, because it perfectly clear for us; The Bible is the inspired Word of God, and we can be sure of His promises. When people add or subtract from what the Bible clearly says, they are fooling themselves, and are also sinning.

      1. Matt says:

        Completely agree that Christ accomplished all that is necessary for salvation.

        But if God alone puts faith in our hearts, then why is the above conversation even needed?

  29. Tim says:

    This is an issue that many people in overseas missions outside of the United States deal with on a constant basis. Born in the 80’s, my generation has had these mentioned terms fed to us, and in respect to the authority of the leaders/pastors that shared the jargon, ‘paid it forward’ when we have shared the gospel, so to say.

    However, when my wife and I were blessed to serve in Tanzania in the Summer of 2008 with our student ministry group, we really had to re-evaluate the gospel; not for its truths, but in how we shared it. If you were to speak through a non-believing Swahili translator with terms such as ‘accept Jesus into your heart’ or ‘open your eyes to the truth’… they flat out wouldn’t know how to decipher that into a context the listener could understand, so they’d translate it literally. Though we were trained to speak in direct/simple terms, some of our group reverted to their ‘old ways’.

    Native Tanzanians would walk away scratching their heads wondering what this group of Mzungu (which in Swahili translates to ‘aimless wonderer’) was trying to tell them.

  30. Lesley says:

    I can’t tell you how much I loved this article.
    I spent the majority of my adolescence “doubting my salvation” because I couldn’t remember my S.P.O.T (“specific place or time” which was the entire theme of our popular Oklahoma church camp one summer). That said, I remembered walking the aisle, saying the prayer, being baptized, but I couldn’t remember what I was thinking or feeling…I was a child!
    But, like you, it never sat right with me to walk the aisle again and be re-baptized, although many of my friends did so. (Every summer after church camp or after every revival in the Fall…)
    It wasn’t until I read E. Prentiss’s “Stepping Heavenward” in my 20’s that I began to understand the doctrine of sanctification. My favorite quotation from the book comes from the heroine’s pastor who, responding to her faith crisis, says “I believe that the children of Christian parents, who have been judiciously trained, rarely can point to any day or hour when they began to live this new life. The question is not, Do you remember, my child, when you entered this world and how? It is simply this: Are you now alive and an inhabitant thereof?”
    Rather than looking back and analyzing the heart and brain of my 7-year old self, I began looking for signs that I was alive today, that my heart of stone had been replaced with a heart of flesh, that I was bearing fruit. The result was a changed life and a renewed confidence that the God who saved me was still saving me and WILL save me, completing the work He started in my dead heart so long ago.

    I love the tone of this article. You cut through all the talking points that both sides offer and got to the heart of it in a gracious way. Well done!

  31. rev.spike says:

    As you said here, I am sometimes more concerned about semantic precision than I am the fact that I cannot remember the last time that I led someone to Christ.

  32. Bart Barber says:

    Trevin,

    I said something kind about this post, and I got a private message on Facebook from somebody asking whether you were moving away from the idea of a momentary conversion experience. He was specifically considering this material.

    Growing up in independent Baptist circles, I recall how much emphasis was placed on the moment of conversion. Revival speakers would come into town and scare us as teenagers, telling us, “If you don’t remember the when, the where, the how, and the who of when you got saved, you’re probably not. So come down and get it settled today!” Multiple baptisms were good for the evangelist’s PR and dozens of teens getting re-baptized made the church feel good (“Look what God is doing in our young people!”).

    Despite the hype, I never got re-baptized. I couldn’t articulate all the reasons why this was wrong, but I knew something wasn’t right. It felt like the shenanigans of these revival speakers put way too much emphasis on a moment in time and not on a life of fruitful faith.

    I replied that I didn’t think you were crossing the line here, but were merely arguing for a post-conversion life of discipleship to be evidence as to whether purported conversion experiences were or were not actual conversion experiences. I decided nevertheless, for his benefit and for the benefit of anyone else who may have wondered the same thing, that I would ask you a follow-up question or two.

    Do you think that people experience conversion without undergoing a momentary conversion experience? Do you think that people undergo momentary conversion experiences without knowing that they are being converted?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Bart,

      Thanks for your comment and your request for additional clarification.

      No, I am not moving away from a momentary conversion experience. Individual conversion is a hallmark of evangelicalism, not to mention Scriptural testimony. You understood my point rightly. A post-conversion life of discipleship is the evidence of the genuineness of a conversion experience, not the moment of conversion itself. This does not deny, of course, the truth that we do make a decision for Christ in a particular moment in time.

      1. Bart Barber says:

        Great answer. Helpful post. Thanks.

  33. David says:

    Good article.

    “Asking Jesus into your heart” is only part of the problem, so far as I can see.

    The idea that we are under God’s judgment and in need of his salvation seems to have been largely replaced with a watered down idea that we need a “relationship with God”. The relationship focus means that the emphasis is taken off sin and repentence entirely and put onto getting back into a right relationship, as if all that is wrong is a bit of a lovers’ tiff.

    The relationship stuff isn’t entirely wrong, but without the prior emphasis on sin, judgment and our need of repentence it can end up very misleading.

    I wonder if the large scale weakening of evangelical belief in the last decade and a half or so is due to false conversions from this method. I have observed a progression in the lives of a number of people beginning with an emotional conversion experiences (and in the postmodern world emotion seems to be the main criterion for judging authenticity), then they start professing whatever the fashionable current critique of “conservative” Christianity and eventually they end up as agnostics.

  34. Aaron says:

    How sad it is when people wish to think that they can buy salvation, not with gold, but with their logic and reason. Is the believing of the Word of Christ our doing, or Christ’s? Is it not clear that if we believe that “my” prayer, “my” testimony, “my” thought process, has ANY weight to my being saved; then i am pushing aside the work of the Holy Spirit. This is work righteousness 101. Few Baptists, Presbyterians, NonDen confess: “I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but I am saved only because the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, brought me to repentance and that He put faith in my heart to believe in Jesus.” No, they say: “I have decided that Jesus is the right choice, because of my intellect. It is not because of the Holy Spirit alone but because there is still some good in me to contribute something to my salvation.”
    The reason pastors put emphasis on the moment in time (the how, when, where, etc) is because they already have that sinful unbelieving mindset that says “i can do something in order to be saved.” Regardless of what anyone says, there are only 2 religions in this world. One is work righteousness and the other is the work that Jesus did on the cross and “continues” to do up to this present time. And that work is the Holy Spirit working faith in our heart. People forget that faith is NOT something we are born with or decide to put it where we want it. Faith is a gift of God, given by God, when and where He chooses. If we have faith in Jesus’ promises, we are saved – “who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Tim. 1:9) So, it is not anything i did. I am saved simply because Jesus made me a Christian, at the same time, no one is predestined to go to hell (but that explanation is for another time).
    Those who try to harmonize what i say with their own contrary thoughts bring condemnation upon themselves, and scripture upholds what i am saying (2 Tim 3:8, etc), yes this includes Trevin Wax. I do not say this because i am being mean or unloving. But Jesus Christ commands us to teach, rebuke, correct and train. And why would anyone oppose what i say? Think about it. If you oppose what i say, your trying to make a case that says “I do something to inherit salvation and that Jesus himself does not do enough for my salvation.” That is not the gospel of Christ.
    “He who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God, despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation. So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves.” (Bondage of the Will p.100).
    The time for us to come to our senses is now. Flee evil, flee especially those who try to harmonize two completely contradictory views, cling to the promises of Christ, give credit where credit is due. To confess Jesus as my Savior is a miracle from God, NOT something that comes from my works or abilities. Nor is conversion a cooperation with Christ, as if Christ needed our help in saving us.

  35. Lynn Drewry says:

    I enjoyed reading this article and the comments that followed! I have always been concerned about the terminology that is used especially with children, as they express a desire to make a public profession. They are so literal in their thinking that I’ve questioned whether or not “asking Jesus into their hearts” is the best terminology to use in counseling with them. I’ve wondered what concept those words bring to their minds and what level of understanding is accomplished. In talkng with children who express a desire to make a public profession, I’ve often said to them, “It’s asking Jesus to be the boss of your life from now on as long as you live.” They know what the term “boss” means!

  36. David Murrow says:

    Please address this issue: Is it biblical to say “I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”?

  37. Jim says:

    Wax-I think-rightly explains that “the conversation about “the sinner’s prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart” is not really about the legitimacy of such methods or the biblical justification for using expressions like “having a personal relationship with Christ” or “receiving Jesus.” I believe that properly understood and explained, any of these methods and terms can be used, to good effect.” “Properly understood” is the key in this debate. I know there are people at Church who I can use terms like “accept Jesus.” and they would not only fully understand what I mean but have the same understand with what that means. However, generally speaking I would say there is a large majority that would not believe that terminology requires an explanation.

    Why would this be the case? Because, as a Church culture those catch phrases have been the language of our discourse. There meaning was assumed but rarely explained. To the point that children are taught to ask Jesus into their heart without out any explanation of how that is accomplished or what that might mean. It is wrong to assume that this is only simplistic language to help children understand. That type of reasoning seems to trivialize sharing the truth of Christ to our little ones. Moreover this isn’t just a problem for children. As it turns out this is a problem with many adults too.

    My final point is simply that the difference between the two camps that we are discussing are the result of different hermeneutics. Without getting into too much detail here it seems that those who find proof texts for catch phrases like “accept Jesus” are not using the analogy of faith which is Scripture interprets Scripture. The end result is a proof text without a content. If we allow Scripture to interpret itself some of the passages that we would think are vague or ambiguous find there meaning in the passages that are more straight forward. Tell me your thoughts http://cruxclass.blogspot.com/.

  38. Pam says:

    I read this yesterday and it seemed as if no one could be sure about this. But then I realized that what the Scriptures say is that we are to preach Christ and Him crucified and the elect(those with ears to hear) will hear and believe. No where does it say that we are to “offer” Jesus to anyone. John 3 proves that as do many other Scriptures. Faith is the evidence of regeneration. It is a gift from God. The elect receive it and are saved and the rest get justice. God gets all the glory! It is when we have a man-centered view of salvation that we get confused. It is monergism and not synergism. Nothing is left up to man. The Scriptures say that none choose God. God does not leave it up to man to decide to accept the sacrifice of His Son. He chose who He would save before the foundation of the world and wrote their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is a done deal. And thank God for that!!! He can be trusted. Man cannot.
    Hope this helps.
    pam

  39. Great article Trevin. I was reminded of the importance of clarity in evangelism this last week. A church member was witnessing to a young lady and asked her if she was ready to “confess Christ.” That’s biblical to be sure, but she had no idea what he meant because he didn’t first explain it. Come to find out, she didn’t even know what “sin” is. We must convey the a complete gospel, not simply its pieces.
    Sola Fide,
    Jeremy Vanatta

  40. Josh says:

    Here’s the biggest issue I have: if you were around while Christ walked the earth, would you EVER approach Him and say “will you please come into my heart?” No, of course not. If you were truly broken over your sin you would say something like “Jesus, I hate my sin and I know I will be punished for it. I am going to turn from this life I am living. Will you please save me?”

  41. Mitchell Hammonds says:

    If one believes the reason Christ abides in them is because they asked Him to do so then it follows that assurance would be placed within the “doing” of such a thing. It is inherent to the belief. “Calling upon the name of the Lord” doesn’t mean asking Jesus to come in to your heart… the statement is the result of the fact that He abides… a confession. A perfect case in point is the thief on the cross who asks Jesus to “remember him when he enters His Kingdom.” It is a confession of an ‘already occurred matter of fact’ rather than the reason Christ tells him “today you will be with me in Paradise.” Otherwise, we have moved into works based salvation.

  42. Bill says:

    Generally good comments. However, let’s not get lost in semantics. God “saves” and we are to “make disciples”. Don’t get so busy doing good things that you don’t have time to do best things.

  43. Preston Stevens says:

    If only Paul Washer read these blogs…. boy oh boy… that is why he does I guess…

  44. Fred Ford says:

    If we can’t ask Jesus into our hearts what do we tell him while he stands “at the door, & knocks: if any man hear my voice, & open the door, I will come in to him, & will sup with him, & he with me.”? Rev. 3:20
    “I think the original question was flawed. Perhaps better stated, ‘Is it possible to be led through a formulaic ‘prayer’ without your heart being truly changed?'”

    1. Brian Roden says:

      Rev. 3:20 has for decades mistakenly been used as an evangelistic verse, telling people that the door Jesus is knocking on is the door of their heart. However, if we read the verse in its entire context as part of the letter to the church in Laodicea, we see that Jesus wasn’t talking to unconverted people, but to an assembly of believers. But that assembly had become so enamored of their own abilities and wealth that they had left the Lord outside. This isn’t Jesus asking to come into the hearts of unbelievers, but Jesus asking to be allowed back inside His own church and once again made the center of its attention and activities.

      1. Bob Ford says:

        Thanks for your reply.

        In your response, in context, v. 14 states who this is directed to: “‘the angel’ of the church at Laodicea,” not the church. The Angel is being rebuked for his indifference.

        I see this as a group of people who are attempting to be a church and aren’t because they’re not saved. How does a church of Jesus’ disallow Him into his own church?

        v.21 says “‘he’ who overcomes” these were not overcomers.

        v.15 plainly states, they are neither “hot nor cold” they have no relationship with Christ. They were completely dead not full of zeal, but indifferent and careless. They had a reputation; but not a reputation of belonging to Jesus.

        The Church Triumphant is made up of believers. And, these believers display a reputation that everthing they do is “all about God.” Without Him in every heart of those who make up a local congregation, that church is only a dead pretender. I speak about those who are “members,” not guests or visitors. He stands at the door and knocks to “anyone.”

        In Hebrew tradition whenever you invite someone to put their feet under your table and share a meal with them testifies of this person being as your brother, family, a clear reference to the initiation of a close fellowship. The offer/invite to eat together in this initial invite is not necessary to be repeated since the relationship/fellowship is established the first time. In this passage Jesus is saying “Invite me in, I desire to be your brother.” Anyone who has received Christ in this fashion, “inviting Him in” has become family with Him. These obviously hadn’t done that yet.

        The sons of Sceva tried to identify with Christ, Acts 19:13-“15″. They got ripped, literally.

        Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:18)wanted to buy the power the Apostles had. Pretenders have shown up in the scriptures elsewhere, preachers included.

        And now, in this revelation of Jesus to John, we see Jesus encountering the “Angel” of that church, who I believe to be none other than the pastor, who is pretending to be a church. Knock, Knock.

        1. Aaron says:

          Mr. Ford,
          As you said, the letter is directed towards the angel of the church of Laodicea. True, but does he read a letter to himself only? Look at the last verse of that section, v. 22 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus says this to the other churches too. Thus, it is clear that Jesus is speaking to more than just the “angel” or “messenger” or as you said the “pastor, and that the pastor is to relay the message to the congregation as a whole. If the message is only written to a pastor and not to the whole congregation, then Jesus is mistaken for saying “what the Spirit says to the churches.” For Jesus, (according to you) should say “listen to what the Spirit says to the “angel.” But the words are clear that Jesus wanted what was written, to be for the whole congregation. For more examples look at the “where and when” Jesus uses “he who has an ear, let him hear” speech. He uses those words when directly speaking to a lot of people (Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35). Just like when Paul wrote to Timothy the second time. The letter was addressed to Timothy, yet in 2 Tim 2:2 he says to entrust what he says to reliable men. Hence, Paul was not only speaking to Timothy but to others as well.

          Your second point, “How does a church of Jesus’ disallow Him into his own church?” When a church adopts false doctrine instead of listening to Christ’s word they are “disallowing” him into his church. They are upholding man’s teachings and pushing aside Jesus (2 Tim 4:3). A church of Christ is only a church of Christ if it confesses and proclaims the truth. There are many churches today that do not. They deny the resurrection, they deny that Jesus is true God and true Man, etc. They are disallowing Jesus into his church. And Jesus is saying, “hey people! Wake up! You have false doctrine in your church and it is pushing me out! There is still some faith there because not all of my teaching is gone from you, but this new, false teaching is weakening your faith in me!”

          Also, not to put it so blankly but, you contradict yourself or your not making yourself clear enough. You said this is for a pastor but then you said “I see this as a group of people who are attempting to be a church.” Are you saying they are all pastors wanting to be a church or is this a congregation? Because you were trying to make the case that this is not written to a congregation but one man, the leader of the congregation.

          I think it would be good if you would look up the difference between the “visible” church and the “invisible” church. All Christians make up the “invisible” church, which spans the whole world. But although a church may be “christian” in speaking some or all of the truth of scripture, it is not comprised entirely of believers (even if they are life long members). I say this because you need to be careful with your statement (or explain it more) which said, “And, these believers display a reputation that everthing they do is all about God.” If your trying to make the case that a true church of Christ is one that “does” good all the time and is perfect in thought, word and deed. Then watch out, because any unbeliever will rip that church apart according to that churches sinful deeds (even if it is only one thing wrong). No earthly, “visible” church is perfect and they do not do things perfectly for God all the time. That is why we look not to the works but to the confession and proclamation of the church, for even unbelievers can do what “appears” to be good works as you stated. Keep the emphasis on what Jesus does for us and not on what we do for him (which is what this blog is disputing).

          I guarantee you that many Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons do more good works than you. So is it the amount of works in a particular god that saves us? No, it is what the only true God does for us. Pick apart your own life with the law of God and see how many good things you have done. Are you a righteous man before God, by the works you do? No, it is faith that Jesus put in your heart to believe that saves you. Jesus lived the life we cannot live. Don’t make our works the basis of being a church or a believer. Many Christians become lukewarm at times. Jesus is giving the Laodicean church the law to wake them up and see their errors. So being lukewarm does not make me an unbeliever but a believer who thinks that i am good in my position and “good” before God by the good works i do or have done – which is dangerous and eternal life threatening and Jesus is rebuking them for such errors.

  45. shelley says:

    What great discussion and food for thought. We live in West Africa so we do change the terminology to ‘following Jesus’ or ‘following Jesus’ path’. We’re just about to head stateside for furlough (stateside assignment – must get that Baptist terminology right)so it will be good to know ahead of time what the latest topics of discussion are.

  46. I am not sure anyone here has hit the nail on the head. There is only one book in the entire Bible which was written to direct people to do what they have to do, in order to get eternal life. The book is the Testimony of John (i.e. mistakenly called the “Gospel” of John) and purpose of the book is in John 20:31. The book was written to give John’s testimony that all who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the grantor and guarantor of everlasting life have it. There does not need to be anything more than simple, childlike intellectual persuasion of Christ’s promise. No other things can be added to “belief,” otherwise the Gospel of John would be telling a lie. John 3:1-16 makes it clear, simple “looking” with the example of the serpent, and simple “belief” in Jesus for everlasting life. No other action was needed by the Israelites for salvation (deliverance) from physical death, no other action is needed by us other than simple belief in Jesus for everlasting life for salvation (deliverance) from spiritual death.
    Lets keep it as simple as Jesus did. Nothing but childlike faith in HIM saves.

    – Don Reiher

  47. Hugh McCann says:

    “Meanwhile, is it biblical to ask Jesus into your heart? Absolutely.”

    It must therefore be all over the New Testament, right?

    Indicated somewhere?

    Implied anywhere?

    Hello…?

    Mr Wax, perhaps you were less than well served in your ‘growing up in independent Baptist circles.’ Much Arminian mischief has gutted much of the US Baptist churches.

    Mr Platt calls it superstitious, built on sinking sand. A very dangerous thing. Kool-Aid. “It’s not just dangerous, it’s just damning.” Getting people to pray the prayer?

    Ask Jesus into your heart. You say it is absolutely biblical. Please prove your outlandish assertion with ONE verse of the Bible. Such an absolutely biblical procedure must have biblical evidence galore.

    Hello…?

    {Don Reiher, July 10, 2012 @ 12:24pm is right on. Sola fide, people.}

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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