I have no doubt that some people who describe their salvation in these terms are genuinely saved, but these are not biblical descriptions of salvation and I am convinced that to use such terminology is not a harmless matter. To “give my life to Christ” or to merely “invite Jesus into my heart” gives the wrong idea, in fact.
TO “GIVE MY LIFE TO CHRIST” implies that I have something good or worthwhile to offer to Him and that there is something good in me that God would accept, which is definitely not true. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The Bible says that even our supposed righteousness is unacceptable before a thrice holy God: “... we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
TO “INVITE JESUS INTO MY HEART” is not the same as acknowledging my wicked sin and my frightful unsaved condition and putting my trust in what Jesus Christ has done on the cross for me as the only means of salvation. To “invite Jesus into my heart” implies that my heart is not the filthy thing that the Bible says that it is. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). It is true that the Bible says Jesus Christ comes into the life of the believer. In 2 Cor. 6:16 God says, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them,” but this is only after the individual is redeemed and cleansed and sanctified by faith in Christ’s atonement.
The term “invite Jesus into my heart” is usually based on Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” First of all, this is not an invitation to an individual but to a church. See verse 19. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” Jesus is graciously knocking on the door of the wayward church and inviting individuals to respond to His rebuke by repenting of their apostate condition. I do not doubt that there is an application of this verse that extends to Christ’s blessed invitation to individual sinners, but we know that one verse cannot contradict everything else the New Testament says about salvation.
To tell the sinner merely to receive Jesus into his or her heart gives the wrong idea UNLESS we carefully explain about his sinful condition and God’s judgment of sin (Rom. 1:18 - 3:18) and Jesus’ sacrifice for sin (Rom. 3:19-24). This is the true Roman’s Road plan of salvation.
The gospel is not inviting Jesus into my heart; it is summarized as follows by the Lord’s apostle: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Biblical salvation is described in Acts 20 as repenting of my sin and self-will, which means to surrender to God, and putting my faith in Jesus Christ as my sin bearer. This is the message that Paul preached. “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
Biblical salvation is described in Romans 10 in terms of believing in the heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 10:9).
Biblical salvation is described in John 3 in terms of being born again by putting my faith in what Jesus did when He was lifted up on the cross (John 3:3, 14-16).
Biblical salvation is described in Acts 4 in terms of believing in Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Saviour (Acts 4:10-12).
Biblical salvation is described in Acts 8 in terms of believing with all one’s heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He paid the sacrifice that was demanded by God’s law and that is described in Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:26-27).
There are many other descriptions of salvation in the New Testament, but nowhere is salvation described as “giving my life to Jesus” or merely “inviting Jesus into my heart.”
We need to be very careful about salvation, because nothing in this life is more important than finding the right way of salvation and the Bible warns that there are false gospels and false christs and false spirits (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
We are saved by believing from the heart “that form of doctrine which was delivered” to us, which refers to the doctrinal content of the biblical Gospel. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17).
Shallow presentations of the gospel can become “another gospel” if the individual is left with a wrong concept of what it means to be saved.
It is instructive that many of those who are victims of the “Quick Prayerism” method of evangelism and who have merely prayed a sinner’s prayer but do not show any evidence of regeneration describe their salvation in the aforementioned terms.
SOME RESPONSES TO THIS ARTICLE:
”I agree completely. Most of us have probably been guilty of repeating terminology we have heard, even if it is not biblically sound, including these phrases. However, I think it is important to use the language of the Bible. These two phrases are not descriptive of Bible salvation, reflect a shallow understanding and presentation of the gospel, and could easily deceive someone about the true nature of repentance and faith” (Thomas Smith, Pastor, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, St. Clair, Missouri).
“I think this is a subject that needs to be dealt with frequently. Tozer pointed out many years ago that ‘accepting Jesus into my heart’ is not biblical terminology, and that ‘receiving Christ’ (John 1:11,12) conveys a much more serious truth” (Buddy Smith, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Malanda, Queensland, Australia).
“The whole message of ‘ask into the heart’ is very recent in the history of the Lord’s churches. It looks to me like Baptists accepted it from evangelicals of other denominations. It was not the preaching of the old Baptists. There are several songs along the same line as this also. Sadly, it seems that a lot of people get their doctrine from their songs instead of getting their songs from their doctrine. Is there a sense in which the Lord dwells in our hearts? In light of Gal. 4:6 and Eph. 3:17 the answer is yes, but we still are never commanded to preach ‘Ask Him into your heart,’ nor do we see the Gospel heralds in the New Testament preaching that. When I preached on this recently, the immediate reaction of one man who has been saved for years was, ‘This sounds like borderline heresy,’ simply because he had always heard this, even in his years at BJU, other sound churches, etc. When I opened the Word and we looked together he agreed that what I preached was Biblical. My dad has been preaching for years that we are not telling people to ask Jesus into their life or give their life to Jesus. Their life is wrong; it is a mess; it is wicked. We are preaching that sinners need ‘new life in Christ’” (Bobby Mitchell, Jr., Pastor, Mid-Coast Baptist Church, Brunswick, Maine).
“I think the reason for the problem terms you mention (‘I have invited Jesus into my heart,’ etc.) grow out of a shallow or weak presentation of the Gospel. If the lost person would be led to see himself as the wicked & lost hell bound sinner the Word of God says he is and that he is under the wrath & condemnation of a Holy God, he would recognize that there is not one ounce of good in him. If the purpose of ‘The suffering Lamb of God’ on the cross would be plainly preached and the lost sinner would be made to see the great sacrifice of the Christ -- as He bleeds and dies, as He is making the Atonement in His blood sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, as He is suffering the wrath of God poured out on Him, as He bears the sins of all mankind, as He is personally bearing the sins of the sinner who is being witnessed to. And if the Holy Spirit would then convict this sinner of the desperately wicked condition of his own heart and life and he would then see his hopeless, worthless position outside of God’s grace, surely he would repent of his sins and be saved. At this point it would seem like the only words the lost sinner would then be able to utter would be ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Seeing God’s great love for lost sinners in Christ on the cross and being convicted by the Holy Spirit would surely produce believing faith in the finished work of Christ for the salvation of the soul” (Wilbert Unger, Pastor, Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario).
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