Monday, March 23, 2020

Anonymous Asks (85)

“Does the Bible say to ask Jesus into your heart?”

If there is anything in the Bible that may have given rise to this very popular expression, it is probably the risen Lord’s generous offer to members of the Laodicean church in Revelation: “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.” Obviously it is not literal. Eating symbolizes fellowship, fortifying and encouraging the believer and delighting the heart of Christ.

“Receiving” Christ

The idea that God himself wants to enjoy such a personal way of relating with each individual believer is a precious thought, but the Revelation invitation is made to professing followers of Christ, not to the unsaved.

There is also Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which speaks of having received Christ. But it is not merely “received Christ”, but rather “received Christ as Lord”. That is not the unsaved person inviting Jesus into his heart so much as it is the unsaved person submitting his or her life to be ruled in all its aspects by Christ. If there is an invitation happening in this verse, it is at the divine initiative, not from the human side.

Thomas Kidd published a short history of the expression in 2016 for the Gospel Coalition’s website. Kidd sees the uptick in its use among evangelicals as a possible result of trying to simplify the gospel to make it more understandable to children.

It is certainly simple enough. In fact, it may be too simple.

Different Facets of Salvation

In scripture, there are a number of necessary components to the salvation experience. Not all are explicitly demanded in every Bible incident in which a person comes to faith in Christ. In any specific situation, one or another of salvation’s requirements may already be present, and therefore there is no need to stress the need for it to the person seeking Christ.

For example, an unbeliever who is horrified by his own inability to control his appetites does not need to be bludgeoned with the fact that he is a sinner. He is already well aware of that and looking for a solution. As Jesus himself put it, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

Sometimes what an individual needs is more information. The apostle Paul says to the Romans, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” It would seem even eager sinners cannot come to Christ if they do not feel confident he is alive and able to receive them. That’s information we need to share.

Both Lord and Christ

It’s also necessary to talk about the lordship of Christ. A man or woman who purports to follow Christ but is reluctant to make a public confession of faith is not really ready to do so, “[f]or whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, as Peter told his fellow Jews on the day of Pentecost. It is necessary for salvation to recognize that fact and respond to it obediently and humbly. “Repent and be baptized,” was the apostle’s conclusion. “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

There’s not a lot of sentimentality in these statements. There are also not a whole lot of viable options offered to any who may find the claims of Jesus unpalatable.

It is difficult to fail to notice the presence of the word “Lord” in so many of the more popular verses having to do with salvation. Coming to Christ involves submission of the human will. Real salvation involves giving up my own sovereignty over my choices and letting the Lord Jesus tell me what it is he wants from me. Even the most famous invitation to salvation, John 3:16, which tells us how “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” leaves the sinner without a whole lot of room to negotiate his entrance into the kingdom of heaven. In context, it is bookended by two unequivocal statements: “You must be born again” and “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

In Summary

So no, the Bible does not teach us to ask Jesus into our hearts in order to be saved. That doesn’t make the popular expression wicked, wrong, or even misleading — depending on what a person understands from it — though it is certainly a bit of an oversimplification.

It does mean Christians could probably stand to use a little more care and precision in how we present the claims of Christ to the world and how we teach people to respond to them.

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