When I was a pastor, a friend of mine gave me an article called “Seven Reasons Not to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart.” The author of the article pointed out that the Bible calls us to believe in Jesus for eternal life, not ask Jesus into your heart. He gave seven reasons why we should stop using that idea when presenting the Gospel to others.
So it was with interest that I recently read a book called Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J. D. Greear.
Overall, the book carried the same message, that if we are going to tell people about Jesus, and invite people to receive eternal life, we might as well use the terminology the Bible uses, because it is more clear and more accurate. Let’s face it, the invitation to “ask Jesus into your heart” is just plain confusing. So Greear provides some good explanation for why we should stop using this confusing term.
However, I cannot really recommend his book, because although he was clear on this issue, the rest of his book is not terribly clear. The subtitle for the book is “How to know for sure you are saved” but throughout the entire book, Greear based the assurance of salvation on good works! If we ever base the assurance of our salvation on good works, we can never, ever know for sure that we are saved.
I am sure Greear would take exception with me on this point. What he actually argues throughout the book is that good works are the evidence that a person is saved. For example, on page 5 he gives the story of a man he met who cursed like a sailor, had tattoos all over his body (is that a sin?), and slept around. When Greear tried to witness to him, the man said that he had accepted Jesus as a boy, and so he was fine. Greear goes on to argue that this man is not saved because he did not maintain his confession of faith throughout his entire life (p. 6).
Most of this book is one long defense of this view. Pages 79-121 are devoted almost entirely to this idea. This is typical “Lordship-salvation-Calvinistic-perseverance-of-the-saints” theology, of which I have never been a fan. I think it is contrary to Scripture, contrary to the Gospel, and contrary to real-life experience.
And frankly, if I had to decide between telling someone to ask Jesus into their heart, or tell them that they can only know they are truly saved if they persevere in faithfulness and good works for the rest of their life, I will tell them to ask Jesus into their heart every day of the week. It is much less confusing and much less damaging than basing the assurance of salvation on our own good works.
Thankfully, I don’t have to make that choice. I tell people to believe in Jesus for eternal life, and if they believe in Him, then they have eternal life because of what He has done for them, not because of what they do for Him. Our eternal life is based completely and solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ, and not one bit on what we do or don’t do, either in our past, our present, or our future.
Assurance of eternal life is similar. It is based solely and completely on the promises of Jesus, not on our own perseverance in good works or commitment to following Jesus.
So what would I say to the cursing, tattooed, sexaholic? Well, first I might actually question what exactly he thought he did when he was a child. Since there are so many confused preachers and teachers out there, there are also a lot of people who are confused about how to receive eternal life. If he said a prayer, walked an isle, signed a card, raised a hand, or asked Jesus into his heart, I might try to clarify with him that none of these things will grant him eternal life. Only believing in Jesus does that (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47, etc.).
Then, once that is clear, I was say that the reason he should stop sleeping around and maybe watch what comes out of his mouth is NOT so that he can be sure he has eternal life, or keep his justification or anything like that. No, the reason is because those things are going to destroy his life. Sure, they might be fun for a while, but the instructions and commands of God are for our benefit and for our blessing, so that we can live a long and profitable life, full of joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment. God gave us boundaries so that we can enjoy life to the full! Damage, hurt, pain, heartache, sicknesses, sorrow, and a whole host of other problems come when we we step outside the boundaries laid down by God. (Yes, yes, bad things happen to good people to, but that is a completely different subject.)
So anyway, I like the main message that J. D. Greear was trying to get across in this book, but I wish he would have stuck with it, and not tried to get this second subject in there about how to know for sure you are saved, for that is where his book goes off track and becomes much less helpful.