Don’t Ask Jesus Into Your Heart: The Error of a Confusing Gospel
Did you understand the gospel the first time you heard it?
I surely didn’t.
I sporadically attended a Bible church for nearly five years before it ever clicked for me.
I don’t know why I didn’t understand it right away. Was it because I was too young? Was it because I wasn’t spiritually ready to hear it? Did no one ever explain the saving message to me in a way that I could understand? Did the preachers use vague “Christianese” that left me in a mental fog? Was I confused because I only ever heard a confusing message?
Maybe that’s your problem, too. If you doubt your salvation, it could be because you have only ever heard a confusing message. It happens more often than you think. It reminds me of something that recently happened to a pastor friend of mine.
Muddled Mystical Missionaries
A young missionary who wanted to raise support recently contacted my pastor friend. He didn’t know her and she didn’t know the church, so they met to discuss what she believed about the gospel and how she would share it with others.
It didn’t go well.
“Tell me about yourself,” he said.
“Well, I was raised in a Christian family,” she began. “And although I was baptized at summer camp, I only gave my life to Christ five years ago. That’s when the Lord really touched my heart. I just felt His special presence, which was so amazing. Now I have a passion to reach the lost with the gospel. I believe the Lord wants me in the mission field.”
“So you know you are saved because you gave your life to Christ five years ago and had some sort of encounter?”
“Yes! It was so amazing.”
“And how do you share the good news with unbelievers? What’s the message you tell them?”
“I tell them about Jesus being the Son of God, how He died on the cross for sin, so if anyone receives Him into their hearts they will go to heaven.”
“I see,” the pastor said. “I’m sorry, but we can’t support you.”
“What?” The missionary was shocked. “Why not?”
“Because that’s not what we believe.”
“It isn’t? Isn’t this a Bible church? Aren’t you Evangelicals?”
“Yes it is, and we are.”
“So, what’s wrong?”
“The problem is,” my friend began to explain, “what you just shared is very confusing. It’s not a clear saving message. We only support missionaries who share the gospel clearly.”
Before we take a closer look at what that missionary said, did you notice anything unclear in her testimony?
If you were an unbeliever hearing about Christianity for the first time, would you think that her message was clear?
How about some other popular “evangelistic” phrases?
“If you want to be saved, you need to ask Jesus into your heart.”
“If you want to know the Lord, then won’t you come forward today?”
“You can go to heaven if you just say this Sinner’s Prayer.”
“If you want to be saved you need to believe in Jesus with your heart, not just your head.”
“It isn’t enough to just mentally believe in Him, you also have to trust Him!”
Haven’t we all heard altar calls like this? Maybe you’ve even shared one with an unbeliever. Do you think they’re clear?
Think Like a Kid
Having three kids under 5 has made me very self-aware of how I explain the things of God to them. So imagine if you told a little girl to ask Jesus into her heart. How would she understand that?
She would think that Jesus must be very small to fit inside a heart.
Or she might think Jesus is like Santa Clause, able to magically slide down very narrow places.
She would probably wonder what it felt like to have Jesus in her heart. After all, it would feel like something, wouldn’t it? But what? She wouldn’t be sure. If she asked Jesus in, but didn’t feel anything, she might wonder if she did something wrong. She might ask Jesus to come in again and again, just to be sure.
If she did feel something, but later lost that feeling, she would wonder if she had done something to upset Jesus to make Him leave her heart. She’d wonder why Jesus didn’t love her like the other kids in church. She might doubt that she was really saved at all.
And then, after years of seeking an experience, but never having one, after years of deviating between faith and doubt, the grown-up child, who never heard a clear gospel message, and who never had assurance, might give up on Christianity altogether.
The Reason Why It Is Confusing
Back to the missionary and my pastor friend. Why did he say her message was unclear?
Well, compare her evangelistic message with one from Jesus’ own ministry.
The Gospel According to John tells us how Jesus evangelized. In John 3, the Lord was having a conversation about how to be born again with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus didn’t know how to be born again. In fact, he had never even heard of the concept, let alone understand it. So Jesus told him:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
So simple. So clear. So powerful.
If you believe in Jesus, you have everlasting life, and you won’t perish. Ever.
It’s that simple.
So why was the missionary’s message unclear? Because it didn’t explain any of those essential elements of the message of life.
First, she didn’t explain what we are supposed to do: believe in Jesus.
Second, she didn’t explain what we are believing in Jesus for: everlasting life.
Third, she didn’t explain when we get eternal life: believers have it as a present possession.
Fourth, she didn’t explain that what we get is permanent: believers shall never perish.
In other words, the young missionary didn’t make any part of the saving message clear.
What she presented might be common ways of talking about evangelism today, but it’s Christianese. It’s not Biblical. It’s not how Jesus did evangelism. And it’s very vague compared to Jesus’ simple message.
Yes, the missionary spoke about giving her life to Christ and receiving Him into her heart, but that is not the same, and not as clear, as simply telling people to believe in Jesus.
In fact, many people think that “giving your life to Christ” means having to do good works to be saved. Many think “receiving Jesus into your heart” means having a dramatic mystical experience.
The missionary also wanted people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s good. He is the Son of God. But you can believe that and also believe in salvation by works. Actually, you can believe that Jesus is the Son of God and have no idea that there is such a thing as salvation at all.
She spoke about going to heaven. That’s good. Believers will go to heaven (at least, for a while, until God creates the new earth). But you can believe that and deny (or not know) that everlasting life is a present possession, something Jesus gives us at the moment of faith. Countless Christians have no idea that they have eternal life right now. Instead, they only hope they’ll be saved sometime in the future. But that’s not what Jesus told Nicodemus to believe.
The missionary wanted the lost to feel Jesus’ special presence. I agree, the Christian life should be one of joy and abundance. But someone could be full of good feelings and yet also falsely think that eternal salvation can be won or lost based on your works.
Do you see the problem now?
What the missionary said wasn’t necessarily wrong, but it wasn’t evangelistic.
In fact, she left out all the essential elements of an evangelistic message. That’s why my pastor friend could not support her.
Jesus Is Our Model
When we don’t share a clear gospel message in simple language, the result can be disastrous. Generations of Christians are left confused about the only condition for eternal salvation. And since they never know what the condition is, they can’t believe it, or be sure if they’ve ever met it.
Instead of assurance, they have doubts.
Terrible, tormenting doubts.
If the lost are going to meet God in eternity, they’ll need clear directions. They need to be told exactly what they must do to be saved. Instead of vague Christianese, they need to be told, in no uncertain terms, to believe in Jesus for everlasting life that cannot be lost.
Is that why you doubt your salvation? Have you only ever heard, and believed, an unclear saving message?
Will you believe Jesus’ promise of life now?