A few years back, I made a video called, Seven reasons not to invite Jesus into your heart to be saved. At the time of writing this, it's been seen by around 20,000 people. It was quite a controversial video since so many people remember asking Jesus into their heart. Many people identify that action as the moment they became saved.
Before we go any further, you need to know that, ask or invite Jesus into your heart does not appear in the Bible. That's right, even though this is one of the most widely used evangelistic phrases, it is not a phrase that the Bible ever prescribes for evangelism or even for discipleship. That alone is a great reason to avoid using the phrase. However, it might be interesting to know a little about how we became so shackled with this unbiblical evangelistic method.
In the 1600s John Flavel, a well known Christian leader, used the term along with many of his contemporaries, to encourage Christians to become more devoted, but not as a prayer for salvation. In fact, he made no connection between this phrase and salvation at all. In the 1700s Thomas Boston used this term during communion. Once again, He didn’t use it as a prayer for salvation. He used it to encourage believers who were taking communion to become more committed to Christ.
Under William Carrey with the missionary movement of the 1800s, this term began to shift into its more modern usage. It started to be used as an invitation to salvation. It was taught that converts needed to make a "personal decision." That decision could be solidified by inviting Jesus into one's heart.
In the 1900s under Eliza Hawes, this cliché became a favorite way to explain salvation in children's ministry. It was, by then, being used exclusively as an invitation to salvation. One was to invite Jesus into their heart, and by so doing, become eternally saved. This transaction then had replaced many previous attempts to be more clear.
We only need one reason to avoid using this phrase, but I’m going to give you several reasons. The phrase invite Jesus into your heart should be avoided because:
Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to invite Jesus into our heart or to instruct others to do so. Remember the requirements that Jesus laid down for gaining eternal life:
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)
To believe in Jesus is the key to having eternal life. To ask Jesus into your heart is a great way to become confused about what it takes to have salvation. Why is it that people resist using the simple phrases that are actually found in the Gospel of John? I'm convinced that asking Jesus into one's heart is preferred over the simple phrases in John because a preacher can define the transaction in any terms he likes. Asking Jesus into one's heart often has the overtone of giving the controls of your life over to Jesus.
The implication seems to be that if you've asked Jesus into your heart, You will now obey Him. These overzealous preachers often say things like, "If you really asked Jesus into your heart, then Jesus will change your heart." Supposedly Jesus is going to automatically change your desires and innermost thoughts. Here is where the confusion comes in. What if you ask Jesus into your heart, but then fail to experience any noticeable change?
This causes two problems. First, it rips away any sense of assurance of salvation that you might have otherwise experienced. Maybe you didn't do it right. Or you didn't ask Him with enough sincerity. People who believe they've become saved because they asked Jesus into their heart are almost sure to have a lack of assurance of salvation at some time or another.
The second problem that arises is that heart change equates to good works. What preachers and teachers mean by heart change is that you do things differently after Jesus has entered your heart. The only way to know if someone has experienced heart change is for them to demonstrate the change through some good works or action. Thus, this makes good works a postrequisite for salvation. Though we know that Paul said:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us. (Titus 3:8)
Good works are not a prerequisite or a postrequisite for salvation. Later in that same chapter, Paul goes on to say:
let our people also learn to maintain good works… that they may not be unfruitful. (Titus 3:14)
Clearly the hope is that believers will learn to do continuous good works. That is something that has to be learned, not something that will happen automatically. Good works should follow salvation, but even Paul is acknowledging that they may not if believers aren’t taught to do them. Thus, automatic heart change that supposedly comes by inviting Jesus into one’s heart causes all kinds of confusion and muddies the Gospel.