Come into My Heart, Lord Jesus? A Plea for Biblical Accuracy in Child Evangelism

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Brian McCrorie's picture
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Come into My Heart, Lord Jesus? A Plea for Biblical Accuracy in Child Evangelism

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First published at SI May 1, 2006.

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today; come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

Harry Clarke, Welsh song leader for Evangelist Billy Sunday, wrote these words in 1924. Who hasn’t heard these words sung at the end of an evangelistic challenge? I’m still amazed that many Christians still sing the lyrics after they already know the Lord.

The language of “asking Jesus into one’s heart” is part of a soul winner’s basic vocabulary, at least in my experience. It is firmly entrenched, it seems, especially in children’s ministries today. Consider this recommended prayer for children given by one church:

Dear God, Thank you for making a way for us to turn from the wrong things that we have done. I know I have done wrong things, but right now I want to look upon Jesus so that you will forgive me for the things I have done. Please let Jesus come into my heart, to live forever there. I want to live forever with God. Thank you for loving me. In Jesus Name I Pray, Amen

Now, to be fair, this prayer does deal with forgiveness of sin. It acknowledges the love of God. But what it fails to do is to lead a child to verbalize trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Isn’t that what the Gospel is all about?

Before I try to persuade you to stop using this terminology in your personal evangelism, let me assure you of two things:

  1. Some people are genuinely saved when asking Jesus into their hearts.
  2. There are many wonderful Christians who take the time to explain salvation clearly to children even if they use the “into my heart” phrasing.

Now, I know some of you are thinking right off the bat: this is just semantics. But is it? I was talking with a father in our church just last week, and he related to me how his young, preschool son firmly believes that Jesus lives in his real, physical heart. Just semantics? I don’t think so.

There are some legitimate concerns I have about the concept of “asking Jesus into our hearts.” Let me share them with you in the hope that, if nothing else, you will become even more committed to the precision we must have in communicating the Word of God.

Concern #1: It tends toward Easy Believism

There are Christians who are more interested in acquiring decisions for Christ than they are in making disciples of Christ. Often, “asking Jesus into your heart” becomes the magic formula for easy spiritual decision-making. Unfortunately, much of the time, these witnesses give an unclear and incomplete Gospel presentation. Consequently, many of the “decisions” made fall away in short order and were likely never genuine.

Concern #2: It is Exegetically Unfounded

Search the Scriptures. You will not find a passage through either precept or pattern where “asking Jesus into your heart” is employed in evangelism. Not once. Surely that must account for something. How can we be comfortable in using so consistently an expression that lacks ANY Scriptural support?

Some will ignore context and appeal to a passage like 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 (KJV).

Although this verse is used heavily in evangelistic methodology, it is often taken out-of-context. In context, the Christian will find that Jesus is speaking to a church, a lukewarm church that has lost its fellowship with Christ. In John’s vision, Jesus tells this church He is knocking on their door and pleads with them to open the door and resume fellowship. It’s not about salvation.

Sometimes, instead of taking things out-of-context, we simply take them out-of-order. Such is the case for other New Testament verses where the result of salvation is turned to become the means of salvation. What about these verses?

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12).

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col.  1:27).

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Another popular Gospel song exclaims: “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart!” Does Jesus really come in? The short answer is “Yes, He does.” We can’t dispute the clear teaching of these verses. But while Jesus’ indwelling is certainly a result of salvation, there is simply no biblical evidence that His spiritual entrance into our lives is part of the means of salvation.

Concern #3: It Easily Confuses Children.

Easy-believism angers me. Careless Bible study frustrates me. But taking the most important message in the entire world and making it confusing for little ones both angers and frustrates me.

Bob Wilkin in his book Don’t Ask testifies of the confusion this inaccuracy has wrought among children when he writes,

Years later I was teaching an evangelism course at a Bible College in East Texas. I had my students write out their testimonies after I had explained what I have recounted above. I found that quite a few of the students went through years of confusion because someone told them as children that if they asked Jesus into their hearts they would be saved. They wondered if they had done it right. They wondered if they had been sincere enough. So they asked Him in over and over again for years. They couldn’t gain assurance. Finally someone shared with them that to be saved they had to trust in Christ alone. Only then, by their own testimony, did they come to faith in Christ. Years of inviting Him into their lives had only confused and frustrated them.

Consider as well this personal testimony from Dr. John MacArthur:

And every time, as a little kid, that somebody said, “Ask Jesus in your heart,” I can remember saying, “Jesus, please come in my heart.” I can remember that over and over: “In case you’re not there, please come in today.” You know? I mean, I did that as a kid. I’d go to camp, the guy would give a message, and just to be sure, you know, I’d say, “Lord, if you’re not in my life, please…”

Then, of course, there is the problem that children are not generally able to think in the abstract until about age seven. So, we should not be surprised when children take “asking Jesus into their heart” in a literal way. We must be absolutely clear when dealing with children about their eternal souls. Remember, the Bible tells us that child-like faith is essential, but it does not say the same about child-like intellect. While many children are saved at a young age, they must understand the essential truths of salvation in order to properly direct that precious faith in trusting Christ.

Concluding Comments

I would like to show you an excellent model for explaining salvation to children. It’s posted on the website of Kids4Truth. Bob Roberts and the other magnificent people who run this ministry have dedicated their lives to making sure children learn the doctrine of God’s Word. Allow me to condense his article to just the main points. You can read it in full at “Questions About God.”

1. God wants you to honor and serve Him. 

2. Your sin (breaking God’s rules) keeps you from pleasing God.

3. Sin is paid for by death and separation from God.

4. You cannot get to heaven by being good or doing lots of good works.

5. Here’s the best part. Christ paid for your sins.

6. Accept Christ’s payment for your sin.

7. Turn from your sin. Want something completely different than your sin.

8. God has made you a promise—eternal life.

Becoming a Christian is much like joining an army. It costs nothing to join but the good soldier is willing to obey and even lay down his life for the general. When somebody does join the army, their life is no longer their own. When somebody joins the army, they surrender their rights to their leader. That’s what God expects of us. Look at what Jesus said about becoming a Christian (follower of Christ):

Matthew 16:24-25, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

In order to become a Christian your will must be broken because it is naturally at war with God! In fact, the Bible says that our condition is pretty miserable, for we are born into this world: 

1. An enemy of God (our will is against His will—Rom. 5:10)

2. Dead in sins (unable to anything that pleases God—Eph. 2:1)

3. Held captive by a foreign power greater than ourselves (Eph. 2:2)

4. A child of wrath (someone destined for eternal judgment—Eph. 2:3)

Have you ever seen a football game? There are two teams, each with different wills. One team desperately wants to run one way, and the other team wants to go the other way. They have opposing wills. We are born with a will that wants to do anything except turn from our sin and trust Christ for forgiveness! That’s why becoming a Christian is primarily a surrender of your will!

This is an excellent example of communicating to children the truth about salvation. I truly believe that if we are more careful and clear in communicating these truths to the minds of children, we will be able to avoid long periods of time in people’s lives when they aren’t sure of their salvation or have to keep making professions of faith to be sure. Now, I do think it’s important that if a child wants to express faith in Christ, we should encourage it—each and every time that desire occurs. At some point along the way, true faith will likely be expressed and assurance will come. We cannot see their hearts and must not put any stumbling blocks in their spiritual journey.

Ironically, four years before penning Into My Heart, Harry Clarke had written the music to another song entitled “What Must I Do?” I like the message of this song much better:

“What must I do?” the trembling jailer cried,
When dazed by fear and wonder;
“Believe in Christ!” was all that Paul replied,
“And you shall be saved from sin.”

Refrain:
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
And you shall be saved!

What must I do! O weary, trembling, soul,
Just turn today to Jesus;
He will receive, forgive and make you whole;
Christ alone can set you free.

His blood is all your plea for saving grace,
The precious fount of cleansing!
O come, accept His love, behold His face,
And be saved forevermore.
 


Brian McCrorie is senior pastor of Heather Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN where he lives with his wife, Deborah and their five children. He is a graduate of Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) andCalvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA).


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Ed Vasicek's picture
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Good Article, But...

Good article in that it argues well against the "Ask Jesus into your heart" message. It does a superb job of showing how the "Ask Jesus into your heart" message is not an accurate presentation of the Gospel. Well done in that area. But I would challenge a few points.

From a writer's/reader's perspective: Not everybody has heard that first song; I haven't. "Everybody has" statements are rarely good, and it turns me off when I am left out at the very beginning of an article. Better to say, "Most of us have probably" or "Many of us..." Assumptions get us in trouble, especially in our diverse world -- even within fundamentalism. I know this is picky, but it really does affect the perception readers have.

Also, IMO, no Gospel presentation is complete without the Resurrection, either stated or already known. I suspect this is an oversight, not a theological difference between us.

Also, this statement is simply wrong:

Quote:
In order to become a Christian your will must be broken because it is naturally at war with God!

If the essentials of the Gospel ARE simple enough to explain to children, this cannot be one of them. I have been saved since 1974, and I don't know that my will is broken. True, the Lord keeps fracturing parts of it, but if it were broken, I would be godlier than I am. And, if we were honest and not hiding behind terminology, I think we would all confess the same. If we cannot agree as to what such terminology means, how in this world can a kid understand this?

It is true that the natural man is hostile toward the true God, but this change takes place in the background; it is not, IMO, something we should present to the seeking child (or adult) unless the matter comes up.

Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is what it is about. That's Scriptural terminology. The whole "broken" terminology is as foreign to Scripture in context as is the "ask Jesus into your heart" terminology.

I can explain repentance. It is realizing that you have disobeyed God and wanting Him to help you obey Him (i.e., to "be saved from sin," as the angel spoke of Jesus at His birth, "He will save His people from their sins").

I have to say that, overall, the main thrust of this article was excellent.

"The Midrash Detective"

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Fantastic article. Early on

Fantastic article. Early on in my personal evangelism experiences in my late teens and early 20's I remember encountering the phrase of "ask Jesus to come into your heart" and quickly understood that it was a very inappropriate representation of the gospel call to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ".

I believe that for many it is possibly with good intentions but with severe damage that they employ this phraseology thinking that if they super-simplify it and cozy it up with comfortable language it will help remove what they believe could be mental or emotional barriers a child might have in making a decision for Christ. The problem of course is that this phraseology also removes certain essentials of the gospel call.

As well some might argue, as Brian pointed out, that the Lord does come into us when we are saved and there are Scriptures to demonstrate this. But this "coming into us" by our Lord is a result of our faith or salvation, not the cause of it. It would be like saying, "God please fill me with the Holy Spirit" and believing something subsequent to salvation is an appropriate vehicle to salvation.

Clarity, clarity, clarity and Brian's article says so much about that. If a child is not able to grasp essential concepts needed that they may understand the gospel then removing such concepts injures them and the gospel.

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Not the Gospel

Ed, I'm glad you mentioned the resurrection. This article, to me, represents only a slight improvement over worse ways of witnessing, to children or anyone else. Christians throughout history have believed the gospel, which is first the story of Christ's person and work, and second its implications for me. Protestants have held that justification is by faith alone in that gospel. Somewhere in America in the throes of revivalism a shift occurred. Now many evangelicals believe in justification by faith alone as the gospel.

The Four Spiritual Laws tract is a great example of this problem. It's structured around me and my response to God and seeks to thread the gospel in around that. If you look through the whole pamphlet, there isn't a single clear reference to Christ's deity, the single greatest doctrinal claim of early Christendom. People are reading things like this, and they might be believing the tracts, but that doesn't make them Christians, just solafideists. Evangelicalism needs to return to Romans 10:9-10.

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Good article Brian. At least

Good article Brian. At least in observing the modern misuse of the "come into my heart" idea. But I wonder if there wasn't a better beginning to "come into my heart, Lord Jesus" than we credit.

In searching the Scriptures, Phil 1:7 says, "just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart..." If Paul is using the phrase "have you in my heart to express his devotion and love for the believers he left in Philippi, then "come into my heart, Lord Jesus" should be understood to mean, fill my heart with devotion and love for you, Lord Jesus." That is something that we should pray and over and over again.

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I would expand this a bit

Great article Brian. I think though, that we could expand its focus a bit. It is not just the "ask Jesus into your heart" terminology that is wrong. It's the "sinner's prayer" methodology itself which is wrong. Where do we find a Sinner's Prayer used in evangelism in the Bible? Why do we feel we need to do that prayer?

From some research I've read, it was Billy Sunday's crusades that were the first to have a "sinner's prayer". So just 100 years ago no one ever thought in terms of "sinner's prayer". But today almost every widely used presentation of the Gospel concludes with a sinner's prayer!

I think ultimately we have a craving to contribute something to our salvation. We have to do something to "get saved". But the Gospel is about God's grace in saving us....

I've explored some of these thoughts before in one of the old SI threads, but also on my blog:

[URL=http://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2009/08/21/mining-the-archives-why-... Why Pray the Sinner's Prayer?[/URL ]
[URL=http://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2007/08/14/the-sinners-prayer-problem/ The Sinner's Prayer Problem[/URL ]
[URL=http://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2007/08/23/more-on-asking-jesus-int... More on the Sinner's Prayer[/URL ]
[URL=http://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2006/08/30/finney-and-altar-call/ Charles Finney and the Altar Call[/URL ]

I share the links as they may help some looking for more on this. Great post on this Brian. Thanks again!

Bob Hayton

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Bob Hayton wrote: Great

Bob Hayton wrote:
Great article Brian. I think though, that we could expand its focus a bit. It is not just the "ask Jesus into your heart" terminology that is wrong. It's the "sinner's prayer" methodology itself which is wrong. Where do we find a Sinner's Prayer used in evangelism in the Bible? Why do we feel we need to do that prayer?

From some research I've read, it was Billy Sunday's crusades that were the first to have a "sinner's prayer". So just 100 years ago no one ever thought in terms of "sinner's prayer". But today almost every widely used presentation of the Gospel concludes with a sinner's prayer!

I think ultimately we have a craving to contribute something to our salvation. We have to do something to "get saved". But the Gospel is about God's grace in saving us....

I agree. And not only this (the contribution aspect), but especially in the case of children, they may be given the impression that if they did not say the "magic words" just right (there are, after all, many versions of the "sinner's prayer" given in tracts etc.), that they might not be saved. I have always advised against this in teaching child evangelism along with the "heart's door" and images of a "black heart" and "white heart"...children are literal thinkers.

Here's an accompanying question: Is it good practice to have a new convert write something to the effect that "I was saved on [date ]" (sometimes even verified by the signature of the parent or teacher who shared the gospel with them) in their Bibles so "when they have doubts" they can refer back to this? This practice troubles me. I have known parents to point their children back to this type of relic when the child comes to them with doubts. *shudder*

FWIW...I know the chorus "Come Into My Heart" :). I think the Children's Bible Hour used to use it at the conclusion of their Bible stories...

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More Gospel Thoughts

Charlie wrote:
Ed, I'm glad you mentioned the resurrection. This article, to me, represents only a slight improvement over worse ways of witnessing, to children or anyone else. Christians throughout history have believed the gospel, which is first the story of Christ's person and work, and second its implications for me. Protestants have held that justification is by faith alone in that gospel. Somewhere in America in the throes of revivalism a shift occurred. Now many evangelicals believe in justification by faith alone as the gospel.

The Four Spiritual Laws tract is a great example of this problem. It's structured around me and my response to God and seeks to thread the gospel in around that. If you look through the whole pamphlet, there isn't a single clear reference to Christ's deity, the single greatest doctrinal claim of early Christendom. People are reading things like this, and they might be believing the tracts, but that doesn't make them Christians, just solafideists. Evangelicalism needs to return to Romans 10:9-10.

Charlie, I agree. Objective soteriology -- how did God provide salvation for us -- is more or less the Gospel (Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the 3rd day). The Reformation was really about subjective soteriology -- how do we make the work of Christ ours? Does it come by faith alone (the Reformers), or is it meted out in small increments through sacraments administered by an ordained, exclusive priesthood (sacerdotalism)?

Romans 10:9-10 is important, but it is not as complete as I Cor. 15:1-7. Rom. 10:9-10 does not mention the atonement at all; but, combined with the other "Romans Road" verses, (like Romans 5:8-9, for example), it does the job.

The relationship of believing in the divinity of Christ to salvation is tricky. We know a true believer will not deny his divinity, but it also seems people come to saving faith with a hazy perspective on this. At Moody, Dr. Renald Showers asked the class, "How many of you did not really comprehend that Jesus was God when you were saved?" Over half the class raised their hands.

All this to say that I agree that the divinity of Christ should be presented (I like the Evangelism Explosion presentation myself), but a lot of people do not seem to grasp that until AFTER salvation. I agree with Showers, that no truly saved person will reject the deity of Christ once confronted with it, but many are saved without grasping that.

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Circular reasoning

Ed Vasicek wrote:

The relationship of believing in the divinity of Christ to salvation is tricky. We know a true believer will not deny his divinity, but it also seems people come to saving faith with a hazy perspective on this. At Moody, Dr. Renald Showers asked the class, "How many of you did not really comprehend that Jesus was God when you were saved?" Over half the class raised their hands.

All this to say that I agree that the divinity of Christ should be presented (I like the Evangelism Explosion presentation myself), but a lot of people do not seem to grasp that until AFTER salvation. I agree with Showers, that no truly saved person will reject the deity of Christ once confronted with it, but many are saved without grasping that.

The problem with Showers, Ed, is that the illustration assumes what it attempts to prove. How does a person know when he was saved? The answers that the students gave simply reflect what they already believed about what a person needs to understand to be saved.

I don't think it's that tricky, if we believe the Bible. I won't get into a debate about the details of knowledge of OT saints or even the disciples during Jesus' ministry, but at least starting with the resurrection of Jesus, I'm not at all hesitant to say that the central proclamation of the Christian kerygma is the Lordship (deity) of Christ. In Acts, the evangelistic preaching of Christ's identity and resurrection is more prominent than the cross. Throughout the epistles, the deity of Christ receives equal, if not greater, weight than penal substitutionary atonement or justification by faith alone. So, it makes no sense to me to think that the deity of Christ could be understood later, unless you are willing to say the same about PSA and sola fide.

I also wonder from whence comes this idea of "you don't have to believe it to become a Christian, but no true Christian will deny it." Really? Is there any biblical passage that warrants placing any doctrine in such a category? I've actually heard the same from some IFB hyper-soulwinner types about the resurrection. No kidding, Ed. In one church, I was told by a pastor I was "complicating the gospel" for insisting that gospel presentations include the resurrection. As proof, I was introduced to converts who "didn't know about the resurrection when they got saved." Hence my lack of enthusiasm for the Showers illustration.

This thinking stems from the modern revivalist idea that the new birth is an experience or a decision, so if I've felt some kind of subjective experience that I think is being born again, or if I've made my decision, you can't question the genuineness of my conversion, no matter what the Bible says. Becoming a Christian, as you pointed out, may involve more than Romans 10:9-10, but it does not involve less.

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Charlie][quote=Ed Vasicek

Charlie ][quote=Ed Vasicek wrote:

This thinking stems from the modern revivalist idea that the new birth is an experience or a decision, so if I've felt some kind of subjective experience that I think is being born again, or if I've made my decision, you can't question the genuineness of my conversion, no matter what the Bible says. Becoming a Christian, as you pointed out, may involve more than Romans 10:9-10, but it does not involve less.

Well, Charlie, it is hard to argue against the idea that the epistles put a high premium on the deity of Christ. They certainly do emphasize it. But the preaching in Acts you cite and the idea of Lordship being equal to deity might be so, but I don't know if it is as apparent as you might think. The one passage that lists the things of "first importance" in the Gospel message, I Cor. 15:1-7, does not clearly mention the deity of Jesus, although that may be assumed. So many passages clearly teach the deity of Christ, that it might be assumed.

In Acts, in some ways, we are back to the discussion about what they actually did preach. We have only glimpses, so perhaps you are right. I don't find a super-clear concept of the deity of Christ in the preaching at Pentecost, but we do not know all that was said and expounded. The problem is that the word "Lord" can mean many things in the NT; I agree that it sometimes does mean YAHWEH when referring to Jesus, and perhaps the Apostles used Yahweh (when they preached in Hebrew or Aramaic to the crowds; we have only a Greek translation). But, at least in English or Greek (lord or kurios), it is easy to also understand "lord" as "master," meaning the Messiah or one to be served.

Although the suggestion you offer is theologically neat, I don't think it is as clear as you might suggest. The deity of Christ IS clear in Scripture, but the idea that one must understand the deity of Christ to be saved seems to hinge around that ambiguous word, lord.

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It seems to be a consistent

It seems to be a consistent criticism of every generation to attack this phraseology for making a decision to trust in Christ for salvation. I have heard this every so often for several decades. In this case it appears coupled with the "Mac-works Gospel." The gospel is both simple and profound. A person must only believe the Gospel to be saved. The Gospel is by definition good news. That good news is the simple truth that Christ died for my sins and was raised from the dead. The only condition for salvation is to believe what God has done to provide it. The belief is presented as genuine when it involves acknowledgment that comes from the heart (Rom. 10:9-10). There are no other conditions. To point out that the heart is a metaphor for the inner part of the person is helpful. It is not the best invitation for such response to ask a person to "ask Jesus into their heart." However, if it is explained that it is a prayer of belief in Jesus that asks him to bring the gift of salvation, which begins with Jesus coming to live spiritually in our lives, then it can be that which has some meaning.

It is best to keep all concepts of submission, sacrifice and service out of the Gospel. One can only do such after they are regenerated. Regeneration, along with Justification, occurs by means of that mystical but real union with Christ (Rom. 6:1-11). That spiritual union is the essence of salvation which involves justification and regeneration. (Titus 3:4-8). Taking up the cross and following Jesus Christ has been mentioned. This is at Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9 and was a challenge given to "the disciples" of the Messiah. They were already saved. Indeed, except for Judas, the Apostles were probably saved as Jewish followers of YHWH prior to the Messiah calling them to follow Him. It was only natural that regenerate Jews be chosen by Messiah. This is the explanation for the abrupt manner of the invitation by Jesus who would later inform them that "my sheep hear my voice and follow me" (John 10:27).

We should not put the burden of human reformation, sacrificial service, or the understanding of all involved in the theology of the human condition, upon the unregenerate, especially children. We are to give them the Gospel of grace. It is sufficient that they acknowledge their sin and need of forgiveness available in Christ. That appears to be the message of historical simplicity and meaning given by Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

What I am saying is that it appears best to keep it sufficient in information but still simple, clear, and emphasizing that it is of grace, love, and the sacrifice of another for us. We are to "receive" the free gift by the simple act of believing it and relying upon it. We do not submit or sacrifice for our salvation or commit to do so. Instead we rely only on Christ and His sacrifice for us. It is the reliance upon another that is conveyed by our believing.

I like the way some lead children to Christ by asking them to "ask Jesus into their hearts" than I do the many who never use any words of invitation.

If we are not giving good news then we may not be giving the clear gospel . The coming of Christ was declared by the heavenly host to be "glad tidings of great joy."

The recent confusion regarding the gospel of grace created by a few is unfortunate. We should not let such confusion lead us to undue criticism.

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Bob T. wrote: To point out

Bob T. wrote:
To point out that the heart is a metaphor for the inner part of the person is helpful. It is not the best invitation for such response to ask a person to "ask Jesus into their heart." However, if it is explained that it is a prayer of belief in Jesus that asks him to bring the gift of salvation, which begins with Jesus coming to live spiritually in our lives, then it can be that which has some meaning.
Why introduce less exacting terms and have to further explain their synonymous intent and meaning when presenting the gospel and telling a child that if indeed you do "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (short-hand for the gospel) you will be saved"? Isn't "believing" actually easier to communicate than having to take another step and explain one can also use the words "ask Jesus into your heart" and it means believe? What would be the purpose of circumventing the use of the word "believe" for a less clear phrase that has to be explained when children already have a frame of reference for believe?

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invitations for children

Invitations for children are very dangerous. Kids by nature want to be accepted and want to be part of the "in club". If they find out their peers have already "gotten saved" by praying a prayer or asking Jesus into their heart. And if they are challenged about this, they will want to "do it" too, so they can fit in. I've seen this pressure tactic (which is what an invitation basically is) applied to little children. It is shocking and sad.

Particularly in church settings, young children should be taught the gospel and taught to ask their parents questions about it (or if in an unsaved home, to ask a church leader about it) of their own initiative. We should encourage children to believe and advise them to look for signs of that belief in their life. We shouldn't encourage them to trust in some act of submitting their will, and then trust that since they did that act everything will be fine. We are not saved by acts we do, but by the grace that comes to us from the Bible.

The Gospel isn't only an entrance exam into the Christian faith. It is the means by which we advance and grow. It is how we live the Christian life day in and day out. So the Gospel should continually be taught and explained all throughout a child's attendance at church.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Bringing Sovereign Grace into the Equation

You know, it can be amazing how Arminian we can become (i.e., those of us who claim to believe in Sovereign Grace) when it comes to presenting the Gospel.

MacArthur (who is one of my favorites apart from his over-correction with the Lordship deal) communicates the idea that we are producing false converts by means of easy-believe-ism, the implication being that they would be GENUINELY saved if we demanded more from them. Making the Gospel easier or more difficult does not change who the elect are.

The parable of the wheat and tares implies that it is Satan who plants false converts in the kingdom. I have seen many blades of wheat and many of tares who made professions with a Dallas "easy believism" and MacArthur's strict version.

Yes, we should debate what is and is not an accurate Gospel presentation, because the truth of God's Word is worth expending energy over; the church is to be the pillar and support of the truth, and sloppy theology is a blight. And, since the Gospel message is an unusually important teaching of Scripture, we are right to correct ourselves when necessary.

So, in the name of accuracy, we are best to stick to terminology used in the Word (in context) when possible. This is a good approach toward any doctrinal subject. But let us not think that a honed presentation can transform tares into wheat.

The "ask Jesus into your heart Gospel" can be about appropriating the work of Christ -- if that has been adequately explained. If the essentials of the Gospel (I Cor. 15:1-7) have not been explained, even a good invitation is probably not all that wonderful.

But why not have a good explanation and a good invitation? To me, a good invitation for children would be, "Would you like to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you want Him to help you do what is right? Would you like to know that your sins are forgiven? You can by believing that He died for your sins and rose again. You can tell God you believe in the Lord Jesus right now. If you would like to do that, pray this prayer...."

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Ed Vasicek wrote: But why not

Ed Vasicek wrote:
But why not have a good explanation and a good invitation? To me, a good invitation for children would be, "Would you like to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you want Him to help you do what is right? Would you like to know that your sins are forgiven? You can by believing that He died for your sins and rose again. You can tell God you believe in the Lord Jesus right now. If you would like to do that, pray this prayer...." [emphasis mine ]

Which brings us back to my post...is this good? To give children the words to pray? I am more inclined to provide a sort of simple sketch of what such a prayer should look like so that it is obvious there is thought in what they say and that they are not trusting in saying the "right words"...am I overthinking things?

Also, what about the "verification" of such a decision by logging it into the front of the Bible? Bad idea? Good idea? Is this just sort of an Ebenezer?

"I pray to God this day to make me an extraordinary Christian." --Whitefield http://strengthfortoday.wordpress.com

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Dealing with the "Now what?"

Ed Vasicek wrote:

But why not have a good explanation and a good invitation? To me, a good invitation for children would be, "Would you like to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you want Him to help you do what is right? Would you like to know that your sins are forgiven? You can by believing that He died for your sins and rose again. You can tell God you believe in the Lord Jesus right now. If you would like to do that, pray this prayer...."

What purpose could this serve? I will use my own personal illustration this time. A few months ago a friend from high school, who I had not talked to since high school, called me up and related to me that he had recently been through a series of events that demonstrated to him his need for God. At the end, he asked if I would "lead him to Christ." I said no.

My friend had gone through Christian high school and made a profession of faith. After high school, he had made a series of very ungodly choices. Now he was waking up to the reality of what was going on. But, I explained to him that salvation is through faith in Christ, nothing more, nothing less. If he was at that moment trusting in Christ alone for his salvation, then he was saved. If not, that is what he must do. There isn't any room for me in it. I did pray with him, but not a sinner's prayer.

What good purpose could an invitation such as you have described serve? Let's examine the words you chose. "Would you like to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?" I'm assuming that this would come after a clear presentation of the gospel. If so, the correction question is not, "Would you like to?" but "Do you?" At the point in time that the gospel has been preached, the people hearing it either believe it or they don't. They don't stay in a neutral zone until some Christian worker asks them if they would like to believe. It's a nonsensical question. We ask people if they would like to engage in actions, not if they would like to believe certain truths. I can ask you if you would like to go hiking with me, but I cannot ask you if you would like to start believing in aliens. You either do or you don't.

"You can tell God you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ right now." Again, I simply do not understand what this statement means or how a child is supposed to perceive it. The only result I can imagine is the child confusing his telling God about his belief with the belief itself.

In my mind, (most) invitations, sinners' prayers, signing names at the ends of tracts, etc. are all attempts to answer the "Now what?" Because we humans are terminally works-centered, even when we hear the gospel and the call to believe, we think there must be something more, something to seal the deal, some ritual dance, some "now what?" attached to believing in Christ. There isn't. There isn't any thing you do or place you go "in order to believe" in Christ. When I explain the gospel to people, I simply tell them that if they do believe what I have just told them, they need to be baptized. Baptism is the biblical answer to the "now what" (leaving aside the case of covenant infants).

This helps tremendously with assurance of salvation. I can't tell you the number of people who have come to me with questions about assurance of salvation. They start telling me there life story, and I interrupt them and say, "Do you believe in Christ?" They usually go, "Huh?" Then I say, "Right now, is your trust in Christ alone and what he did for you, and not at all in your own works or deserving?" Usually, they say, "Of course, but...." not understanding quite how that is significant to the matter at hand. However, once you get them to realize that their present faith, not some event in the past, is the decisive point, they're much more secure.

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it comes down to trusting God

Charlie is right. The sinner's prayer has largely replaced the role believer's baptism is intended to have. We delay baptism indefinitely but rush to a sinner's prayer immediately. It seems odd.

We just need to trust that God saves. Jesus saves. Methods don't. We don't. Evangelists don't. Soul-winners don't. Prayers don't. If we believe Jesus, we are assured of salvation if we continue believing. Those who don't continue in the faith, prove that the faith they had was never genuine.

With children, we should encourage them to believe, and teach them that if they truly believe certain signs of faith or evidences of grace will follow in their lives. We should also, upon seeing those signs of grace, should instruct the children about baptism, I would think.

But among Baptists, baptism itself has lost a lot of its meaning. Instead of celebrating God's gracious cleansing of the individual's sin on account of Christ's blood and sacrifice for them, it becomes a celebration of the individual's faith-story and an accomplishment that they are now making in their obedience to Christ. Whatever else baptism symbolizes, it certainly at its root symbolizes the internal cleansing that Christ effects. After all it is a "washing" with water. See Acts 22:16, 2:38, 1 Pet. 3:21-22, Col. 2:11-12 (as well as the fact that water purification rituals abound in the OT and provide the backdrop for baptism).

Salvation is what happens to us graciously by God. We believe, but after we believe realize that God is the one who worked in our hearts to bring about that belief (1 Jn. 5:1). The many verses that say "whoever believes" are actually literally saying the "believing ones". It isn't a point in time act of belief, so much as it is a life of continuing to believe. Such a life evidences a genuine work of grace. This is the life of one called by God, chosen, and saved.

Teaching the true gospel is our role. Making people respond, pressuring them to -- is appealing to a carnal mentality that doesn't work. We can't change their hearts, and they ultimately can't either. They must be pointed to Christ and His Word. Then a miracle can happen when God changes their hearts to see the beauty of Christ (1 Cor. 4:4-6). Salvation is not merited by jumping through the right gospel hoops. We can't get people to savingly believe by appealing to their consciences and stirring them to "do something" about the state of their soul. We have to preach Christ crucified, and that message will have an effect as the Spirit applies it.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Charlie and Bob, It is great

Charlie and Bob,

It is great if you have kids whose parents are supportive and who can be quickly baptized. However, when you reach kids through AWANA or 5 Day Clubs, you do not always have the option of offering baptism. Sometimes parents have trouble with allowing their kids to be baptized, and there are plenty of baby-sprinklers out there we have to contend with.

I believe people choose to believe in Jesus Christ, that they actually exercise their will. True, I believe that the Holy Spirit coaxes them to believe, and I believe in election in its fullest sense. But still, the will is involved. No one is saved by a decision, but by faith in Jesus Christ. But faith is often perceived as and involves a decision.

In my view, faith is taking God at His Word. To create a time when one remembers doing so is important, whether "confessing with your MOUTH" or following the Lord in baptism. If you guys have a hard time with prayers or repeating prayers, then so be it. I do not. I love written prayers (and have written one for every day of the year plus many more; see some of them at http://www.highlandpc.com/prayers/).

To my way of thinking, a person is saved by faith, but can express that faith in a variety of ways: confessing with the mouth, baptism, works, and prayer. Although I do not view baptism as optional when it comes to obedience, it is not always the most "at hand" method. So I beg to differ with you. I don't think one has to pray to express saving faith, but I see no prohibition against it. Do you?

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I agree that the "ask Jesus

I agree that the "ask Jesus into your heart" language is imprecise and unwise. Let's use the language the apostles did when calling people to salvation: Repent and Believe!

On the other hand, even though I am a Calvinist, I argue strongly against the opposite reaction that Charlie and Bob seem to be communicating, which is that we don't call people to salvation.

I would highly recommend the following articles by Dan Phillips from the Pyromaniacs blog, who although a strong Calvinist argues that we shouldn't...

Quote:
...worry about whether or not it is "doctrinally proper" to call people to come to Christ, to decide, to believe, to repent, to turn, to accept Christ, to get reconciled to God, or even to get saved. Because God issues all these commands, and authorizes us to echo them in His name (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

"Here's Your Problem: You Really, Really Don't Get Deut. 29:29"

In the following article, he answers the question, Are Calvinists obliged to snort, jeer and mock at every use of the verb "choose" (or "decide") where God is not the subject?

"Communicating Better: You Don't Choose?"

See also:

"Communicating Better: 'Decisonalism' or 'Decisionism'"

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Ed, I respect your viewpoint,

Ed,

I respect your viewpoint, and agree that their are reasons for delaying believer's baptism. Many churches don't give it until kids are age 12 or older, beside the other scenarios you bring up.

Personally, praying for salvation as a means of expressing belief has problems. The methodology isn't in Scripture, and there are many who have either seen problems or experienced problems as a result of it. If we really are expressing faith, the sinner's prayer should be worded: "Lord, thank you for saving me. You promised to save those who believe, and I believe. Please bless my continued walk with You."

I think many are verballizing their faith when they are given this prayer as a step to do. But some are confused by it or trust in the action as a means of placating God.

If you look throughout the NT, you really don't see an emphasis on a point-in-time idea of salvation. The stress is on present continued faith. Sure, there are conversion experiences recorded. But there isn't a dramatic call for action, other than a call to believe (or believe and be baptized). There are a host of "if" statements such as Col. 1:23. These don't make much sense in a view that emphasizes the conversion experience so highly. We need God's Spirit at work in us, and we need to be actually believing His promise of salvation by grace. We need to be repentant in spirit and sensitive toward sin. And we need this attitude to last our entire lives. When we fall, we get back up and continue believing and trusting God.

I think its hard for us to think of evangelism without the sinner's prayer because it has been so influential. But again, prior to 1900 or so, no one ever publicly called for people to pray a sinner's prayer. If we study evangelism pre-Finney, it may do much to help us approach evangelism in our own era.

I appreciate the back and forth on this, and I think I've presented my case. I can understand others not fully buying in, but I would urge them to consider this more carefully.

Blessings,

Bob

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Greg, I believe we do need to

Greg,

I believe we do need to believe. We need to call people to believe. With children, we need to be careful we aren't ready to pat them on the back and applaud them publicly when they come forward at an invitation and believe. We are attracting them to believe by this acceptance, and we are possibly communicating subtly that it is their act which gets them assurance of salvation.

For adults, by all means call them to believe. Invitations probably even have a place, but they weren't used widely before Finney. But for children, as they are at different stages of development and as their parents know them best, deal carefully.

A method used prior to Finney's time was personal counseling. The pastor's study was open for people to come and discuss the sermon and a heart to heart chat could be given in person and private. Public invitations are a man-designed, method that "works". But we aren't to accomplish the work of God by means of carnal / man-made weaponry.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Sinner's Prayers

Luke 23:42-43 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Luke 18:13-14 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other:

Acts 8:35-37 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Acts 16:30-34 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

One thing we don't see in any of these passages is anyone leading another person in prayer, or an emphasis on saying certain words or phrases. I'm of the 'preach the Gospel and let the chips fall where they may' branch of evangelism. I don't want to do any persuading- explaining yes, persuasion no. Even in Paul's testimony before Festus and Agrippa, I don't read anything that sounds like a spiritual 'sales pitch'-

Acts 26:22-23 ...I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.

Sometimes I think the church has a bit too much Dale Carnegie flowing through its veins, and we're addicted to analogies and illustrations for everything. If there is ever a time to not add bells and whistles to the message, presenting the Gospel would be one of those times when, whether preaching to a child or an adult, we need to leave the sentimental and/or tragic stories and heart-wrenching songs out of it.

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@Greg

Greg Long wrote:

On the other hand, even though I am a Calvinist, I argue strongly against the opposite reaction that Charlie and Bob seem to be communicating, which is that we don't call people to salvation.

Greg, I'm sorry if I was unclear earlier. I do strongly believe that we ought to call people to salvation. However, that call is a call to belief, not to some ritualistic action. So, I tell people they must believe in Jesus. Then, later, I ask if they do. I do not ask them if they would like to believe in Jesus, and if so, to pray a prayer, walk an aisle, sign a tract, etc. The implication in each of those scenarios, despite any verbal explanation to the contrary, is that the person is doing those things in order to believe in Jesus, or that they are somehow one piece of the "believing in Jesus" ritual.

Now, I will say that I have seen occasionally good invitations, but they were not salvation invitations. They were invitations to concerned people to talk to a counselor about their condition. Fine, I have no quarrel with that; it's a different matter entirely.

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Charlie wrote: Greg Long

Charlie wrote:
Greg Long wrote:

On the other hand, even though I am a Calvinist, I argue strongly against the opposite reaction that Charlie and Bob seem to be communicating, which is that we don't call people to salvation.

Greg, I'm sorry if I was unclear earlier. I do strongly believe that we ought to call people to salvation. However, that call is a call to belief, not to some ritualistic action. So, I tell people they must believe in Jesus. Then, later, I ask if they do. I do not ask them if they would like to believe in Jesus, and if so, to pray a prayer, walk an aisle, sign a tract, etc. The implication in each of those scenarios, despite any verbal explanation to the contrary, is that the person is doing those things in order to believe in Jesus, or that they are somehow one piece of the "believing in Jesus" ritual.

Now, I will say that I have seen occasionally good invitations, but they were not salvation invitations. They were invitations to concerned people to talk to a counselor about their condition. Fine, I have no quarrel with that; it's a different matter entirely.

Believe me, I have major problems with the repeat after me sinners prayer kind of invitation, especially with children. I am a children's ministries pastor and I have directed our children's workers not to use that kind of invitation in our ministries.

I think you are arguing against "decisionalism", am I correct Charlie? Some forms of it are wrong, but I believe some Calvinists throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should urge people to be reconciled to Christ. We should call them to repent and believe in Christ. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking someone "Would you like to repent and believe in Christ?" Because that's exactly what the Bible calls them to do and calls us to urge them to do.

Again, I know this thread is about the article that was posted, but I would highly recommend the articles I posted above.

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Again to Greg

Greg, I really think we're missing each other somehow. I read the threads, but I don't see the immediate relevance. My comment about "Would you like to believe in Christ" was in response to Ed's post, in which it served as an introductory question leading to something that was not believing in Christ, in that case, a sinner's prayer (albeit a modified one, telling God you believe in Jesus).

But, still, I think it is a strange way to phrase things. "Believe in Jesus" I get. "Do you believe in Jesus?" I get. But what does, "Would you like to believe in Christ?" mean? To me, it implies that the person can simply turn on belief at will. Furthermore, it seems like a trick question. If a person says no, then he doesn't believe in Jesus. But if he says yes, it sounds as if he still doesn't believe in Jesus, but upon answering yes, you will then respond with some sort of instruction as to how to believe in Jesus.

Let's make this a test situation, but without the question. A 16-year-old knocks on your office door and says, "I would like to believe in Christ." What do you say/do?

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Charlie wrote: ..."Right now,

Charlie wrote:
..."Right now, is your trust in Christ alone and what he did for you, and not at all in your own works or deserving?"
Had a professor in college ask the same question and it had a profound impact on me. You see, I had asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was 5. The only thing I remember about the event was that I could not get to sleep that particular night (which was very unusual for me). I went to my parents room and they led me to the Lord. Was baptized when I was 10. At 15 I heard some preaching on hell and was terrified that I had not understood or not been sincere at 5 and so made a 2nd profession of faith. In my early 20's at the urging of a counselor (as a result of some shameful behavior on my part) I made a 3rd profession of faith and was baptized a 2nd time. I wrote in my Bible, "Salvation: (the time and date) A conscious experience of salvation." (still have the Bible)

BUT, I still wasn't sure if I was saved. Until my professor asked me if I was trusting Christ alone NOW! He asked it of an entire class, then explained that we should not base our trust in what we had written in our Bibles. I had heard so many preachers tell us to write our decisions down in our Bibles so when Satan caused us to doubt we could show him our Bible.

Some 30 years later, when I was pastoring, a woman came to my office between Sunday School and church to ask me to give an altar call at the end of the service. Her son was there and she knew that he would come forward if I did. She was sure he wanted to come forward years ago but "that devil woman he was married to" kept him from coming forward. I refused her request and word got around the church that "Pastor Brian doesn't want people to get saved." I am quite sure that the son would have come forward, and also quite sure that he would have left the church as unsaved as when he came, but his mama would have been happy that he "got saved."

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JohnBrian wrote: Charlie

JohnBrian wrote:
Charlie wrote:
..."Right now, is your trust in Christ alone and what he did for you, and not at all in your own works or deserving?"
Had a professor in college ask the same question and it had a profound impact on me. You see, I had asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was 5. The only thing I remember about the event was that I could not get to sleep that particular night (which was very unusual for me). I went to my parents room and they led me to the Lord. Was baptized when I was 10. At 15 I heard some preaching on hell and was terrified that I had not understood or not been sincere at 5 and so made a 2nd profession of faith. In my early 20's at the urging of a counselor (as a result of some shameful behavior on my part) I made a 3rd profession of faith and was baptized a 2nd time. I wrote in my Bible, "Salvation: (the time and date) A conscious experience of salvation." (still have the Bible)

BUT, I still wasn't sure if I was saved. Until my professor asked me if I was trusting Christ alone NOW! He asked it of an entire class, then explained that we should not base our trust in what we had written in our Bibles. I had heard so many preachers tell us to write our decisions down in our Bibles so when Satan caused us to doubt we could show him our Bible.


Thanks for sharing that brother. I have a similar story myself where I made a profession again in my 20s. But it really comes down to faith, do we believe Jesus saves those who trust Him for salvation, or do we not? Praise God for his marvelous grace!

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Charlie wrote: Greg, I really

Charlie wrote:
Greg, I really think we're missing each other somehow. I read the threads, but I don't see the immediate relevance. My comment about "Would you like to believe in Christ" was in response to Ed's post, in which it served as an introductory question leading to something that was not believing in Christ, in that case, a sinner's prayer (albeit a modified one, telling God you believe in Jesus).

But, still, I think it is a strange way to phrase things. "Believe in Jesus" I get. "Do you believe in Jesus?" I get. But what does, "Would you like to believe in Christ?" mean? To me, it implies that the person can simply turn on belief at will. Furthermore, it seems like a trick question. If a person says no, then he doesn't believe in Jesus. But if he says yes, it sounds as if he still doesn't believe in Jesus, but upon answering yes, you will then respond with some sort of instruction as to how to believe in Jesus.

Let's make this a test situation, but without the question. A 16-year-old knocks on your office door and says, "I would like to believe in Christ." What do you say/do?

I apologize, Charlie, for arguing against something you are not advocating. However, I have no problem asking someone "Would you like repent and trust Christ?" I believe, as you do, that regeneration happens at a moment in time. I think the difference between us is that I do not believe regeneration precedes faith (although I believe God grants the faith that brings regeneration).

To answer your question, I would explain the Gospel to the teen using Scripture and asking questions along the way. If he seems to understand and agree with the basic facts of the Gospel, I would ask one or more of the following questions:

"Have you received God's gift of salvation?"
"Have you ever repented of your sins and trusted Christ's death and resurrection to save you?"
etc.

If he says "no," I would say, "I urge you to do so. Would you like to pray to God and tell him what is on your heart?"

So in that sense I agree with you. I wouldn't have him repeat a sinner's prayer. I want the words he says to reflect what is already in his heart.

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Come into my heart, Lord Jesus

Certainly, you are right to point out that the idea of asking Jesus into one's heart is not exegetically correct when based upon Rev. 3:20. I would be careful about throwing out the concept, however, because there are passages that use this metaphor. Eph. 3:18 "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith"; Col. 1:27 "Christ in you, the hope of glory"; Gal. 2:20 "Christ liveth in me." Using the metaphor of "joining the army" with a child is not the best either; they have no concept of what that involves. The "football" analogy of yielding the will may also be confusing to a child. I agree that the ideal is to stick with Bible words -- repentance, believe, call upon, etc., which are all good, and a child old enough to understand a careful explanation of these terms is old enough to be saved. It should be pointed out, however, that a high percentage of people who were saved as children did so with the use of this "ask Jesus into your heart" terminology -- I being one of them. It never created any confusion for me. I dare say that in the instance of childhood conversion, a lot of followup explanation of the Bible words used has to be done, and sometimes more than once. In my soulwinning work through the years, I have encountered as many adults who clung to the idea of having believed, yielded the will, accepted the Lord as children who did not fully understand the terminology when they were young. Maybe in tossing out the "ask Jesus into your heart" terminology, some theologians get too technical. As one person wrote, Bible conversions are expressed in many ways, and there doesn't seem to be any one pattern that is laid down. In the end it is the Holy Spirit interacting with the preaching of the gospel that regenerates the soul.

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Prayers, altar calls

Just had a chance to catch up with this thread. Greg, our theology is the same on faith logically preceding regeneration.

On the practical implementation, I would agree with Charlie at the top of #15 (not the later portion on children and baptism).

At least in my experience, I have seen TREMENDOUS damage done to people through the "decision" approach. Not that the Bible does not call us to a decision, or even to press others for a decision, as Greg correctly points out.

This is abused, however, by people who have elevated a prayer for salvation to something akin to a sacrament by which God's grace is conferred - through the need to know the date and time, saying the right words, repenting enough, being willing to walk the aisle, etc., etc. It does not seem to cross people's minds that this is, at best, an extra-Biblical invention which can easily cloud the gospel from so many different directions.

When you add to this the revivalist element of "coming forward to make sure you are saved," you have a recipe which can easily destroy someone's Christian life.

I have seen these elements abused so badly within fundamentalism that I would probably not advocate them. Invitations may be helpful if they give people information and an offer of where they can find assistance. But high-pressure invitations are unbiblical and absurd. (For one thing, most people do not make life-changing decisions while bowing with their backs to a crowd after walking to the front of a church -- all in less time than it takes to sing two verses of a "hymn.") It is time for the church to get back to the (truly) historic practice of closing services with a benediction from Scripture.

The views I express are purely my own. However, I am happy to promote the great ministries with which I work: I minister for www.SermonAudio.com/Whitcomb. I do freelance writing for www.RegularBaptistPress.org. I speak through www.IMISOS.org.

Ed Vasicek's picture
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I'm just right

Bob wrote:

"Personally, praying for salvation as a means of expressing belief has problems. The methodology isn't in Scripture"

I would argue that Romans 10:13-14 says,
for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Calling on the Lord for salvation is both OT and NT. Calling based on content is also implied. So praying by calling on the Lord for salvation is extremely Scriptural. We might argue about the wording of the prayer, but we can also note that such a "calling" is based upon Gospel content being presented. What could be wrong about rehearsing the content in prayer before the Lord and then calling upon Him?

I think I am simply right about this.

"The Midrash Detective"

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Rom. 10:13

Ed,

If you study out the phrase "call on the name of the Lord" it almost universally is a descriptive term of believers. See 1 Cor. 1:2 for example. Calling is something people do after they believe, because how could they call upon whom they haven't believed? (vs. 14). Prayer "to be" saved is what I'm questioning. Prayer after believing on Christ is totally fine and indeed expected.

The view that Rom. 10:13 teaches that one must pray to Jesus in order to be saved, and then afterward they can trust the promise of Rom. 10:13 that now God is obligated to save them, is not a historic understanding of that passage. Rom. 10:9-10 taken together teach that belief results in salvation and true salvation results in a public confession of that faith.

We've had so many years of using Rom. 10:13 as the clincher verse in salvation plans, that it does take a while to step into the flow of the text and compare it with the commentators of old and see it really isn't a call for people who are unsaved to pray that they might become saved.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Bob wrote: "The view that

Bob wrote:

"The view that Rom. 10:13 teaches that one must pray to Jesus in order to be saved, and then afterward they can trust the promise of Rom. 10:13 that now God is obligated to save them, is not a historic understanding of that passage. Rom. 10:9-10 taken together teach that belief results in salvation and true salvation results in a public confession of that faith."

I nowhere state, implied, or hinted that one MUST pray to Jesus in order to be saved, or that God is obligated to save those who pray.
I am saying that to say there is nothing in Scripture that says it is wrong to express faith in prayer, and I am also saying that a normal understand of the word "call" is verbal in addition to being a matter of the heart (not either/or). There are many verses where calling upon the Lord is used of prayer (the Psalms are loaded with 'em).

I would also point out another verse is Romans about "confessing with your mouth." These are all EXPRESSIONS of faith; the expression should not be confused with the faith, but neither should they be maligned. It is not necessary to verbally confess (for example, a mute would then be incapable of salvation), but neither can it be wrong or inferior.

"The Midrash Detective"

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Rom. 10 in context

I am always amazed at how Rom. 10 has been wrenched from its eschatological context (Rom. 9-11).

Paul's point in Rom. 10 (cf. v. 1) ultimately regards the future salvation of Israel.

Rom. 10:13, quoting Joel 2:32, seems to be looking ahead to the physical cry of saved Israel at the end of Daniel's 70th week, calling for physical salvation and rescue -- which will evidence spiritual salvation for all who survive (Rom. 11:26).

The views I express are purely my own. However, I am happy to promote the great ministries with which I work: I minister for www.SermonAudio.com/Whitcomb. I do freelance writing for www.RegularBaptistPress.org. I speak through www.IMISOS.org.

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Sorry, Ed

Sorry, Ed. The "must" is a view of some, but not of you. I wasn't careful enough in my post.

I think we are really quite close to one another. I don't discount expressions of faith. I just don't think Rom. 10:13 is proof that the Scripture envisions using a sinner's prayer technique in evangelism. I think it can cause problems, but this isn't to say that there haven't been multitudes who have expressed their newfound faith in a prayer for salvation such as a sinner's prayer. I just think that their prayer is an evidence of the faith they already had prior to the prayer.

Some make a big to do about Rom. 10:13. This is the type that encourage a date to be written in your Bible, and then will use Rom. 10:13 to give assurance of salvation to people. This is dangerous in my view.

Anyway, I really only wanted to clarify my view of Rom. 10:13. I have probably said about all I can or should on this topic in the thread here. I'm not trying to attack your particular position Ed. Sorry if I am making it seem like I am!

Blessings in Christ,

Bob

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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jimcarwest wrote: Certainly,

jimcarwest wrote:
Certainly, you are right to point out that the idea of asking Jesus into one's heart is not exegetically correct when based upon Rev. 3:20. I would be careful about throwing out the concept, however, because there are passages that use this metaphor. Eph. 3:18 "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith"; Col. 1:27 "Christ in you, the hope of glory"; Gal. 2:20 "Christ liveth in me."
And more so, it is not theologically correct to believe these metaphors are ones describing the process of salvation, rather they are the result of salvation. They are subsequent to one believing.

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Good Grief

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
jimcarwest wrote:
Certainly, you are right to point out that the idea of asking Jesus into one's heart is not exegetically correct when based upon Rev. 3:20. I would be careful about throwing out the concept, however, because there are passages that use this metaphor. Eph. 3:18 "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith"; Col. 1:27 "Christ in you, the hope of glory"; Gal. 2:20 "Christ liveth in me."
And more so, it is not theologically correct to believe these metaphors are ones describing the process of salvation, rather they are the result of salvation. They are subsequent to one believing.

First, Bob, thanks for your kind words.

Second, Alex, many of us believe that faith is a consequence of regeneration. Although the cause could very well be regeneration --> faith ---> confess with the mouth or call upon the Lord, they all can happen in a split second. I do not believe the "sinners prayer" is essential for conversion. I do think it can be a great (and certainly not unscriptural) harvesting vehicle. Just as the elect are regenerate and believe before baptism, so this is often true before prayer. But the concept of confessing before men (by baptism or confession with the mouth or calling on the Name of the Lord) is a Scriptural one.

As far as Romans 9-11 being about the Sovereignty of God, does that now mean we cannot use Romans 10:9-10 for evangelism, since that is not the overall subject matter of the text? No. That is not sound reasoning. Paul diverges in this section; he obviously does not feel bound to be confined to subject matter consistent with what some later "outliner" has devised. If interpreters were as flexible as the authors who wrote the texts, we would have better interpretations.

Romans 10:13 does not ONLY speak of end time conversion in God's sovereign plan. Good grief, Romans 10:9-10 are only a couple or three verses away.

"The Midrash Detective"

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Ed, I notice you quoted me

Ed,

I notice you quoted me but I was not sure the point you were making. My very limited post didn't appear to deal with the thrust of your post. But it might be that it was read with the view that I was also implying a position on praying since that seems to be what you were dealing with in response to my post. If so I didn't mean to imply that, I only was dealing with communicating the gospel.

As for praying, I personally have no problem telling someone that prayer is an intended means for us to communicate to God and if they believe the gospel then many people communicate their thanks to God for their salvation and that they certainly are invited by God to do that if they wish.

I did, as a teenager.

With that said I do also agree with Charlie's observation regarding the distinction between what I just described and asking someone if they would like to believe and from that leading them in prayer. While it might be true some are saved and they do not suffer from that indistinct language, nevertheless the act of believing is contextually most supported by language that asks "do you believe" or "have you believed" than "would you like to believe".

"Would you like to believe" implies you have something you can give them with respect to believing and that is not accurate. You do have something you intend on doing on their behalf and it is sincere, namely helping the express their faith but again the language "would you like to believe" does not actually express that.

Possibly one can modify it and inquire this way, "God offers people who have believed the gospel the opportunity to pray and thank them for their salvation, if you have believed the gospel but aren't experienced at prayer and would like some help I would be glad to aid you but only if you are certain you have believed the gospel".

Hope that clears that up if I was unclear earlier.

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Let Me Clarify

Alex, sorry if I confused you. A little part of my post (about what could precede faith and profession) was the area in which I was quoting you.

I nowhere understood you to say that expressing faith in prayer was unscriptural. I was, rather, addressing multiple posts but did not want to quote, quote, and quote (if I add one more quote, that would make a gallon!).

But it was very kind and gracious on your part to clarify your views, which you have done quite well. Thank you, brother. I think we have a variety of opinions on this subject, but I think everyone is being gracious indeed. I hope I have been!

"The Midrash Detective"

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Indeed you have and thanks

Indeed you have and thanks again.

Alex