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

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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There are 39 Comments

Bob Hayton's picture

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.

Ed Vasicek's picture

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"

Paul J. Scharf's picture

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).

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Bob Hayton's picture

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.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

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.

Ed Vasicek's picture

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"

Alex Guggenheim's picture

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.

Ed Vasicek's picture

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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