For a good portion of my life I thought all I had to do was say a prayer and ask Jesus into my heart to be “saved.” The problem was that I kept asking Jesus into my heart to be saved, but I never felt saved. I can remember a few times asking on different occasions. There was loud music, a passionate speaker, and then an alter call. Each time I would say a little prayer under my breath just incase I wasn’t really saved the first time, and each time I would leave wondering if Jesus was really there. Was I really saved? There was a lot of fear in my life at this time. I would lay awake at night dreaming about eternity. How long was eternity, what if Jesus didn’t really “come into my heart,” what if I was going to hell, and was there something more I should have done/should do? It wasn’t until I started picking up the Bible, ironically to answer questions others asked me about my faith, that I got the answers I needed to believe. That is all I needed to do in the first place, believe. The fact that I continued to pray time and time again was proof that I hadn’t believed! I hadn’t put my faith and trust in the one who could take away my sin, the precious lamb of God. I didn’t have the faith to believe that 1. I was a sinner and needed to repent and 2. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for my sin and that through Him I was made holy and righteous in the sight of God.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Matthew 1:15). Similar passages to this one are seen throughout the entire New Testament. Belief or Faith being the primary mode of receiving salvation through Christ. The problem with the, “do you want to go to heaven when you die, then say this little prayer” doctrine is that it doesn’t actually explain the gospel (i.e. what you are supposed to believe in). Yes, generally the prayer has something about, “forgive me of my sins,” but that is in the prayer itself, generally when you’ve got the person repeating after you. So, do most people really believe they were going to hell because of their sins when you don’t care to bring that up? You don’t bring it up in fear that they might feel bad about themselves, but this is the first thing that comes out of Jesus’ mouth, repent. To repent you must recognize you are a sinner! I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but I didn’t really see myself in a sinful state when I first said the prayer. I just thought Heaven was where I wanted to go when I died. I didn’t really understand God, what He did for me, or the state of sin that I was in at the time. I was a kid the first time I said it. Then after that I had heard John 3:16 over and over again (I grew up in the church), but it kind of went in one ear and out the other. Like, “yeah, yeah, I know that.” The problem with only using John 3:16 is that it says, “whosoever believes in Him,” but most people don’t know who “Him” is when they say the prayer. Most haven’t been told WHO God is or what His son did. Yes, John 3:16 says God sent His son, but was it explained WHY He sent His son? Why did we need him to send his son? We needed a sacrifice because “we all sin and fall short of the glory of God” as Romans 3:23 says. When you realize that YOU need a sacrifice personally things change in your mind. It isn’t, “yeah, yeah I know that,” it becomes, “THANK YOU GOD FOR SAVING A WRETCH LIKE ME!!!!!”
Then what about the discipleship? After the prayer is said whether it was at a church, a concert, whatever, who follows up?! At the church I grew up at we always heard “the count” from the night before. All the people that were saved that night. So we all just assumed the prayer saved these people and they were SAFE! The prayer, if it was truly a prayer unto belief, was just the beginning, in yet nobody followed up with me, and I’m afraid this is the case with many who say the prayer. Somehow you leave the church thinking you are saved but don’t feel saved and don’t act any different (nothing changes in your heart). Again, I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m just fearful that this didn’t just happen to me. So I have to ask the question where the whole “just ask Jesus into your heart and you’ll be saved” message came from?
I looked it up on google. In Revelation 3:20 it says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Somehow pastors and well meaning people have distorted this verse into saying it means Jesus is knocking at your heart and you have to open the door and let him in. I don’t really know where they get this distortion, but it’s not what the verse is saying at all! The big assumption that Jesus is at the door of a persons heart is literally adding words to the Bible. We all know this shouldn’t happen, but it also isn’t in context in the slightest. IN context this verse is saying that Jesus is the master of His house -the CHURCH-. I’m not simply adding this in here, the passage is addressed to the church! The ESV study Bible says that when Jesus knocks He expects the door to be opened for fellowship. It shows the fellowship Jesus wishes to have with His people. The verses DO hold within them the gospel, but it doesn’t give the same warm fuzzy feeling of “asking Jesus into your heart” that one would expect. In verse 17 the Bible says, “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” THIS is the state in which people need to see themselves in in order to receive a Savior, someone who vs. 18 says, “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” In vs 19 it says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and REPENT.” So the gospel is in here in that it reveals people are sinners and need God’s grace to give them what they need. The chapter also says that we need to repent, again the gospel to repent and believe! But what of this repentance stuff? That’s not the same as asking Jesus to come live in your heart unless your really explaining around your elbow to get to your nose. Why can’t we just stick to the gospel Jesus taught us in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel?” Is it too in your face do you think? Not as warm and fuzzy as, “ask Jesus into your heart?” I just don’t get the distortion.
So, what is the “gospel” that Jesus is referring to in the Mark 1 passage? Frankly, I’m afraid that some people believe the faith involved is the faith to believe that Jesus really came into their heart. If you didn’t get the implication as to why I had to look it up on google to find where pastors got the “asking Jesus into your heart” concept it’s because this concept is nowhere in the Bible. The Bible DOES say that the spirit of Jesus lives in your heart (Galatians 4 and Ephesians 3:17), but that is because of faith in the Gospel, not from “asking Him in.” In other words, He dwells within the person who is saved because they had FAITH in the gospel message, not faith he would come into their heart.
The gospel, what you are supposed to have faith in, is the good news. The entire book of the Bible has the gospel written all over its pages. I personally think two passages sum it up the best, Romans 5:8-11, “8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him fromthe wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” and 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, “15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…” So what about people in the Old Testament, what about Abraham? I can say for certain he didn’t pray a prayer to ask Jesus into his heart, so how was he saved? By FAITH (Romans 4). Not faith that Jesus came to live in his heart, but faith that there was a God and that this God would do as he promised. The fact that Jesus indwells us through his Spirit is because of our faith in God and His promises. We have this indwelling spirit as Galatians 4 points out because “we are sons,” and as Ephesians 3 points out we are sons, “through faith.”
I bring all this up because I keep hearing well meaning parents saying things like, “has little Jimmy asked Jesus to come into his heart?” and it makes me wonder if they just purely want their kids to say the prayer and be “safe” for eternity, or if they are putting their trust in God to redeem their child. You see, it doesn’t matter if a child “asks Jesus into their heart” at a young age if there aren’t any fruits of salvation (repentance and faith being the first). In other words asking Jesus into their heart WONT save them. So the tragedy in this is that you assume your child is saved, and the child assumes they are saved, and they may not be! They may not ever examine their lives to see if they ARE saved because everyone points back to when they were 5-7yrs old, said a prayer, and then presumably got baptized. It’s like they pushed it on their child so they can feel good about their kid going to Heaven, when in reality if there wasn’t true faith involved they could ask 100 times and it wouldn’t matter. It seems as though parents are not fully trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ. Honestly my four year old could “ask Jesus into his heart” if I lead him to do so. He knows he’s lied and it was wrong. He knows that he doesn’t want to die but when he does die he wants to go to heaven. So technically he knows he’s a sinner, he knows he’s wrong, and he knows he wants to have Jesus “live in his heart,” BUT there is no way he could grasp the reality of the gospel at his age. I’m sorry, but if he said the prayer right now there would be no way I would say he’s been redeemed for life. Just a side note here I also believe children go to Heaven before they are capable of grasping the Gospel and realizing themselves as sinners. For the record I’m simply trying to make a point here that many kids may be too young when their parents make the assumption they are redeemed.
I feel like it is more important to let the child/teen/adult sin, point out their sinned nature, all the while continuously explaining the message of Christ to them. Let them realize the sinful state they are in and let them realize that they need a Savior. Luke 7 stands out loud and clear here,”47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Jesus then says, “Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And those words are so beautiful to me because this woman was a known sinner (the Bible says as much in vs 39), but the gospel is seen here. This sinner had faith that led her to love, and she was saved because of her faith! That’s it, it’s such a beautiful gift that God gave us and we water it down with, “ask Jesus into your heart.” NO, have FAITH. Repent and Believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
***All of this being said I’m NOT saying that nobody has been saved praying the sinners prayer. I am simply saying that there is a big possibility that most who say it do not have faith unto salvation. Especially after reading the accounts of several people who said so over the Internet. If you’ve said the prayer just do as Paul said to do and “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5.
I leave you with a few more verses:
John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Romans 10:9, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”