At twelve-years-old, I distinctly remember a friend of a friend named Sally telling me that if I didn’t ask Jesus in my heart that I would go to hell when I died. This shocking and frightening statement haunted me for days since although not regular church attenders, my parents taught me that people go to heaven when they die. I never thought otherwise until that day.
Shortly after the encounter (by the grace of God, I’m sure), my parents decided we would begin attending church. When the pastor gave an old-fashioned altar call, I couldn’t get my young behind down there fast enough. In my mind, it was a matter of life and death or more specifically, heaven and hell.
That day, I asked Jesus into my heart and was baptized in an ice-cold baptismal. The pastor had asked me if I wanted to wait until the next week when they’d had a chance to heat the water. I shook my head profusely—Sally’s words echoing in my head,
“You’ll go to hell . . .”
Unfortunately, my family ended up moving. There were gaps when we didn’t attend church and subsequently, there were gaps in my understanding of the Bible. I began to question if I was truly saved.
“Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.”
Most of us know and get a chuckle from the quote accredited to Ben Franklin.
Indeed, death is ‘the great equalizer’, for no one gets out of this world alive. So, of course, it stands to reason, we should give thought to the subject of death.
I gave a lot of thought to the subject of death while researching other religions as well as what I found in studying science. My mother had a lot of faith in the God of the Bible and spoke of Him and Jesus often. Her loving ways and influence, a culmination of all I’d read, along with my life experiences, led me to believe in God and His son, Jesus.
The problem was, I wasn’t sure if I’d been truly saved.
I was only twelve when I had made my decision—out of fear of not going to hell. By the time I was eighteen and on my own, I decided to go back to church to find the answers. It took several years to uncover something that was critical to my understanding of being a Christian:
Asking Jesus into my heart was not enough.
I began to discover my doubting had been exacerbated by the clichéd ways in which we (as evangelicals) have learned to speak about the gospel. It’s become sort of an Evangelical shorthand for presenting the gospel and way to be saved by “asking Jesus into your heart,” or “accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior,” or “giving your heart to Jesus.” These phrases are not wrong in themselves, but the Bible never tells us, specifically, to seek salvation in those ways.
The problem with simply asking Jesus in your heart is:
It leaves out the saving response which is repentance and belief.
I discovered that according to the Bible,
You need to realize that you are a sinner.
If you do not realize you are a sinner, you will not recognize your need for a savior. Romans 3:23 says we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
You must repent of your sins.
Which literally means to make a U-turn. This is a total change of heart and mind. Jesus said, “Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15).
Finally, to demonstrate true belief means to
Be willing means to choose to receive.
This means to trust in and depend on Jesus alone to be the Lord of our lives now on earth and for all eternity. It takes more than mere knowledge. It takes more than a mere agreement that the knowledge we have is accurate (even the devil and the demons believe James 2:19).
What it takes is to trust in Jesus alone for eternal life. You see, simply asking Jesus in your heart almost sounds like something we did for ourselves.
The requirements for eternal life are based not on what you can do but on what Jesus has done.
According to Jesus, those who realize they are sinners, repent of their sins, and receive Him as Savior and Lord of their lives are “born again” (John 3:3) not physically, but spiritually.
The reality of our salvation is not based on our feelings, (another reason I think asking Jesus in our hearts is deceiving) but rather on the promise of our Savior, Jesus who says, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” John 5:24
After realizing that I needed to repent, receive Jesus’ payment for my sins, then choose to follow Him, I was finally confident in my salvation.
I am not saying that asking Jesus into your heart is heretical.
When we are saved, Jesus does indeed “come into our hearts” (Romans 8:9-11; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27-28; Galatians 2:20). But there are lots of other things that happen when we are saved, too: we are washed in Jesus’ blood, sealed by His Spirit, seated in the heavens, grafted into the vine, have our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, Satan’s claims against us are nullified, etc. But by focusing on only the aspect of Jesus coming into our hearts or any one of them, we run the risk of obscuring the one thing necessary for salvation—a posture of repentance toward and faith in His finished work on the cross and through His resurrection. (Mark 1:15; John 3:36; Rom. 4:5; 10:9-10).
When sharing the gospel, we should be careful of how we say it.
This doesn’t mean we should hold back on talking to others about salvation through Jesus, either. What I mean is to know what the Bible says. It’s not really that complicated. My church makes it pretty simple to teach others how to be saved by using an acronym called the ABCs.
Salvation is not about asking Jesus to come into your heart.
Salvation cannot be earned.
Salvation comes only through Jesus.
Salvation is about trusting in Jesus as your Savior, receiving the forgiveness He offers by grace through faith. Salvation is being made new through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
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