I recently read J.D. Greear’s new book “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.” I was drawn to the book because of the confusion the term can sometimes bring when explaining the gospel to kids.
J.D. Does a fantastic job addressing the topic of eternal security in a practical and theologically correct way. His book is a fantastic read for leaders and those wanting to think more about how we live our faith. He covers the sacrifice Christ paid for us, what is belief, what is repentance, once saved always saved, doubt and baptism.
I found myself identifying with J.D.’s journey from constant insecurity to a place of rest found not in what we can do but what has been done on our behalf. Love how Greear constantly brings salvation back to simplicity of repent and believe. I had the opportunity to interview J.D. loved the answers he gave to the questions I asked.
1. First of all, I love your title. I think asking Jesus into your heart is very misleading to those who are new to church, and especially to children. Do you use the phrase “Ask Jesus into your heart” with your kids, or do you use something else to convey the same concept?
I’m not categorically against the phrase, “Ask Jesus into your heart.” After all, when we are saved, Jesus does indeed “come into our hearts,” at least in a manner of speaking (e. g. Rom 8:9–11; Gal 2:20; Eph 3:17; Col 1:27–28). But there are lots of other things that happen at the moment of salvation, too: we are washed in Jesus‘ blood, sealed by his Spirit, guaranteed a dwelling place in the new heaven, grafted into the vine, have our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, Satan’s claims against us are nullified, etc. Asking Jesus to do any one of these for us at the moment of salvation is not heretical, but by focusing on 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 (Mark 1:15; John 3:36; Rom 4:5; 10:9-10).
For example, if we go around telling people that if they want to be saved they should ask Jesus to “begin construction on their home in heaven,” or “put my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life,” that would not be wrong, per se (John 14:1-3), but it could be misleading. People with no remorse for their sin might still be excited about Jesus providing them with an eternal vacation home or getting their name onto some heavenly honor-roll list. By highlighting one or two of the things Jesus said he’d do for us at salvation we might obscure the one thing Jesus said we must do to be saved: repent and believe.
With my congregation and with my children, my concern is not on what words or actions we might use to express our faith in Christ, but that we don’t substitute those words or actions for repentance and faith. “Praying the sinner’s prayer” has become something like a Protestant “ritual” we have people go through to gain entry into heaven. As “gospel shorthand,” it presents salvation as a transaction one conducts with Jesus and moves on from, rather than the beginning of a posture we take toward the finished work of Christ and maintain for the rest of our lives.
What we must make clear is the need to repent and believe.
2. How do you pastorally handle the call for salvation in your church in both adult and kids environments, as the traditional method of altar calls tends to lead to a fear-based response to a message rather than a confident assurance in the work of Christ?
I’m not sure if I’d say the traditional method of altar calls always leads to a fear-based response—I’m thinking of the great evangelists throughout history, like Spurgeon and Wesley and Whitefield—not to mention Peter in Acts 2—but I certainly know the types of altar call you’re thinking of. And, unfortunately, I’ve conducted a few of them, too.
I certainly do not want to discourage anyone from calling for a decision when we present the gospel. The gospel is an invitation, and each time it is preached, that invitation ought to be extended in some form. In fact, if we do not urge our hearers to respond personally to God’s offer in Christ, I do not believe that we have actually preached the gospel.
Salvation is not given to people because they prayed a prayer correctly, but because they have leaned the hopes of their soul on the finished work of Christ. When I give people a chance respond to the gospel, I begin with the finished work of Christ, and invite them to respond to the grace that God has already extended to them. The phrasing varies, but I always emphasize that salvation comes only as a gift of God’s grace, and that the work of salvation is already done in Christ.
3. What are some practical tips you have for parents that you use to help preach the gospel to your kids? How can we teach them to fear God and obey his commands, rather than to obey his commands out of fear?
As a father of 4 young children, I have often reflected on the best way to lead them to faith. I want their decision to follow Jesus to be significant, but I also don’t want them to go through what I went through, constantly questioning my previous religious experiences. I know that when you present kids with a “don’t you want to be a good girl and make daddy happy and accept Jesus and not go to a fiery hell?” of course they say, “Yes.” “Praying the prayer” in such a situation may have little do with actual faith in Christ and have more to do with making daddy happy.
For that reason, many parents don’t want to push their child to make a decision for Christ. What if we coerce them into praying a prayer they don’t understand, and that keeps them from really dealing with the issues later when they really understand it? Might having them pray the prayer too early on inoculate them from really coming to Jesus later, giving them false assurance that keeps them from dealing with their need to be saved?
I understand that fear. At the same time, I know that children are capable of faith. (In fact, Jesus tells adults that for them to be saved they must become like children, not visa versa!) And Jesus says that those of us who make it difficult for little kids to put faith in Him ought to have a millstone tied around our necks and be thrown into the sea (Matt 18:1–6). So I don’t ever want to discourage my kids from faith.
The dilemma is resolved, however, by seeing salvation as a posture toward Christ and not as a ceremony. There is only one posture ever appropriate to Christ: surrendered to His Lordship, and believing that He did what He said He did. From the very beginning of their lives, I want my kids to assume that posture! So I explain to them often what Christ has done and encourage them to pin their hopes of righteousness on His work and not theirs. Whenever they think about their hopes for heaven, I want their minds to go to what Jesus did on Calvary. And when I encourage them to walk in holiness, I want the motivation—from day one—to be the finished work of Christ on their behalf.
It’s like sitting down in a chair. If you’re sitting down now, that is proof that at some point you made the decision to sit down even if you don’t remember the moment. There was a moment you sat down, but the proof is in the present posture, not the past memory. The same is true with my kids and Jesus. Whenever I talk to them about Jesus, I encourage them to assume the posture. Whether they recognize when they are older the exact moment it happened is less important than that they know they are in it.
4. I Love Bonheoffer’s thoughts about confessing to a brother: “In confession the breakthrough to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown.” In many church circles confession to someone other than God has been frowned upon. What roles do confession to man and confession to God play in salvation and sanctification?
I have a section in my book that draws a line between confession of sin and true repentance. Confessing our sin, either to God or to others, even in great detail and with great emotion, does not equal repentance. Many people weep their way through confessions, but go right back to their sin. That sort of a confession, no matter how heartfelt at the time, is not the “change of mind” that we call repentance. It is more of an emotional catharsis.
Emotional catharsis may certainly feel redemptive. It feels good to tell a friend, or a pastor or priest, where you messed up and have him tell you it’s all going to be okay, that you are still a good person. Their affirmation, however, cannot re-establish your relationship to God. Only Jesus can do that. Our tears do not wash away our sin. Only Jesus’ blood does.
That said, there certainly is a role for confession of sin, both to God and to our Christian brothers and sisters. If a person refused to admit that they have sinned, then they are miles away from a repentant attitude. And if we confess only to God without appropriately disclosing our sins to close Christian friends, than we are still hiding in the dark, refusing to let God speak into our lives through His community. Make no mistake: confession is a necessary part of the Christian life.
What I want to guard against, though, is the practice of confessing in which we look to others for exoneration instead of trusting in the work of Christ. Confession is a good thing, but confession does not save. As I have heard it said, even the tears of the saints need to be washed in the blood of Christ.
So appreciate this book that J.D. wrote. If you have not picked up a copy do it today the Kindle version is just 4.99 go get it now.