A student in my current online course pointed out a recent video by David Platt that questioned the idea of “asking Jesus into your heart” as a “superstitious prayer” not found in the New Testament. (You can view it here.) I don’t have enough context to know exactly what Platt is driving at, but his comments are thought-provoking.
In the Christian Churches, the idea of conversion by praying a sinner’s prayer has met with opposition for many years. This was seen as an unbiblical practice designed to make conversion quick and convenient. It was especially worrisome that praying the “Sinner’s Prayer” as the way to be saved was seen to bypass baptism, historically the church’s dividing line between being a non-Christian and becoming a Christian.
I disagree that this idea is completely non-biblical, that there is no connection between the heart and salvation. Romans 10:9, 10 says:
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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
I once had a professor who was almost manic in his opposition to the idea of asking Jesus into one’s heart. For example, I remember that he taught us to reword the final words of the gospel song, “He Lives.” Rather than, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” we were told we should sing, “You ask me how I know he lives? The Bible tells me so.” This bothered me, and more than just because it ruined the rhyme of the song (which did bother me).
The idea of using a “Sinner’s Prayer” surely came with some theological baggage. Not least in this was the Calvinistic doctrine of the “Perseverance of the Saints,” sometimes called the “Once Saved Always Saved” doctrine. The idea behind this was that if salvation is a gift of God given by God, it could not be lost only withdrawn by God. And, since God promised never to abandon us, there was no reason to think that our salvation would ever be withdrawn. Therefore, if a person could be “saved” by praying a prayer, that salvation was complete, a done deal. Some detractors likened this practice to “fire insurance,” assuring the praying person that he or she would be saved from the fires of hell. But a theological problem was created by some who advocated salvation by praying, but who were not thorough-going Calvinists. They were “four-point Calvinists,” rejecting the doctrine of election. This doctrine teaches that God chooses who will be saved. The prayer salvationists seemed to be teaching that we choose to be saved by praying the correct prayer.
All of this, of course, is dependent upon what we mean by “asking Jesus into my heart.” Let me suggest a couple of things here:
- I dislike this practice because it seems to give an outsized role to the one praying. It is as if we own the mighty temple that is our heart, and permit God to take up residence there.
- Too often, this method saw no continuing responsibility for the “evangelist” once the prayer was prayed. I could meet a random person on an airplane flight, get them to pray the prayer, and “we’re done here.”
- And I share Platt’s dismay that this popular methodology is at best unknown to the New Testament, and at worst is antithetical to the basic idea of conversion we find in the early church.
It seems to me that the core act of conversion in the New Testament is to submit to Jesus as Lord. This is expressed in many ways. We become “disciples,” students under a master. We leave everything to “follow Jesus,” giving up our claim to live life however we desire. We “believe in the name of Jesus,” meaning we put our trust in him rather than ourselves. We are “crucified with Christ,” meaning our old selfish life is abandoned and we live according to his guidance and will. We are “baptized into Christ,” meaning we take on a new identity as part of the body of Christ as one of its members.
Maybe this method will pass away like so many faddish things in the church. Yet I don’t want it to entirely go away, because I want Jesus in my heart. I want him to rule in my life. I want it to be about his will, not mine. I want my heart to belong to Jesus. May he reign as king forever.
Nebraska Christian College