The idea of “asking Jesus into your heart” or “giving your life to Jesus” often gives false assurance to those who are not saved—and keeps those who genuinely are saved from fully embracing that reality.
Greear unpacks the doctrine of assurance and answers the tough questions: What exactly is faith? What is repentance? Why are there so many warnings that seem to imply we can lose our salvation?
Such issues are handled with respect to the theological rigors they require, but Greear and Gaston are careful to present the material with a pastoral sensitivity and communication technique that makes this message teachable and applicable to teens.
|Publisher:||B&H Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
BAPTIZED FOUR TIMES
If there were a Guinness Book of World Records record for "amount of times having asked Jesus into your heart," I'm pretty sure I would hold it.
By the time I walked across the stage at my high school graduation I had probably "asked Jesus into my heart" five thousand times. I started somewhere around age four when I approached my parents one Saturday morning asking how someone could know that they were going to heaven. They carefully led me down the "Romans Road to Salvation," and I gave Jesus His first invitation into my heart.
Both my parents and my pastor felt confident of my sincerity and my ability to explain the gospel at the ripe age of four, and so I was baptized. We wrote the date in my Bible and I lived in peace about the matter for nearly a decade.
Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. One Friday night during a youth group gathering, my Sunday school teacher told us that according to Matthew 7:21 — 23 many people who think they know Jesus will awaken on that final day to the reality that He never really knew them. Though they had prayed a prayer to receive Jesus, they had never really been born again and never taken the lordship of Jesus seriously. They would, my teacher explained, be turned away from heaven into everlasting punishment with the disastrous words, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"
To say I was completely terrified would be the understatement of the century. Would I be one of those ones turned away? Had I really been "sorry" for my sins at age five? And could I really have known what I was doing at age four?
So I asked Jesus to come into my heart again, this time with a resolve to be much more serious about my faith. I requested rebaptism, and gave a very moving testimony in front of our congregation about getting serious with God.
Case closed, right? Wrong.
Not long after that I found myself asking again: Had I really been sorry enough for my sin this time around? I'd see some people weep rivers of tears when they got saved, but I hadn't. Did that mean I was not really sorry? And there were a few sins I seemed to fall back into over and over again, no matter how many resolutions I made to do better. Was I really sorry for those sins? Was that prayer a moment of total surrender? Would I have died for Jesus at that moment if He'd asked?
So I prayed the sinner's prayer again. And again. And again. Each time trying to get it right, each time really trying to mean it. I would have a moment when I felt like I got it right, followed by a temporary peace and joy. But it would fade quickly and I'd question it all again. And so I'd pray again.
I walked a lot of aisles at church and youth camps during those days. In fact, I am pretty sure I've been saved at least once in every denomination.
Because I understood baptism to be something you did after your confession of faith in Jesus Christ, each time I gained a little assurance, I felt like I should get re-baptized. Four times, total. Honestly, it got pretty embarrassing. I became a staple at our church's baptism services. I got my own locker in the baptismal changing area.
It was a wretched experience. My spiritual life was a train wreck characterized by endless circles of doubt, aisle-walking, and submersion in water. I could not find the assurance of salvation no matter how often, or how sincerely, I asked Jesus into my heart.
I used to think I was alone in this struggle, but as I've shared my story over the years with teenagers, so many have come forward to tell me that my experience resonates with them (usually minus record setting number of baptisms). This is a problem that has turned into an epidemic in our churches and youth groups.
Maybe that's why you've picked up this book. Maybe, despite your repeated sinner's prayers, you're still wondering if God will, in the end, open up the gates of heaven to you. You hope that He will, but enough doubt lingers to rob you of that peace that some of your friends seem to have.
Or maybe you have no idea whether you're going to heaven, and you are curious as to how anyone could possibly know something like that. Or maybe you wonder whether somebody who sins as much as you could ever be forgiven. Maybe you fear that you've said "no" to God so many times that you've forfeited any chance of salvation.
This book is written for all those groups, because they are all asking the same, simple question: How can anyone know, beyond all doubt, that they are saved?
The Other Side of the Problem: The Falsely Assured
This is a very serious question, not just because it keeps some people in a state of fear, but because others are getting it dead wrong.
Jesus warned that there are a vast number of people who seem assured of a salvation they don't actually possess. Wow. That's a pretty crazy thought. My Sunday school teacher was telling us the truth: according to Matthew 7, Jesus will turn away "many" on that last day who thought they belonged to Him. There's no doubt that many of those will have prayed a sinner's prayer.
One afternoon I was at a local basketball court and started a pickup game with a guy I'd seen there a few times. He was quite a character — he cursed like a sailor and had so many tattoos on his body I wasn't sure what the actual color of his skin was. He boasted continually about all the ladies in his life (both past and present). He wasn't the kind of guy you'd suspect to see at your Wednesday night worship service at your youth group.
As we played our game, I began to share my story of how I came to Christ. About three sentences into it, he stopped, grabbed the ball, and said, "Bro, are you trying to witness to me?" Surprised he even knew the term witness, I said, "Uhhh ... well ... yes."
He said, "That's awesome. No one has tried to witness to me in a long time. ... But don't worry about me. I went to youth camp when I was thirteen and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. And I was legit. I became a super-Christian. I went to youth group every week, I did the "true love waits" commitment thing, I memorized verses, and I went on mission trips. I even led other friends to Jesus.
"About two years after that, I realized I didn't like God giving me a life of rules telling me what I could and could not do. So I decided to put God on hold for a while, and after a while just quit believing in Him altogether. I'm a happy atheist now."
He then added: "But here's what's awesome: the church I grew up in was Southern Baptist, and they taught eternal security — that means 'once saved, always saved.' By the way, aren't you a Baptist?"
****awkward silence from me****
He went on, "That means that my salvation at age thirteen still holds, even if I don't believe in God anymore now. 'Once saved, always saved,' right? That means that even if you're right, and God exists and Jesus is the only way, I'm safe! So either way, works out great for me. ... If I'm right, then I haven't wasted my life curbing my lifestyle because of a fairy tale. OK, score is 7-7, check it up. Your ball."
What do you say to a person like that? Consider the facts: He had indeed prayed to ask Jesus into his heart, and all indications were that he was very sincere. And it's very possible for people to come to faith very early in life — Jesus, in fact, told adults to become like children if they want to be saved! Furthermore, this guy showed immediate "fruit" after his conversion, getting excited about Jesus and being busy for Him. And the Bible does indeed teach eternal security — once saved, always saved. So was he right? Can he, because he made a decision at some point in the past, live with the assurance that he is saved forever, regardless of how he lives now?
Here's the short answer, one I'll spend the rest of the book unpacking: he cannot. Salvation does indeed happen in a moment, and once you are saved you are always saved. The mark, however, of someone who is saved is that they maintain their confession of faith until the end of their lives. Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.
In His parable about the different types of soil, Jesus spoke of a group who heard His word and made an initial, encouraging response of belief, only to fade away over time. These are those, Jesus explained, who hear the gospel and respond positively to it — i.e., pray the prayer, walk the aisle, get baptized, or do whatever new converts in your church do. They remain in the church for a period of time. But they do not endure when the sun of persecution comes out and will not in the end be saved (Luke 8:13).
The apostle John described a large group of people who "believed in His name" but to whom Jesus would not commit Himself because "He knew all men" (John 2:23 — 25). He knew their belief was a temporary fad that would not endure the test of time and trial.
These stories teach us that many are headed to hell under the thought that they were headed to heaven. They were told that if they prayed the prayer, Jesus would save them, seal them, and never leave nor forsake them. They prayed that prayer and lived under the delusion they will go to heaven when they die. My blood runs cold just thinking about them.
A 2011 Barna study shows that nearly half of all adults in America have prayed such a prayer, and subsequently believe they are going to heaven, though many of them rarely, if ever, attend a church, read the Bible personally, or have lifestyles that differ in any significant way from those outside the church. If the groups described in Matthew 7 and Luke 8 are not referring to them, I don't know to whom they could be referring.
The Enemy — one of whose names in Scripture is "the Deceiver" — loves to keep truly saved believers unsure of their salvation because he knows that if he does they'll never experience the freedom, joy, and confidence that God wants them to have. But he also loves to keep those on their way to hell deluded into thinking they are on their way to heaven, their consciences immunized from Jesus' pleas to repent.
An Unhelpful Gospel Cliché?
I have begun to wonder if both problems, needless doubting and false assurance, are made worse by the clichéd ways in which we (as Christians) speak about the gospel. Christian shorthand for the gospel is to "ask Jesus into your heart," or "accept Jesus as Lord and Savior," or "give your heart to Jesus." Think of how many times you have probably heard those phrases this past month in church? They may not be wrong in themselves, but the Bible never tells us, specifically, to seek salvation in those ways. The way the Bible talks of a saving response toward Christ is "repentance" and "belief" in the gospel.
"Belief," as I'll explain later, means acknowledging that God told the truth about Jesus, namely that He is Lord and that He has finished forever the work of our salvation.
"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)
"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" ... "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." (Acts 16:30–31 hcsb)
To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom. 10:9–10)
Repentance (which we'll also get into more deeply later) means "acting" on that belief. Repentance means reversing your direction based on who you understand Jesus to be. It was the first response Jesus called for in His preaching of the gospel (Mark 1:15), and what Paul said God had commanded all men everywhere to do now that Jesus had been resurrected (Acts 17:30). Apart from repentance there is no salvation.
You can "ask Jesus into your heart" without repenting and believing, and you can repent and believe without articulating a request for Jesus to come into your heart.
Repentance and faith are heart postures you take toward the finished work of Christ. Right now you are probably sitting down somewhere as you read this book. (Hopefully you aren't trying to read while walking through the mall. Most of you can't even text and walk at the same time, let alone read a book!) Your body is in a "posture" toward the chair you are sitting in. You are resting on it fully. In essence, you have surrendered the weight of your body to the full support of the chair. Being saved is taking a similar posture toward Jesus — a posture of trust and surrender toward Him and His finished work on the cross. You might express the beginning of that posture in a prayer. But don't make the mistake of equating that prayer with the posture. The sinner's prayer is not a magic recipe you follow to get a salvation cake. The real stuff — the stuff that matters — is the posture of repentance and faith behind the words you speak. The prayer is good only insofar as it verbalizes the posture.
Placing an overemphasis on phrases like "ask Jesus into your heart" gives assurance to some who shouldn't have it and keeps it from some who should.
Clarifying Two Things I Am Not Saying
I'm Not Saying "Asking Jesus into Your Heart Is a Terrible Phrase"
When we are "saved," Jesus does indeed "come into our hearts," at least in a manner of speaking (see, for example, Rom. 8:9 — 11; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:27 — 28; Gal. 2:20). 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 bad, 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 my home in heaven" (John 14:1–3), or "put my name in the Lamb's Book of Life" (Rev. 21:27), that would not be wrong, per se, 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.
That said, "asking Jesus into your heart" is a great way of describing salvation, if the concepts behind the words are understood. "Heart" in the Bible (Prov. 4:23) is the seat of the person. Having Jesus come into your heart, in that sense, would mean that He fuses Himself into the deepest part of who you are — that you rest your hopes upon His righteousness, lean on Him for strength, and submit to His Lordship at your core. God fusing Himself to the believer at salvation is what the church fathers called theosis (translated divinization), whereby Christ literally unites His Spirit with ours (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 2:20). Christ is, in that sense, "in our hearts."
Ultimately, 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 tradition or fad we have people go through to gain entry into heaven. As "gospel shorthand," it presents salvation as a transaction someone has 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.CHAPTER 2
Does God Even Want Us to Have Assurance?
It is extremely difficult to risk it all for something when you're not convinced the something you are risking it all for actually exists. When I was in high school I took up rock climbing as a hobby. One day a friend suggested that instead of climbing up the rock face, we rappel down it. I'd never done that before, but he claimed he was an expert. Because I was an idiot, I believed him.
There were four of us on the mountain that day. Somehow I got volunteered to go first. (The fact that my "expert" friend did not volunteer to be first should have been a signal to me that something was off.) We tied my belay rope around a tree, and I stood with my back toward a 75-foot drop. My friend told me to "lean back." If you've never done this before, let me summarize my thoughts at that moment:
Excerpted from "Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart"
Copyright © 2018 J.D. Greear.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Baptized Four Times 1
2 Does God Even Want Us to Have Assurance? 11
3 Jesus in My Place 23
4 What Is Belief? 38
5 What Is Repentance? 50
6 If "Once Saved, Always Saved," Why Does the Bible Seem to Warn Us So Often about Losing Our Salvation? 71
7 Vital Signs 88
8 When You Continue to Doubt 100
Varsity Level Appendix 1 What about Baptism? 109
Varsity Level Appendix 2 The Indispensable Link between Assurance and the Doctrine of justification by Faith Alone 112
Appendix 3 A Note to Youth Pastors 118