JD Greear wrote an interestingly titled book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. For evangelical Christians, it goes against everything we have been taught to believe. How can you be a witness without asking Jesus into your heart by praying a little prayer and all is well spiritually?
Greear is a Southern Baptist. So, it is not that he is trying to rub people the wrong way. He is trying to address something that many evangelicals don’t want to address.
“Surveys show more than 50% of people have prayed a sinner’s prayer and think they’re going to heaven, even though there is no detectable difference in their lifestyles from those outside of the church.” We tell them, “Pray this simple prayer and you are guaranteed heaven.” Certainly, our expectation is that they will seriously follow Jesus, but many don’t.
Biblical salvation involves several parts, and some of these can easily get left out of the mix when we are leading a person to Jesus. The very first sermon of Jesus was simple, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” Are people repenting from their sin or joyously adding Jesus to an already overloaded life of sin? If all we want is Jesus’ blessing, then we only have $3 worth of God and no changed heart. As Martin Luther once said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”
Repentance is more than saying, “I am sorry! I messed up!” We can be sorry and never change that for which we are sorry. How many adulterers, drug addicts, liars, thieves, gluttons and gossips have said, “I am sorry,” and then kept on doing the same old sin? They were sorry because they got caught.
We can get sloppy when we share the Gospel – talking too much about the blessings of following Jesus, but too little about the implications of following Jesus. Early converts were clear that following Jesus would involve personal cost, risk, suffering, and demand a total giving of one’s life to His cause. If we do anything less, we are sugarcoating the Gospel.
Jesus made it explicitly clear, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19). Salvation is a call to follow by learning from Him, imitating Him, growing in our understanding of Him, and obeying Him. All of this is to get to one key purpose, becoming fishers of men.
One of the reasons we are not impacting our families, neighborhoods, and communities is that too often those we bring people to Jesus have no sense that He is calling them to live differently.
This issue of salvation is too important to gloss over. People’s eternal salvation and purpose is at stake. Let’s press for a decision, but let’s also tell people the truth about what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus. Instead of scaring many away, I suspect it would change our churches. The sinner’s prayer can be a tool to help people express their submission to Jesus, but it must never be just words uttered to make us magically right with God. Our discipleship depends on getting it right!