Come into My Heart, Lord Jesus??? A Plea for Biblical Accuracy in Child Evangelism

(This article was originally published at www.sharperiron.org on May 1, 2006.)

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today; come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

Harry Clarke, Welsh song leader for Evangelist Billy Sunday, wrote these words in 1924. Who hasn’t heard these words sung at the end of an evangelistic challenge? I’m still amazed that many Christians still sing the lyrics after they already know the Lord.

The language of “asking Jesus into one’s heart” is part of a soul winner’s basic vocabulary, at least in my experience. It is firmly entrenched, it seems, especially in children’s ministries today. Consider this recommended prayer for children given by one church:

Dear God, Thank you for making a way for us to turn from the wrong things that we have done. I know I have done wrong things, but right now I want to look upon Jesus so that you will forgive me for the things I have done. Please let Jesus come into my heart, to live forever there. I want to live forever with God. Thank you for loving me. In Jesus Name I Pray, Amen

Now, to be fair, this prayer does deal with forgiveness of sin. It acknowledges the love of God. But what it fails to do is to lead a child to verbalize trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Isn’t that what the Gospel is all about?

Before I try to persuade you to stop using this terminology in your personal evangelism, let me assure you of two things:

1. Some people are genuinely saved when asking Jesus into their hearts.
2. There are many wonderful Christians who take the time to explain salvation clearly to children even if they use the “into my heart” phrasing.

Now, I know some of you are thinking right off the bat: this is just semantics. But is it? I was talking with a father in our church just last week, and he related to me how his young, preschool son firmly believes that Jesus lives in his real, physical heart. Just semantics? I don’t think so.

There are some legitimate concerns I have about the concept of “asking Jesus into our hearts.” Let me share them with you in the hope that, if nothing else, you will become even more committed to the precision we must have in communicating the Word of God.

CONCERN #1: IT TENDS TOWARD EASY-BELIEVISM.

There are Christians who are more interested in acquiring decisions for Christ than they are in making disciples of Christ. Often, “asking Jesus into your heart” becomes the magic formula for easy spiritual decision-making. Unfortunately, much of the time, these witnesses give an unclear and incomplete Gospel presentation. Consequently, many of the “decisions” made fall away in short order and were likely never genuine.

CONCERN #2: IT IS EXEGETICALLY UNFOUNDED.

Search the Scriptures. You will not find a passage through either precept or pattern where “asking Jesus into your heart” is employed in evangelism. Not once. Surely that must account for something. How can we be comfortable in using so consistently an expression that lacks ANY Scriptural support?

Some will ignore context and appeal to a passage like Revelation 3:20.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Although this verse is used heavily in evangelistic methodology, it is often taken out-of-context. In context, the Christian will find that Jesus is speaking to a church, a lukewarm church that has lost its fellowship with Christ. In John’s vision, Jesus tells this church He is knocking on their door and pleads with them to open the door and resume fellowship. It’s not about salvation.

Sometimes, instead of taking things out-of-context, we simply take them out-of-order. Such is the case for other New Testament verses where the result of salvation is turned to become the means of salvation. What about these verses?

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. (John 1:12)

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27)

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

Another popular Gospel song exclaims: “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart!” Does Jesus really come in? The short answer is “Yes, He does.” We can’t dispute the clear teaching of these verses. But while Jesus’ indwelling is certainly a result of salvation, there is simply no biblical evidence that His spiritual entrance into our lives is part of the means of salvation.

CONCERN #3: IT EASILY CONFUSES CHILDREN.

Easy-believism angers me. Careless Bible study frustrates me. But taking the most important message in the entire world and making it confusing for little ones both angers and frustrates me.

Bob Wilkin in his book Don’t Ask testifies of the confusion this inaccuracy has wrought among children when he writes,

Years later I was teaching an evangelism course at a Bible College in East Texas. I had my students write out their testimonies after I had explained what I have recounted above. I found that quite a few of the students went through years of confusion because someone told them as children that if they asked Jesus into their hearts they would be saved. They wondered if they had done it right. They wondered if they had been sincere enough. So they asked Him in over and over again for years. They couldn’t gain assurance. Finally someone shared with them that to be saved they had to trust in Christ alone. Only then, by their own testimony, did they come to faith in Christ. Years of inviting Him into their lives had only confused and frustrated them.

Consider as well this personal testimony from Dr. John MacArthur:

And every time, as a little kid, that somebody said, “Ask Jesus in your heart,” I can remember saying, “Jesus, please come in my heart.” I can remember that over and over: “In case you’re not there, please come in today.” You know? I mean, I did that as a kid. I’d go to camp, the guy would give a message, and just to be sure, you know, I’d say, “Lord, if you’re not in my life, please…”

Then, of course, there is the problem that children are not generally able to think in the abstract until about age seven. So, we should not be surprised when children take “asking Jesus into their heart” in a literal way. We must be absolutely clear when dealing with children about their eternal souls. Remember, the Bible tells us that child-like faith is essential, but it does not say the same about child-like intellect. While many children are saved at a young age, they must understand the essential truths of salvation in order to properly direct that precious faith in trusting Christ.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

I would like to show you an excellent model for explaining salvation to children. It’s posted on the website of Kids4Truth. Bob Roberts and the other magnificent people who run this ministry have dedicated their lives to making sure children learn the doctrine of God’s Word. Allow me to condense his article to just the main points. You can read it in full at http://www.k4t.com/Questions/question13.htm.

1. God wants you to honor and serve Him.
2. Your sin (breaking God's rules) keeps you from pleasing God.
3. Sin is paid for by death and separation from God.
4. You cannot get to heaven by being good or doing lots of good works.
5. Here's the best part. Christ paid for your sins.
6. Accept Christ's payment for your sin.
7. Turn from your sin. Want something completely different than your sin.
8. God has made you a promise–eternal life.

Becoming a Christian is much like joining an army. It costs nothing to join but the good soldier is willing to obey and even lay down his life for the general. When somebody does join the army, their life is no longer their own. When somebody joins the army, they surrender their rights to their leader. That's what God expects of us. Look at what Jesus said about becoming a Christian (follower of Christ):

Matthew 16:24-25, "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."

In order to become a Christian your will must be broken because it is naturally at war with God! In fact, the Bible says that our condition is pretty miserable, for we are born into this world:

1. An enemy of God — our will is against His will (Rom. 5:10)
2. Dead in sins (unable to anything that pleases God — Eph. 2:1)
3. Held captive by a foreign power greater than ourselves (Eph. 2:2)
4. A child of wrath (someone destined for eternal judgment — Eph. 2:3)

Have you ever seen a football game? There are two teams, each with different wills. One team desperately wants to run one way, and the other team wants to go the other way. They have opposing wills. We are born with a will that wants to do anything except turn from our sin and trust Christ for forgiveness! That's why becoming a Christian is primarily a surrender of your will!

This is an excellent example of communicating to children the truth about salvation. I truly believe that if we are more careful and clear in communicating these truths to the minds of children, we will be able to avoid long periods of time in people’s lives when they aren’t sure of their salvation or have to keep making professions of faith to be sure. Now, I do think it’s important that if a child wants to express faith in Christ, we should encourage it—each and every time that desire occurs. At some point along the way, true faith will likely be expressed and assurance will come. We cannot see their hearts and must not put any stumbling blocks in their spiritual journey.

Ironically, four years before penning Into My Heart, Harry Clarke had written the music to another song entitled “What Must I Do?” I like the message of this song much better:

“What must I do?” the trembling jailer cried,
When dazed by fear and wonder;
“Believe in Christ!” was all that Paul replied,
“And you shall be saved from sin.”

REFRAIN:
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
And you shall be saved!

What must I do! O weary, trembling, soul,
Just turn today to Jesus;
He will receive, forgive and make you whole;
Christ alone can set you free.

His blood is all your plea for saving grace,
The precious fount of cleansing!
O come, accept His love, behold His face,
And be saved forevermore.

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19 responses to this post.

  1. Which, of course, one cannot do- or even want to do- if He isn’t already there.

    Telling people to “ask Jesus into their hearts,” unfortunately, isn’t telling them the truth. It’s making salvation something accomplished by a good work.

    The truth is that Jesus lived and died so that they might be forgiven and live with Him forever. That is the truth Paul invited the Corinthian jailer to believe- and that is the truth that saves.

    Reply

  2. By the way… “easy believism?”

    What, precisely, is necessary for salvation other than biblical faith- ie., assent, confidence, and trust (the devils, before you even say it, neither confide in Christ nor trust Him for their salvation.

    I concur that justifying faith will always produce good works. But to speak of anything contributing to salvation alongside faith is in essence to revert to pre-Reformation Catholicism, at least in one’s doctrine of justification.

    Reply

  3. Bob,

    Thanks for your comments. With regard to easy believism, I am referring to the method of evangelism that relies upon the recitation of a formula w/o the appeal to express faith in Christ. It is an incomplete teaching of the Gospel. People are told to repeat a prayer when they haven’t even heard the Gospel. Many times the phrase “Ask Jesus into your heart” is part of the formula.

    Reply

    • THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR TIME AND WORK, THAT YOU HAVE PUT INTO THIS, TO HELP OTHERS TO BE ABLE TO QUALIFY TO ENTER INTO GOD’S HEAVEN.

      We know, that God is THE ONE, who did provide us with HIS WAY FOR US TO BE SAVED — TO BE SAVED FROM SUFFERING OUR DESERVED SUFFERING FOR OUR SIN PENALTY” !

      We know, that Jesus did tell the adult, religious leader Nicodemus “YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN”. before you are able “to see” (TO UNDERSTAND) the Kingdom of God, as well as to enter into The Kingdom of God (HEAVEN)!

      Now I am only 87 years of age, BORN AGAIN at the age of 19, while I was alone, and walking in the city of Detroit, MI. on Feb. 15, 1942 at 8:45pm.

      “My Testimony” is available for anyone to read in “E-Mail form” if anyone will request it of me.

      Also “My Father was BORN AGAIN at the age of about 55” and I wrote this up, for viewing, for anyone who will request it!

      God truly does love you, and God has been so very good to all of us !

      David And Adeline Sutton

      suttondmo@webtv.net

      You may publish my email address, because God then will be able to reach some one !

      Reply

  4. Posted by Tadeus on December 12, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Well….

    I’ve always seen the song moving in the way that we invite Jesus to come and taking over the steering wheel of our life. So it’s not a kind of simple formula of salvation, but the song itself is a reminder to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of our daily lives too. The song’s simplicity nature itself is a device to remind us of something:”Am I letting Jesus to have full control of my life?”. Well I did no studies about the composer of the song, but for me (and my cultural background), the heart is where you have your ‘steering wheel’ (not the brain). And since ‘the heart’ itself is a symbol of love and affection, the song could be interpreted as a response to GOD’s love.
    Well,…..
    Art itself has many point of views. If it were a mountain, you could only see the surface that you are facing, but that doesn’t mean that there is no other sides to it. Also, not all ‘simple-arts’ are meant for children. The Simpsons or Southpark is not targeting young children.
    Yes, children have to be thought the right ‘formula’ of salvation, but you can’t blame the song for it.
    Like any other kind of art form, especially music, it all depends on how we use it, when we use it, and for what are we using it for. A lot of Negro-spirituals don’t have precise biblical reference to it, but yet it is use to expresses deep emotional feelings for Jesus

    Final conclusion:
    1. Nothing wrong with the song; it’s just how we use it.
    2. Everyone must know the whole truth about salvation; little children too (not as simple as ‘having Jesus in your heart’). But again, this is a lesson to be learned through life experience, just as we learn to know more and more of Jesus personally day by day.
    3. Don’t want to teach that song to small kids? Then try another: Jesus loves me yes I know, for the Bible tells me so, and so on…. . Don’t use more complex melodies to little children. Simple tunes works well in their memory.

    That’s all
    GBU all and always

    Thanks for the article…

    Soli Deo Gloria
    Tadeus

    Reply

  5. Excellent post my brother! I too am often worried about little children, especially those below 7 or 8, that come forward to accept Christ. While many of them may have a clear grasp of the Gospel and their need in Christ’s saving grace, I think some just come because they know their parents want to, their friends are doing it, etc. The Gospel saves, alone, and we need to be sure that children learn that at an early age. Because the moment one starts adding works or anything else is the moment one starts dangerously down a slippery slope.

    Reply

  6. […] You can read more about this several places on the net. Start here. […]

    Reply

  7. […] The IMonk actually links to one of my reforming fundamentalist friends, Brian McCrorie.  Brian has an excellent post delving into this problem further, especially showing how it hampers child evangelism. […]

    Reply

  8. Posted by Amy on August 28, 2007 at 9:48 am

    I believe that the term “asking the Lord to come into your heart” refers to asking the HOLY SPIRIT to come into ones heart. Over the years, it may have been shortened & re-worded, but I believe that the essence that adults are trying to teach children is the same as it was in the beginning:

    Ezekiel 36:26
    I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

    1 Corinthians 3:16
    Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s SPIRIT LIVES IN YOU.

    I believe these verses (and many others like them) are where the phrase “Come into my heart” originated.

    When someone accepts salvation, they are accepting God’s Holy Spirit to live within them – within the NEW HEART God has given…

    I don’t see what is wrong with teaching a child that —

    The problem is that too many are not continuing to teach LIVING BY THE SPIRIT. It’s not just about acceptance, but living according to His will (which lies within your heart – if you listen to it.)

    God Bless!

    Reply

  9. Posted by oldman on December 22, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    the only sin anyone will be judged for is that of not believing in the only begotten son of God, Jn 3:16-19.
    We are no longer under the law, Jesus fulfilled the law and removed the curse from us. We are no longer under any condemnation. Christ Jesus died on the cross to remove our sins and place us in right standing with God. He is our peace with God. I am righteous in the God’s sight because He is righteous.
    As He is so are we in this world. Paul wrote that he passed along the gospel that he received from Christ Himself, that He was crucified dead, buried and rose again for our salvation. The question is do we believe that? If we do, then we should be baptized in the name of Jesus and we will receive the Holy Spirit.

    The gospel of grace changes lives. Belief is something we either do or not do. It is in us. We can’t lie to God.

    We no longer have to struggle for a right relationship with God, Jesus made that possible at the cross.
    I was judged at the cross 2000 yrs ago. My sins were all forgiven, past, present and future. That goes for anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    You don’t have to ask Him to come into your life,
    just simply believe the message and be baptized.
    Your life will change.

    Reply

  10. This post was excellent. I can’t tell you how many “Christians” I’ve talked with who “thought” they were saved, because they could remember saying a prayer, only to realize later that they had never repented of their sins and placed their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Bad word choice can be dangerous.

    Reply

  11. Posted by collin on September 22, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    do we even understand what are heart is? i have wondered what my heart is for a long time. i am seeing a glimpse of what it is and what it means to have Christ live in my heart but i don’t see it clearly yet.
    i don’t believe he lives in our hearts when we are initially saved. in Ephesians 2 Paul writes that God “made us alive together with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus… for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
    Then in the next chapter Paul writes “For this cause i bow my knees unto the Father, of whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit into the inner man, That Christ may make His home in your HEARTS through faith…”
    so we see that the Ephesians had been made alive with Christ in the heavenlies but Christ had either not made His home in their hearts yet or they had been through the whole process of Christ making His home in their hearts.
    But we also see that both of them are through faith so it seems like there are different stages of faith which could be what Romans 1:17 refers to.
    I feel like often in the church today we take revelations others have received before us and make them into these ideas and doctrines and formulas which are just head knowledge. Our doctrines so often are just words to us and we have little to no experience of them. we limit God by the way we look at the scripture with our limited minds. it begins with faith which is something only God grants. and if anyone truly believes that Jesus died to take away their sins then that is a faith that God gave them and that is a revelation that God gave them so it is the truth and it is complete.
    It seems like the message of John the Baptist, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, is the first revelation that God gives to people, preparing the way for Christ and then “look, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” I would say that is the beginning and once we see that then we have been cleansed by the blood. but it is a mistake to lump everything else into this. This was long.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Stuart on November 6, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    I appreciate this article, because I have been struggling with this very issue. I “asked Jesus into my heart” at a young age. Now I am really struggling spiritually with the gospel and this is confusing me. The faith of my youth just does not seem to be working. I am hesitant to talk to my pastor about this because he uses the “ask Jesus into your heart” wording and I do not want to be devisive or confrontational. I could use some advice.

    Reply

  13. Stuart,

    I would be glad to dialogue with you offline. Email me at bmccrorie@gmail.com.

    Reply

  14. It was my privilege to work with Lance B. Latham, the founder of Awana, and Art Roreheim, his associate for many years. Both of them taught against teaching kids to ask Jesus into their heart. It confuses the gospel; there is no turning away from good works or religion as a way of salvation. There is no turning to the finished work of Christ. I amen your article, especially since you elucidated your “easy believism” statement. Thanks for the post.
    Bill Giovannetti

    Reply

  15. Posted by Leigh on June 14, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    This is very helpful information for me. Praying and seeking guidance as a parent. Thank you all for your time and insight.

    Reply

  16. Did the phrase “ask Jesus into your heart” originate from this song, or was it from another source in that time period?

    Reply

  17. How about Ephesians 3:17, “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Scripture is the root for one to ask Jesus into their heart, and other Scriptures previously mentioned support it… or am I missing something?

    Reply

  18. Posted by Sandi on April 22, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Eph.3:12 “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” The simple plea of a child to ask Jesus into their heart at an alter call is only the beginning of a journey of faith and trust which one would hope/assume to be nurtured by those who evangelised him to come to this decision in the first place. The second verse of the hymn expresses the desire to spread God’s love to others:

    Out of my heart, out of my heart
    Shine out of my heart, Lord Jesus
    Shine out today, shine out always
    Shine out of my heart, Lord Jesus.

    This is laying down the foundational understanding for a child that Jesus wants us to spread the good news and His love to those around us. I think it is a very positive and powerful if simple concept, which I knowmade a great impression on me as a child when I first sang it. I understood that by ‘heart’, it meant the indwelling of the Holy spirit which would change my life.

    Reply

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