In this way, as noted above, this phrase can actually backfire on itself. While intended to prevent false conversions, it can (if misused) actually lead to false conversions. People can think they are saved because they “asked Jesus into their heart” with no awareness of how to evaluate their own spiritual condition.
Some of us grew up in churches where it seemed every Sunday included an altar call. Congregants were invited to walk the aisle and to make a “decision” for Christ.
During these occasions, very specific language would be used to explain how a person becomes a Christian. “Just ask Jesus into your heart,” was the common refrain, usually followed by an appeal to Rev 3:2, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him.”
Thus, we come to the next installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series. Our purpose here is to evaluate the phrase, “Just ask Jesus into your heart.” Like most of the phrases in this series, it can have both positive and negative aspects, depending on how it is used.
Why Do People Use This Phrase?
Despite the association with modern day revival-style churches, this phrase actually has a long pedigree, even in Reformed circles. As some have pointed out, even certain Puritans used language that was similar.
And the reason for the usage of this phrase is not hard to find. Concerned about the prevalence of false conversions, many pastors were keen to emphasize that salvation is not something attained just by attending church or being born into a Christian home. Salvation is personal and individual. Each sinner has to respond to Christ for themselves.
There is a bit of irony however to this motivation. Although this phrase might have been used to prevent false conversions, its misuse can, in fact, heighten the problem of false conversions. More on this below.
What is Correct or Helpful about This Phrase?
No doubt the Puritans embraced a version of this phrase precisely because it emphasized the personal, heartfelt response that needed to be true of every converted individual. The Gospel has both corporate and individual aspects to it, and the latter cannot be forgotten.
Indeed, this is plainly laid out in Scripture. Familial and corporate ties are not enough to be saved, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
Thus, this phrase rightly reminds us that the Gospel requires a response from individuals. It is not something that can be assumed or taken for granted. Christ must be believed upon and embraced.
In this way, this phrase is a very helpful reminder of the importance of conversion. And this reminder is seriously needed in Reformed circles today. We talk about a lot of things as Reformed believers–justification, sanctification, adoption.