On Evangelical Babble and Accepting Jesus Into Your Heart
This is the inaugural post in a series on evangelical-babble and pop-theology. These will be short posts on evangelical phrases that need to go, with the primary yardstick being sola scriptura: if the phrase is absent from scripture and its employment disproportionately outweighs the benefit of any good and necessary inference from scripture, it needs to be culled from Christian vocabulary. The grammar we use matters, and the language we use shapes how people think and act.
The first phrase is “Accept Jesus into your heart” and its variants. It should be said up front that no expression like this exists in scripture. This phrase is used to both summarize the experience and means of conversion. The sinner accepts/invites/receives/brings Jesus into their heart/life which is is required for their salvation. Historically the phrase has been tied to the Sinner’s Prayer, which often runs afoul of providing people with a false assurance of salvation. People believe that since they prayed a prayer that God has saved them. David Platt famously raised this as an issue several years ago; people who have said the Sinner’s Prayer and “accepted” Jesus point not to his finished work, but their particular prayer as the basis of their salvation. The very language of me accepting Christ invites (no pun intended) me to believe that is my acceptance of Jesus that secures my salvation. It is a semantic twisting of the image of Jesus knocking in Revelation 3:20.
Here are two illustrations of this. The first is of a young man who has been involved in the church for most of his life, and presumably has heard the gospel that entire time. In conversations he expressed that the lack of quality of his current devotion to God meant that he needed to accept Jesus again. In another instance, a young student was prompted to “accept Jesus,” and even though he struggled to express the basics of the gospel (e.g. I am saved because Jesus died for me), he (and Christian adults around him!) were convinced that he was saved because he “accepted” Jesus. The onus was on him to open the door of his heart to Jesus and invite him in, as if the king of the universe needed his permission to regenerate him.
When scripture talks about conversion it uses the language of belief, repentance, and faith. And it does so by placing the emphasis on acknowledging what Jesus was done and surrendering to him, whereas “acceptance” and “invite” place the accent on what the convert is doing (letting Jesus in). The biblical vocabulary’s focus is on our response to a reality (Christ’s death and resurrection, and the regenerative application of it by the Spirit), and the only appropriate response is a penitent surrender. The gospel is not about our acceptance of Jesus, but a concession that God has accepted us in Christ.