This book was published just a little over a year ago, and when I first heard the title it really intrigued me, and I immediately added it to my list of books to read. I grew up in a Christian home and was raised in a Baptist church. I was taught that a person became a Christian by praying the “Sinner’s Prayer” and asking Jesus to come into his heart. My mom lead me to do this when, at the age of six or seven, I had enough of an understanding about sin and hell to know that because of my disobedience to my parents (and to God) I deserved to go to hell and asked her what I should do. When I got older, I can recall a couple of other occasions in public meetings raising my hand or standing to express my desire to rededicate my life to the Lord (not to mention times when I did it silently). My husband shared with me that he had similar experiences, and when I mentioned Greear’s book to him, he commented something to the effect that he wished he’d had this book when he was a teenager. And J. D. Greear admits that, “By the time I reached the age of eighteen I had probably ‘asked Jesus into my heart’ five thousand times…I walked a lot of aisles during those days. I think I’ve been saved at least once in every denomination.” Not to mention being baptized four times.
Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart was written for those who:
- Have repented of their sin and prayed a sinner’s prayer numerous times, yet still have doubts about their acceptance into heaven
- Cannot recall a specific moment in time when they became saved
- Want to know how someone can know for sure they are saved
- Wonder if they have sinned too much or rejected God too often to be forgiven
So the question is put forth: “How can anyone know, beyond all doubt, that they are saved?” Satan, the great Liar, seems to be in the business of deceiving in two ways: 1) he deceives many who are not saved into thinking that they are, and 2) he keeps those who truly are saved in doubt that they are. Greear suggests that one of the reasons these two conditions exist is because of the trite, cliché terms that are used when evangelizing the lost. The author makes the observation that in some church circles, conversion has become nothing more than reciting a ritualistic formula prayer. He acknowledges that it is Biblical to extend an offer or invitation to unbelievers to come to Christ. We see this in the Scriptures, for example in Isaiah 55:1, Matthew 11:28, John 7:37, Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. Preachers like Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards regularly entreated the lost to repent and to pray to God to save them. Certainly it is the job of a gospel preacher, evangelist, missionary – indeed, every Christian – to put out a general call and offer the gospel to the lost. But Greear points out that praying a prayer to “accept Jesus” or “ask Jesus into your heart” without a genuine repentance of sin and desire to obey and follow Christ does not result in salvation. Yet many rest all of their confidence and assurance on that moment when they prayed the sinner’s prayer rather than resting in the work of Christ. On the other hand, just because you don’t recall inviting Jesus into your heart, or can’t pinpoint your “spiritual birthday” as the day you were saved, doesn’t mean you aren’t.
True spiritual regeneration produces both faith and repentance. These are outward signs of and responses to the internal work of God, for only a heart that has been changed by the Holy Spirit can believe or repent of sin. Greear spends a chapter on each of these elements, faith and repentance, which he explains are like two sides of a coin and go hand-in-hand. He explains what faith is not: mere intellectual understanding and mental assent about who Jesus is and what He did. Nor is faith a decision made at one point in time. It’s a present “posture” (to use Greear’s term) that continues on throughout the believer’s life.
Greear observes that assurance of salvation can never come from looking back at what I did (or didn’t do) in the past; that will always result in doubts: Did I say what I needed to in my prayer? Did I have enough understanding of what I was doing? Did I make that decision for the right reasons? Was I sincere enough, or sorry enough for my sins? Did my life change as a result of my decision? In fact, the reason many struggle with doubts about their salvation may be because they are looking at what they’ve done/are doing rather than trusting in what God has done according to the promises in His Word. The best way to deal with doubts when they arise is not to look back at what took place at your supposed time of conversion (or refer to the date written on the inside cover of your Bible), but rather to look at your present state – are you trusting Christ NOW?
While it’s true that there is a moment of salvation – a specific point in time when a person is regenerated, born again, adopted as God’s child, and transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light – not every believer is aware of when that moment occurs, especially those who are raised in church and hear the truths of God and the gospel message preached regularly throughout their childhood (as was the case with my husband and me, and with our children as well). As Greear says,
It is the relationship to Christ that saves, not the prayer that signified the beginning of that relationship. When you started to rest is not as important as the fact that you are doing it now.
He goes on to explain what repentance is not: it is not praying a prayer, feeling sorry about sin, or even confessing it. It isn’t religious activity, partial surrender, or perfection. Repentance is not the absence of sin; in fact, Greear points out, “Repentance ushers us into a life of greater struggle [with sin] not out of one…the struggle is proof of [our] new nature.” He later expands on this:
The presence of the struggle itself can be affirmation that God’s Spirit is at work within you. Before God’s Spirit came into you, you didn’t struggle against sin—you ran toward it eagerly! An unbeliever might ‘struggle’ with sin, but typically they are struggling only with its unwanted consequences or the feelings of guilt and shame that accompany it. A believer’s struggle is much deeper. Their struggle is with the wickedness of the sin itself and grievousness of its offense to God…. The more I have grown in Christ, the more (not less) I’ve felt my sinfulness.
After looking at the topics of faith and repentance, Greear spends one chapter discussing the idea of eternal security, or what is sometimes phrased, “once saved, always saved.” This beloved doctrine is known in Reformed circles as the Perseverance, or Preservation, of the Saints (the “P” in the TULIP acronym). Before summarizing, he looks briefly at chief evidences that a person is truly saved. This could’ve been presented as a legalistic checklist, ie. if you’re really a Christian you will do this, and this, and this. Instead he sums it up as Christ Himself summed up the law of God: love for God and love for others.
J. D. Greear believes, as do I, that God desires for His children to have assurance of salvation. Greear states, “Until you know that you are His and He is yours, your obedience will be limited. Your love will be stifled, your confidence will be shaky, and your courage will be minimal.” Without assurance, a believer is like the character Little Faith in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, plagued by fear, doubt and guilt and as a result, unable to bear much fruit or to be effective for God’s kingdom. While this may be better than having a false assurance of salvation, indifference to sin, or hardness of heart, it’s a defeated way for a believer to go through life. On a personal note, my grandfather professed to be a Christian, but he seemed to feel himself unworthy of God’s acceptance or forgiveness. He lived his life as if he were under condemnation, unable to accept God’s free grace. He was a sad, miserable man, and we saw very little evidence of the work of God in his life.
On the other hand, God gave His Word to His children to reassure and remind us of His promises to us. Consider just a few of these promises:
- “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
- “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
- “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
- “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
- “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?…These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (I John 5)
God our Father desires for us to live abundant, victorious lives, filled with His joy and peace, and having bold confidence to approach Him. Does this mean we will always feel happy, will never become discouraged, and will no longer be tempted by or fall into sin? Does it mean we will never have times of weakness, fear or doubt? Of course not. But when those times come, we must look to Christ and trust in the truths of God’s Word, not to our own decisions, actions, or feelings.
On your very best of days, you must rest all your hopes on God’s grace. On your worst of days, His finished work should be your refuge. Your posture should always be one of dependence on His finished work and hope in His indwelling Spirit…Because Jesus’ position before the Father is secure, our position with the Father is secure as well. Resting in that fact produces the feelings of assurance.
Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart is a quick and easy read of only about 120 pages. J. D. Greear’s book isn’t what I would call meaty or theologically deep, but it is sound and accessible to the typical Christian. I would recommend it to anyone who has had ongoing struggles with doubts about their salvation. The good news is that, if you’re sincerely concerned about the state of your soul, that’s a good sign that the Holy Spirit may be working in your heart. In his article (below), Tim Challies makes the point that doubt is not the same as unbelief, and there are several reasons why a Christian may experience times of doubt. The answer is to look into the Word of God and revisit His promises, then flee into the arms of Christ and rest there.
- “Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation” (London Baptist Confession of Faith, Ch. 18)
- 3 Statements on Assurance of Salvation (www.challies.com)
- Another review of Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart (www.baptist21.com)