Why do many Christians say, “Ask Jesus into your heart”?
I understand what this refers to, a relationship with God through Christ, but find it curious that non-biblical and potentially misleading language is the most important language for evangelism among many evangelical Christians. In a recent blog post, Klyne Snodgrass reminds us that neither Jesus nor the other New Testament writers come even close to saying, “Invite Jesus into your heart so you can go to heaven.” He continues,
Paul rarely speaks of Christ in us-at most six times, but at least 164 times he has the Greek expression en Christō or its equivalent, which can express a variety of ideas. Clearly though, being in Christ is a much more powerful image than Christ being in us. Faith is not merely a mental activity. As Sanday and Headlam’s old ICC commentary on Romans put it, faith involves “enthusiastic adhesion” (p. 34). Faith is that which attaches you to Jesus. Nothing less is saving faith.
John’s language focuses too on attachment to Jesus. While he speaks both of Christ being in us and our being in him, he expresses both ideas with the word menein, “to remain.” Christians are people so attached to Jesus that he remains in them and they remain in him. (emphasis mine)
Assuming Snodgrass is right (and I think he is), how could we speak about life with God in ways more disciplined by the Scriptures – ways other than “Ask Jesus into your heart”? For the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus the issue specifically on children for three reasons.
- I have a three and a half year old daughter and a second on the way, so I am keenly interested to think creatively about ways to talk with them about Jesus that they won’t need to unlearn later.
- The ability to explain something to children is a good test of our theology. Even though children won’t be able to understand more complicated concepts such as the Trinity (or maybe even being ‘in Jesus’), our theology should create entry points for people of any age, or intellectual capacity, to engage with the concepts and the truth to which those concepts refer. We shouldn’t be afraid of concepts if (big if) we are willing to use them in such a manner that they remain transparent to the Scriptures.
- Finally, while I hear a good deal of fruitful discussion about framing evangelism and discipleship differently for adults, I hear nothing about the implications this might have for children’s ministry – in the home and in church.
Go ahead, throw some ideas our way or tell me you think I’m off my rocker!