It is likely that some well-meaning person, answering her questions about Jesus and the cross and heaven, told her that what she needed to do was "ask Jesus into her heart." And by the mysterious grace of God, it is possible that in spite of this cryptic explanation she did find faith in Jesus. So where did this phrase "ask Jesus into my heart" come from?
We made it up.
If you don't believe me, show me where it is - whether by quote or inference - in the word of God. Try as long and hard as you like, and you won't find it. Ah, you are quick to point out Revelation 3:20 - "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Perhaps you could even sing it to me. Three problems:
- This is written by Jesus, not to unbelievers but to the church,
- There is no mention of the heart here, and
- Even if the heart were mentioned, the heart in Scripture rarely carries the same meaning we tend to give it.
In particular, why are we confusing children with this explanation of the Gospel? I have talked with many people who, throughout their childhood and even into their teens, "asked Jesus into their heart" again and again, afraid that they didn't do it right, or didn't mean it enough, or that he just didn't stick. I have also explained the gospel to some who have never heard any more than "asking Jesus into my heart" - nothing about faith and repentance, nothing about grace and forgiveness - and their astonishment is rather appalling.
But somehow, the grace of God still breaks through. I have a newspaper editorial that I have cited in seminars for years, in which a woman speaks of her memories of praying a prayer at camp and asking Jesus into her heart. The article is full of bitterness, even rage, at what she considered to be deception. Why? Because she knew in her heart that she didn't believe, and knew as well that the response to the Gospel she was instructed to do at camp meant nothing. What occurred to me this summer is that in spite of the incompetent - even dangerous - teaching she received, God's grace broke through to show her the real issue, that she was still an unbeliever, in rebellion against God.
However, that cannot be an excuse for our irresponsible treatment of the Gospel. I have heard several counselors talk about the "damage control" they had to do after a speaker at camp told kids around the campfire to pray a prayer to ask Jesus into their heart. Many of these kids have no idea what this phrase means, or what is the right response to the Gospel of Jesus. Praise God for godly and wise counselors, but how many kids have slipped through and now think they have joined the Christian club - but have never turned from sin and turned to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
An important note: I told the CIT's and others this summer, many of whom were most indignant that they have been misled on this issue most of their lives, not to go after people who use the phrase "ask Jesus into your heart." Instead, become responsible yourself in accurately and clearly proclaiming the Gospel, using the teachings of Scripture and not traditional evangelical jargon. Will kids be able to understand? Oh yeah. Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." Maybe it's the adults who just don't get it.