Sunday, November 09, 2008

Barney On My Underpants

You probably heard the story about the little girl being examined by her doctor, and as he holds the stethoscope to her chest he says, "I think I hear Barney in there!" Her precocious reply, "Actually, Jesus is in my heart; Barney's on my underpants," raises yet another theological question. I have no reason to doubt that Jesus is inside her, and as to where Barney resides we'll take her word for it. But how did Jesus get into her heart?

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:
  1. This is written by Jesus, not to unbelievers but to the church,
  2. There is no mention of the heart here, and
  3. Even if the heart were mentioned, the heart in Scripture rarely carries the same meaning we tend to give it.
Clearly we know that the Spirit of Christ indwells those who put their faith in him. "God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." But there is no instruction or example in the Bible of him being asked in. Why would Jesus come into a heart full of sin and rebellion? How can this possibly be the needed response to the Gospel of Jesus?

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.


Chris D said...

So Jim, I'm sitting here procrastinating from writing a paper on Ephesians 3:14-21...and in here we find verse 17, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." This isn't really an arguement against what you said, I 100% agree...yet how do we understand this verse? Yes Paul typically focuses more on the Christian being in Christ, but here we find reference to Christ dwelling in us, in our inner being, becoming a "permanent tenant" as one of my researched commentaries says...just a thought
Amazing how God works despite our confusion and miscommunications though!!!

Dave said...

Very interesting idea for a Blog! I look forward to more entries Jim.

Scottish Dave

Jim Badke said...

Well done, Chris! I was a little surprised at being unable to find a reference to Christ in our hearts, and you did! I will change up my fourth paragraph and stand corrected! But notice that faith is the instrument by which Christ indwells our hearts, and I'm concerned that kids don't get that idea with the phrase, "ask Jesus into my heart." Thanks for writing!

Chris D said...

hmm Beautiful Jim, that faith issue is the next paragraph on the outline for my paper=)How do you think we started asking the question, "do you want to ask Jesus into your heart?" Is it simply for the warm fuzzies of it?

Danielle said...

Jim...I love your blog. You have such great insight into things that are so ingrained in a "Christian's" vocabulary that we don't even think about it. These posts have made me think twice about using cliche words that may or may not convey what I mean. Thanks for writing!

California Girl said...

I do believe that we have taken this phrase and enabled it as a "ticket into eternity"; however, I also believe that in it's beginning it's purpose was not this but something much more innocent. In our 'fast-forward' society, we have taken it and produced a formula to enter the 'christian club.' The important thing is not necessarily to refute the idea, (although used by itself it should be) but to emphasize the relationship and transformation that God desires and, in fact expects, when we "accept" him as Lord of our lives.

Jim Badke said...

I have sometimes wondered who was the first person to use the phrase, "ask Jesus into your heart." It may have come from Robert Munger's little booklet, My Heart, Christ's Home (which, ironically, shows up in a slightly abridged version as a chapter in my book), first published 50 years ago and now quite famous. In the booklet, a person's heart is depicted as a house, and Jesus transforms each room. I always found it a bit problematic that it's not until the end of the story, some time after Jesus enters his heart, that the person hands over ownership and management.

Jim Badke said...

C.G.'s previous comment raises another question for me (and one that I think we talked about on the dock at your cabin this summer): Is "accepting" or "receiving" Christ a valid description of one's response to the Gospel? Once again, it is not well represented in the Bible. John 1:12 says, "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." But does "receive” mean what we usually think of, to "receive him into our lives," or "accept Christ as Lord and Savior"? The context indicates that to receive Jesus is to welcome him, to give attention to his message. The verse says that those who welcomed him AND believed in his name became God's children. It’s another example of a phrase extracted out of context and put to common use, but in reality an invention of the evangelical church. God's grace breaks through in spite of our traditions, but why can we not use the expressions of the Gospel given to us rather than make up our own?