On the fourth night of every week, Pete’s dad gave an important talk in front of a bonfire in the amphitheater, and afterward lots of campers always accepted Christ… Kids were filled with the Spirit, which made them stare and quiver and confront their friends with divine messages… The first time he saw a fourth-night bonfire, he wondered whether he was really saved, because no such thing had ever happened to him, and later he asked Jesus into his heart again just to make sure. After a while he decided that things were different for him because of his dad. Maybe his revelation was spread out over his whole life, a little at a time, so that it never seemed like a big deal.
Stop asking Jesus Into Your Heart. The title will either intrigue you… or put you off. If you are feeling put off, perhaps the book’s subtitle will draw you in: How to Know For Sure You Are Saved. If the subtitle doesn’t appeal, perhaps the fact that you can tell your friend who knows a lot about theology that you are reading a nice little book on the doctrine of assurance might do the trick.
J.D. Greear of this book reckons that, by the time he was eighteen years old, he had probably “asked Jesus into his heart” five thousand times, and prayed the sinner’s prayer at least once in every denomination. And each time he “gained a little assurance”, he would feel compelled to get re-baptised. But no matter what he did, he could not shake the fear that he was going to hell. Did I really feel sorry enough for my sin? Did my life change enough after I asked Him into my heart? Did I understand enough about Jesus, or my sin, or grace, when I prayed? Were there other areas of rebellion I was unaware of?
Greear came to realise that he was scared because he held the wrong picture of God and Jesus. He had imagined Jesus standing before God begging for mercy, or leniency, on his behalf. Please God, just give this guy one more chance. However, the truth is that Jesus does not need to appeal to God for mercy on anyone’s behalf: Jesus has already satisfied all the claims against us by dying on the cross.
Salvation comes not because someone has prayed a prayer correctly, but because they lean the hopes of their soul on the finished work of Christ. Jesus has paid for all our sins: not an ounce of judgment remains. We do not have to beg for mercy or prove that we deserve a second chance. Jesus in my place. The essential, amazing message of the gospel. Woohoo!!
So…you can rest totally in Christ. And there is no concern if you haven’t had a dramatic conversion experience, or don’t remember the first time you believed (e.g. if you grew up in a Christian home). There is no need to analyse the authenticity of a past prayer, experience or ceremony. The important thing is that you continue in your current posture of repentance and belief.
The section I found helpful (albeit very short) was Leading My Kids to Jesus. Little children, of course, are capable of real faith. But there may be situations in which a child “prays the prayer” more to make their parents happy, than as an expression of their actual faith in Christ. How can parents be passionate demonstrators of faith to their children, and at the same time avoid manipulating their children into saying or doing things that they may not (yet) understand? Greear emphasises that it’s never to young to begin trusting in and surrendering to Jesus. So- teach your children, all along the way, to be surrendered towards Jesus and believing in what He said He accomplished. Present Jesus as Lord. Even if a child does not yet grasp all that salvation entails, a parent can encourage them in the appropriate posture towards Christ from the beginning: repentant and believing. And how wonderful if that child grows up without an exciting testimony- if they grow up in the light, always aware of the Lordship of Jesus, believing that He did what He said He did.
The section I didn’t like so much was Appendix 1, where Greear outlines situations in which (he thinks) a believer ought to consider re-baptism (e.g. pressure by parents at the time of the first baptism). This checklist seems to convey the idea of baptism as a performance before God, something that is necessary to “get right” or do again. But this is a minor quibble vis-a-vis the helpfulness of the main book (and it’s an appendix- you may not even get to it).
This small, intimate book is very encouraging. Ultimately, God does not want believers to have any doubt that they are saved. The Bible tells us so:
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. (1 John 5:13)