Sunday, December 21, 2003

Asking Jesus into our Hearts? 

I must admit, the language of 'asking Jesus into your heart' can grate sometimes. Whilst there may (perhaps) be some ways in which such language can be biblically employed, the vast majority of uses of it fail to meet this necessary standard. To challenge such language is to open oneself up to charges of heresy. Christians are in many evangelical circles, by definition, people who have asked Jesus into their hearts. Nevertheless I believe that it is important that we theologically question our evangelical clichés. We evangelicals have a whole host of clichés. Anyone who has listened to us pray will be well aware of this. Whilst we would never fall into the sin of vain repetition, we have developed a host of trite expressions that can be put together in different permutations to form prayers that would pass muster in any evangelical church. Many people do not have a clue what these phrases mean, they merely sound pious. I do not know how the term 'asking Jesus into your heart' arose. However, I am convinced that dangerous errors can be conveyed by it. For many evangelicals 'asking Jesus into you heart' is understood against the backdrop of certain elements of the Christmas story. There was no room for Jesus to be born in the inn, but I would like for baby Jesus to be born in my heart. Jesus is out in the cold and powerless unless I will give Him room in my life. 'Asking Jesus into your heart' provides the model in which many evangelicals understand salvation. The priority of God's grace is virtually ignored by this expression. Biblically, salvation is not so much a case of us 'asking Jesus into our hearts' as it is a case of Jesus breaking through into our hearts in a new creative act of God's sovereign grace (2 Corinthians 4:6). One of the things that particularly troubles me about this expression is the doctrine of Christ's Lordship that so often accompanies it. I can imagine that the first century Roman would be puzzled if you asked him if he had asked Caesar into his heart to be his personal Lord and Saviour. I can imagine that the first century Christian would give a similiar response if you asked Him the same question about Christ. Something is rotten in the church when it begins to conceive of Christ's Lordship as something that we have given Him. However, this mistaken notion is quite widespread. The objective nature of Christ's Lordship is almost universally muted. Such a Christ poses no threat to Caesar. If Christ is only the Lord of the areas of life that we give to Him, Caesar has the world pretty much to himself. This voluntaristic, individualistic and purely subjective gospel poses him no threat. Jesus the Messiah has become the Lord of all whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not. This is the church's confession. All old allegiances must be reassessed in the light of this fact. The world has been radically destabilized by the event of the cross. A new Kingdom is being formed while all other kingdoms crumble into dust. Such a gospel requires faithfulness and steadfast discipleship and not merely a bare assent to propositions. If Christ is Lord of all then we must live the whole of our lives as His servants, ambassadors and disciples. The gospel is the fact that Jesus is Lord of all, not that you can ask Him into your heart and, when you shed this mortal coil, fly up to heaven. The gospel is a message that challenges us in every aspect of our lives. People continually speak about the comforting doctrine of justification by faith and all too easily forget just how discomforting and challenging the biblical fact of justification is. We live in a world that is still reeling from the events of Calvary. Protestants have all too often subordinated everything to soteriology. We give far less attention than we should do to 'theology proper', the centre of our attention is the heart of the individual. If God is not put in the centre of the picture, however, we have emasculated the gospel. The very challenge and discomfort of the gospel lies in the fact that it is God's setting the world to rights through His anointed, Jesus the Messiah. Only with God in the centre of the picture does the gospel start to make sense. Some gripe about the fact that the Apostles' Creed does not refer to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. For many justification of the individual by faith alone should form the central confession of the Christian church. Justification by faith alone is certainly one of the key truths that follow from our confession of Jesus' universal Lordship. However, to place this doctrine in the centre is to open ourselves up to great imbalance. The gospel may gradually be reduced to a mere personal invitation. It will be domesticated, the Lordship of Christ being bounded by human autonomy and the deeply unsettling nature of the gospel being ignored. I believe that we need to reform our language as evangelicals. We need to think before we speak. I have noticed how surprised people can be when you start to express your faith in terms other than those provided by the well-worn pious clichés. Many people have simply never considered that there might be another way.

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