What's the danger in using "invite Jesus into your heart"?
When someone uses the phrase "invite Jesus into your heart," the thought often conveyed is "Say a prayer that 'invites Jesus into your heart' and you're saved." A person places trust in a prayer that was said instead of the Savior who died on a cross.
While I was speaking in one community, a couple invited me to dinner. As she set the table and took the bread out of the oven, the woman said, "I had a very exciting day. Two children called and asked, 'What do you have to do to get to heaven?' I told them, 'Just bow your heads right now and let's invite Jesus into your heart.'" As I questioned her, I learned that she never even mentioned Christ's death and resurrection. The thought conveyed was that a person received eternal life by saying a prayer.
During an outreach in Michigan, I said, "I'd like to speak to anyone who isn't certain that if you were to die you'd go to heaven." A man who had preached passionately in missions all over the city approached me. I asked, "Why did you respond?" He said, "I want to dedicate my life to Christ." But he seemed hesitant. So I said, "Before we talk about that, let me ask you something. Do you know beyond any doubt that if you were to die right now you'd go to heaven?" The tall, slender young man answered, "Yeah, uh-huh." I sensed uncertainty. At this point, had I backed off, he probably would have too. But I continued, "If I asked you, 'How did you become a Christian?' what would you say?" He explained that when he was young he bowed his head and invited Jesus into his heart. I asked, "Based on my message tonight, if I asked you, 'What must I do to get to heaven?' what would you tell me?" He answered, "I'd tell you that you have to understand that you're a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for you and arose, and that trust in Christ alone is your only way to heaven." I said, "Why is it that you just had to invite Him into your heart, but I have to trust Him?" He broke down and said, "Quite honestly, I've never understood this before. I thought that if you said a prayer inviting Jesus into your heart that God would let you into heaven because you said it. I had no idea that you had to trust in Jesus Christ alone as your only way to heaven."
The phrase "invite Jesus into your heart" often conveys the idea that one is saved by saying a prayer instead of trusting Christ. Such a thought is not biblical. It's also illogical. A woman told me how God taught her the danger of such a phrase. She invited a child to "ask Jesus into your heart." He said, "It wouldn't do any good." "Why?" she asked. He answered, "Mommy says there's a hole in my heart. If I invite Him in, He'll just fall out."
Has no one ever been saved when the phrase "invite Jesus into your heart" has been used? It's beyond doubt that many have said such a prayer, understanding they were trusting Christ alone to save them. They understood they were saved by trusting Christ, not by saying a prayer. Many, though, have "invited Christ into their hearts," not understanding that the issue is trusting Christ alone to save them.
What invitation should we offer non-Christians?
God desires that we proclaim the gospel clearly. He longs for all to understand His Son's announcement, "It is finished" (John 19:30). We should ask people to do what the New Testament asks them to do— "believe." We can then explain that believe means we come to God as sinners, recognize that Christ died for us and arose, and trust in Christ alone to save us. The best word to convey what the Bible means by believe is the word trust. Trusting Christ is not merely accepting intellectually that a person named Jesus Christ died on a cross and rose again. It is acknowledging that He alone is my only way to heaven. Trusting Christ is the means through which we appropriate His gift of eternal life.