Should kids ‘ask Jesus into their hearts’?

I’m moving more & more to answer “no” on this question. It’s not that I think children are unable to genuinely respond to the gospel but that that particular expression is ambiguous–sometimes dangerously so–on a point where clarity is essential. If you’re a parent whose child has already “asked Jesus into his/her heart”–praise the Lord! Press on in wisdom as you disciple them and exercise discernment as you affirm evidence of their conversion. What I offer here is simply a brief explanation for a shift in my thinking as a parent which is starting to shape my ministry as a pastor.

A little background. My wife and I were talking about baptism for a couple of our kids. She was confident that their profession of faith represented a genuine conversion. I was more hesitant. As a pastor’s kid myself I grew up in the church & have seen firsthand how social conditioning can be erroneously interpreted as conversion. I didn’t want to make that mistake with my kids. Still, I’ve come to recognize that my wife has exceptional insight into the lives of our children so I was a bit perplexed at our differing assessments. Her sage advice: talk to them. Brilliant!

I’ll spare you all the talking points but I found that when I asked our kids questions like “What is a Christian?” or “How is a person saved?” almost inevitably the answer had something to do with asking Jesus into one’s heart. Pressed further, the explanations varied greatly in terms of why someone should/would ask Jesus in or how that invitation secured salvation. Following on these family interactions here are some of the reasons that I think the “ask Jesus into your heart” lingo needs to be retired:

  1. It lacks a “biblical pedigree” (i.e. chapter & verse).
  2. It requires no real grasp of the gospel message.
  3. It fails to articulate our need of a wholesale exchange–His righteousness for our unrighteousness.
  4. It says nothing of repentance.
  5. It emphasizes the (subjective) sincerity of the heart rather than the (objective) certainty of Christ’s work.

I don’t doubt that the phrase has been & will be used by genuine converts. Further, I wouldn’t argue with the claim that the expression need not signify ignorance of the gospel message or an inability to articulate it. But when it comes to the salvation of a soul surely we want to do more than give someone the benefit of the doubt. In light of eternity that may be no benefit at all.

‘Bliss is not for sale’

We want, above all, to know what it felt like to be an early Protestant. . . . The experience is that of catastrophic conversion. The man who has passed through it feels like one who has waked from nightmare into ecstasy. Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done nothing, and never could have done anything to deserve such astonishing happiness. Never again can he ‘crow from the dunghill of desert’. All the initiative has been on God’s side; all has been free unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace. His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to achieve it in the first place. Fortunately they need not. Bliss is not for sale, cannot be earned. ‘Works’ have no ‘merit’, though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once. He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all Protestant doctrines originally sprang.  –C.S. Lewis