What I would like to do with this article is present to you some popular Gospel clichés, as I like to call them, and provide some rather brief thoughts on each—-nothing exhaustive or too in depth, but just some thoughts to make you think about them, their use, what they seem to be saying, their accuracies and inaccuracies, etc.
“I asked Jesus into my heart” / “Ask Jesus into your heart”
First of all, the Bible does indicate that Christ may dwell in our hearts (Eph 3:17). Yet we must understand that this of course is figurative and not literal and that this specific statement occurs in the context of Paul’s prayer for believers (Eph 3:17), not as an analogy of sorts of someone being saved. With that said, I have some problems with this phrase.
First, this cliché confuses a result (Christ dwelling in our hearts) as a means of salvation. The idea of asking Jesus into one’s heart to be saved is simply not true. Asking Jesus to enter your heart is not a means of salvation spoken of in the Bible, which is another problem I have with this cliché.
Second, this phrase lacks any mention of conversion, and that’s my biggest problem with it. Where is faith? Where is repentance? Where is grace? Let’s stop at grace for two seconds and think about it some more. Where is the gift (Eph 2:8) and the “not your own doing” that’s a part of what grace and faith really mean? Where is God’s act of saving, rather than something we need to do, spoken of in this phrase? Now to continue, where is the Gospel? Christ’s death? Our sin and its implications? God’s holiness and righteousness? Damnation? Anything? My biggest problem is it doesn’t mention how one is actually saved, but implies that one is saved through this concept of asking Jesus into one’s heart.
Thirdly, I believe this phrase is rather confusing and misleading, especially for children. First of all, it is confusing and misleading because as I noted above, it doesn’t contain the Gospel or really anything pertaining to the Gospel. But secondly, it’s confusing because it leaves on asking, “What in the world does this mean?” And for a little child, he may very well take the idea literally. Instead of understanding being born again as the prerequisite for salvation (John 3), he may think that Christ using his left ventricle as an apartment is the prerequisite.
Fourthly, it diminishes God’s sovereignty in salvation, making it appear as if He is passively waiting for sinners to request of His service (or should I say tenancy).
And fifthly, as I have been implying, it can lead to people not understanding or receiving the Gospel, and therefore, not actually being saved, yet providing them with a false sense of assurance.
“I gave my heart to Jesus” / “Give your heart to Jesus”
Besides the fact that giving one’s heart to another is typically used in cheesy love songs (i.e., “Last Christmas” by Wham!), I have a few more significant issues with this phrase.
As we’ve noted, clichés, such as the one previously addressed, can often confuse and mislead people, especially children. This cliché is no exception. It leaves one asking, “What does this even mean?” What is “heart” referring to? Why are we giving it to Jesus? Why does He want it (is He some mad scientist or something)? How do we give it to Him (this sounds painful)? And what does “give” even mean? Further, it is confusing and misleading because it leaves out the Gospel, faith, repentance, grace, etc. Now, we have to understand that even accurate statements, such as “I was saved,” will still not include all of these features or be exhaustively descriptive. But if they miss them all or don’t focus on even one vital truth, they are not worth using whatsoever. I believe that is the case here.
“I surrendered my life to Christ” / “I gave my life to Jesus” / “Surrender your life to Christ”
I like this phrase in that it conveys the cost and commitment involved in discipleship and true saving faith. That is, saving faith isn’t just a careless decision or belief tacked onto one’s life as a “just-in-case policy.” It really conveys the proper theology that when Christ is someone’s Savior He is also his Lord. However, one must be careful to actually understand and communicate all of what I just said if he wants to use this cliché. I imagine many who use this cliché have never thought of it from the perspective I just spoke of. And secondly, with this cliché must be careful to understand that one is not saved through some mystical offering up of one’s life to Christ. In other words, surrendering one’s life is not the means of salvation (how one is saved) but is attached to the true means of salvation—-faith/repentance (unless you made this cliché a description of repentance, which would be interesting). And so I guess my biggest concern with this cliché is that it doesn’t speak of being saved by grace through faith and repentance. Yes, surrender to Christ’s Lordship is a part of true saving faith. But to simply speak of surrender doesn’t necessarily convey conversion, which makes me somewhat suspicious about this phrase. However, I still find much value in it.
“I asked God to forgive me of my sins” / “Ask God to forgive you of your sins”
Again, we have another instance where the result of salvation is confused as the means of salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19). In other words, one is not saved because he requests to be forgiven, but is forgiven because he is saved. You do not need to make a request to God to forgive you. That’s why He sent His Son to die on the cross. You simply must believe that Christ died for you sins and rose again and that Christ’s death saves you. A part of this salvation is that your sins are forgiven. In other words, the means of salvation is not requesting, but believing. One isn’t saved by asking God to do something, but by believing He did something (the Gospel). But in general, I don’t have too much of a problem with this phrase (and I don’t imagine many of you do either). Admittedly, I am being slightly nit picky. (I am nit picking between forgiveness accomplished on the cross and forgiveness applied at conversion–in the latter sense forgiveness I believe can be requested). Genuine repentance is often exemplified by requests for forgiveness.
However, as with most (if not all) clichés, caution can still be taken. In talking about forgiveness it avoids any mention about why we must be forgiven, how we are forgiven, and the just basis by which God can forgive us. God is just and therefore He punishes all sin perfectly. This little phrase leaves out justification–the fact that we are forgiven of our sin, and are no longer punished for it, because Christ took our penalty and accounts to us His righteous standing before God. I guess my point is that when we as humans think of forgiveness, we often think of letting some offense slide by and forgetting about it. But when God forgives us it always coincides with His justice, which is why the Gospel is largely about justification through faith.
“I found God”
In my opinion, this is by far one of the strangest clichés out there. I’m personally not even sure what it is supposed to mean, and frankly, I don’t think people who use it know what it means (I think that’s why they use it). I mean seriously, first off, God’s not lost. And secondly, it seems to indicate that we have to go on some great journey to discover Him, as if we do the seeking (which we don’t, Rom 3:11). Also, God is omnipresent (equally everywhere at all times). And so by “find” this phrase hopefully doesn’t mean to speak in terms of location, does it (I don’t think so)? Possibly those who use this phrase to speak of their own experiences are trying to convey the idea that they were rather confused about the purpose of life and what really is true and eventually their eyes were opened to God’s truth and they were saved. Ok, sure, that’s a common experience among those who are saved. But I wouldn’t go around saying that you “found God.” People might think you’re crazy, as if you were playing hide and go seek with Him and you think you’ve succeeded. I personally think it’s strange. It’s about as ambiguous as can be. Is one saved when God is found? Why is God found? Where was He found (that’s a question I’m legitimately interested in hearing an answer for)? How is God found? The list goes on. But ultimately, does this speak of salvation, and if so, it doesn’t answer the question, “Why and how is one saved?”
Obviously my point in addressing these clichés is to provoke you to think about the importance of accurately portraying the Gospel and salvation. As I admitted, some of these clichés have some truth to them, others you would have to stretch in order to convince me of their validity. But even when these clichés do contain some truth, I still find most of them lacking because they are not very descriptive and often only emphasize one aspect of salvation. But it should be recognized, as I said previously, that even the most accurate statements, such as, “God saved me,” are not even going to be exhaustive concerning salvation. So I’m not trying to say that we should only speak in ways that are exhaustive (as if that’s even possible). My point is that we should think about the things we say, being especially cautious with clichés because they have a tendency to be misleading, inaccurate, and typically not very explanatory or descriptive of the Gospel and how one is saved. There is a place and time for using “Christian language.” But my caution is to make sure, first of all, that one understands the meaning of what he is saying, second, that what that person is saying is actually true and makes sense in accordance with scripture, and thirdly, that one’s hearers are not mislead.
* Originally posted on former blog, I’m Calling Us Out.