When I was in seminary, I came to realize that my salvation story was unusual, perhaps because Christ rescued me in my adult years. The moment of my surrender came in the early morning hours. I felt like Jacob. I had spent the night wresting, for me, wrestling with the convicting thoughts that I had offended a holy God and could not appease His demands. I was morally bankrupt and could not help myself. Finally, I quietly gave up and told God that if He would be my God, I would worship and serve Him. I believed that Christ's meritorious death and resurrection applied to me. I was weary and longed to be yoked with Him--peace filled my inner core.
As a seminary student, you share your testimony with lots of students as you begin to form friendships. On several of these occasions, after sharing my salvation story, I was asked if I had invited Jesus into my heart. Of course, I had to be honest and replied I had not. Several of the seminarians invited me to pray and ask Christ to save me, to come into my life--I declined because I knew that the Holy Spirit was tabernacled within me.
These experiences, however, did launch a survey on my part into the four Gospel accounts of Jesus' public ministry in search of those who had prayed and invited Jesus into their hearts as Savior and Lord. Interestingly, I found that nowhere in the Matthew, Mark, Like, or John did anyone invite Jesus into their hearts or as a matter of fact, into their lives. So I searched in the book of Acts and the epistles, and again, there was not one case recorded in all of holy writ where someone prayed and invited Jesus into their hearts. If there was a formula in the book of Acts, it was whether or not the Holy Spirit resided in you.
The phrase: "Invite Jesus into your heart" has become the popular terminology today. Many formulas have emerged over the years since my seminary years, but the process has evolved in the direction of being cheaper and easier to become a Christian. Throughout the New Testament, we are not told to ask Jesus into our hearts, but we are told to believe.
It is absolutely true that the Spirit of Christ comes to live within our hearts, and this is what makes us a Christian, but it is on the basis of faith. To tell someone that Christ comes in simply on the basis of asking Him to is; unwise, unbiblical, and misses the main issue. To be biblical, we must first acknowledge our need for Christ, the fact that we cannot save ourselves, and believe the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the living, incarnate (fleshed out) Son of God, and make that confession with our mouth: that being our only means by which we may be reconciled to God. There has to be a searching on our part, and a drawing of the Holy Spirit, that brings us into union with Christ for the purpose of receiving new life.
If a person is not genuinely seeking the work of Christ in their life, he or she has not converted to Christianity, but merely gone through rituals that will prove empty and meaningless, resulting in a life of frustration and disappointment. Paul writes, "And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Corinthians 5:15). The problem with the rich young ruler who spoke to Jesus was that he wanted Christ as his servant, not as his Lord. There is no real experience of God on those terms.
A person contemplating becoming a Christian must believe that the death of Christ and His resurrection from the dead took place in order to establish a relationship in which the surrender of our lives to His lordship would be fundamental to the Christian life. We talk of salvation being free and this is wonderfully true, but only in a limited sense in that we cannot purchase it or earn it. Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). In this regard, the Christian life is free and if it were to be anything else, we would be without hope.
Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved," but this must be the real thing in which we submit to Jesus and trust His working in our lives. Salvation is a free gift that will cost you your life as you now know it. The indwelling Holy Spirit is now living in the Christian with the expressed purpose of transforming the believer into the perfect moral image of Christ. The evidence of one's profession of faith is a fundamental change caused by the transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit.