. . . and then upon receiving an answer in the affirmative, immediately asking them to pray to accept Christ as savior. I know that sounds harsh, but before labeling me a heretic, hear me out.
First of all, when the gospel is preached in Acts, the apostles never ask people if they want to go to heaven when they die. Secondly, when people ask how they may be saved, the are told to repent (2:38). As I have previously argued, John the Baptist preached repentance, Jesus preached repentance, and the Apostles preached repentance (Matt. 3:2, 4:17; Mark 1:15, 6:12; Acts 2:38, 3:19, 17:30, 26:20).
You might ask, Why is it so important that we preach repentance? Doesn’t the Bible say that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13)?
The problem with asking people to pray to accept Jesus immediately after asking people if they want to go to heaven is that it misses a crucial point of the gospel message and it is this: no one apart from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit will truly call out to God for salvation. Most people don’t think they need salvation but who doesn’t want to go to heaven?
Paul Washer says, “most people want to go to heaven, they just don’t want God to be there when they get there.” That may sound harsh but think about what the Bible says who we are apart from Christ: we are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1), we are hostile in mind toward God (Col. 1:21), we are enemies of God (James 4:4), we have hard hearts, we are futile in our thinking (Rom. 1:21), our foolish hearts are darkened (Rom. 1:21), we are haters of God, we are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17), and we are storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of judgment (Rom. 2:5). The point of all this is that most people don’t want to go to heaven because they don’t love God. They don’t love his Word, they don’t live for his glory and they can’t do anything about it nor do they want to because they love their sin and they love world.
The Lord must move in our hearts. He must work out repentance in our hearts, making alive our cold dead hearts so that we might love God and the things of God and hate sin. A dead man is dead apart from the divine supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
Everyone wants to go to heaven, everyone wants to be rewarded and have eternal life, but most people are not ready to face the Holy God of the universe who they have rejected in their sin. That is why we need to stop asking people if they want to go to heaven as if that were an indication that they are ready for the kingdom. A better question is do you love God more than you love the things of this world? Do you hate the sin that keeps you from Him? Is the sin in your life painful to you? Is His Kingdom really valuable enough to you to give up all you have to follow Him?
When Peter preached at Pentecost, many who heard his sermon “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Peter’s response . . . repent (Acts 2:37-38)!
Conviction of sin and repentance isn’t something we can work out in our own hearts and thus merit our own salvation. The gospel is good news because God is good and chooses to work out faith and repentance in the hearts of those who hate Him, freeing them to love God and glory in His marvelous grace!
I am not saying never to pray with someone who wants to be saved. If someone truly wants to be saved, by all means pray with them! But please don’t tell people that our prayers save us! God saves sinners. And please don’t assume that just because someone wants to go to heaven that they have been cut to the heart and want to be right with God.
Ezekiel 36 sums up well how God brings sinners to repentance:
23And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
I say these things because I want to see people truly embrace Christ as savior and I fear that many of our converts will be spit out of the Lord’s mouth on the day of judgment.
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