All you need to do to be saved is ask, right? All you need to do is to “accept Jesus into your heart,” right? I am certainly not advocating for any doctrine that would claim we can be saved by anything but God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). But in an effort to appeal to as many unsaved people as possible, we have sought to make the gospel message as simple as possible. Simplicity is never a bad thing until it begins to detract from the whole truth.
As “simple as possible” means “as simple as possible without failing the objective.” It may be a simple explanation to say “all you must do is accept Jesus into your heart to be saved”, but is it a simple explanation of the gospel to say this? To only say this is to forget the “as possible” part of our desire to explain the gospel as “simple as possible.”
There is no verse in the Bible that uses the words “You must accept Jesus into your heart to be saved.” There are many that talk about believing in Jesus to be saved and confessing with your mouth Jesus is Lord to be saved. But having faith in Jesus Christ is totally different than just saying words with your mouth.
Throughout the Bible, the two undebatable evidences to personal salvation is ongoing faith in Jesus Christ and repentance of sin, not acceptance of Jesus. The summary message of the Bible is not, “If you’re cool with me, I’ll be cool with you. Just accept Jesus for who he is and he will accept you for who you are.”
Even though it’s easier to tell people they just need to accept Christ into their hearts to be saved (and there are certainly worse things you can tell them because this might lead them to the full gospel), we must not lose the beauty of the whole truth of the gospel. While we must seek to be as clear as possible, we must also be humble enough to know the gospel is not simple, but rather unfathomable. Only when Christ opens our minds does it become simple to understand. So rather than try to make it “simple,” we must rather simply seek to state the truth. We must tell them what the Bible says:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 5:5-6)
(Also reference: James 2:17-18, Acts 2:37-38, Ephesians 2:8-10)
It’s interesting that in the above verse, we are told that we are not saved by works but only by God’s grace. But then we are told we were created to do good works for God (Ephesians 2:10). The systematic message of the Bible is clear: We are saved by grace when we believe in Jesus Christ, and our belief and grace received will be proved by our actions.
In the same chapter as John 3:16, it states, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV, emphasis mine). Notice we certainly must believe, but our belief must then be followed by obedience or else our belief is proven false. No one is going to be perfect, but our true salvation will be marked by continual repentance when we sin, which is a sign of our continual faith in Jesus; we can no longer be marked by blatant, continual rebellion or else we do not truly know God through Christ (1 John 1:8-2:6).
Biblical marriage is a symbol of our relationship with Jesus. Like a husband, he pursues and offers a relationship with himself that should change everything. We then must accept his invitation. But to simply say “Yes” and then not leave our father and mothers (our former lives), submit to our husband (Christ), and then to continue to live as though nothing changed would prove our “Yes” was but a fallacy.
To be married means to become one flesh, living together and placing your spouse above every other earthly relationship for the rest of your life. And so it is with Jesus and his Church. You did not accept Jesus’ invitation if your life didn’t change like a new bride’s does when she gets married. You are married to Jesus when you live with him every day, forsaking all others, and seeking to submit to him in everything.