“Accepting Jesus into your heart” is a common Christian phrase that refers to how a person becomes a follower of Christ. Preachers, missionaries, evangelists, and other Christians often use the phrase when proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, not everyone is familiar with how to accept Jesus into their heart or what it means to do so.
A person can accept Jesus into their heart through prayer. In the prayer, they must confess their sin and ask God to forgive them, which is possible because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Then, as an expression of faith, they must ask Jesus to graciously come into their life as Lord and Savior.
What does it mean to “accept” Jesus? What are some examples of these prayers? What does “heart” actually mean? Is accepting Jesus a one-time decision? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
What does it mean to accept Jesus?
The Bible doesn’t use the phrase “accept Jesus into your heart.” Instead, Christians use the phrase to summarize the New Testament’s teaching on how to become a follower of Jesus Christ.
As Christians use the term to describe this prayer, “accept” means to believe what God says about how to be saved from the eternal consequences of sin and become his son or daughter.
There are two important parts of saying the prayer: (1) a person must confess that they are a sinner as God says they are, and (2) a person must put their trust in Jesus alone for salvation by believing that he died for their sin, conquered sin and death by his resurrection from the dead, and wants a relationship with them. Jesus did this for sinners because he loves them.
Confess your sin to God
The Bible teaches that all people have fallen short of God’s righteous standards: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Regardless of a person’s social standing, race, gender, income level, profession, political party, or the number of good deeds they do, they are a sinner.
The Bible also teaches that the consequence of sin is eternal death. Yet Jesus offers sinners a different future: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Salvation can’t be earned. God saves people through their faith in Jesus because he is gracious.
Example prayer: “Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner. I understand that the Bible says I have fallen short and I when I look at my life I know its true. I have not measured up to your righteous standard. I am so sorry for my sin and ask for your forgiveness even though I don’t deserve it.”
Put your trust in Jesus
The Bible teaches that a person who confesses their sin and believes in the heart that Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin once and for all, will be saved. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
When a person confesses Jesus as Lord, they are making him supreme in their life, believing that he has people’s best interests in mind. If Jesus is Lord of a person’s life, they will follow him, have a relationship with him, and submit their values, priorities, and behaviors to his righteous standards.
Jesus isn’t a cruel overlord. He loves sinners so much that he died for them. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Example prayer: “Jesus, I believe that you died for my sin on the cross because you love me. I believe that you rose from the dead three days later. I understand that you want a relationship with me and I really want to know you personally. Please come into my heart and be the Lord and Savior of my life.”
Following Jesus isn’t just about converting to a new religion; it’s about having a brand new life. Paul, whose own life was transformed by Jesus, wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
What does “heart” mean?
The word “heart” confuses some people. Christians use the term because the Bible does (see Romans 10:9 above for an example). When some people hear the word “heart” they immediately think of the organ located in their chest that pumps blood. However, Christians aren’t referring to the bodily organ when they use the phrase “accept Jesus into your heart.” So what does “heart” mean?
When the Bible uses the term “heart” as a metaphor, it’s describing the total person. The “heart” is the center of a person’s life. The Bible’s non-literal use of the term is similar to when a person says they love their spouse or child with their “heart.” They don’t mean they love them with their organ that pumps blood, but with the deepest and most sincere part of themselves.
The “heart” is the center of a person and that’s where Jesus wants to be. He doesn’t settle for second place. He loves people so much that he wants to be part of their core being. This includes their mind, will, beliefs, emotions, values, affections, priorities, decision-making, behaviors, and more.
After a person accepts Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells a person’s heart (2 Cor. 1:22; Gal. 4:6). Through the Holy Spirit, God transforms a person from the inside out (Rom. 12:1-2). God loves people as they are but he wants them to grow in their faith so that they reflect Jesus in their life (Rom. 8:29).
Accepting Jesus into your heart is only the beginning
If a person says a prayer to accept Jesus into their heart — which is sometimes called “the sinner’s prayer” — it’s the beginning of a new life with God. Merely speaking the prayer, even if technically the right words are used, doesn’t alone grant a person forgiveness or salvation. The prayer isn’t a dry, rote, lifeless equation or formula.
- A person must sincerely believe they are a sinner, as the Bible teaches
- They must genuinely repent and receive God’s forgiveness with thankfulness
- They must express real trust that Jesus died for their sins and rose from the dead
- They must eagerly accept him as their Savior and welcome him to be the Lord of their life
Is accepting Jesus a one-time decision? People only need to accept Jesus into their hearts once. This is because God forgives people by grace (they don’t have to earn it through an ongoing process) and because Jesus immediately responds to sincere prayers that welcome him into a person’s life as Lord and Savior. Just like a married person only has one wedding, a Christian only needs to accept Jesus once.
Saying the prayer is only the beginning of a person’s relationship with God. A Christian’s devotion to God through Jesus Christ never ends. Their relationship with God is expressed every day. “[Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me'” (Luke 9:23; emphasis added).
Saying the prayer to accept Jesus, but not fully devoting oneself to him, is like a person who gets married and then never sees their spouse again after their wedding day. Like a wedding starts a married relationship, saying the prayer to accept Jesus starts a relationship.
If there is no ongoing relationship, like the sincerity of a person’s wedding vows would be questioned, the sincerity of the person praying to accept Jesus could be questioned.
What does having a relationship with Jesus look like? People who have a relationship with Jesus love God and love other people (Matt. 22:37-39). They are devoted to studying the Bible, praying for themselves and others, and being part of a community of believers in a local, Bible-teaching church.
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