A few months ago I shared on Instagram that we don’t teach our children a gospel message using language like, “Ask Jesus into your heart and…” Many questions arose from what I shared and I want a permanent place to store this information! I think more parents (and pastors) are moving toward clarity in the gospel message, and as we do, I hope this post serves as a jumping-off point for prayerful discussion.
Before I share what we do I want to be clear: many of my readers came to Christ through the “ask Jesus” model. This post isn’t meant to incite doubt about your salvation or question its authenticity. I am pretty sure the “ask Jesus” model was used in my own journey toward Christ. But I think – if we’re honest – there are a lot MORE people who were confused by this language. The “gospel” presented to them wasn’t compelling or convincing, or if it was, the motivation was a fear of hell instead of a love for Jesus.
When we know better, we do better. Even if we were brought to Christ through an imperfect gospel message, we can do better for our own kids (and the people we disciple in our communities) by pursuing Biblical clarity and better verbiage when describing the gospel and what it does.
How We Present the Gospel Matters
The Hebrew word for heart implies more than just emotions – it indicates intellect and will. The Bible’s use of “heart” reflected the holistic person, the center of one’s being. When used in this sense, “asking Jesus into your heart” is intended to mean “ask Jesus to be the center of your being”. But as culture has changed the meaning of “heart”, this phrase takes on new meaning. In 2021 our hearts are emotion-driven. We’re told by Disney to “follow our hearts” and to be led by what we feel. We can’t ignore the cultural meaning of “heart” when presenting the gospel because these cultural ideas affect how hearers interpret our words.
The other issue with the “ask Jesus” model is the power it places in the hands of the listener. It creates a Jesus who is passively waiting to be invited into the lives of the people rather than His active pursuit of them through the Holy Spirit, as Scripture indicates (1 John 4, Romans 5, Psalm 139:16-17, Jer. 29:11-13).
Centering the Kingship of Jesus
What is the center of the gospel? Is it our feelings about Jesus? Is it our idea of when and how to pursue Him? Most of us would agree the answer is no, and yet we still present the gospel to our kids (and to other unbelievers) with this kind of language. If we want to set our kids up for a robust understanding of what it means to be a disciple, we need to present the gospel the way the Bible does – with the kingship of Jesus at the center.
The word for faith in the New Testament is “pistis”. Many of us think of faith as a vague, mental assent to God’s existence. But James condemns this idea of faith in James 2:19: “You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder!” James’ point is that faith is more than a mental-spiritual belief. It is a life-transforming allegiance. I agree with scholar Matthew Bates that the usage of pistis by Jesus and the apostles strongly indicates a language of loyalty. To put faith in someone is to be loyal to their cause, to attach yourself to them, and in Jesus’ day, to submit to their leadership.
Further, the crux of the gospel is not the cross – though vital and important. It is the triumph of the resurrected and ascended Jesus, whose kingship gives us identity as adopted children, righteous saints, and victorious servants (all of Revelation speaks to this).
When we present the gospel, we must keep the kingship of Jesus center to how we speak about it. Jesus is king whether or not a person submits to Him. He is king whether we respond to the Spirit’s conviction or not. His victory is unchangeable, and we can follow the King – or we can remain apart from Him.
How We Present the Gospel to Our Kids
Now that I’ve laid out some of the basic theology for shifting away from the “ask Jesus” model, here’s how we apply that in our own family! For context, our kids are ages 6, 4, and 1. We do family discipleship daily at mealtimes and regularly converse about this topic. It’s part of our family culture. I don’t want it to seem as if presenting the gospel to your kids has to be all folded hands, felt-board stories, serious discussion vibes! We’ve talked about this topic in the dark at bedtime and in the car on the way to homeschool group. It’s just part of life in the Masonheimer home. Here are some of the points we emphasize:
- Jesus is King no matter what. Regardless of how we feel about Jesus, He came and lived a historically proven, sinless life on earth, died a sacrificial death, and now reigns on high securing salvation for those who respond to His call. (Obviously we adjust this language for the ages of kids. Main takeaway: Jesus is King no matter how we feel about it).
- Jesus calls to everyone. The Holy Spirit reaches out and gives us the opportunity to let Jesus be OUR King. Jesus is THE King, but God sovereignly gives us the choice to let Him lead us or to walk in disobedience and rebellion.
- To respond to Jesus, we give Him our loyalty. Following Jesus is not about our feelings, though Jesus cares very much about those! Following Jesus is a change of allegiance from SELF to CHRIST.
- If Jesus is King of our lives, we will let Him lead our feelings, actions, and choices. Our life with King Jesus makes us progressively more like Him. (He sanctifies us by the Spirit; Gal. 5)
How you will adjust this language and present the gospel to your kids will look different than how we do it, I am sure. We are trying to hit on these main points while also continuing to give biblical context through our mealtime discipleship routine.
I hope this gives some food for thought as you develop your own way of presenting a gospel that centers Jesus and the life transformation the gospel brings!