If you’ve spent any time with evangelical Christians, then you’ve no doubt had at least one of them tell you that you need to confess your sins and accept Jesus into your heart. You’re promised that if you do so, you’ll have eternal life in heaven.
Does this sound a little odd to you? In this way of thinking, if you just so happen to come across a Christian who gives you the right words to say and you say them, then you’ll get to spend eternity in heaven. Conversely, if you never meet a Christian or none of your Christian friends pass this very important information along to you, then God will have no choice but to throw you into hell where you’ll be tormented with fire and brimstone for all of eternity.
The basic message being communicated is that our eternal destinies are riding upon confessing our sins and accepting a dude who lived 2,000 years ago into our hearts. When I step back and evaluate it from a logical perspective, it sounds pretty superstitious to me.
Yet, almost two thirds of self-proclaimed Christians believe that they will go to heaven when they die because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus into their hearts. Are they right? Or have they gotten caught up in a heretical superstition which has spread like wildfire through American Christianity? Let’s take a closer look.
Is Accepting Jesus Biblical?
When Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee and found four fishermen, did he give them an invitation to confess their sins and accept him into their hearts? Not at all. Instead, he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
When three men asked Jesus if they could follow him, did he offer them an invitation to confess their sins and accept him into their hearts? Not at all. He told one that it was going to be very uncomfortable. He told another to let the dead bury the dead. And he told the third one that he had to be totally surrendered to him.
When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles at Pentecost, did Peter offer the crowd an invitation to confess their sins and accept Jesus into their hearts? Not at all. Instead, he told them to repent and be baptized.
None of these key passages mention anything about confessing sins (confessing is different than repenting) and accepting Jesus into our hearts. Is it absent because it was unintentionally omitted by the authors? Or is it absent because it never happened?
Having read every word in the Bible over and over and over again, I have yet to find any evidence to support the claim that if we confess our sins and accept Jesus into our hearts, then we will be given a one-way ticket to heaven. Instead, I have come to see that Jesus doesn’t need nor does he demand our acceptance. Instead, we’re the ones who need his acceptance.
Why Do We Need Jesus’s Acceptance?
Did you know I get in trouble with Amy sometimes? I don’t intent to do it, but I hurt Amy seemingly all the time. I’ll say something mean to her or I’ll fail to come through on a promise I made. When I hurt Amy, there’s nothing I can say or do to make up for the hurt I’ve caused her. I’m completely at her mercy; she has the ability to decide whether she’s going to continue to accept me or whether she’s going to cease accepting me.
It works the same way with Jesus. We sin against Jesus every single day of our lives, even if we don’t intend to do it. This means we’re completely at his mercy in regards to whether he wants to accept us or not. He may choose to accept us and he may choose to not accept us.
Let’s say I had an extramarital affair with another woman. How do you think that would impact Amy? Obviously she would be extremely hurt by it. Would there be anything I could do to make up for the pain I caused her? Absolutely nothing would make up for it. At that point, I’d be completely at her mercy. She could decide to forgive me or she could decide not to forgive me.
Let’s say Amy was very merciful and decided to forgive me. Is it then up to me to accept her forgiveness? What if I didn’t want her to forgive me? Would my lack of acceptance of her forgiveness make her forgiveness ineffective? Not at all. Whether I accept it or not, she can still choose to forgive me.
In this example, it makes perfect sense that when I sin against Amy, she is now in control of the relationship. But when it comes to Jesus, we don’t see it this way. We view ourselves, the ones who’ve sinned against Jesus over and over and over again, as somehow being in control of the relationship and having the ability to accept or reject what he’s done for us. Somehow we’ve arrived at the conclusion that Jesus’s forgiveness is only effective when we accept it. This makes absolutely no biblical or practical sense.
What’s a More Biblical Approach?
How does this conclusion relate to accepting Jesus into our hearts? Isn’t it one thing to accept Jesus’s forgiveness and another to accept him into our hearts? Actually, they are pretty much one in the same thing, meaning that it’s just as foolish to think we have the ability to control whether Jesus works in our hearts as it is to think that we have control over whether Jesus forgives our sins.
Thankfully, there is a much more biblical approach to evangelism than trying to get people to say a superstitious prayer to confess their sins and accept Jesus into their hearts. To prove this point, let’s look at when the twelve disciples accepted Jesus into their hearts.
Did they accept Jesus when they were first called to follow him? Did they accept Jesus when Peter realized he was the Messiah? Did they accept Jesus when he died on the cross? Did they accept Jesus on the day of Pentecost? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t tell us. All we know is that they are saved, but we don’t know when it happened or how it happened. If we need to confess our sins and accept Jesus in order to get to heaven, then wouldn’t you think the biblical writers would’ve included it somewhere in the New Testament?
What can we learn from the absence of any wording in the Bible alluding to the need for us to confess our sins and accept Jesus into our hearts? Apparently that’s not how we receive eternal life in heaven. Instead, the Bible tells us that God chooses to save his people and works in their hearts to bring them to repentance and draw them to him.
We’re not disciples of Jesus because we accepted him; we’re disciples of Jesus because he accepted us.
 According to a study conducted by the Barna Group, 63 percent of the evangelical Christians surveyed believed they would go to heaven because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as their savior: Barna Group, “What Do Americans Believe about Jesus? 5 Popular Beliefs.” April 1, 2015, accessed October 7, 2016, https://www.barna.com/research/what-do-americans-believe-about-jesus-5-popular-beliefs/.
 See Matthew 4:18-22.
 See Luke 9:57-62.
 See Acts 2:1-41.
 See John 6:37-44, 15:16, Acts 2:39, and Ephesians 1:3-6.