The following comment recently appeared in a comment on one of our blogs, “According to Jesus, if you knew the gift of God and knew who He is who offers the gift to you, you would ask Him for the gift, and He would give the gift to you. John 4:10.”
Though surely well intentioned, that comment is not quite correct. Notice the portion I put in italics.
Here is what John 4:10 says: “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water’” (emphasis added).
The gift of God is salvation, or everlasting life (John 4:14; Eph 2:8-9; Rev 22:17). The One speaking to her is the Messiah.
Do you see what is different between what the Lord said and what some think He said?
Jesus spoke of asking Him for living water, not for the gift of salvation. To be clear, Jesus did not specifically say what we are to ask Him for. But He makes that clear when He says what He would give to the one who asks, living water.
Many wrongly think that living water is everlasting life. But it is not. It is the message of life which once believed results in a person having everlasting life. The Lord said just that a few verses later, “the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
It is appropriate to invite someone you are talking to about Christ to pray and ask the Lord to show him what the saving message is. Every unbeliever should be asking for that. Until we know what we need to do to be born again, we are unable to be born again.
However, there is no Biblical support for inviting unbelievers to ask God to give them the gift of salvation. In fact, such a request would show that the person has not yet received the living water.
The moment one believes the promise of everlasting life, he is born again. He would not then ask for the gift of salvation since he knows he already has it.
If a person knows he does not yet have the gift of everlasting life, then asking God for it shows that he is confused.
As one who invited Jesus into my heart hundreds of times, wrongly thinking that was the way to be born again, I’m concerned that people who ask Jesus to give them salvation will have the same sort of struggles I did. Did I do it right? Was I sincere enough? Was I committed enough to serve Him? Did I turn from all my known sins? Did I do all I need to do for Jesus to give me the requested salvation?
It wasn’t until I understood and believed that Jesus gives irrevocable salvation to all who believe in Him for it that I was born again and set free from continual concerns about my eternal destiny.
Just recently I heard a pastor give an evangelistic close, and I wrote down what he said because it caught my attention. As he was explaining what one must do to be born again, he said that the listeners should say to God, “Lord, will you give me the gift of everlasting life? I believe you died on the cross for my sins and rose again.” Then he offered a prayer of salvation in which he invited the listeners to pray, “I’d like to ask you for the gift of everlasting life because you died for me…”
That is not quite right.
After my years on staff with Cru and during my second year at Dallas Seminary, I stopped telling people to pray, asking for salvation. Instead, I shared the promise of life and then left the results up to God.
There are only two types of prayers I’ve encouraged those whom I’ve evangelized to pray.
First, if the person does not yet believe, I invite him to pray, asking God to show him if it is truly as simple as believing in Jesus for everlasting life, with no commitment or surrender or works required. I am encouraging that person to ask God for the living water.
Second, if the person has come to faith, I invite him to thank God for giving him the gift of everlasting life.
When we are evangelizing, we are offering people living water. We do not offer people everlasting life. Only the Lord Jesus can give people that. But we can give them the living water. And if they receive the living water, that is, if they believe the Lord’s promise of everlasting life, then He gives them everlasting life at that very moment.