Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You are Saved. By J. D. Greear. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2013. 128 pp. Hardcover, $12.99.
The blurbs about this book make it sound like a Free Grace primer on assurance. Note the promising title and subtitle. Yet the book takes a mild Lordship Salvation view of assurance.
The book has five full pages of endorsements. These include well known people like Pastor Matt Chandler (The Village Church), Pastor David Platt (author of Radical, an extreme Lordship Salvation book), Pastor Mark Dever, Dr. Daniel Akin (President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Roger David (President of Student Life). There is also an impressive foreword by Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The first chapter is entitled “Baptized Four Times.” In it the author says, “By the time I reached the age of eighteen I had probably ‘asked Jesus into my heart’ five thousand times. I started somewhere around age four…” (p. 1). This chapter is a nice corrective to the popular notion that one is born again by inviting Jesus into his heart. Unfortunately the author says “the one thing necessary for salvation [is] a posture of repentance toward and faith in His finished work” (pp. 8-9). Why the condition is repentance and faith, and not simply faith, is not explained until a later chapter.
In the second chapter Greear argues convincingly that God wants us to have assurance of our eternal destiny. His conclusion of the chapter says that there are “two components of assurance” (p. 24). He identifies those as “Belief in [God’s] testimony about eternal life” [1 John 5:10-12] and “Evidences of eternal life at work in us.” The latter is where real confusion enters. If assurance is based at least in part on works, and if even the works of the regenerate are imperfect, then how could you ever know for sure you are saved as the subtitle of the book suggests?
Chapter 3 is the best one in the book: “Jesus in My Place.” In it the author argues that faith in Jesus Christ who died as our substitute on the cross is the sole condition of everlasting life and of assurance. Unfortunately, the last two sentences in the chapter undermine the good work done to that point: “But what exactly, you may wonder, does it mean to believe? That’s where we will next turn” (p. 38).
If saving faith is some mysterious unknowable thing, then assurance can no longer be found in believing the testimony of God concerning His Son as Greear had earlier indicated (p. 24). In Chapter 4 the author argues that “Biblical belief is the assumption of a new posture toward the Lordship of Christ and His finished work on the cross” (p. 40). While the first part of that suggests Lordship Salvation, Greear in the rest of the chapter primarily suggests that faith is being convinced that salvation is by faith alone (esp. pp. 50-52). The author basically sees saving faith as being convinced that all who simply believe in Jesus have everlasting life, though there are passing references to works being required. For example, notice this statement: “A dramatic change of life and radical commitment to the mission is always the fruit of a heart changed by faith” (p. 50). Yet the author turns around and says that if our assurance is based on our commitment to Christ, “the question of ‘how much is enough?’ will be inescapable” (p. 51). The author seems to be trying hard to present simple faith in Christ as the sole condition of everlasting life and assurance, yet he keeps giving caveats that contradict that.
Repentance is the subject of Chapter 5. This is surely the worst chapter in the book. Greear suggests that repentance is not “simply praying a sinner’s prayer,” “feeling sorry about our sin,” “confession of sin,” “getting religious,” “partial surrender,” or “perfection” (pp. 57-64). If that isn’t confusing enough, the author then says that repentance “is the absence of settled defiance [toward God],” “not just about stopping sin but also starting to follow Jesus,” and “a Spirit-fueled change of desires.” Since he believes that repentance is a co-condition of everlasting life, thus to be born again one must believe in Jesus and he must yield his life to Christ (no settled defiance), start following Christ, and desire to please God with his life. Greear says that to be born again one must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ, citing Mark 8:34-35 as though those were evangelistic verses (p. 67).
Chapter 5 ends with a question similar to the one that ended chapter 3: “Have you really repented?” (p. 73). Of course, the reader cannot be sure if repentance is yielding to Christ, following Christ, or a change of desires. No matter how yielded, one is not perfect. No matter how much one follows, His discipleship is flawed. No matter how well one’s desires conform with Scripture, those desires are never challenged by the flesh within us.
The question of eternal security on the one hand and warning passages on the other is the issue in chapter 6. The author then adopts the normal Calvinist position that eternal security is true, but only for those who endure. Note this section title: “The Faith that Saves Is the Faith that Endures to the End” (p. 81). Later the author discusses “The ‘Real’ Doctrine of Eternal Security” (pp. 86-88). “Salvation is a posture of repentance and faith toward Christ that you adopt at your conversion and maintain for a lifetime” (p. 87). Notice that you maintain your repentance and faith, not God. That is “the real doctrine of eternal security.” In my view that is eternal insecurity—at least until death. Not till death could anyone know his eternal destiny under this way of thinking.
It should be noted that Greear feels the need to give a disclaimer after the quote I just cited. After saying we must “maintain [repentance and faith] for a lifetime” in order to have eternal salvation, he adds, “If you permanently abandon that posture [of repentance and faith toward Christ] later in life, your faith was likely not saving faith” (p. 87). Likely? All through the book the author has said that endurance in faith and good works is required to prove you are really born again. He has repeatedly said that those who experience a permanent abandonment of faith and good works will go to hell. But now that result is merely likely? Why so? The next three paragraphs go on to say that unless one perseveres, he definitely “will not end up in heaven” (pp. 87-88). Contradiction and confusion like this are the fruit of a tradition that tries to meld faith and good works into co-conditions of everlasting life.
Like nearly all contemporary books on assurance, this one has a chapter on various tests of whether one is born again. Chapter 7 is entitled, “The Evidence You Have Believed” (p. 94). These evidences are said to include “a love for God” and “a love for others” (pp. 96-102). Like a good pastor, the author now deals with a logical concern, “but I still love sin” (pp. 102-103). His encouragement is that “believers can and do struggle with just about any kind of sinful lust” (p. 103). He goes further, saying, “In fact, the presence of the struggle itself can be affirmation that God’s Spirit is at work within you.” He concludes this section saying, “Often the strongest evidence of my growth in grace is my growth in the knowledge of my need for grace” (p. 103).
Chapter 7 ends with a section entitled “It takes a village to identify regeneration” (p. 103). Greear then makes this amazing admission, “Identifying the evidences of true regeneration in your life can be difficult, if not impossible, to do on your own” (p. 103). His conclusion is that we need others in the local church to help us see if we are born again. How this would help, I fail to see. Would not a group of legalists tend to cut each other down and question whether others are really born again (cf. Gal 5:13-15)? If I doubt that I have evidences of true regeneration, would I likely confidently pronounce that someone else is truly regenerate based on seeing their flawed works? Would I not fear giving people false assurance?
The last chapter is what to do “when you continue to doubt” (p. 105). Greear admits that he still wonders “Am I really saved?” (p. 105, emphasis his). I suppose the author is trying to show the reader that he understands their pain. However, it strikes me that if even the author cannot remain sure of his own eternal destiny, and he is an expert, how could I possibly hope to remain sure? The last paragraph is excellent, however: “Keep your eyes on Him. He is faithful. He said, ‘It is finished’” (p. 112).
This book is both good and bad. There are places in which the author sounds like he believes in assurance by faith alone, apart from works. But most of the time the author says that assurance is found in our desires and our works.
I do not recommend this book for unbelievers or for anyone struggling with assurance. However, I highly recommend it for any well-grounded believer since it will show them the terrible mess that Evangelicals have made of assurance today. If this is one of the better books on assurance today, and it surely is, then it shows we need more books on assurance.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society