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Where did the idea of "asking Jesus into your heart" come from? That figure of speech is not explicitly from the bible or probably even early church history. Can anyone find its first use and maybe why it's become so pervasive?

I'm looking for something like "Pastor John Smith used the saying once at a conference in 1850" or something like that. I can assume that people use the bible to come up with this phrase. I'm wondering more about the historical origin of its usage.

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"Asking Jesus into your heart" is only one sort of Sinner's prayer. Many others are called a Sinner's prayer but don't use that kind of wording. Which do you want to know about? –  curiousdannii Jul 8 '14 at 12:24
@curiousdannii Good point. I've updated it. –  LCIII Jul 8 '14 at 12:28
It is frequently used at Calvary Chapels... –  Greg McNulty Jul 23 '14 at 7:06

7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There is a famous painting called "The Light of the World," painted by William Hunt in 1853. By his own statement, it comes from Revelation 3.20, and represents Jesus knocking at the heart of an obstaninate sinner, on a door with no handles, and which must be opened from the inside.

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The image itself has been copied many times, and this is the version I always think of:

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While the context of Revelation 3.20 ("Behold I stand at the Door and Knock") is not about salvation, it is often used in services as an altar call, thus identifying it with "opening your heart to Jesus." Here for example, is a church using that call exactly.

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This is great, but not totally conclusive for me. Could the painter have gotten the idea for the painting from someone else? –  LCIII Jul 28 '14 at 19:53
Of course he could have gotten it from somewhere. Crowd sourcing an answer here- hopefully someone else can find something earlier. Still, I've set a bar now that is at least 150 years, so others will have todo more work to beat it. –  Affable Geek Jul 28 '14 at 21:03

While I have never heard this, I did a quick scrub of the net and found a very good article about it:

It seems it is most often (incorrectly) associated with Revelation 3:20, which is of course out of context.

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Strange that, while that link quotes lots of the Bible, it does not mention the one verse (Eph 3:17) which actually states that Jesus does live in our hearts. It even states, " The Bible nowhere mentions Jesus coming into a person’s heart."! –  Wikis Jul 8 '14 at 14:09
Because it doesn't. As I mentioned, this verse is clearly about living in faith when compared to the surrounding verses. It does not say to ask Him in, or that He will just come in, but that He MAY dwell in our hearts through our faith. These are not the same. –  Jesse Jul 8 '14 at 14:14
I was going to say Revelation 3.20, but yeah, it is out of context. –  Affable Geek Jul 8 '14 at 14:18

I think it comes from Ephesians 3:17. See eg the New Living version of Ephesians 3:17a:

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.

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The example in Ephesians 3:17 isn't about ASKING Jesus into your heart, but that He may dwell in it through your faith. Asking something and having faith in it are two completely different things. –  Jesse Jul 8 '14 at 14:13
@Jesse - agreed. –  Wikis Jul 8 '14 at 14:26
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love," - KJV –  Xeoncross Jul 8 '14 at 18:21

Here is a good article that talks about the history of this phrase, which I think was your original question. It started out with the anglo-american puritans in the 1600s - 1700s, if the article is correct. It grew with the missionary movement in the 1800s, and became a staple in children's ministry in the 1900s.

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Nice find Lucas, and welcome to the site. –  fredsbend Dec 20 '14 at 22:18
Please see What this site is about and How this site is different to help you learn how the site works. Also see the help center and take the tour to learn the site functions. –  fredsbend Dec 20 '14 at 22:19

This apparently comes about from the common belief still present today that the heart is the seat of love.

Jesus commanded us to love more often than any other command he gave.

Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

Matthew 19:19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Matthew 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Mark 12:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

Mark 12:31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Jesus even said that loving God and man was the key to entering inheriting eternal life.

Luke 10:25 through 28 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

Though I am not aware of the position of other denominations in the Baptist church it is commonly believed that if we accept Jesus into our hearts(the seat and origin of love), that our hearts will be transformed to love as Jesus loved.

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The metaphor of inviting Jesus into your heart comes from Revelation 3:20

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20 KJV)

But its replacement of baptism as the culmination of the conversion experience, along with the so-called "Sinner's Prayer," obviously comes from Protestant rejection of baptism as the culmination of conversion. The fact is "faith alone" doesn't work on a practical level in the sense that people need to be able to pinpoint the point in time at which they got saved. So they need some kind of ritual. Protestant poopooing on baptism, particularly (and ironically) among Baptists (oh the irony) resulted ultimately in the invention of the "Sinner's Prayer" as its replacement.

The same hyper-Calvinist views that dethroned baptism from its position as the culmination of conversion (which led to the creation of the "Sinner's Prayer") are ever threatening to do the same to the "Sinner's Prayer" in the Baptist denominations, as there is nothing more common than Calvinists attacking the "Sinner's Prayer." But be careful, Calvinist. If you succeed in getting rid of the "Sinner's Prayer," you will have only brought baptism back to its original importance, because a rigidly absolutist "faith alone" will never suffice anyone psychologically.

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It seems that the expression was already in use at the time of the evangelist Billy Sunday. The hymn "Into My Heart" was composed in 1924, about the same era.

In any case, the expression could be closely associated with the practice of altar call, whose history can be traced back to the 1800s.

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