As we talk to people about conversion, it is not rare to hear the expression “I received Jesus.” It became a common expression in the religious world. ‘To receive Jesus’ is found, for instance, in John 1:11-12. So it must be right. Man has to receive Jesus to be saved and to become a child of God. Even though the expression is biblical, the meaning in which some religious people are using it is unbiblical. Then, what does it mean according to Scripture and what is wrong of their uses? Understanding this also makes a great difference in the goal of evangelism.
According to the verses, “receiving Jesus” means to “believe in His name” (John 1:12). To understand this expression correctly, we need explanations on these: ‘believe in’ and ‘name.’ A person’s name represents the person, who he is. This is true of Jesus’ name, too, but we must understand that His ‘who he is’ is different from that of any man. He is “I Am” (John 8:58)—His person is that of God’s (cf. Exod. 3:14). His name represents His being as God. So, ‘receiving Jesus’ means receiving Him as the Son of God, who has all authority over all things (Matt. 28:19). To “believe in” means to “rely on,” “trust in,” and “live after the will of.” “Believing in Jesus” is not simply some emotional feeling. If believing (or receiving) Jesus does not cause me to rely on, trust in, and follow after the teachings of Jesus, it is not what the Bible teaches about it. Therefore, to “believe in Jesus’ name” means to accept His authority as the Son of God and to rely on Him, trust in Him, and live up to His will and His teachings.
Eyes closed, tears streaming down the face, one hand on the heart as the other waves in the air while saying the “sinners prayer”, this is the stereotypical picture of one who “receives Jesus” to the religious people. It looks very very emotional. As they do this, they feel that their sins are forgiven and Jesus has come into their heart and has made home in them. However, as their emotions calm upon leaving the religious ceremonies, they also come back to their previous ‘who they are,’ except feeling that they are saved. The things in which they place their security, their life pursuits, or the things in which they find pleasure have not changed. Nevertheless they say, “Jesus is my Lord.” Calling Jesus “Lord” is supposed to mean that we have received Jesus’ sovereign authority and put ourselves at His fingers’ ends, relying on, trusting in, and living the will of Him.
If we only tell people to just receive Jesus merely like the religious people did, Jesus will say that our evangelism is only to make them sons of hell like ourselves (Matt. 23:13-15). Therefore, our evangelism efforts are to kindly, gently, and persistently lead people to the life He lived as perfect example of holiness and righteousness and to the spirit and mind coming from godly love and faith, through the message of the Son of God crucified and our own examples of following Him—that is, to receiving Jesus truly and spiritually. Other than that, evangelism would be nothing but a religious scam or marketing.