This is the key, isn't it? We -- we Christians -- all know it. It is the event, the point, the aim. What we pray for, want, hope, and work toward is to get as many as possible to accept Christ as their personal Savior. That's the phrase. "Accept Christ as your personal Savior."
Where did that come from? You see, I find (with my tendency to examine words) that it irritates me, like a seed in my teeth. There's just ... something ... wrong. What is it? It's that word, "accept". It sounds like a condescension. It sounds like someone in a superior position deigning to allow an inferior to come into his/her presence. Further, "accepting Christ" doesn't go much farther, on its own, than mental acquiescence. I accept, for instance, that George Washington lived. I don't know him. I don't relate to him. I just believe. So is this my problem, or is there a reason to wonder?
As it turns out, you won't find that phrase in Scripture ... anywhere. What you will find is a different term: "receive". Is there a difference between "accept" and "receive"? I think so. Consider. You may receive an offer to buy something you have for sale and then accept that offer. What is the difference? One is passive; one is active. One is external; one is internal. "Receive" is a passive thing handed to you from outside of you. "Accept" is your personal effort to take it in. Thus, in this example, there are two actors. One gives and the other takes. One initiates but is dependent on the other to complete. The ultimate authority in this transaction of receiving an offer and accepting that offer is the one who receives, not the one who gives. Because "accept" comes from a superior position, while "receive" does not. The dictionary defines "receive" as "be given, presented with, or paid (something)" and "accept" as "consent to receive". There is the difference between the two.
In English, you might receive a job offer and choose whether you will accept it. In football a player receives a pass. If guests arrive, the host may receive them. That is, "receive" may have effort or choice involved, but it is choice or effort related to something presented rather than something acquired.
Biblically, you will find "receive" but not "accept" when it comes to salvation. Paul wrote, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." (Col 2:6) There is "received Christ Jesus the Lord" as the starting point as the method by which we are to live. Receive Him and walk in Him in the same way. And, of course, there is the well-known passage from John's Gospel. "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13) In this "receive" it indicates that the outcome is not of birth or effort or choice, but of God.
Mind you, the Bible does use the term "accept". We are, for instance, commanded, "Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." (Rom 15:7) We are told to "accept the one who is weak in faith" (Rom 14:1) because "God has accepted him." (Rom 14:3). Oh, and we are told, "The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor 2:14) On one hand, then, God accepts those who are His. On the other hand, natural man does not accept the things of God. Neither one is the "accept" we are looking for.
What is the primary term used in Scripture by which we are saved? It is not that we "accept Christ" ... ever. In a few verses it is to "receive Him" (see also John 13:20). In this term it is Christ who is given and not our effort, work, or will that is in view as it would be if the word was "accept". The primary term, however, is "to believe". John's Gospel, in fact, is full of a phrase that is most literally translated "to believe into", which suggests far more than mental acquiescence, but to immerse oneself into, to lean wholly on.
Like I said, it's an irritation to me, an aggravation. It's not "evil" or "heresy". Still, it would seem to me that if we are intending to best convey what is required of someone to be saved, I would think we might prefer the biblical words or, at the very least, the biblical concept. In the biblical presentation we are more passive, receiving salvation rather than acquiring or "accepting" it. We are to believe into Christ rather than merely allow Him access to our lives. If, indeed, words mean something, I think we should try to say what is meant rather than what we've too often heard without thinking about it. Because in my mind too many people hear "accept Christ" as a position of superiority, where they deign to allow Jesus to have a relationship with them at their behest. And that is not what is in view here.