Pop Evangelism’s Misuse of Scripture–Part 4

Part 1 (“Choose this day”) • Part 2 (God loves you…”) • Part 3 (“… and has a wonderful plan”)
Part 4 (“The Savior is waiting”) • Part 5 (“If my people humble themselves”)

“The Savior is waiting to enter your heart”

Revelation 3:20—“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

During my high school and college years, one of the favorite songs in our youth revival meetings was this 1958 hit by Ralph Carmichael:

The Savior is waiting to enter your heart,
Why don’t you let Him come in?
There’s nothing in this world to keep you apart,
What is your answer to Him?

Time after time He has waited before,
And now He is waiting again
To see if you’re willing to open the door:
O how He wants to come in.

Like many evangelicals today, I grew up with this picture, both literally and mentally, of Jesus standing before a door and knocking, the door being symbolic of an unbeliever’s heart. Where did this idea come from? From Revelation 3:20, right? So let’s look at the text.

Chapters 2-3 of the Book of Revelation consist of seven “letters” to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Rev 1:4). These churches were real churches in real cities with real people who were going through real difficulties, particularly false teachings and persecutions. To be sure, their situations sound similar to those of churches throughout this age. But they were not merely symbolic of churches in different epochs, since they actually existed in the first century.

Each letter follows a certain pattern: (1) the author; (2) a diagnosis of the church’s condition; (3) a word of comfort and commands stemming from the diagnosis; (4) a command to hear and obey; and (5) a promise of blessing to those who “conquer.”

“I Will Vomit You Out!”
The church in Laodicea is one of the recipients of these letters, and the letter they receive is not very complementary—a letter of severe rebuke in fact. Christ’s warning is more than just being lukewarm in their commitment to him, because being cold—not only being hot—is also acceptable. As he rebuked or commended the other six churches for their witness, Jesus also wants them to be “faithful and true witnesses” to the idolatrous city, zealous to proclaim his name.

Like those today who are deceived by prosperity gospel false teachers, the Laodiceans must have assumed that their material wealth is indicative of God’s blessing and approval. Their complacency and dependence on their riches hearken back to Israel’s condition before the Babylonian exile, “Ephraim has said, ‘Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin’’”(Hos 12:8).

Because of this loss of fervor for his name and idolatrous worship of riches, when they were actually “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked,” they were in real danger of being vomited—not just spit—out of their Savior’s mouth.

In saying that he would vomit them out if they remained lukewarm, Jesus is warning them of sure judgment if they remained unrepentant and disobedient. All of the churches in Revelation 2-3 were warned in this way. The Bible is full of warnings to believers that they must remain faithful and zealous for God and persevere in the faith, and in this way he preserves those whom he has chosen (Heb 3:12, 10:26-31; Php 2:12; Heb 6:4-6).

“Be Zealous and Repent!”
Seven Churches in AsiaSo Jesus commands them to come to him and seek his mercy by “buying” everything they need from him (Isa 55:1-3) because they are poor and have nothing. They are to be “zealous” witnesses of Christ and “repent” of their pride and sin, because he “reproves and disciplines” the people he “loves” (Rev 3:19; Heb 12:6). Jesus then follows up on his command to be zealous for him, repent, and turn back to him, with an invitation to all in the Laodicean church for close communion with him.

Christ’s invitation to the church to return to him has a sense of its present urgency. The picture of the Judge “standing at the door” (Jas 5:9), and of Jesus being “near, at the very gates” (Matt 24:33) both have a sense of exigency and being at hand. When the master comes and knocks, the servants are to open the door immediately (Luke 12:36).

“I Will Sup with You”
Revelation 3:20 alludes to several other Biblical texts. It is certain that John uses Jesus’ words as he spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10, where he said, “The sheep hear his voice. . . and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3, 4). Those among the Laodicean church, as well, who know the voice of the Great Shepherd will hurry when he comes calling them to open the door so he may enter in.

Jesus also likens faithful believers to “men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36; see also Mark 12:34). When he finds the servants ready, the master himself will “have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” in a feast (Luke 12:37).

G. K. Beale likens this picture of Jesus knocking at the door of the church in Laodicea to the husband knocking on the door of the bedchamber, entreating his wife to open the door to her beloved (Beale, NIGTC: The Book of Revelation, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 308). The parallelism to Song of Songs 5:2 is striking, “the voice of my beloved, he knocks on the door. Open to me, my beloved” (Cantique des Cantinques, by Andre Feuillet). In the same way, Christ the Bridegroom is entreating the Church his Bride to resume their full communion with each other.

This communion is signified in having supper together, with Christ serving them their food and drink while they recline at the table, reminiscent of the Last Supper. Here, John’s use of the verb deipneo (“eat,” “sup,” “dine”) alludes to the Holy Communion instituted by Christ in Luke 22:20 and quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:20, 21, 25.

The Promise to Conquerors
In all these seven letters, those who repent, heed Christ’s warnings and continue to hold fast to that which has been revealed in the gospel, obtain Jesus’ promise that they will “conquer” or “overcome” (Rev 3:21). The one who “conquers” (nikao) describes Jesus conquering the world of sin and death (John 16:33; Rev 5:5, 17:14).

But it is used as well of Christians who persevere in the faith, those who overcome sin, suffering, persecution, and even death on account of their faith (1 John 2:13, 14, 4:4, 5:4, 5). The book of Revelation is mostly about encouraging Christians in the first century who were going through severe persecution. Christ promises to them after they have conquered that they will be granted permission to “eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7), with their Conquering Lamb serving them at the table of feasting (Rev 19:6-9).

The Call to Those Who have Ears to Hear
But are not unbelievers present even in the churches? To be sure, the church, the covenant people of God, is made up of true believers and professing believers. Jesus was addressing local churches that have largely become disobedient and apathetic. This was also how God addressed his people Israel when they were disobedient. And even when they were punished, God still called Israel his people, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).

In the same way, in Revelation 3:20, he was addressing the covenant community, the church in Laodicea, who were unrepentant and disobedient, whether they were believers or not. The call to repent was made to both believers and unbelievers within the church—not to pagans outside the church—those who have “ears to hear” (Rev 3:22).

Revelation 3:20 then is Jesus’ call to the Laodicean church to repent and renew their fellowship with him. This letter is written to their congregation to remind them that they are to renew their relationship with their Lord and Savor Jesus Christ, or face judgment. This is how we, 2,000 years on this side of the cross, are to heed his call to the church in Laodicea: to be zealous and repent as well.

Is Jesus the Savior waiting and waiting for us to let him in of our own accord? This picture of Jesus the King of the universe as a helpless Savior begging a sinner to let him in is a total absurdity. This is the consequence of making the human will sovereign over God’s sovereign will. On account of man’s inability and unwillingness to save himself, this poor Savior would really be waiting. . . and waiting. . . and waiting, since no one would open the door to let him in of their own will alone (John 8:47, 10:27; Rom 3:11, 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14).

Is the Savior waiting to enter your heart? No, the Bible nowhere says that a person will be saved by letting Jesus “come into my heart.” Regeneration is described as God softening a hard heart (Ezek 36:26) or the Lord opening the heart of a sinner (Acts 16:14), but never as Jesus entering a person’s heart.

Part 1 (“Choose this day”) • Part 2 (God loves you…”) • Part 3 (“… and has a wonderful plan”)
Part 4 (The Savior is waiting”) • Part 5 (“If my people humble themselves”)


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8 thoughts on “Pop Evangelism’s Misuse of Scripture–Part 4”

  1. Growing up as a kid going to WCPC, I have to say that this belief that we, us, humans have the choice, free will, and authority to decide whether WE accept Christ “coming into our hearts” was and still is the mainline belief in any garden variety evangelical church today.  It wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 years old when you, Dad, introduced to me reformed theology.  The belief in predestination, that God chose us before the foundations of the world not because of anything we  have done or chose or deserved, but out of his pure grace and love, completely turned my world upside down.  I just did not hear that being taught in churches I attended in Manil, at Faith Academy where I attended high school, not at Biola University where I went to for college, or any of the main churches in the area of Biola.  But I have found over the years that the more I begin to understand God’s grace, his utter and complete mercy towards us in spite of what we deserve as sinners, the more we begin to understand how truly and deeply God does indeed love his children, and how we must live everyday in reverence and gratitude towards Him.

    1. That was during the early 1990s, almost 20 years ago. At that time, PCUSA was already very liberal. Because WCPC is part of the PCUSA, can you imagine what it is like today? I can’t imagine being part of it.

      Here in the Philippines, the equivalent is the United Church of Christ (UCCP), which was formed from mostly Presbyterian and Methodist churches during the American occupation of the Philippines. The mainliners here–UCCP, the Methodists, and the Unida Ecumenical–are just images of American mainliners.

  2. A very good reminder not to take a text out of it’s context. This is usually the methods of cultist using a text out of context. It is not the sinner choosing to open the door to Jesus. But the Lord Jesus opening the door of our hearts and mind to understand the gospel.

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