In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he [will dine] with me.” The crucial phrase for our purposes is “I shall come in to him.” This text has often been taken as a text offering salvation to a lost sinner. Such a view is based on two assumptions: (1) that the Laodiceans, or at least some of them, were indeed lost, and (2) that the Greek εισελεύσομαι πρό means “come into.”

Both of these assumptions, however, are based on little evidence. Further, the resultant notion is anything but clear. To invite Christ into one’s heart is hardly a clear picture of the gospel.

Regarding the idea that those in the Laodicean church were not believers, note that in the preceding verse, the resurrected Lord declares, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” Here φιλέω is used for “love”—a term that is never used of God/Jesus loving unbelievers in the NT. This φιλέω is applied to the Laodiceans here, for the verse concludes, “Be zealous, therefore, and repent.” The inferential ‘therefore’ connects the two parts of the verse, indicating that the Laodiceans are to repent because Christ loves (φιλέω) them!

The second assumption is that εισελεύσομαι πρό means ‘come into.’ Such an assumption is based on a less than careful reading of the English text. The ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, for example, all correctly render it ‘come in to.’ (Note the space between the prepositions.) The idea of ‘come into’ would be expressed with είς as the independent preposition and would suggest a penetration into the person (thus, spawning the idea of entering into one’s heart). However, spatially πρό means toward, not into. In all eight instances of εισοέρχομαι πρό in the NT, the meaning is ‘come in toward/before a person’ (i.e., enter a building, house, room, etc., so as to be in the presence of someone), never penetration into the person himself/herself. In some instances, such a view would not only be absurd, but inappropriate (cf. Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 16:40; 17:2; 28:8).

What, then, is this verse is affirming? First, it is not an offering of salvation. The implications of this are manifold. Among other things, to use this text as a salvation verse is a perversion of the simplicity of the gospel. Many people have allegedly “received Christ into their hearts” without understanding what that means or what the gospel means. Although this verse is picturesque, it actually muddies the waters of the truth of salvation. Reception of Christ is a consequence, not a condition, of salvation. Second, as far as the positive meaning of this verse, it may refer to Christ having supremacy in the assembly or even to an invitation (and, consequently, a reminder) to believers to share with him in the coming kingdom. Either way, it is not a verse about salvation at all, for the Laodiceans were already saved.

Does this mean that those who have come to faith in Christ via Rev 3:20 are not saved? This answer needs some nuancing. First, if they have truly put their faith in Christ, and they understand that he alone can save them from their sins, then of course they are saved. The problem is that many people cling to the symbol but never understand the reality it is intended to represent. Hundreds of thousands of people have “invited Christ into [their] hearts,” thinking that a mystical experience is what saves them. Then, they go on their merry way, living their lives as they did before. If you were to ask them, “How do you know that you are going to heaven?” they would respond, “Because I invited Christ into my heart.” But if you probe, there is nothing beneath the shallowness of that reply. They did what someone told them to do, but never really embraced the Savior.

What then should we say when we are trying to lead someone to Christ? I think a better picture is simply what the New Testament uses as its normative word– πίστι/πιστεύω. The noun form (πίστι) can be translated ‘faith,’ ‘belief,’ or ‘trust.’ The verb can be translated ‘I believe,’ ‘I have faith,’ ‘I trust.’ In some contexts the object of belief is emphasized (namely, Christ); in other contexts, the kind of belief is emphasized (namely, a genuine trust, an embracing). Thus, πίστι has this twofold force of content and conviction. To be saved, one must have the right object of faith (content); and one must truly put his trust entirely in that object (conviction).

If it causes us some measure of panic to have to use other than Revelation 3:20 when we share the gospel, keep in mind that the earliest Christians did not have this verse. Revelation is the last book of the Bible to be written. How was it possible for Peter and Paul and James to ever see anyone get saved without this verse? They never had it! But if I read the book of Acts correctly, they had a measure of success in sharing the gospel even in spite of this handicap.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    66 replies to "Inviting Jesus into your Heart (Dan Wallace)"

    • Blaine

      Fantastic explanation, and strangely coincidental, as I posted along very similar lines yesterday before I had seen this. Thank you so much for sharing these clarifying insights.

    • Carl D'Agostino

      Two problems Mormonism for me 1) object of path is to become God which is absurd. Best Christians can do is try to live Christ-like.
      2)Proposed history of North America is profoundly illusionary with regard to all recorded history. OT and Acts are not fiction except Creation/Adam Eve, Jonah, and Noah. I think anyone that quotes Revelation in any debate ought to consider that its author obviously ate too many mushrooms or peyote and its inclusion as part of canon is just as crazy as well.

    • D. Brent

      I know you would probably disagree with me on a number of theological issues (but that’s ok). I’m not a Calvinist and I am not one who has promoted the “Believer’s” or “Sinner’s” prayer as a response of faith to Christ. Personally, I believe 1 Peter 3:21 suggests that baptism is the prayer/plea of a good conscience before God–that the very act of baptism is itself a prayer. (This is not a work any more than a prayer is a work–it is merely a response of faith.)

      It has always intrigued me that folks could ask people to do something as a faith response to God that is not even mentioned in the Bible (e.g., “the Sinner’s prayer”) either by way of a command or even as an example of someone in the Bible doing it. Seems to me like binding something that is not found in the text.

      I agree completely with your understanding of Revelation 3. We too often are fond of proof-texting. This is much like using Matthew 18 (“Where two or three are gathered in my name…”) as a proof text to say when we gather for corporate worship Jesus is present. The text has nothing to do with corporate worship but rather coming together to make a decision re: reconciliation. Jesus is basically saying “I’m with you in this!” (sorry to digress).

      Thank you for a great post.

    • John

      If you notice Rev 1:1 you will notice that the Author is Jesus Christ! Therefore your claim of Jesus Christ having eaten too many mushrooms or peyote and is crazy as well, is absurd.
      I suppose one with a view of the Bible in the way you presented it in the above post has a better solution for that of humanity than it now has. Maybe your way is better than that of the way the Truth and the Life’s way!
      Please present something worth getting excited the world over, as does the bible. If it takes precedence over the bible, maybe it will have converts unto it, of those that are seeking after Eternal Life!

    • Tom

      Dr. Wallace,
      Thanks for your article today. Very insightful and helpful.

      It would be interesting to hear your thoughts about Revelation 3:15-16 as well. It seems that most people often take these verses to mean that we need to be “hot” or “on fire” for God instead of being “cold” towards him. Wouldn’t that be an incorrect reading of those verses?

      Did Jesus mean that hot and cold water are BOTH good things based upon Laodicean geography? (i.e. Cold water refreshes and hot water keeps one warm; lukewarm water harvests bacteria and is thus bad.) It would seem to be wrong to use these verses to encourage Christians to get “on fire” for Jesus as they are often used. But I would love to hear your take on that.

      I don’t mean to derail the discussion. Perhaps an idea for a future article.

    • […] scholars around and his book “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics” is a classic. I saw this small blog post from him today and I thought I would share it. It is on the text of Revelation 3:20 and its misuse […]

    • Pete Morris

      I’ve looked and my fingerprints are not on any part of my salvation; neither justification or scantification or glorification. God does it all. Glory to God in the Highest. All creidt to His name. Jesus called me to life and like Lazerus I came out of the grave. Praise and glory to His name.

    • Carl D'Agostino

      Re # 54 John , 2:23 I would offer not consistent with the Jesus dynamic: “And I will kill her children with death.” Why would the children of any evil woman be automatically sentenced to hell and murdered by Jesus? 3:5 “…and I will not blot out his name from the book of life.” So if the rest of us don’t get a A on God’s report card is our damnation achieved by relegating us to non existence? 2:5 “and do the first works.” 2:13 “I know thy works…” 2:26 “… and keepeth my works.” 2:2″”I know thy works.”A lot on works here! You said your fingerprints are not on your salvation(suppose that’s grace alone thing) but works stuff seems to imply that “grace not without good works” good suggested compromise thing.See Anne Hutchinson Antinomian Controversy.2:7 “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life…” So there is an elect? So some will not be sanctified to be justified(or vice versa) and there is not assurance- what good is trying? Not all will eat of the tree of life and if I fall short, my alleged Saviour condemns me to eternal death? Author refers to those who are Jews or not Jews and seems like this salvation is for Jews only. 2:9″ I know the blasphemy of them which they say are Jews, but they are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. “Seems exclusive to this Italian Presbyterian. Would be consistent with Peter’s position that Messiah exclusive property of Jews as opposed to Paul re universal availability of Jesus to all. And all the candles, beasts, stars,storms, pits and furnaces, seem pretty pagan and like the travels of Jason and the Argonauts or the Odyssey. I did not mean to suggest the New Testament invalid, John or that anything takes precedence. I don’t have a different way. The part of Revelation that is not debatable is when Jesus says I am alpha and omega. My dispute is that Revelation(alone) seems to have been written by Edgar Allen Poe and not divinely inspired through it’s author.

    • Jeannie Mestres

      Thank goodness, Christ doesn’t come into our hearts, because mine is unfit for Him. It’s bad enough that He knows what’s in there!

    • Pastor Bruce

      Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

    • Carl D'Agostino

      If we can invite Jesus into our hearts that means we play a role in being saved. So it is not by grace alone. Yeah, I accept “faith not without good works.” So are we predestined to be lost in he sense that predestination refers to the one’s that don’t invite Jesus? I suppose that makes sense but no one should be damned if Jesus comes for all. I think the reverse is substantive too: “Jesus is the one that does the inviting.”

    • […] Dan Wallace- Inviting Jesus Into Your Heart […]

    • gary

      Isn’t it odd that if the Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, the term “born again” is only mentioned three times in the King James Bible? If “making a decision for Christ” is the only means of salvation, why doesn’t God mention it more often in his Word? Why only THREE times? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?

      Why is it that the Apostle Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, NEVER uses this term? Why is this term never used in the Book of Acts to describe the many mentioned Christian conversions? Why is this term only used by Jesus in a late night conversation with Nicodemus, and by Peter once in just one letter to Christians in Asia Minor?

      If you attend a Baptist/evangelical worship service what will you hear? You will hear this: “You must be born again: you must make a decision for Christ. You must ask Jesus into your heart. You must pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). You must be an older child or adult who has the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to make a decision to repent, and to make a decision to ask Jesus into your heart.”

      It is very strange, however, that other than “you must be born again” none of this terminology is anywhere to be found in the Bible! Why do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

      Maybe it’s because…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT the manner in which sinners are saved!


      Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • gary

      Thank for you for your response.

      Don’t you think it is important to have a specific event that you can point to and say: “THEN, is when God saved me!”?

      We Lutherans do NOT believe that baptism is mandatory for salvation. All the saints in the OT, the thief on the cross, and many martyrs have died without baptism. We believe they are saved and in heaven. It is not the lack of baptism that damns someone to hell…it is the lack of faith/belief that damns one to hell, as Christ states in Mark 16:16.

      Many evangelicals think that Lutherans believe that salvation must come through Baptism. This is flat-out wrong! Baptism is one of several “when”s of salvation. It is always the Word of God that saves. (Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God). A sinner can be saved sitting in church listening to a sermon; listening to a Gospel program on the radio; or reading a Gospel tract. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation.

      However, Baptism is God’s mark upon us that he truly has saved us. We belong to him. Unless someone intentionally fakes believing, fakes repenting, and fakes a genuine desire to receive Christ’s “mark” in baptism, the person being Baptized DOES receive Christ’s mark stating: YOU, child, now belong to me.

      In the evangelical conversion, you have two viewpoints, Arminian and Calvinist. The Arminian believes that he is saved when HE makes a decision to have faith and believe/repent. The problem is that when HIS faith is ebbing low, he begins to question the sincerity of his “decision”: “Did I really do ‘it’ right?” His salvation was partly dependent upon HIM!

      The Calvinist, on the other hands, believes that he is either born the Elect or he isn’t. There doesn’t need to be any specific time of conversion, as long as at some point in his life, the Calvinist declares to the world his faith and belief—he IS one of the Elect. However, ask many Calvinists when they were saved and they will give you a…

    • gary

      At the age of nine I prayed to ask Jesus to come into my heart to be my Lord and Savior. I loved being a Christian. I loved Jesus and I loved the Bible. I used to love witnessing to non-believers and loved defending my belief in (the Christian) God and orthodox/conservative Christianity. Then one day someone challenged me to take a good, hard look at the foundation of my beliefs: the Bible. I was stunned by what I discovered.

      1. The Bible is not inerrant. It contains many, many errors, contradictions, and deliberate alterations and additions by the scribes who copied it. The originals are lost, therefore we have no idea what “God” originally” said. Yes, its true—Christians can give “harmonizations” for every alleged error and contradiction, but so can the Muslims for errors in the Koran, and Mormons for errors in the Book of Mormon. One can harmonize anything if you allow for the supernatural.

      2. How do we know that the New Testament is the Word of God? Did Jesus leave us a list of inspired books? Did the Apostles? Paul? The answer is, no. The books of the New Testament were added to the canon over several hundred years. Second Peter was not officially accepted into the canon until almost the FIFTH century! So why do all Christians accept every book of the New Testament as the word of God and reject every non-canonical “gospel”? Answer: the ancient (catholic) Church voted these books into your Bible. Period.

      There is nowhere in the OT or the NT where God gives men the authority to determine what is and what is not his Word. If Second Peter was really God’s Word, the entire Church should have known so in the first century.

      3. Who wrote the Gospels? We have NO idea! The belief that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is based on hearsay and assumptions—catholic tradition. Protestants denounce most of the traditions of the Catholic Church but have retained two of the most blatant, evidence-lacking traditions which have no basis in historical fact or in the Bible: the canon of the NT and the authorship of the Gospels.

      The only shred of evidence that Christians use to support the traditional authorship of the Gospels is one brief statement by a guy named Papias in 130 AD that someone told him that John Mark had written a gospel. That’s it! Papias did not even identify this “gospel”. Yet in 180 AD, Irenaeus, a bishop in FRANCE, declares to the world that the apostles Matthew and John and the associates of Peter and Paul—Mark and Luke—wrote the Gospels. But Irenaeus gives ZERO evidence for his assignment of authorship to these four books. It is well known to historians that it was a common practice at that time for anonymously written books to be ascribed to famous people to give them more authority. For all we know, this is what Irenaeus did in the case of the Gospels.

      The foundation of the Christian Faith is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If the story of the Resurrection comes from four anonymous books, three of which borrow heavily from the first, often word for word, how do we know that the unheard of, fantastically supernatural story of the re-animation of a first century dead man, actually happened??

      Maybe the first book written, “Mark”, was written for the same purpose that most books were written in that time period—for the benefit of one wealthy benefactor, and maybe it was written simply as an historical novel, like Homer’s Iliad; not meant to be 100% factual in every detail, but a mix of true historical events as a background, with a real messiah pretender in Palestine, Jesus, but with myth and fiction added to embellish the story and help sell the book! We just do not know for what purpose these books were written!

      I slowly came to realize that there is zero verifiable evidence for the Resurrection, and, the Bible is not a reliable document. After four months of desperate attempts to save my faith, I came to the sad conclusion that my faith was based on an ancient superstition; a superstition not based on lies, but based on the sincere but false beliefs of uneducated, superstitious, first century peasants.

      You can pray to ask Jesus into your heart 10,000 times, but if there is no evidence for his Resurrection, then odds are that he is dead. And if he is dead, he can’t hear your prayers. Sad, but the truth.

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