Long have American evangelists presented the gospel only to culminate with the invitation for sinners to “ask Jesus into their hearts.” I’ve seen this type of presentation in virtually every denomination or tradition I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out in, and in several countries in different regions of the world. It’s the popular method that is used by many “professionals” and reciprocated amongst the populace. But is this method biblical? I think not.
Dan Wallace, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has recently written an excellent (and brief) summary of why this type of thinking is a misreading and misrepresentation of the text in John’s Revelation. You can read the full article here. Wallace’s thoughts are important for Christians to understand because he eloquently points out the negative consequences of such a gospel presentation. He says,
“What, then, is this verse is (sic) 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.” (emphasis original)
Notice that Wallace stresses, quite effectively I might add, that receiving Christ is a consequence of salvation. The evidence is right there in Rev. 3:20. The Laodiceans were followers of Jesus. This is supported by the fact that Jesus loved them enough to discipline them (v. 19) and was calling these believers to repent from their sins in order that Christ would come in to them and eat with him (v. 20). One might also inquire as to what “eat with him” means if the text is an evangelistic text! Is it to be allegorized? No. I think the context is clearly referring to believers. Interestingly, and as a side note, verse 20 could easily be a reference in support of the Reformed Spiritual-Presence view of the Lord’s Supper in that Jesus is saying that when the Laodiceans repent, He will come and participate in the fellowship of communion (by the Holy Spirit, right Calvin? I will write more on this later).
Something I’d like to add to Wallace’s thoughts on this subject is in regards to the role of the Holy Spirit. The NT is full of promises and fulfillments of the Holy Spirit filling and indwelling believers. I wrote a bit about this subject previously (Anticipating the Coming of the Spirit!). One of the other draw backs of promoting a “Jesus comes into your heart” type of evangelism is that it can often mislead people in their understanding of the function of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. It’s not that Christ is not in believers, as Paul declares that this concept is the “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It’s just insufficient for an evangelistic presentation, in my opinion. I’d like to emphasize that the indwelling of the Spirit is the consequence of salvation, and by “consequence,” I mean a most glorious fulfillment of OT promise!
Finally, I appreciate the pastoral wisdom of Wallace when he carefully addresses those who have been “saved” under this methodology:
“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.”
I’m quite aware that many people have started their relationship with God through this “invitation” and were completely serious in their request for salvation through Christ alone. Praise God for their salvation and for His grace and mercy in the gospel. Yet this is not cause to ignore the context and negative consequences of such methods.
Thanks Dr. Wallace!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.