The Bible asks us to believe—to appropriate Christ’s finished work on the cross by trusting Him alone to save us.
A woman seeking a divorce went before the judge. He asked, “On what grounds do you want a divorce?” She replied, “My husband and I own an acre and a half of ground. I’d like the divorce to cover the whole thing.” The judge said, “No, you don’t understand. I mean, do you have a grudge?” She said, “Yes, we have a two-car one. He keeps his car on the left, and I keep mine on the right.” The judge asked, “No, what I mean is, does he ever beat you up?” The woman replied, “No, I’m up at least an hour before him every morning. Not once has he ever beat me up.” The judge in desperation exclaimed, “I don’t understand. What is the reason you want a divorce?” She said, “I don’t understand it either. He says that I can’t communicate.”
Word choice is important to communication. Well-intentioned believers want to communicate the need to come to Christ and be saved. To do that, especially with children, they beg non-Christians to “invite Jesus into your heart.”
There’s a problem, though. That phrase isn’t found in the Bible.
Only one verse could be considered to support such wording. Let’s examine it in context.
Where does such a phrase originate?
Revelation 3:20, reads “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” With that phrase in mind—”stand at the door and knock”—many picture the heart as having a door. As Jesus knocks on that door, He begs us to let Him in. So the lost are exhorted to “invite Jesus into your heart.” The problem is, that verse is addressed to Christians, not non-Christians.
Consider the context. The preceding verse reads, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Chasten means to train a child and is used throughout the New Testament of believers, not unbelievers. For example, the same word for chasten is used in Hebrews 12:5-6: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”Revelation 3:20 is also addressed to Christians and concerns their fellowship with the Lord; it’s not to non-Christians concerning their salvation.
To be specific, this passage addresses the church of Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. The city was founded by Antiochus II and named after his wife, Laodice. With a profitable business arising from the production of wool cloth, Laodicea became wealthy. So wealthy that, when destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60, it was able to rebuild without outside help. That economic sufficiency lulled the church into a spiritual sleep.
Jesus Christ describes this distasteful condition as “lukewarm,” neither cold nor hot toward spiritual matters. To such a church, as well as to all the churches mentioned in Revelation, Christ gives the invitation of Revelation 3:20. He represents Himself to the churches and the people within as standing outside the door awaiting an invitation to enter. He desires them to repent of their condition and make Him the center of their worship and love.
Two other things are worth noting. In Revelation 3:20, the Greek translation of in to means “toward.” In figurative language, Jesus is saying to Christians that He will enter the church and come toward the believer for fellowship. Secondly, the word dine refers to the main meal of the day, to which you invited an honored guest. This would not be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches eaten hurriedly at the kitchen counter. More likely, it would be roast beef with tender carrots, potatoes, and gravy. It was the meal given over to hospitality and conversation. Had you said to my wife and me, “Come dine with us” and used this word, we would have known two things: you meant the evening meal, and you wanted to fellowship across the table. Jesus’ offer, then, was one of intimate fellowship.
Revelation 3:20 is addressed to Christians, inviting them to “open the door” and allow Christ to enter into close fellowship. It is addressed to Christians and concerns their fellowship with Christ, not to non-Christians concerning their salvation.
What term or phrase does the Bible use to mean salvation?
In evangelizing the lost, speak the language the Bible speaks. The Book of John explains how to receive the gift of eternal life. John, in fact, identifies the purpose of his book: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31).
How does one receive that eternal life? The word that John uses ninety-eight times is believe. Prior to raising Martha’s brother, Lazarus, from the grave, Christ explained to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Believe means, “Understanding that Jesus Christ died for me and rose again, I receive eternal life by trusting Him alone as my only way to heaven.”
A woman who attended a liberal church once asked her pastor, “If I watch a John Wayne movie, is God more likely to let me into heaven?” She sincerely thought that John Wayne was a good friend of Jesus Christ and watching one of his movies would increase her chance of getting into heaven. We might laugh at her logic, but we’re just as mistaken to think that church attendance, baptism, keeping the commandments, taking the sacraments, or any amount of good living can get us into heaven. God asks us to trust aperson—Jesus Christ—as our only means of salvation.
Does the Bible use other terms to convey the idea of appropriation? Consider the following:
- Nicodemus was told to look and live (John 3:14-15).
- The Samaritan woman was told to ask (John 4:10).
- The Jews were told to come to Christ (John 5:40).
- The multitudes were told to believe in Christ (John 6:47).
- They were also told to eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-54). Note: This is in the context of Christ being the “Bread of Life” (cf. John 6:35).
- The Pharisees were told to keep His Word (John 8:51).
- Others were told to look at Christ as a door and enter in (John 10:9).
Each contains the idea of appropriation. The thought conveyed is, “Recognizing that Christ alone is my only way to eternal life, I take Him at His Word and trust Him to save me.”
The Gospel of John never exhorts one to “invite Jesus into your heart.” The phrase is not used in Scripture in evangelizing the lost.
What’s the danger in using “invite Jesus into your heart”?
When someone uses the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart,” the thought often conveyed is “Say a prayer that ‘invites Jesus into your heart’ and you’re saved.” A person places trust in a prayer that was said instead of the Savior who died on a cross.
While I was speaking in one community, a couple invited me to dinner. As she set the table and took the bread out of the oven, the woman said, “I had a very exciting day. Two children called and asked, ‘What do you have to do to get to heaven?’ I told them, ‘Just bow your heads right now and let’s invite Jesus into your heart.'” As I questioned her, I learned that she never even mentioned Christ’s death and resurrection. The thought conveyed was that a person received eternal life by saying a prayer.
During an outreach in Michigan, I said, “I’d like to speak to anyone who isn’t certain that if you were to die you’d go to heaven.” A man who had preached passionately in missions all over the city approached me. I asked, “Why did you respond?” He said, “I want to dedicate my life to Christ.” But he seemed hesitant. So I said, “Before we talk about that, let me ask you something. Do you know beyond any doubt that if you were to die right now you’d go to heaven?” The tall, slender young man answered, “Yeah, uh-huh.” I sensed uncertainty. At this point, had I backed off, he probably would have too. But I continued, “If I asked you, ‘How did you become a Christian?’ what would you say?” He explained that when he was young he bowed his head and invited Jesus into his heart. I asked, “Based on my message tonight, if I asked you, ‘What must I do to get to heaven?’ what would you tell me?” He answered, “I’d tell you that you have to understand that you’re a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for you and arose, and that trust in Christ alone is your only way to heaven.” I said, “Why is it that you just had to invite Him into your heart, but I have to trust Him?” He broke down and said, “Quite honestly, I’ve never understood this before. I thought that if you said a prayer inviting Jesus into your heart that God would let you into heaven because you said it. I had no idea that you had to trust in Jesus Christ alone as your only way to heaven.”
The phrase “invite Jesus into your heart” often conveys the idea that one is saved by saying a prayer instead of trusting Christ. Such a thought is not biblical. It’s also illogical. A woman told me how God taught her the danger of such a phrase. She invited a child to “ask Jesus into your heart.” He said, “It wouldn’t do any good.” “Why?” she asked. He answered, “Mommy says there’s a hole in my heart. If I invite Him in, He’ll just fall out.”
Has no one ever been saved when the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart” has been used? It’s beyond doubt that many have said such a prayer, understanding they were trusting Christ alone to save them. They understood they were saved by trusting Christ, not by saying a prayer. Many, though, have “invited Christ into their hearts,” not understanding that the issue is trusting Christ alone to save them.
What invitation should we offer non-Christians?
God desires that we proclaim the gospel clearly. He longs for all to understand His Son’s announcement, “It is finished” (John 19:30). We should ask people to do what the New Testament asks them to do— “believe.” We can then explain that believe means we come to God as sinners, recognize that Christ died for us and arose, and trust in Christ alone to save us. The best word to convey what the Bible means by believe is the word trust. Trusting Christ is not merely accepting intellectually that a person named Jesus Christ died on a cross and rose again. It is acknowledging that He alone is my only way to heaven. Trusting Christ is the means through which we appropriate His gift of eternal life.
Explain to non-Christians that all of us are sinners. The punishment for that sin is death and eternal separation from God. Jesus Christ satisfied the anger of God against our sin by taking the punishment we deserve and rising from the grave the third day. We should then invite the lost to trust in Christ alone. Upon trusting Christ, they are as certain of heaven as though they are already there.
Word choice is important in communicating clearly. The plan of salvation is too crucial to communicate any other way. The phrase “invite Jesus into your heart” is not used in Scripture in inviting the lost to be saved. Because it is not used in Scripture and because it encourages people to think that one is saved by saying a prayer, it should not be used in evangelism. The one verse that infers the thought of “invite Jesus into your heart” speaks to Christians about fellowship. We should do what the Bible encourages us to do. We should invite the lost to believe, to trust in Christ alone for salvation.
by R. Larry Moyer