It was a warm August day in 1993, while backpacking Israel, I walked from the Church of the Nativity to a smaller, less well known chapel known as The Grotto of the Milk, at the small town of Bethlehem, at the West Bank district of the Holy Land. According to tradition, this was the site where Joseph, Mary with their baby Jesus were about to flee the town after being warned by an angel in a dream, of Herod's forces out to slay all children under the age of two. Apparently, as they began their journey to Egypt, Mary felt it was time for her child to have his feed. During the feed, a drop of breast milk fell to the ground beneath her, turning the bedrock white. It was a fascinating but purposeless miracle passed as historic by the Roman Catholic Church to which the chapel belongs.
I was alone as I entered the chapel, down a flight of stairs to what is really an underground basement. The bedrock was indeed white. Above the altar there was a beautiful statue of Mary breastfeeding her Son. Nearby, fixed on the wall, as if to anticipate skepticism of the miracle, was a plague on which the words were inscribed:
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby. (1 Peter 2:2).
There was also a tradition that powder scraped from the wall and added to drinking water enhanced fertility in women, as well as adding special benefits to women already pregnant. Therefore, to many Protestant Christians, where I was standing really amounted to a pagan shrine, bestowing divine, miraculous powers to a Jewish woman who happened to give birth to the Messiah.
Yet as I stood alone and looked around, the soft instrumental version of the well known Italian Catholic song, Ave Maria floated through the air, I felt a wonderful presence Of God. I could imagine myself kneeling at one of the pews facing the Altar and pouring out my heart to God, maybe with some tears shed. The serenity of the place, separate from the hubbub of life above, created such a perfect environment for prayer and Bible meditation.
Presence of God? In a pagan shrine?
Dave Hunt, in one of his books, gives the story of a Protestant Christian missionary successfully converting the Taliabo, inhabitants of a remote island in Indonesia, to faith in Jesus Christ. From then on, Christian worship services where conducted right within the idol temples of their former deity. God was certainly present there, the presence of demonic images certainly did not deter the presence of Jesus Christ himself!
And this is backed by the New testament itself. In the book of Acts, we read of Paul the Apostle, entering into the Acropolis in Athens, and among pagan altars, preached the Gospel of Christ right in their midst. We read that some believed, indicating that the Holy Spirit wasn't put off his ministry by the presence of pagan altars and temples. The same can be said of (now the Turkish) city of Ephesus, where a Temple to Diana was built to commemorate the significant shaped meteorite which fell from the sky, believed to be a sign from Diana herself. (And I find it amazing the degree of parallelism between the Temple of Diana to that of the Grotto of the Milk). Yet not only Paul preached the Gospel there, but some believed and a church was founded, to which we can read Paul's letter addressed to that church.
But what all this to do with the title of this article? The title being:
Revelation 3:20 - A Sinner's Prayer?
First let us read the Scripture, then I hope to present the idea that God, being Sovereign, can and does do what he likes. If God wishes to use a verse of passage of Scripture which may seem "unorthodox" to speak to someone, why shouldn't he, just as in asking why shouldn't the Lord make Himself present in a pagan shrine or temple in order to reveal His mercy and grace.
Revelation 3: 20 reads: Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Christians are divided on the issue whether this verse should be used by the sinner asking the Lord Jesus to "come into his heart" which is of course, the inner man, not the muscle blood pump. The reason for the controversy was that here Jesus was addressing a church of believers who had lost their initial zeal for God due to the rise of materialism and their growing trust in medicine instead of dependence on God. It wasn't addressed to unbelievers.
Yet there were many evangelical leaders who promoted this verse as an act of conversion. The late Bill Bright, who was Head of Campus Crusade for Christ, advocated it in his tract, The Four Spiritual Laws, which was later followed by Knowing God Personally. Also promoting the idea was Jack Chick, with his famous cartoon tract, This Was Your Life and in all his cartoon tracts.
According to Chick, asking Jesus Christ into your heart was the most important turning point in one's salvation. Another author who advocated this idea was Salem Kirban, who wrote books on the Rapture, the Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ. Authors Hal Lindsey and I believe, Tim LaHaye favoured the idea, along with the late John Stott, in his book, Basic Christianity. In his book, Stott points to a painting by Holmon Hunt, now found at St Pauls Cathedral in London. it features Jesus Christ holding a Lantern and knocking on a closed door, partially obscured by shrubbery, indicating that it had never been opened. According to Stott, Hunt based his work on Revelation 3:20.
Along with these leaders and authors, I read testimonies of changed lives as a result of asking Jesus Christ into their hearts. There were quite a number of these testimonies. One wrote,
"One night, just before bed, I asked God to enter my heart. When I woke the next morning, I felt totally different."
Then there were those against the idea that Revelation 3:20 should be used for conversion. It does not seem to go down well with the Baptists, as both my former minister as well as my present one, insists that this verse is addressed to believers and should not be used in evangelism. One of my friends in the church said the same thing. Authors who did not use the verse for evangelism include Clive Calver, former president of Evangelical Alliance who, in one of his books, Sold Out gives a story about while preaching in one church, denounced the "Asking Jesus into one's heart" form of conversion. One in the congregation stood up and asked, "What about Revelation 3:20?"
Calver than shot back,
"Tell me, what is the last word of Revelation 3:19?"
The person could not answer. In fact, it is the word Repent.
And this is the point of this article. Repent and Repentance are words directly linked to conversion, acknowledged by all Bible scholars, teachers and evangelists. Clive Calver also rebuked Stott's association of Holmon Hunt's painting with Revelation 3:20, and instead says that it was based on John 8:12, where Jesus says that he is the Light of the world.
So besides Revelation 3:20, are there any other verses in the Bible which talks about Jesus being in the inner man?
In John 14:20 Jesus actually said,
At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you...If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come into him, and make our abode with him. (verse 23)
Abide in me, and I in you... John 15:4.
He that abide in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. v.5
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith..Ephesians 3:17.
It should be noted that all these verses apply only to believers, as with Revelation 3:20, not to unbelievers. But I believe that God can and does honour the "sinner's prayer" for simply to pray such a request, he would have already believed in the first place. And that despite that the "sinner's Prayer" has only been around within the last hundred years or so, probably less. The truth is that we are saved by believing, which is to say, by trusting. The sinner hears the word of God and quite likely he would be convicted of his sins. For some, if not many, this may be necessary for knowing why he is in need of a Saviour. A person may think that he is good enough to go to Heaven after death and not realise that he has sins in his life which would bring him to judgement.
One speaker at the Calvary Community Church in California, who has a website, Living Waters gave this demonstration of one's shortcomings and the need of a Saviour:
"I was sitting in the aeroplane and I began to talk to this person next to me. Soon I was witnessing to him why he needs a Saviour." I then asked,
"Do you believe that you're a good person?"
"Well, yes. Of course I do." was the other's reply.
"Have you ever lied to someone?"
(After a moment's thinking) "Yes,I have."
"Have you ever avoided paying tax?"
"Oh dear, yes, I did."
"Have you ever hated someone?"
"Have you ever lusted after a woman?"
"Er, yes, many times."
"Have you ever swore?"
"Yes, many times."
"So you are a murderer, a thief, a liar, an adulterer and a blasphemer. So much of a 'good' man! You are ripe for judgement."
By now the sinner is convicted of his sins and aware that he will be judged for them. Then comes the good news that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for his sins on his behalf. He immediately believes the good news. Two things have happened here. first he turns from his sins, which we call repenting. Then he believes or trusts in the Saviour. Both are heart matters and actually, repenting and believing is one and the same act. He turns from his sins, to Christ, one single act of faith. Then, according to the belief of the evangelist, he then asks Jesus Christ to come into his heart as Lord and Saviour. But he prays this as a believer, not as an unbeliever turning into a believer. And that conversion took place in a metal capsule 39,000 feet up in the air. It would have been just as effective in a pagan temple. To God, it makes no difference in location. And it makes no difference whether the prayer was said or not, but I think it is a good idea for confirmation of one's faith.
Is that person now saved? Yes, he is saved according to Scriptures. But I am aware that some on this website teaches that Baptism is necessary for salvation. Unfortunately, there is no opportunity for this person being immersed in water while in an aeroplane nearly 40,000 feet up in the air! Now just supposing that the new convert suddenly dies of a heart attack. Would he go to Hell because he wasn't baptised? Surely to ask such a question is enough to answer it. Yet Baptismal Regeneration is taught by some, such as the Church of Christ, and it proves to be very popular here.
For an answer to this, a detailed account of a Gentile's conversion is given in Acts 10. This is an account of Peter entering and then lodging in the home of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion. While Peter was preaching to all those assembled there, suddenly the Holy Spirit descended and filled them all in the house, and they began to praise God in their own languages. Peter was astonished that non-Jews too can be saved and receive the Holy Spirit, putting an end to the apostle's idea that conversion was for Jews only. Then they were all baptised in water, another case when God "broke" the average Christian tradition of first Faith, then Baptism, then Holy Spirit filling. Furthermore, none of them said the "sinner's prayer" as Revelation wasn't written yet at that time. But they were equally saved just the same. Yes, God can do what he likes when dealing with sinners, because he is Sovereign.
If a person feels it is necessary to pray to ask Jesus Christ to enter his heart, God will honour that, providing that he prays as a believer. If he doesn't pray the prayer but like Cornelius, believes anyway, he is still saved.
Likewise, the presence of God can be felt in a church building, in an aeroplane, in a tavern, at a pagan temple or shrine, or in a big open-air Christian meeting, at work, or all alone adrift at sea.
It's because God in his sovereignty and omnipresence is not "boxed in" by human thinking and tradition.