Is it really “abuse” if a verse is used inaccurately to make an important point?
The short answer is, “Yes.” We should not be so careless and cavalier with Scripture, or think so highly of ourselves, that we can impose new meaning—even if it is valid—on the inerrant, sufficient Word of God. If the point is worth making, it’s worth making from the appropriate text.
Which brings us to the verse before us today: Revelation 3:20 is certainly one of the most familiar and frequently-quoted verses in the church. It’s a particular favorite for evangelists, camp preachers, and anyone else who wants to lend some urgency to the call of God on a sinner’s life
“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 with Me” (Revelation 3:20). In the hands of many preachers and evangelists, the verse paints an attractive, compelling picture of Christ’s pursuit of the sinner, and highlights the need for an immediate response.
But is that an accurate interpretation of the verse—is Christ truly at the doorstep of each sinner’s heart, pleading to come in? And if not, on whose door is the Lord knocking? Let’s tackle those issues one at a time.
Is Christ Knocking?
We use a lot of clichés as shorthand in the church, and not all of them are helpful or even accurate. For example, many Christians talk about “asking Jesus into your heart.” And while that phrase might have some vaguely biblical underpinnings, it doesn’t shed any light on what it truly means to repent and believe. If anything, it muddles the sinner’s responsibility in salvation; it dulls some of the sharp edges of the gospel.
In the same way, the common misapplication of Revelation 3:20 has done more harm than good. Yes, the mental image of Christ knocking on the door of a sinner’s heart is moving. But it’s not accurate—it’s a caricature at best, and it comes at a high theological cost.
Put simply, Christ isn’t pleading on every sinner’s spiritual doorstep. Jesus doesn’t need to beg or badger anyone into the kingdom of heaven (John 10:27-28). Salvation isn’t merely a matter of the Lord getting a foot inside the door of your heart—it’s a work of total transformation (Ezekiel 36:26). And most important of all, salvation is not triggered by an act of the sinner’s will—it is God’s intervening work that rescues us from the just penalty of our sin (Ephesians 2:4-9).
In fact, the abuse of Revelation 3:20 often goes hand-in-hand with talk of “asking Jesus into your heart” and other man-centered versions of the gospel message. One way to protect yourself and your evangelism from such skewed perspectives is to closely adhere to biblical language when you’re explaining the gospel.