Bible verses get misinterpreted and misapplied all the time. One such verse is found in Revelation 3:20, which records Jesus as saying: “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.” A common use applied to this text is to tell a lost person that Jesus is “knocking on the door of their heart” asking for entrance. That Jesus is “inviting” them but that it is up to them to “let him in” by an act of their freewill. So won't you ask Jesus into your heart?
The problem with this application is that this is not what the text says and it's not what the text means. First of all, Jesus is not speaking to the "world" in this verse. He's not even speaking to the church at large. He is speaking to an individual church at Laodicea. With that said, Bible scholars differ as to who is being addressed. Some see the seven churches of revelation as being symbolic of the church in various ages. Others see it as an address to a specific first century congregation alone. While still others see it as an address to a first century congregation, with application that extends beyond that particular epoch. Regardless of what hermeneutical grid you read Revelation through, this much is clear: This passage is not about Jesus knocking on the door of a sinners heart. In fact, if you look closely at the text, it says absolutely nothing about a “heart.”
Laodicea was the "lukewarm" church that became rich and wealthy and believed they had no need of anything. In fact they seemed pretty adamant that they didn't even need Jesus. Even though, its actually His church, not theirs! I believe this is a very biting piece of irony that the Laodicean church believed they had it all and needed nothing. Yet in actuality they were so spiritually bankrupt that Jesus was not even in their midst. Their church had become a country club, where Nazarene carpenters were not welcome, even though they claimed to be "Christians." All the while, Jesus stands at the door and knocks as they continue on with their delusional partying and self-glorification. The symbolic picture is utterly breath-taking.
In truth, this verse is not so much a plea regarding individual evangelism toward the unregenerate as it is an indictment upon churches of professing Christians who don't see their need for the Lord. The cold hard truth is that the church of Laodicea sounds very much like many 21st century American congregations. By loving the world and the things of the world they've become ignorant of their great need for Jesus. And though they might have the name of a Christian denomination on the church sign, Jesus isn't even really there. Nor is His gospel ever preached there.
When I hear someone use Revelation 3:20 to share the gospel, in one sense I rejoice because “at least Christ is preached.” (see Philippians 1:18) At least they're making an effort to tell the lost of Jesus. But in another sense, this is a misapplication of the text and a potentially dangerous one at that. It leads the sinner into a false belief that salvation is in accordance with their “freewill” when the Bible is adamant that salvation is by God grace through faith which is “not of ourselves.” (Ephesians 2:8) The sinner thinks they can simply put this off until they wish to “open the door.” When in truth they are “dead in their sins” (Eph. 2:1) and have no ability to “open the door.” By all means let us call the lost of the world to repent and believe on Jesus for salvation. But let us also make clear that if they do this, its not because they opened a door, but because God opened their heart. (see Acts 16:14) With the gospel presented in this type of fashion, sinners will know where they truly stand. And God will truly receive all the glory if they are saved.
With all that said, we must guard against going overboard in the other direction as well. We shouldn't shy away from calling sinners to repent and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor should we downplay the fact that the Bible truly does speak of the Holy Spirit drawing and convicting sinners. Nor would we wish to ignore the gospel summons (indeed the gospel command) for sinners to come to Christ and be saved. Furthermore, it would be fully acceptable to say that Jesus lives inside of believers by way of the Holy Spirit who indwells them. Truly does Paul write: “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) And that a great mystery has been revealed unto us “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) For the Christian, Jesus has done something to them and in them. And it involves their heart. And he truly lives inside of them in a special and unique way. But that's not what Revelation 3:20 is teaching.
The pertinent question is not so much “Do you have Jesus in your heart?” The pertinent question is “How did He get there?” And the Biblical answer is that it was not by the efforts of your “flesh and blood” nor was it by “the will of man” nor was it by the status of your physical birth (see John 1:12-14), nor was it because He knocked on the door of your heart and you decided to let him in. In the case of those born again, Jesus didn't knock on the door of their heart and passively wait for their invitation. He kicked down the door of their heart and rescued them by His grace! Saul of Tarsus didn't choose Jesus. Rather Jesus referred to him as a “chosen instrument.” (Acts 9:15) The disciples did not choose Jesus, on the contrary Jesus was adamant that He had chosen them. (John 15:16) This is true of all believers. Salvation is of the Lord. Don't try and tweak the Scriptures to make it otherwise. And when you've found they you've inadvertently been using a passage to teach something it doesn't mean, don't kick against the goads and continue on in error. We've all misapplied Scripture and indeed we are still in a learning process that is perpetual. The biggest problem isn't in discovering you were wrong about a passage of Scripture. The biggest problem is stubbornly persisting in the wrong out of sense of pride.
If you're saved, then praise the Lord for changing your heart. Praise the Lord for washing you clean. Praise the Lord for transferring you from darkness to light. And praise the Lord that none of this rested on your ability to open a door that you had no access to. He didn't knock on the door of your heart awaiting your reply. He kicked down the door of your heart and rescued you from the domain of darkness. Unto Him be all glory.....and power......and praise!