If you grew up in a Christian environment (Protestant or Catholic), you’ve seen this picture in your church and maybe had it in your home. “Christ at Heart’s Door” is the title of the painting by Warner Sallman (1892-1968). The image offers the assurance of Christ’s benevolent yet persistent love. Still, others interpret the image in terms of the freedom of will. A Lutheran clergyman admires the painting “because the absence of any outside knob or latch on the door indicates that one must open one’s heart to Christ from within — He will not force His way inside.”
“He will not force His way inside.” That’s exactly what I heard a group of Christians say the other day as they discussed about the goodness and gentleness of God. While the idea is correct, the focus is misplaced.
The verse of Scripture which inspired this picture is Revelations 3:20. “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.” But these words are part of a larger message that the Spirit had for the Church at Laodicea. The full message goes like this:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 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. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Look again at the picture by Sallman. Christ is standing at the door, knocking and calling out. Now turn your attention to his face. What do you see? Do you see joy? (It would be totally inappropriate, wouldn’t it?) Do you see sadness? What do you see? Based on the text above, Christ should be squirming with “moral nausea roused by [the] tepid religion” (Expositor’s Greek Testament) of those on the other side of the door. Disgusted, he is ready to reject them for good. But in his mercy, he waits a bit longer, knocks a bit harder, and his voice ever so tender.
Many of us today have made the same mistake the Laodiceans made back then. We have interpreted our material wellbeing as an indication of spiritual blessing. The proverb “All that glitters is not gold,” reminds us that looks can be deceiving. Material blessing, as we learn here, can mask one’s spiritual deadness. Christ spoke of the “deceitfulness of riches” that chokes the Word and makes it unfruitful (Mark 4:19).
Make no mistake about it: Christ is seeking us because we are not seeking him. While we are still sinners, he died for us (Rom 5:8). We might not be able to see our own wretchedness, misery, blindness, and naked, but his invitation is unmistakeable and undeniable. Carry on ignoring him at your own peril. Soon you will hear the pound of the Judge’s gavel instead of the Saviour’s loving knocks. Instead of a second chance, you will receive the “second death.” Open the door and you will be blessed with sweet communion with him. But don’t do it if you are not ready to be “zealous and repent.”