Our daughter was a precocious child. It seems she was born talking and asking questions. So when she was about 3 years old, we put her in a Sunday school class for kindergarten-age children. After Sunday school and church she would explain to us what she had learned.
One Sunday we asked her what her teacher had taught that morning.
“We heard about Nicodemus and Jesus,” she said.
(This is good, I thought -- the 3rd chapter of John. That’s where John 3:16 is. What better passage for a child to hear the simple truth that all one has to do is believe in Jesus!)
“What happened?” I asked.
Her eyes grew wider as she related the story as she recalled it. “Nicodemus was in the house and Jesus was outside. And Jesus kept knocking and knocking, but Nicodemus wouldn’t let Him in!”
I was a bit puzzled, as I had read that passage many times, but didn’t recall those details, so I asked, “What happened next?”
“It started raining – real HARD! And still Nicodemus wouldn’t let Jesus in.”
I frowned at her. “Are you sure that’s the way your teacher told the story?”
“Well, I made that part up about the rain!", she replied with a look of shame.
I could imagine what the Sunday school was like. I knew her teacher, a dear sweet elderly lady who loved the Lord and loved children. But like many teachers, she had tried to use metaphorical language to communicate concrete truths to children who see everything concretely.
She had probably told the children that Nicodemus wouldn’t “open his heart’s door” to Jesus, meaning he wouldn’t believe. But to a child, that’s a real wooden door with hinges and a doorknob.
Jesus spoke of the “little ones who believe in Me” (Matthew 18:6). He apparently thought that children were capable of exercising faith. Yet we seem to feel that instead of giving them the simple truth about Jesus, we muddy it up with metaphors.
And this is done with adults as well as children.
Jesus said, “… whoever believes in Him will … have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Paul defines the Gospel as consisting of four basic assertions, “Christ died for our sins … He was buried … He was raised … He was seen” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5a).
To believe is simply to recognize these truths and to confidently rely on them and the One of whom they speak – Jesus Christ – for our eternal salvation.
What could be simpler?
But I have heard the following appeals made:
• Open your heart (or heart’s door) to Jesus.
• Let Jesus into your heart (or life).
• Accept Jesus as your personal Savior.
• Make Jesus your Lord and Savior.
• Give your heart to Jesus.
• Pray the sinner’s prayer.
• Walk the aisle.
• Make Jesus Lord of your life.
I am positive that many people have come to saving faith in Christ despite our lack of clarity, despite our muddying up of the water of life. But why not let the message be as clear and simple as it is? Perhaps one reason is that we want to see results, we want to see a conversion experience. But the danger is that one could put faith in the conversion experience and not in the Savior Himself.