Dr. Mark Bailey, President of Dallas Theological Seminary until last June and now Chancellor, is teaching a class on the Gospel of John that is free for online viewing. A friend sent me his discussion of John’s Prologue. In this discussion Dr. Bailey argues strongly that telling people to receive Jesus is a perfectly clear way of evangelizing. You can see his remarks here. Start at the 7-minute mark.
Dr. Bailey is discussing John 1:12. He says:
It is a Biblical concept to talk about receiving Christ. There’s been arguments among Evangelicals and churches and popular, you know, church pastors who [say], “Belief is the only legitimate word. This concept of accepting Jesus, receiving [Jesus] is not a Biblical concept.” And you want to go, “Hello!” [Here he points down to his Bible open to John 1:12.]
In fact, a young buck who is pastoring a large church in the state—neat guy, neat guy—and he got off on this one time with what were [doing in] Walk Thru the Bible and we had on the back of our evaluation [the words] I receive Jesus Christ as my Savior. He didn’t like that. He thought belief ought to be the word. And so, we were sitting around and [he said] “Receiving is not a Biblical concept.”
So, I decided to have some fun with him. I said, “Let me quote you a verse: ‘As many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to be called the children of God, even to those who believe on His name.’”
Believing and receiving are both Biblical concepts that are synonymous.
Well, that’s one. Colossians 2:16 [is another]: “In the same way that you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk ye in Him.”
See, receiving that gift of life—receiving Christ—is synonymous with believing in Christ. How should you walk? In the same way you came to faith. By faith.
So, receiving here [John 1:12], as in Col 2:6, is not a bad concept.
First, it is great to see Dr. Bailey refer to “that gift of life.”
Second, it is also good that he finds the word believe to be a perfectly good word for evangelism, though he is not stressing that in this lesson.
Third, I’m sure he would agree that many evangelists misuse the concepts of receiving Christ or of accepting Christ. I wish he had discussed that problem.
No one is born again by saying the words, “Lord Jesus, please come into my life [or heart].” Many evangelists present the idea that Jesus is a commodity that we receive by invitation and that He is required to come into our lives and save us as long as we sincerely ask Him. What we believe is not the issue. Sincerely asking Him in is the issue.
But that is wrong. What we believe matters. In fact, we cannot be born again until we believe in Jesus for the gift of life that He promises the believer.
Fourth, Dr. Bailey failed to note the frequency of usage of the words receiving and believing in the Fourth Gospel. Receiving Christ occurs only one time in John’s Gospel and never on the lips of Jesus. The expression believing in His name and believing in Him, in its various forms, occurs dozens of times in John’s Gospel (e.g., John 1:12; 2:11; 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25, 26; 20:31).
Fifth, receiving and believing are not synonyms. Synonyms are words that have the same meaning, like happy and joyful, angry and mad, tyranny and oppression, disgust and revulsion, etc. If you look up the word receive in a thesaurus, you will not find believe listed as a synonym. See here at thesaurus.com.
Receiving Christ is used one time in John’s Gospel as an illustration of faith in Christ.i There are many such illustrations in John’s Gospel, including drinking the water of life, eating the bread of life, and coming to Jesus. But we would never say that eating, drinking, and coming are synonyms for believing. Nor should we be saying that receiving is.
Merrill Tenney famously called the Fourth Gospel “the Gospel of belief.” It is that. The word believe occurs 100 times in John’s Gospel. WWJD? We know that He told people to believe in Him for everlasting life (e.g., John 3:16). We should follow His example.
i I have no problem with calling receiving Christ, eating the bread of life, and drinking the living water as synonymous concepts to believing in His name. However, all of those synonymous concepts need careful explanation. Partaking of communion is not eating the bread of life or drinking the water of life. Inviting Jesus into one’s life is not receiving Him.
ii Revelation 3:20 is not an evangelistic verse. It is addressed to believers in the church of Laodicea. Jesus does not use the word receive there. He encourages believers to repent and be zealous for good works (Rev 3:19) as a means to figuratively open the door of fellowship to Him.