How does a Calvinist evangelize?
That was the question asked of me in a Q and A session after I spoke at a church a few weeks ago. My answer was one I’ve given many times before. “Evangelism for a Calvinist is like being a good real estate agent – our only obligation is to list and show. We don’t have to close!”
By that I mean my only obligation and privilege is to introduce people to Jesus and show them what it means to live like Jesus and for Jesus. I don’t have to “get them saved”. That’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility. Believing that takes all the pressure off. To illustrate, I went on to tell this story.
The Spiritual Journey
I’ve been meeting recently with a young man who was raised in the church, but in both of our opinions is not yet “born again”. He’s never rejected Jesus, but clearly he’s not yet ready to surrender his life and will to God’s. In lay terms, he’s “kicking tires spiritually”. But, he’s interested enough to have asked me what it means to be born again and what he needs to do for that to happen. So, I explained the journey of faith this way.
“Tim, I’d like you to think of this journey toward faith like you’re walking on a path. You and I are just beginning this spiritual journey together. I’ll be your coach and mentor. Because I don’t know what you don’t know about the Bible and Jesus, I’m going to introduce you to Jesus all over again.
We’re going to read through the book of Luke together. I want you to hear with adult ears just who Jesus was and is, what he did for you and what he expects of you and all of us who want to be his followers. I’ll try to answer all your questions as best as I can. (I want Tim to know exactly what he’s committing himself to.)
And, you’ll have another teacher as well – the Holy Spirit. It’s his ministry to help you understand the things we’ll be discussing. Without his doing this in you, you’ll never get it on your own.
Doing business with God
However, at some point in this spiritual journey you’re going to have to stop and do business with Jesus – just you and him personally. That means you’re going to have to admit to Jesus you’re spiritually lost, confess both your sinfulness and sins to him, acknowledge him as the Son of God and your Savior and pledge your life-long allegiance to him. He is ready and willing to receive you as one of his followers, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
While you do that, I’ll be waiting for you and praying for you. I can’t do this business with Jesus for you and I don’t want to pressure you into praying some prayer, you don’t really mean right now. This is serious business and you have to be ready to commit your life to Jesus and his kingdom agenda, publicly and privately forever.
The Bible teaches that when anyone cries out to Jesus to save them, he will come into them and create a new spirit within them. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 That’s what it means to be born again – you will be a new person spiritually.
And by the way, if you want me present when you give your life to Christ, call me. I’d be honored to do that. Or call me afterward. You don’t need me at that point, but I’d be honored to share the joy of your new salvation with you.
In any case, once you’ve done that, I’ll be waiting for you to continue on your faith journey. Because the Holy Spirit, at that point will be living in you, you’ll understand things you never could have before. This stage of the journey, Christians refer to as sanctification – the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. That part of this journey will last the rest of your life on earth.”
Anyway, that’s how I describe the journey of faith to people.
My concern about “the prayer”
Here’s my concern with asking people to pray a prayer of commitment at an evangelistic meeting or even asking them to pray “the prayer” with me; they may not fully realize what they are doing and why they are doing it. I’ve met all kinds of people who prayed “the prayer” at a camp or retreat or evangelistic meeting because their life was falling apart and they thought God could fix that.
To them, Jesus was more like a spiritual rabbit’s foot that might help them get through a crisis or stay out of hell. It was fear, not conviction that drove them. Their prayer wasn’t crying out to Jesus, as their only hope for life and in death. They weren’t really interested in being born again or living for Jesus for the rest of their lives – they just wanted him to fix their problems.
When we ask people to pray “the prayer” and promise them that “tonight you can know you are a child of God”, we run the risk of giving them the promise of eternal security, when in fact they may not have actually committed their life to Christ at all!
Now, having said this, I’ve met many people who did give their lives to Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade, or evangelistic meeting, who were thoroughly, born again. This journey of salvation is a mystery to me in many ways. But, I think it’s wise that we not declare people born again prematurely just because they prayed some prayer.
In two days, I’ll post Part II of this blog, exploring in more depth how I believe this spiritual journey works in the life of a non-Christian.
Following Jesus in Real Life