Thirty years ago when Billy Graham was still alive and leading evangelistic meetings, I can't remember an "alter call" that wasn't proceeded by a call to repent of ones sin. I doubt that it ever occurred to him to think a person could be born again without recognizing his or her sinfulness, being sickened by it and desperately wanting to be forgiven of their sin.
From the first day of Christianity repentance was front and center. When Peter preached his first evangelist message in Acts 2, the people responded this way, "When the people heard this, they were cut to heart and said to Peter and the others, "What shall we do?" The very next words that came out of Peter's mouth were, "Repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins." -Acts 2:37 A few weeks later Peter is at it again, telling his audience, "Repent then, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out..." Acts 3:19a
What's The Problem?
I've heard lots of "evangelistic" messages in the last decade or two that barely mention sin, or the need to repent as a condition for salvation. The current message is more like;
"If you want Jesus to come into your heart, just ask him."
"If tonight you want to know you belong to God, Jesus is ready to forgive and save you."
"If you want to know for sure that if you died tonight that you'd live with Jesus in heaven forever, just come forward and choose Christ."
Here's the problem! If you don't know you are a sinner, there's no need for a Savior
I have no doubt that any evangelist who waters down the call to faith, still believes in sin and that there is no hope or salvation without believing Jesus is the only solution for that spiritual problem. I'm sure they believe that. The problem is a lot of the men I speak with about Jesus don't. Sure, everyone knows we do bad sinful things. However, their internal moral math simply lies to people telling them "you're really not that bad a person, but it would be nice to have Jesus on your side, so ask him." That isn't actually a capitulation and surrender to Jesus. It's more like inviting Jesus to be your co-pilot to help you out over some rough spots.
I often refer to that god as the "god" of the Chamber of Commmerce, or the Rotary. The all -purpose god to whom Americans give thanks at public gatherings before we eat, to bless our food and country and who we call on to heal family or friends when doctors have run out of answers. And this god of the Rotary pretty much leaves our personal moral choices alone to live as we like, unless we're hurting someone else.
However, any call to faith that does not include a clear declaration of the sinful condition of the human heart, no matter how nice a person you are, and the requirement to ask God to forgive you may be a false confession and conversion. Why "may be"? Because is Jesus is capable of saving anyone regardless how immensely flawed their theology is. I just don't want to be responsible for promising anyone a solution to their spiritual problem that doesn't require them to repent and turn away from there sin and old life. (More about that in next weeks blog.)
So by now you're probably nodding in agreement. But be mindful of any "call to faith" in the youth group at your church, or at a Christian Camp. I've listened to "evangelistic" messages at both that have made me cringe. But before you talk to anyone about your observations, please talk to God so that your conversation is helpful, not hurtful- full of both truth and grace
"God loves you and has wonderful plan for your life," wrote Bill Bright in The Four Spiritual Laws. True, but first you need to know why you actually need him to be able to enter into the wonderful life.