We often hear the “Savior” characteristics of God stressed – His love, mercy, goodness and so on – but the matter of his lordship is absent. The distortion is particularly clear in evangelism. In modern practice the call to repentance is usually called an “invitation,” which one can obviously accept or refuse. It is offered politely. Seldom do we hear presented God’s sovereign demand to repent or his demand for total submission to the authority of his appointed king, Christ Jesus.
Taken from “Foundations of the Christian Faith-Book I” by James Montgomery Boice, page 120. (c)1986 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the USA, Revised edition. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. Get this book!
Indeed, in conversion, a man must make a decision. We shy away from that term because in modern jargon a “decision” has come to be identified with an outward expression, such as raising the hand or going forward to the front. While such external acts have nothing to do with forgiveness of sins, the heart must make a decision to be saved.
The Christian call to evangelism is not simply a call to persuade people to make decisions, but rather to proclaim to them the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneration and conversion.
The invitation system…encourages people to make a response that “settles things” and, through subsequent counseling, to never doubt that decision. Anyone who is involved in personal evangelism can share countless examples of persons who, though presently living in gross sin, will nonetheless tell the evangelist that they are fine because they “made a decision for Christ” a certain number of years ago. They have never had any change in their life; they have no interest in the church, the Bible, or even God. But they have made their “decision.” Can we not see how dangerous such a system is to the souls of men?
We must be patient to allow the Holy Spirit to work conviction in the heart. That may happen in a few moments, a few hours, days, or even years. To be biblically evangelistic, we must be certain that what we do leads men to faith, not just to decisions.
To be biblically evangelistic, we must be certain that what we do leads men to faith, not just to decisions.
New birth…means one has enthroned Christ in the center of one’s life. You become a Christian when your life, thinking and behavior begin to resolve around Jesus Christ. Until that happens, professions and decisions mean very little. Changed behavior processing from a spiritual heart transplant is the only certain evidence of new birth.
Conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit changing our nature, not the result of a seeker making a decision.
A sinner does not “decide” for Christ; the sinner “flies” to Christ in utter helplessness and despair saying – Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Saviour, or I die. No man truly comes to Christ unless he flies to Him as his only refuge and hope, his only way of escape from the accusations of conscience and the condemnation of God’s holy law. Nothing else is satisfactory. If a man says that having thought about the matter and having considered all sides he has on the whole decided for Christ, and if he has done so without any emotion or feeling, I cannot regard him as a man who has been regenerated. The convicted sinner no more “decides” for Christ than the poor drowning man “decides” to take hold of that rope that is thrown to him and suddenly provides him with the only means of escape. The term is entirely inappropriate.
No preacher in the New Testament ever preached this to sinners! Search the Word for yourself to see! This giving mere “mental assent” to the facts of the gospel is not what the Bible calls “believing to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39). The Christ of Scripture is LORD, and He must be received and bowed to as LORD: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus THE LORD, so walk ye in Him” (Col. 2:6). When Paul wrote to true believers in his day he knew nothing of those who had made “first-time decisions” for Christ, but still needed to make “second and third decisions” to follow Christ (William Bell).
However one chooses to interpret Revelation 3:20, it must not be thought that the sinner possesses the power to open his own heart to Christ. Only God can do this (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; James 1:18). Although God’s sovereignty in salvation does not negate our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to all men, we must never suggest to people that the power to convert their hearts lies within them (Psalm 110:3; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) (Darryl Erkel).
Perhaps you can see why it is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in terms of decisions and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation. Mere decisions are no sure evidence of a true work of grace in the heart. People can make “decisions” about the truth of God while their hearts are far from Him.
Too often, modern evangelism has substituted a “decision” in the place of repentance and saving faith. Forgiveness is preached without the equally important truth that the Spirit of God must change the heart. As a result decisions are treated as conversions even though there is no evidence of a supernatural work of God in the life.
Salvation is from our side a choice; from the divine side it is a seizing upon, an apprehending, a conquest by the Most High God. Our “accepting” and “willing” are reactions rather than actions. The right of determination must always remain with God.
The problem is that many people cling to the symbol but never understand the reality it is intended to represent. Most likely, tens of thousands of people have “invited Christ into [their] hearts,” thinking that a mystical experience is what saves them. Then, they go on their merry way, living their lives as they did before. If you were to ask them, “How do you know that you are going to heaven?” they would respond, “Because I invited Christ into my heart.” But if you probe, there is nothing beneath the shallowness of that reply. They did what someone told them to do, but never really embraced the Savior.
Saving faith is not a decision that is made, and it is not a mouthing of a certain formula. Even if the formula is recited in prayer, this is not saving faith. Manipulating a person to say go through certain motions and say certain words does him no good whatever. This is not saving faith. This is dangerous indeed. Can a man really be saved by saying “yes” to a series of questions? Have we done them any favor by allowing them to think so? This is a misunderstanding of saving faith. It is a confusion of professed faith with true saving faith. This mistake has resulted in the unprecedented number of false converts which this century of evangelism has produced. Decisions and numbers there are, but the “converts” are notoriously unconverted. This is a direct result of confusing decisions with true faith, and it is a blight on the church. It is also inevitable. And it is shameful. And it is harmful, for we have convinced unconverted people that they are safe.