There are so many ways to word an invitation to people to become Christians…
- Repent and believe…
- Admit, believe, confess…
- Invite Jesus into your life…
- Ask Jesus to be your Savior…
- Give your life to Jesus…
- Believe and receive…
- Commit your life to Jesus…
- Ask Jesus into your heart… (which can mean so many things)
I’m from an area of Kentucky where some fringe Baptist groups put up billboards that say things like, “You don’t accept Christ. Christ accepts you.” And of course, that clears things right up, right?
I recently wrote about Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel, in which McKnight offers a ton of clarity about what the “gospel” really is. It isn’t a plan of salvation or a Reformation-era articulation of the doctrine of justification by faith. The gospel is, according to McKnight (and I wholeheartedly agree),
It’s to the saving Story of Israel now lived out by Jesus, who lived, died, was buried, was raised, and was exalted to God’s right hand, and who is now roaring out the message that someday the kingdom will come in all its glorious fury.
This explanation really leaves us with a big question, though. When we’ve presented the gospel, what’s next? What kind of invitation do we give? To what kind of commitment to we call our listeners? I loved this follow-up piece on McKnight’s blog offering a pretty thorough answer…
What do you say, then, when you are calling people to … here the words matter but I don’t want to parse them at this point … decision? The Sinner’s Prayer is neither here nor there; it’s not the point; it can be the right thing for the right person but it can (too) easily become a magical potion for some evangelists and for some responders. We need to begin at the core of what the proper response to the gospel is:
1. Remember, gospeling is not fundamentally about pleading, persuading, pleasing, or getting folks to decide. Gospeling is to announce something about Jesus. The rhetorical bundle of revivalism, which I have sketched in The King Jesus Gospel, is not the gospel of Jesus or the apostles, and it is bundle of rhetoric designed to persuade and plead and to precipitate decisions. This bundle has convinced many that the bundle is the gospel. It’s not. The revised edition of The King Jesus Gospel has a chapter on how this bundle developed and who is responsible for it.
2. The gospel itself awakens, through the power of God’s Spirit, folks to respond. Don’t forget this: our calling is to witness and declare; God’s Advocate, the Spirit, awakens and draws people to God. God’s Spirit is at work in all and for all.
3. The appropriate gospel message about Jesus is a message that generates this question: Who is Jesus? The proper response then is to repent, to believe, and to be baptized. Confession, yes, of course — inchoately or not — but all of these can be wrapped up into the notion of surrender. I make no apologies for these terms repent, believe, baptize — they are rugged, pervasive terms in the apostolic writings, the source of Christian theology.
4. What we are to do is point people to Jesus in his dimensions, and each dimension summons to a different dimension of the response of surrender to Jesus: we ask them to look to him, to love him, to live before and under and through and by and in him, to call them to give themselves to Jesus and to what he calls us to do. God’s Spirit is at work; God’s Spirit works repentance and faith and leads to baptism. When we get ahead of the Spirit, we run the risk of aborting new birth.
5. What do I say? “Give yourself to Jesus!”
And there you have it. Our role is to represent our saving King, to tell his story and allow the Holy Spirit to produce life in those who hear. Yes, we ought to let people know that they can, should, and must respond. But our emphasis doesn’t have to be on getting anyone to say certain words. Rather, we’re inviting people to come with us as we follow the King.
- Tell the saving story of Jesus.
- Trust the Spirit to bless his gospel and to quicken the dead to life.
- Invite people to give themselves to Jesus.
I’m a Pastor who preaches almost every week, and every single time, I do these three things. It’s not enough to ask people to behave differently. We must call them to believe in Jesus and become his followers. So make the gospel clear in every single sermon.
Have you, in light of who Jesus is, given your life to him?
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