On Coming to Christ
"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David" (Isa. 55:1-3).
Coming Is Eating--Believing is Drinking
"And Jesus said unto them, `I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst'" (John 6:35).
A commentary on John 6:35: "Then Jesus said unto them, `Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man; and drink his blood ye have no life in you'" (John 6:53).
"On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, `If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink'" (John 7:37).
Our Lord's first invitation is found in Mt. 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
His last invitation is found in Rev. 22:17: "And the Spirit and the bride say, `Come!' And let him who hears say, `Come!' And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely."
The expression, "come to Christ," is a good one, but it is surrounded by much ignorance and confusion when it is made a part of wrong methods of evangelism. What does that expression mean to its hearers? Surely it is necessary for sinners to come to Christ in order to be saved. But when a preacher calls sinners to the front of a church, while the congregation sets the mood by means of an "invitational hymn," it is likely that most hearers will equate coming to Christ with "coming forward" or "walking the aisle."
If questioned about the matter, the preacher might say "walking an aisle" does not save. Yet, at the same time, by his very language and methods, he is equating coming forward with "coming to Christ," and thus, many poor souls are deceived.
Coming to Christ is a good, biblical expression. It is used to express the act of the soul. Coming to Christ includes leaving all self-righteousness and sin, and receiving His righteousness to be our righteousness and His blood to be our covering--our atonement. Coming to Christ embraces repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Coming to Christ is the first effect of regeneration.
When the preacher says, "Come to Christ" at the end of the service, to many it means coming to the front of the church, or "going forward." What do our children think it means when the preacher says, "Come to Christ" and at the same time he invites them to the front of the church? Every true preacher and evangelist knows that coming forward in a church is not the same as coming to Christ. Some may even say "walking an aisle will not save you," but then proceed with the "altar call" as though they think it is coming to Christ.
Many preachers are not judicious in their so-called invitation, and as a result many of our people, possibly most of our people, equate the physical act of coming forward with coming to Christ. Again I say, every true preacher knows that there is not a case in the Bible, or one line of Scripture, to support this misconception (equating coming to Christ, and coming forward at the end of the service). Not only is it not in the Bible, but it was never practiced by our Lord or the apostles. In fact, it was never practiced in the church until about 150-200 years ago. The famous revivalist Charles G. Finney introduced and popularized the use of the inquiry room and the anxious bench. But Finney did not equate coming to the inquiry room as coming to Christ.
The Invitation System
Why am I so concerned about this subject? Because many people are deceived, and to be deceived about one's own salvation is the worst deception that can come upon any human being. Many Baptists are deceived on this very point.
Two Scriptures most often used to support the invitation system are Mark 1:17 and Mt. 10:32, 33. Please note I did not say invitation--but invitation system.
Mark 1:17: "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men." The disciples justify their nets and followed Jesus. He was there physically and they did follow Him physically.
Suppose that today I went to the docks of a marina and said, "Follow Jesus, and He will make you fishers of men." Would I mean that my hearers should leave their nets physically? Or, follow Jesus physically? No, that would be impossible, because Jesus is no longer here physically.
What does it mean to follow Jesus today? Following Jesus means learning His teachings--living under the influence of those teachings, and applying His them to our every day practice.
In the days of His flesh a physical response may have been possible. The fishermen literally followed Him. Zacchaeus literally and physically came out of the tree and followed Him. But even in the days of His visible presence a spiritual identification of repentance and faith was clearly the fundamental sense of the words, "Follow Me" and "Come unto Me." Therefore, Mark 1:17 is not a valid text to support any physical act or invitation system.
The second Scripture often used to support this system is Mt. 10:32, 33: "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."
Let us take a careful look at what our Lord is saying. Is He teaching that by the act of confession, or by some physical act, we become Christians? Or, is He teaching that the one indispensable mark of those who are Christians is that they will confess and live a life that openly acknowledges Him? There should be no question about the answer. To confess Christ is a spiritual duty of Christians. Confessing Him is not how to become a Christian.
In this passage Jesus is not telling sinners how to make a decision, or the way that the new birth takes place. He is teaching that confessing Him is a spiritual duty of the Christian. Confessing Christ is a Christian duty. On this point the New Testament is crystal clear. But, I ask, how was it done? What was the public confession?
In the Book of Acts (the sacred manual of evangelism) we have apostolic examples of evangelism at its purest. Ask the question, as you read the book of Acts, "How was confession made?" The clear and simple answer is baptism.
What Coming to Christ Does Not Mean
Let us return to our question--What does it mean to come to Christ? The best I can do with that question is, first, to tell you what it is not and secondly, to tell you what is involved in coming to Christ.
First, What it is not. Coming to Christ is not an overt physical act. Christ is not here physically and, therefore, one cannot come to Him physically. He is not at the front of the church, floating around like a phantom. You cannot come to Christ with your feet.
Let us to look at a very startling verse, a verse that is obnoxious to the natural mind, and confusing to many true Christians.
"No man can come to Me except the Father which has sent Me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44).
Some describe coming to Christ as the easiest thing in the world, and in one sense it is true--if you will come, you are welcome. But this verse indicates to us that coming to Christ is impossible. Though this text may be offensive to carnal minds, we must remember that offending the natural mind is often the first step in a soul coming to Christ in a saving relationship. They must see their lost condition before they ever desire to be saved.
Let us review a little grammar lesson. My old lawyer friend used to teach his children to say "May I?" If the children would say, "Can I go out and play?" He would answer, "I don't know--are you able?" He was, of course teaching them to say, "May I go out and play?"
Please note--our verse says, "no man can"; that means he does not have the ability. He may, but he can't. This text clearly teaches man's inability; but, just as clearly, it teaches the Father's gracious drawing. There is, in the text, sweet consolation--hope in the Father.
Where does man's inability lie?
1. It does not lie in any physical defect. It cannot mean man is not able to move his body, or walk with his feet. The sinner can do that--he can walk to the front of the church--he has legs. If it is saying words in prayer--he can do that. Many unregenerate persons pray. There is no lack of physical power in coming to Christ.
2. The inability does not lie in his mind, or intellect. The unconverted can learn the Bible intellectually just as he can learn math, history, physics, music, etc. Yes, he can believe the Bible is true. There are many true books which have been written by unconverted people. One can believe every statement that Christ makes, just as he is able to believe any other person. We should not tell men they cannot believe. It is not true--they can believe every word of the Bible and be as "lost as a goose." The inability is not in the faculty of the intellect (mind), or the body.
Where then, does this inability lie? It lies deep in man's nature. Through the fall and our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, depraved, and corrupt, that it is impossible for him to come to Christ without the powerful work of God the Holy Spirit.
We see it in the animal world. Animals act according to their nature. Sheep will not eat garbage, and a hog will not eat grass. There is no physical problem--they both have mouths, teeth, ears, and legs. The reason sheep will not eat garbage is because of their nature. Man's nature keeps him from coming to Christ.
Give a mother a knife and tell her to plunge it into her baby. If she is a normal mother she will say, "I can't!" "I can't!" "I cannot!" Does she mean that she does not have the strength or the ability to do this? No! No! The mother's nature makes it impossible.
Again, where does the inability to come to Christ lie? It lies in the obstinacy of the human will. Oh, yes, men can be saved if they will. I believe every sinner outside of hell can be saved if he will. That is the root of the matter--if they will.
B.B. Warfield said, "What is the use of arguing about whosoever will in a world of whosoever wont's?" We are preaching and witnessing to a world of "whosoever will nots."
The most pessimistic verse in all the Bible is John 5:40: "And you will not come to me, that you might have life." That is why John 6:44 is the most optimistic verse in the Bible. Do you know that this is one of the sweetest verses in all the Bible? If it were not for that little word except every person would go to hell. No one would be saved. Oh! "Blessed Except!" "Except the Father"--thank God for what the Father does. What I am saying is that sinners need a new "willer." Where the new will is given the desire and power will follow.
The Father Draws. How does the Father draw sinners? All would agree that the preaching of the gospel is the instrument of drawing men. But preaching alone will draw no one. Our Lord's preaching alone did not draw one sinner.
3. Coming to Christ is not some mystical experience unfounded on truth, apart from the truth of the Scriptures.
4. Coming to Christ is not merely a volitional act, that is, an act of willing, or an act of choosing. It most certainly involves an exercise of the will, but is not like voting for some one, ie. "I vote for Jesus," "I decide for Christ"; you may make a different decision tomorrow.
Coming to Christ is not physical; coming to Christ is not purely mental; coming to Christ is not mystical unfounded on truth and coming to Christ is not merely volitional.
"Well, preacher, you did very well at telling us what it is not--but, what then does it mean to come to Christ?" That question will be taken up in the next issue.
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