On Coming to Christ
In our last study I began to address the expression "Coming to Christ." What does the preacher mean when he says "Come to Christ"?
I pointed out four things that coming to Christ is not:
Coming to Christ is not a physical act.
Coming to Christ is not purely a mental act.
Coming to Christ is not some mystical act unfounded on biblical truth.
Coming to Christ is not merely a volitional act, such as casting a vote. Jesus does not need any votes, He is already on the throne.
What Is Coming to Christ?
What, then, does "Coming to Christ" mean? The best way to answer this question is to state what is involved in coming to Christ:
The first thing involved in coming to Christ is the recognition of a spiritual need. This is clearly seen in some of the gracious invitations in the Bible:
Matthew 11:28, 29: "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."
Notice the invitation is to those who are weary and heavy laden, indicating that they have a need. Jesus is not offering a literal yoke, He is offering soul rest--"you will find rest for your souls"--a spiritual need.
Isaiah 55:1: "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come buy wine and milk without money and without price."
Here the invitation is to thirsty souls--which indicates the recognition of a spiritual need.
Revelation 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 last invitation in the Bible is to those who want water, that is, thirsty people--people who recognize their spiritual need.
The second thing involved in coming to Christ is a revelation of Christ to the heart as the only One suitable to meet that need. Christ must be revealed to the heart by the Holy Spirit.
I have been asked more than once--What is the greatest problem of Sunday Morning Christianity? My answer is this: "A host of people who gather at the 11 o'clock hour are trying to worship an unrevealed Christ." Christ must be revealed to the heart by the Word and the Spirit.
Let me underscore this with a few biblical texts:
Matthew 16:13-17: "When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, `Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?' So they said, `Some say John the Baptist, some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.' He said to them, `But who do you say that I am?' And Simon Peter answered and said, `You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered; and said to him, `Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.'" Christ had to be revealed supernaturally to Peter.
Galatians 1:15, 16: "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called my by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood." Christ was revealed to Paul.
Matthew 2:11: "And when they (the wise men) were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him., . ." Did that little baby, to human eyes, look like a God to be worshipped? Christ had to be revealed to their hearts by the Spirit.
The second thing involved, then, in coming to Christ is: Christ must be revealed by the Holy Spirit. A supernatural revelation--Christianity is a supernatural religion.
The third thing involved in coming to Christ is a commitment to Him without reservation as the only one who can meet that need. Anything less than that makes one a stranger to Christ and true saving religion.
Ah! But, when one recognizes a spiritual need, and Christ is revealed to the heart as the only one who can meet that need, resulting in a commitment to Christ without reservation, such a one will have (1) something to confess, (2) a desire to confess Him, and (3) joy in confessing Him. This truth should help explain why we must not equate walking an aisle with coming to Christ.
Dangers and Errors of the Invitation System
The "Invitation System" is attended by various dangers and errors. The emphasis of this statement is on the word "System". I did not say an invitation. If preachers do not invite sinners to Christ they should leave the ministry. There is a world of difference between biblical invitations and the Invitation System.
By failing to make the invitation clear, preachers have unwittingly instituted a system, or a condition of salvation which is not only not found in the Bible, neither was such ever practiced or approved by Christ or his apostles. Public confession is not a condition of salvation, but a result of salvation.
The call to come forward is not a divine command. It is a man-made command. Many times those who do go forward are led to believe that they did something commendable to God. Coming forward is not something that God has commanded. I have even heard people being thanked for coming forward, while those who do not go forward are falsely supposed to be disobeying God. But God never commanded such a thing--nor is there any record of it in all the Bible--or in the early church.
This system produces false assurance. "Now that I have gone forward I am saved." How many times have I heard this! This is not the biblical ground of assurance. This system also often produces false guilt in those who do not go forward.
There is a third danger of equating coming to Christ and coming to the front of the church. It tends to mislead people. One often hears such expressions as: "He went forward to get saved.", or "If they would have sung one more verse I would have responded to the invitation.", or "I could not wait to get back to the meeting the next night to get saved." I have heard this more than once. It is a commentary on what is being conveyed.
I had a deacon tell me that sinners would come to Christ if I would choose a different kind of invitation hymn.
Does the Holy Spirit leave when the last hymn is sung? I hope not! If so, I will give up preaching and Christianity. Spurgeon said, "Go home alone. A wounded stag likes to bleed alone."
I John 2:23 states, "And this is His commandment that you believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ." This is not a physical act. You can do that in your seat without moving an eye.
The fourth danger of the invitation system is the unavoidable confusion of conscience of those who did not go forward when invited to do so by the preacher. They are often justify under the impression that they have rebelled against God when in truth they have not rebelled at all.
This false notion of equating coming forward and coming to Christ has produced the greatest record of false statistics that has ever been compiled by church or business! This system is responsible for these false statistics. It falsifies the role of the preacher or the evangelist. "Does he get decisions?" "How many decisions were there in the meeting?"
Another error spawned by this system is the misrepresentation of faith. Faith is represented as something to be done in order to salvation. I am jealous for "by grace alone," not by some physical act. I want to sing "Amazing Grace," not "Amazing Decision" (to go forward)!
Who can explain what faith is? This is not the preacher's job. The preacher's aim is to set forth the object of faith which is Jesus Christ. The preacher is not called by God to explain the act of faith.
The Example of Jesus Christ
Let us consider our Lord's first invitation--and I would to God that all preachers and evangelists would pattern after Him.
Matthew 11:28-30: "Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
Let me underscore the context of this particular invitation. Jesus Christ was addressing these words to the people of Capernaum where He had often preached and done mighty works--where He had uttered the mournful woes of the law (as in Matthew 11:23), "And thou, Capernaum, which are exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." Jesus was clearly speaking in a place where He and His preaching were rejected (Cf. Matthew 11:20ff). What did He do in this place under these circumstances?? Note three things:
(verse 25) He offered a prayer. "And at that time Jesus answered and said, `I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.'" Again, note the emphasis on the word revealed. Luke's account says, "He rejoiced in spirit."
(verse 27) He made a tremendous claim regarding the sovereignty of God. "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."
(verses 28-30) He extended an invitation. "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." He was not asking for physical response. Please note those words, "learn of Me."
The gospel is often represented as something to be learned. Therefore, sinners must be taught. In our Lord's invitation (Matthew 11:28,29) the great master teacher said, "learn of Me."
Our Lord made this very clear in the great commission. We learn the same thing from His example as we find it in the gospel and in His instructions. Matthew 28:19: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. . ."; and again in Matthew 28:20: "teaching them. . ." He did not say "decision" them, but "teach" them. "He went round the villages, "teaching" (Mark 6:6). "And Jesus....was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd" (Mark 6:34). What did he do? Call for decisions? No! No! He began to teach them. "And Jesus went about all Galilee teaching and preaching" (Matthew 4:23).
See our Lord after the resurrection on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24). What did he do? He opened the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27). He opened their understanding (Luke 24:16, 31, 45). From the very first verse in the book of Acts we learn our Lord's method of evangelizing. Acts. 1:1 ". . .all that Jesus began to do and teach."
He never made a direct appeal to the emotions or the will before He instructed their minds.
This is a lesson many preachers and evangelists need to learn. The direct appeal must be first to the mind and the understanding. Then, through the mind and the understanding, we appeal to the affections and the will. The gospel is a message that contains information and, therefore, must be communicated by definable words. The gospel contains information and needs explanation and application by word and power. "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. . ." (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
The Sacred Manual of Evangelism
Now, to Acts, the sacred manual for evangelism, where we find the apostles used the same method:
Acts 5:21: ". . .they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught."
Acts 5:25: We find them standing in the temple evangelizing. What was their method? "Teaching the people."
Acts 5:28: How were they evangelizing Jerusalem? ". . .ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching."
Acts 11:26: Paul and Barnabas were evangelizing Antioch for a whole year. What was their method? "For a whole year at Antioch Paul and Barnabas taught much people." (Please note: There is not one mention of decisioning people here or in the whole Book of Acts.)
Acts 14:21: At Derbe they used the same method--preaching and teaching--make disciples. (You make disciples by teaching them.)
Acts 15:35: Again, they used the same method--teaching and preaching.
Acts 18:11: Paul labored at Corinth for one year and six months evangelizing. How? "And he continued there a year and six months teaching the Word of God among them."
Acts 8: We have an example of personal evangelism from the sacred manual of evangelism. Philip was evangelizing the Ethiopian treasurer. Please note his method and the total absence of decisionism. Yes, there was a decision, but not decisionism. Philip explained the Scriptures! That was the method our Lord used, Peter used, and Paul used--teaching, instructing the mind. Then came the decision to confess by baptism what he had embraced from the heart. His mind was instructed, his affections were moved toward Christ, and his will responded to the truth that came to his mind and heart.
The great apostle told young Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). How did he tell him to do it? Not by going around getting men to decide they know not what. Yes, there is a decision involved. But, Paul told him the God-centered method (2 Timothy 2:2): "And the things that you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
Timothy knew how he himself had come to salvation: "And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). He was taught the Holy Scriptures.
We learn our methods from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19): "Go ye therefore and teach all nations. . ." The word teach in our King James version is also rendered more accurately make disciples, which is more of a reference to the product than the method of producing. However, the method of producing disciples is teaching.
My continued appeal is to our Lord's method and the apostolic method as we find it in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. It would be wonderful if all who are engaged in evangelism would just open their Bibles to Acts and study it with some important questions in mind as to its content.
What was the apostles' message ?(Study their sermons and their conversations with the unconverted for the answer.)
What was their method in dealing with the unconverted?
An honest man with an open Bible will discover some things regarding the apostles' presentation of Jesus Christ to sinful men. They presented Christ in such a way that through the power of the Holy Spirit sinners might be reconciled to God through Christ. They taught the gospel so that sinners might come to receive Christ as their Savior from sin and its consequences, and to serve Him in the fellowship of his church.
Gospel Invitations Are Extended to All
Gospel invitations, though extended to all, are varied:
Men who are enemies of
God are invited:
". . . be ye reconciled to God. . ."
Men whose hearts are
harder than stone are invited:
He will "take away their stony hearts and give them a heart of flesh."
Men who are dancing
gaily, or rushing madly along the way that leads to death are invited:
He calls them to turn--"Turn ye, turn ye, for why will you die."
Men who are sleeping
the sleep of death are invited:
He calls, "Awake thou that sleepeth, and arise from the dead. I will give you life."
Men who are hungering
with a craving hunger are invited: He tells them of the bread that came down from heaven.
"Come and eat. . ."
Men who are thirsty are
He calls them to the water of life so that they will never thirst again.
"Come unto Me"--where is He? He is not at some geographical place. Where is He? He is closer to you than the front of a church. He is closer to you than the tip of your fingers. He is at your heart's door--your inner most being. He is wherever there is a tear of repentance, or a sigh of godly sorrow. He is there.
Wherever there is an earnest prayer--He is there. Wherever there is a sincere desire to pray--there is Jesus. He is where you are--ready, able and willing to say "Thy sins are forgiven thee."
The Necessity of Coming to Christ Now
Come, like the poor Syrophoenician woman--in humility. All she wanted was crumbs that fell from the table--a picture of humility. He is there.
Come, crying like poor blind Bartimaeus--"Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me." They said to him, "Be of good comfort, rise! He calleth for thee." He threw off his cloak so that nothing would hinder him--all he wanted was to receive his sight. And he heard Jesus say, "Go thy way; your faith has made you whole."
I want to invite any and all who read these words to come. Yes, if you have fallen out of the way--I invite you to come. Come to Christ.
I love that word "Come." To me it seems full of grace, mercy and encouragement. "Come now," says the Lord in Isaiah, "and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow."
Come is the last word in the Bible to sinners. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come." Come is a word of merciful invitation. It seems to say, "I want you to escape the wrath to come. I am not willing that any should perish. I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. So, come to Me."
Come is a word of gracious expectation. It seems to say, "I am here waiting for you. I sit on my mercy-seat expecting you to come. I wait to be gracious. So come to Me."
Come is a word of kind encouragement. It seems to say, I have got treasures to bestow if you will only receive them. So come to Me.
My dear friends, I ask you to hear these words and lay them to heart. I plead on behalf of my Master. I am writing as an ambassador. I ask you to come and be reconciled to God.
I ask you to come with all your sins, however many they may be. If you come to Him they will be taken away. If you wait, the opportunity will pass, the door of mercy will be shut, and you will die in your sins. Come now. Come to Jesus Christ now.
You may come to church, and come to the communion table, and come to the minister, and yet never be saved. The one thing needed is the actual coming to the Savior, actual coming to the Fountain, actual washing in the blood of atonement. Except you do this, you will die in your sins. Joseph Hart said it well in this hymn:
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity joined with power:
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing doubt no more.
Come, ye needy, come and welcome, God's free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance, Every grace that brings you nigh,
Without money, Without money, Without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry till you're better, You will never come at all:
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Not the righteous--
Sinners, Jesus came to call.
Let not conscience make you linger, Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth Is to feel your need of him;
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you;
`Tis the Spirit's rising beam.
Lo! th' incarnate God, ascended, Pleads the merit of his blood;
Venture on him, venture wholly, Let no other trust intrude:
None but Jesus, None but Jesus, None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.
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