Many times I’ve written against ‘Hercules at the cross-roads’ evangelism. Unbelievers are not decision-makers who need to be cajoled or coerced to ‘take a step’. Unbelievers are ‘Lazarus in the tomb’ – dead in sins and desperately needing the voice of the Son of God.
Well alright, I hear you saying… But, Glen, at some stage you need to “close the deal”, surely. At some point the unbeliever needs to make a choice right? Even if it’s all about ‘receiving Jesus’, fine, there’s still something for the unbeliever to do, isn’t there? So how do you preach that without falling back into Decision Theology?
Now before I have a stab at an answer, let me distinguish between what must happen in evangelism and what the unbeliever is capable of. What must happen is that the unbeliever must be born again, they must be forgiven by God, they must be adopted by the Father, they must be united to the Son, they must be sealed with the Spirit, they must be cleansed by the blood of Jesus, they must be pronounced righteous (i.e. justified), they must be made a new creation. I’m not laying out discrete stages in salvation here – I’m speaking about the same truth from different angles. The unbeliever must be converted. But notice this: they must be converted. No-one can get themselves reborn or forgiven, or adopted, or united, or sealed, or cleansed, or justified, or recreated.
What must happen in evangelism is precisely what the unbeliever can’t do. I know I keep stressing this, but it needs to be stressed: sinners can’t save themselves. Salvation belongs to the LORD.
But, having said all this, there is a call to repent. So what does it look like?
Well think of Lazarus called from the tomb. “Come forth” was the resounding command. Here’s something very definite for Lazarus to do. And he did it. But just think… later that day, as Lazarus had the unusual experience of enjoying his own wake, he could have said: “I heard Jesus’ voice and I decided to obey” (cf John 5:25). That’s one way of putting it.
But put yourself in the shoes of those would-be mourners, listening to Lazarus. As he recounts how he beat death, you’d be smiling and nodding, all the while you’d know what had really happened. You’d seen it all from Christ’s perspective. It was the voice of the Son of God that raised him and Lazarus found himself unable to do anything but “come forth”.
Lazarus’s story is a conversion story – Jesus set it up like that back in John 5 (see v24-29). And this story includes the perspective of the listener – a perspective which involves decision. Every sinner has a “how I beat death” story. There are rational processes that we can reflect upon. But all this is reflection upon a miracle. What was actually decisive was the Word raising the dead.
So… and now, finally, I’m going to say something mildly practical… when I call unbelievers to receive Jesus, I try not to frame it as a “decision” they need to weigh up. I announce Jesus as the Lord. I paint Him in biblical colours, I tell them what He’s done and along the way I say things like:
Basically I allow the word of Jesus to draw them. (That’s the point of biblical evangelism – letting the voice of the Son of God be heard). And then, at certain points, I’ll say “If you are feeling drawn to Jesus, that is God calling you.” Or I’ll say “If you are now sensing in your heart that Jesus really is Lord, you’re becoming a Christian. Because a Christian is someone who looks to Jesus and says “Yes, He’s the One.” Is that happening to you?”
I’m not so much into telling them “Choose to make Jesus Lord of your life.” I’m telling them “Jesus is Lord, whatever you feel about the matter. If you can’t see it you must be blind. If you can see it, that’s God opening your eyes. Don’t refuse His Gift – receive Jesus, He’s yours.”
That’s my take anyway. What’s yours?