Scripture gives us lots of answers to these questions, maybe not directly, but through examples, as well as doctrines related to salvation, called Soteriology. First some examples: When we look at John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ gospel presentation (or even their disciples), we never once find them trying to coax or persuade any one of their hearers to make a decision. Not once! There’s never a “what are you gonna do about it?” or “don’t you think it’s time you give your heart to Him?” or “aren’t you gonna give Jesus a try?” Not even anything close to such ploys or tactics. In fact, in John 6, we see many in a crowd, who had followed Jesus up to that point, stop hanging around Him from then on.
Look further at how Peter, Phillip, and Paul go about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles in the book of Acts. At Pentecost, after finishing his historic sermon, Peter just ends his message. He has no invitation. He asks no follow-up questions. He makes no pleas. Instead, it’s the people who cry out, “What must we do?” Later, when Peter goes to Cornelius’ house, he again just starts sharing the gospel, and even before he’s finished speaking, Cornelius and some in his household begin speaking in tongues (sorry, that topic’s for another blog post!). Peter didn’t even get a chance to lead them in a prayer or get them to make a decision!
Phillip was told by an angel to go to the desert to have an encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading Isaiah and was asking Phillip for help in understanding Isaiah 53. Phillip explained how the chapter was talking of Christ and then proceeded to share the good news with him. Before he even had a chance to get the eunuch to walk down the aisle of the desert to “go forward” and make a decision, the eunuch asked him what was preventing himself from getting baptized. He was “good to go” before Phillip could do any professional follow-up.
Paul had many recorded gospel encounters with Jews and Gentiles, yet he never got the memo on coercing decisions out of his audience members. In fact, when he had a huge crowd at his attention on Mars Hill, where he had the perfect opportunity to have people bow their heads, close their eyes, and then raise their hands to indicate they were making a decision for Jesus, he totally dropped the ball and simply told them that their time of ignorance was over and they needed to repent of their sin. Over and over, when some people believed what he said and others rejected his message, Luke, the author of Acts, never records that Paul tried to get those who believed to write down that day’s date for assurance of their salvation, nor did he try to chase down those who rejected him to get them to pray a prayer or check off a box on a scroll.
If there are NO recorded examples of any of these modern day evangelistic tools, why are such tactics so popular in so many evangelical circles?!? Is the Bible wrong? Or has today’s professing church gotten off track?
Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us that it is “by grace alone through faith alone” that anyone receives salvation; it is “not of works” so that no one can lay any claim to any work that they did to garner eternal deliverance. Titus 3:5 says that it’s “not by any works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.” The Bible further articulates that it’s the law that shows men that they are guilty of breaking God’s laws; and it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts men of their sin. Without conviction of sin, there is no response of repentance (sorrow over one’s sin and the consequential desire to turn from it). Without repentance, there is no change of will, heart, and mind. Without the change, there is no faith in Christ alone (His perfect, obedient life or His substitutionary death in our place) for salvation.
The danger in coaxing someone to pray a prayer or walk down an aisle or raise a quiet hand or check off a box on a response card is the erroneous message any of these acts sends to those who do such things. It leads them to believe that THAT action saved them. When anyone asks them if they’re saved, they point to “the act” they performed that is the sole basis for their assurance, rather than to Jesus and what He did. And when confronted about the lack of fruit in their lives after their “decision,” they again erroneously point to “the act” as proof that they “got saved,” not to any examples of holy living and/or abandonment of sinful practices.
Get the point?
Follow the tried-and-true examples of Jesus, John the Baptist, and the earliest disciples: Just give ‘em the gospel and let the Spirit do the rest!