How Does One Come to Christ?
The Gospel is the goal of preaching. Redemption from sin through Christ and surrender to His purposes on earth is what we are commanded to teach from our pulpits. Throughout the New Testament we continually see a pattern where the Gospel is preached, God draws people to Himself, and they respond in obedience. Whether you teach verse-by-verse or topically or by any other strategy, the point of the Bible is Christ and at the core all preaching should point to Christ.
Over the years we’ve seen many cultural patterns and traditions become a part of how we tell the Gospel story and see people respond. There’s no evidence, for instance, in the New Testament that anyone “prayed a prayer” or “walked an aisle”—they didn’t have aisles yet! As we plan how the Gospel will be infused into preaching each week, it’s important to remind ourselves of how we come to Christ as we study the biblical example.
The Gospel demands repentance. Perhaps the most important element lacking in the preaching of the Gospel today is the call to repentance. Jesus declared that the purpose of his coming and ministry was to call “sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). When Jesus sent out his disciples to preach, we know “they went out and preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus commanded that”repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
The question is simple: Can a person truly experience forgiveness if they have no idea what they are being forgiven for and what they are being saved from? Is it possible to preach the Gospel without including the fact that we are dead in our sin and will spend eternity apart from God unless we repent and turn to Christ? I don’t think so. C.S. Lewis wrote,
“…fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement; he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor–that is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender–this movement full speed astern–is what Christians call repentance.”
Our preaching then, must confront sin and its consequences with respect to the Gospel. This is not being judgmental and it does not demand “hell fire” sermons that threaten or intimidate. At the same time we must approach sin honestly and not understate the consequences of our disobedience to God. Jesus said, “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
The Gospel is about getting Christ. Another central thought in the Gospel is that it really is not about your or me. The Gospel is about Christ. The goal of coming to Christ is to get Christ. Not abundance or material blessing. Not Your Best Life Now. Certainly Christ gives us eternal life as a result of our surrender to the Gospel. We get heaven. But heaven is only worth getting because Christ is there. Christ is not a tack-on to the real reasons for salvation. Christ Himself is the only result of the Gospel worth having.
Too often in preaching we emphasize a list of supposed benefits to Christianity outside of Christ. Yet the only promise of the Gospel is Christ. We are not promised long life, health, good relationships, material blessings, a job, friends, miraculous healing, or being spared suffering as a result of answering God’s call to Christ. To preach these as “personal benefits” of a Christ-centered life is an act of fraud against the Gospel. These things are simply not true. They may occur but they have no cause-effect relationship with surrendering to Christ as Lord. Christ is the hero of the Gospel. When we come to Christ, we get Christ, Who is all that we need. In our preaching we must not defraud the Gospel, but ask instead, Who are we leading people toward from the pulpit?
The Gospel response is immediate. In the New Testament we see a clear pattern of the Gospel preached followed by an immediate response. Those who come to Christ clearly do so. There’s no example of “reclining” into Christ over time. Though many believers cannot point to the moment when they surrendered to Christ, clearly there is indeed a moment where justification occurs. The Bible speaks of believers as being born again (John 3:7) and as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Birth and creation both occur in moments of time—they are finite acts versus something that happens over a protracted period.
Often in churches today we observe a move away from “decisional evangelism”—having a traditional “altar call” at the end of a worship service, for example. At Dr. Merritt’s church, we seldom have an altar call, but we do use a decision card as part of our Worship Guide, encouraging those who are answering God’s call to let us know for follow up, or to meet with a counselor following the services. Though we don’t see people walking aisles, they do respond through the means available each week. On occasion we still do an altar call if the presentation of the Gospel is best suited to that response. Within our church weekly there is a clear call to come to Christ—to surrender to Christ now.
Culturally today we see a strong move toward “lifestyle evangelism”, which in the most basic sense involves a more involved degree of discussion as a person “processes” what it means to come to Christ. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I’d rather someone seriously consider the call to Christ than to make an emotional decision in the moment that washes away with the first sign of challenge later on. Additionally, though, I would point out that lifestyle evangelism does not mean we fail to preach the Gospel, hoping that our “lifestyle” of good deeds and moral character will be enough to lead someone to Christ.
The Word is plain—we must preach the Gospel, period. In our preaching, we must ask, is there a clear call to respond to the Gospel? Our preaching should not lead people to simply “discover God” over a protracted period of time. Many will be skeptical and have questions as they understand Who Christ is. But if Christ can save someone right here and now, we’d be foolish not to present that opportunity at some basic level in our preaching. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 says, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
The Gospel results in obedience. When people come to Christ, there is a marked change in their life. The book of James shows this tension between grace and works—not that we work our way toward Christ, but that His grace in our lives results in good works as His Spirit takes hold daily and we begin to follow His leading. There will be ample evidence of a Christ-filled life.
We see no examples of “nominal believers” in the New Testament. On the contrary, we see either committed believers or non-believers, and we see the lukewarm being cast out as non-believers (Revelation 3:16). The life of the believer, then, is one of commitment to Christ and the Gospel with the fullness of life. Christ does not become part of our life. He is life! Our preaching must emphasize obedience to Christ and His Word, and we must not apologize for calling believers to live out what the Word says.
The Gospel has a symbol of new life. Baptism is a symbol of our commitment to Christ just a wedding ring is a symbol of marriage. As a Southern Baptist I believe biblical baptism by immersion follows surrender to Christ, and is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ applied to a new believer. For this reason, though baptism is not necessary for salvation, we strongly encourage new believers to demonstrate obedience to Christ and their commitment to Him by being baptized.
Some of the most evangelistic services our church has ever had were when we emphasized and preached on biblical baptism. Especially moving is seeing adult believers baptized, or believers who came to Christ many years ago but never demonstrated that belief through the beautiful picture of baptism. This picture of what salvation means encourages believers and helps those who are not yet believers understand what Christ desires to do in their lives. Preaching for salvation, then, should naturally include language that encourages baptism, not as part of salvation, but in obedience to Christ and as a picture of what has occurred in the life of a new believer.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.