Archive for February, 2012

One of our laymen preached the Midweek message on Wednesday evening. He preached a message about God’s amazing gift of grace. Since then, I have been relishing on the power of the gospel. This past week, while enjoying a “staycation” by accomplishing a long list of “honey dos,” I also spent a significant amount of time reading the Word and a number of other articles, blogs, and books. One book in particular has peaked my interest, J.D. Greear’s Gospel, which carries an intriguing subtitle, Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.

The past couple of years God has been impressing upon me the significance of simple gospel message. We need to fall in love again with the Lord. In fact, I fear that many have unintentionally adopted a gospel that is not the gospel at all. The gospel is life giving and life changing, because it generates in believers changes that are received only by grace through faith. However, as people default into religious forms and practices, the foundational truth of the gospel gets bypassed, obscured, and even forgotten. The result? People end up practicing a religion based on performance, “I obey; therefore, I am accepted by God.” However, the gospel of Jesus Christ offers people relationship with God as a gift. The basic operating principle of the gospel is one of unmerited acceptance, “I am accepted by God through Jesus Christ; therefore, I obey.”

Friends, it is one thing to understand the gospel; however, it is quite another to experience the gospel in such a way that it fundamentally changes us and becomes the source of our identity and security. We obviously champion the gospel; yet, we must regularly explore all the mysteries of the gospel so that its message might permeate our thinking and influence every aspect of our living.

Extending an invitation for response to a biblical message gives listeners the opportunity to respond to the activity of the Holy Spirit. While some preachers have used a variety of methods to get a public response, we should recognize that the Holy Spirit does not need man’s help to do so. The man who stands in the pulpit and tries to get people to jump through hoops to walk the aisle stands as a manipulator, not a preacher. Obviously, we want to see the unsaved converted by God, not emotional responses as a result of the manipulation of man.

Both the Old and New Testaments agree that God alone enables salvation by giving the ability to repent and turn from sin. In fact, every spiritual act requires divine enabling.

Because the Holy Spirit does not need our help, we simply need to preach the Word with integrity, extend the invitation with integrity, and trust the Holy Spirit for the results. Jesus offered a simple call to follow Him. When Jesus called His disciples, He said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). On another occasion, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Jesus extended an urgent appeal for the lost to come to salvation in this public proclamation, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). When Peter preached at Pentecost, he extended a public invitation for the people to come and “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). So we do not need to resort to manipulative tactics to get people to respond. Rather, we should preach the Word with integrity, extend the invitation with integrity, and trust the Holy Spirit for the results.

In my preaching ministry, I will continue to extend an invitation at the conclusion of the message for these biblical reasons. First, this practice permeates the Scriptures. In addition to those noted previously, consider this sampling from the Old and New Testaments – Isaiah 1:18; Hosea 6:1; John 6:37; Acts 3:19; Revelation 22:17. Second, it promotes the sovereignty of God. God works through the preached Word to regenerate the dead. An invitation demonstrates expectancy for God to move in His sovereignty among the hearers.

Third, it emphasizes the moral responsibility of man. According to Scripture, man has the responsibility to repent and believe (Acts 2:38), and confess Christ as Lord. Note, also, the public nature of this response in Jesus’ words: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). Finally, it demonstrates an urgent desire for people to come to salvation. Jesus stood up on the last day of the feast, and, with urgency, extended a public invitation for the lost to come and be saved (John 7:37). In these last days, we should have urgency in our hearts to see the lost saved. We ought to be publicly calling all who are thirsty to come and follow Jesus. Therefore, let us preach with integrity, extend the invitation with integrity and trust the Holy Spirit for the results.

The most important part of our service comes near the end – the invitation. Each week, I am praying and preparing my message so I can call the people to respond to the Word of God during an invitation time. Every time the message is proclaimed, the hearers respond – sometimes privately, sometimes publicly. Each time I preach on Sundays, I include a public opportunity to respond to the challenge given. I include a call for believers to respond by coming to the steps to kneel in prayer. The Lord may urge an individual to renew his or her commitment to Christ. I always include a call for individuals to come to Christ for salvation.

Public invitations have influenced my own life. I can pray and commune with God anywhere and at any time, yet I have enjoyed profound prayer times and commitment times by going down to the front of the auditorium during the invitation time. A private decision is significant, but I have experienced public decisions where resolve is added to my decision—as well as accountability, encouragement and prayer from the congregation. I have even been challenged and encouraged in my faith by seeing the public decisions of others. When the Lord called me to preach in 1981, I made a public decision the next Sunday morning so that my church family could pray for me and Gayla as we prepared for the next steps in our lives.

Prayer empowers the invitation time. Believers should pray for the invitation, not only during the service, but also through the week before Sunday. Those in the congregation can help minimize the distractions during this key time in the service by not leaving early. Pray that God will do His work of grace that only He can do.

Whenever I preach, I will continue to give public invitations and will earnestly pray for the invitation as I prepare to preach. I preach with an expectation that people will respond to the preaching of God’s Word. As you pray with me today and during the week, here are matters for your consideration. “How much reflection do I do during the commitment time?” “What kind of response do I need to make in my heart, in my mind, and with my actions to God and His Word?” “Am I aware of the corporate aspect of the invitation, and do I pray for the responsiveness to others?”

Since the beginning of the year, we have focused our attention on praying for revival and spiritual awakening – both individually and corporately. Please continue to do so. While we cannot work up a move of God in our midst, His Word calls on us to “do what we can and let God do the rest” (quoted from Dr. Rod Mastellar, past president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention).

I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God to move upon an individual. However, offering an invitation for a time of commitment is just as important as passing the offering plate instead of waiting for people to initiate contact about tithing. I know in my own life that a part of responding to God’s call was the challenge and expectation of my church that God was calling people into ministry. In its essence, evangelism means “to proclaim.” As I proclaim the holiness, righteousness, love, and grace of God, I cannot imagine not also calling and compelling men, women, boys, and girls to repent and follow Jesus! I believe we all agree that we need to call people to repentance. The issue is not if, but how we call them to respond publicly that leads to the biblical response to a profession of faith and baptism.