by Bill Nugent
It was almost eleven o’clock at night when the preacher began to give an altar call for salvation. It seemed like an afterthought. Let’s just get this done so we can all get going home. He rushed through it.
He didn’t explain what salvation is nor did he mention sin or the need for repentance or the need to receive forgiveness of sins. He just asked “Is there anyone here who needs to receive Jesus as Savior?” “Just raise your hands.” “I see one, two, a total of five . . . thank you.” “Can we pray?” “Let’s all pray together with every head bowed.” He then led the whole congregation, including those who raised their hands in a very simple, brief, sinner’s prayer. That was it. He invited anyone who prayed that prayer for the first time to speak to him or other church staff after the meeting.
As our friend and brother, Mike Bickle of IHOP Kansas City would say: “What’s wrong with this picture?” The problem with the altar call is that it was shallow. It wasn’t penetrating or convicting. The preacher, who’s a good brother and has an effective teaching ministry, seemed to skate over the call to salvation. Salvation is not something to be trifled with. The altar call is the most important part of the meeting.
Back in the 1950s Billy Graham didn’t have to explain, in any great depth, who Jesus is. He could do this because in the 1950s everybody knew about Jesus and salvation. America in the 21st century has become so secular we can no longer assume that people have a working knowledge of who Christ is.
We have to explain what sin and salvation is. We must unfold our message in a deep and effective way.
We must present Jesus as a unique figure in world history. Jesus proved He is the Son of God by miracles and fulfilled prophecies. When Jesus walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago He didn’t simply say “Listen to me, obey me, I’m Jesus.” He got their attention by working miracles. He got their attention by walking in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies contained in the pages of the Old Testament. We must introduce people to the supernatural Jesus, the Jesus who proved He’s the Messiah by fulfilling prophecies and healing the sick. It doesn’t take long to explain this, even at the end of a late night revival meeting.
Some of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, especially the 62 major prophecies, are dramatically clear. The entire 53rd chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah predicts in precise and repetitive detail that the coming Messiah would die for our sins. Jesus fulfilled prophecies when He took upon Himself the penalty of our sins as He suffered and died on our behalf. The prophets also foretold the resurrection of Christ.
Christ healed people of blindness and raised the dead. This is recorded in the New Testament as eyewitness accounts. The powerful miracle working ministry of Christ proved that Christ is unique. Christ is not just a teacher who started a religion. Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and He is the Son of God. This has to be explained to people to show them why they need to receive Jesus as Savior and follow Him as Lord.
In order to explain what salvation is we need to explain what sin is. What are we being saved from? We are being saved from sin and from the punishment that comes upon unrepentant sinners. It’s not currently fashionable to preach against sin. In politically correct America in the 21st century we don’t want to be negative or legalistic or present Christianity as a list of do’s and don’ts. I agree that Christianity is not a list of do’s and don’ts. However, we have to admit that God’s concept of right and wrong is part of the Christian message. God’s law teaches us what sin is. “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law” (Rom. 7:7 NAS). Jesus said “why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46 NAS).
When was the last time you heard a sermon about the evils of fornication? Some of us have probably never heard such a sermon. Fornication is rampant in our secular society and even among church people. There are over thirty forms of venereal disease wreaking havoc on our nation’s health as a result. We need to say that God disapproves of fornication, adultery, lying, cheating and stealing.
I believe that the hyper-grace message that has spread so rapidly among good Christian people is due in large part because we haven’t preached against sin or properly articulated Christian soteriology. (‘Soteriology’ is a technical theological term that means ‘study of salvation.’) The biblically balanced grace message is the message that tells of the awfulness of sin and the marvelousness of forgiveness.
When was the last time you heard a sermon or an altar call in a Charismatic or Pentecostal church that clearly articulated the salvation message, explaining who Jesus is, why He died and rose again, why we must turn from sin and turn to Christ to receive forgiveness? In my experience I have seldom heard the salvation message presented. The pastors seem to assume that the people already know the basics of salvation else why would they be in the church on a Sunday morning.
There are many people in our churches that don’t know the salvation message and many, I dare say, are not even saved. Many people come to church as seekers of spiritual truth or out of curiosity or with friends or with family. We cannot assume they know the basic salvation message. We have to regularly articulate the salvation message from the pulpit. Many people will hear it for the first time and the rest of us can use the review.
I’ve often said that Christianity can be summed up in one word and that word is “forgiveness.” We must share Christ with a lost and dying world that desperately needs God’s forgiveness. To do this we must clearly articulate the basic Christian message of salvation. We must give altar calls that are clear and explicit in explaining sin, repentance, who Christ is, the substitutionary atonement of Christ and the need to receive Christ as Savior and to follow Him as Lord. If we do this there will be a great harvest of souls!
Steps to salvation:
Jesus said “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
Prayer to receive salvation:
“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
To receive the salvation that Jesus purchased for us at the terrible cost of His suffering and death on our behalf I invite you to pray this simple prayer:
“Dear heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus, the promised Messiah, to die for my sins. I admit that I am a sinner. I repent of my sins and I ask for your forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit to empower me to serve you under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
If you prayed this prayer in the humble sincerity of your heart then you have received everlasting life, which includes power to live right in this life and entrance into heaven in the afterlife!