Receiving Jesus Christ – Lesson 9: The Message (3) and Lesson 10: The Message (4)

Lesson 9


Read John 1:9–13, Romans 10


In modern evangelism “getting a response” is the thing. In Gospel crusades the most sought after statistics are the number of “first decisions” and the number of “recommitments.” In recent years some groups add the number of those who “asked for prayer.” Among us as Reformed people we now speak freely about having “led someone to Christ” or those who have “received Jesus Christ.” Certain methods of evangelism are recommended because they “get decisions.” For some, effective evangelism is measured wholly by the number of decisions obtained. What must we make of all this emphasis on getting a response?

Certainly, it must be granted that the Gospel demands a response. The Holy Gospel does not come to “senseless stocks and blocks” but to living, responsible, accountable people. These people who hear the Gospel must make a personal response to the Gospel to obtain the assurance of salvation.


1. What is more important in Evangelism—the truth of the Gospel proclaimed or the number of responses received? Why?

2. Should we expect everyone who hears the Gospel to receive Jesus Christ? Explain.

3. Should we have “altar calls” in our Reformed Churches? Give reasons for your answer.


Just what is this response which the Gospel according to Scripture seeks from the hearer? It can readily be established that not all “decisions” which are claimed and reported are “unto salvation.” Not every “meaningful encounter” with Jesus gives the assurance of salvation. Not everyone who claims to have had an experience with Christ is a true believer. Not all who call themselves “Jesus people” are committed Christians in the Biblical sense.

That many of these decisions (alleged) are spurious is obvious to anyone who has had any experience in the area of modern evangelism. There are plenty of “hucksters” of the “gospel” at large who are offering for sale a cheapened product, at a lower price, in order to make more “quick sales” before they dash off to their next stand. (See Lenski on II Cor. 2:17 on this.)

But even when the Gospel is faithfully preached there are those who make a response which is not unto salvation. Jesus said (Matt. 7:21–23) that many who would say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?” to whom He will reply, “I never knew you.” There were thousands of people who had a “meaningful encounter” with Jesus while He was here on earth who were never numbered among His disciples. Think of the five thousand who ate of the loaves, most of whom did not partake of the “Bread from heaven” who brings eternal life (John 6:26–36). Of the thousands who had “an experience with Christ” while He was on earth how many were true disciples when Jesus ascended to heaven? See Acts 1:15.


1. Matthew 13:18–23 describes four kinds of hearers. How many of these had made “decisions”? How many were actually saved?

2. Describe the experience with Christ of the rich young Ruler in Luke 18:18–25. Compare this with present day experiences with Christ which in the end are tragedies.


A casual observer might conclude that the integrity of the individual’s response to the Gospel is not that important. It has been argued that any response is better than no response. But is this true? Are there not awful dangers involved in giving someone the assurances of the Christian Gospel when the terms of the Gospel have not been sincerely met? Hebrews 6:4–6 is a disturbing passage for would-be evangelists and eager-beaver witnesses. Obviously, those who are here described would today be classed as “turned on for Jesus.” And yet their response was spurious. The frightening part of all this is not only that it is so difficult to distinguish a spurious response from genuine saving faith, nor that those who have made this spurious response have claimed the assurances of the Gospel without basis; but, and this is the critical part, the very spuriousness of the initial response may well serve to close the door to a later sincere, saving response to the Gospel. It might be well if all those who are running around boasting about the number of people they have “led to Christ” would read Hebrews 6 as food for humility.

Question: How do you square Hebrews 6:4–6 with the Reformed doctrine or the Preservation of the Saints (Canons V)? Are there other passages that present the same issue? What docs all this have to do with Evangelism from a Reformed point of view?


Right in the center of this whole matter of “receiving Jesus Christ” is the basic question, “Who is this Jesus Whom we receive?” It is here that we stand at the epicenter of the Gospel from which all the shock waves radiate. If Jesus is no more than a miracle worker, or a social worker, or an example of love, or a social revolutionary of His day, or a superstar—then there are any number of legitimate responses to the “gospel.” But if we are calling men, dead in trespasses and sin, to receive Jesus Christ as the only and all-sufficient Savior from sin, then there is only one saving response to the Gospel. Other presentations of Jesus may make a good sales pitch but, in the words of Paul, they will leave men “yet in their sins” and “of all men most to be pitied.”


1. What other contemporary presentations of Jesus fall short of the Biblical revelation of Jesus as Savior from sin?

2. Can a false presentation of Jesus Christ bring a true, saving response? Explain.


In this connection we should point to a very subtle approach to the Gospel which has drifted into our camp from the Neo-orthodox theology. This is the presentation of the Gospel as “reconciling man to God” without any reference to the atonement for sin. The Confession of ‘67 of the Presbyterian Church is a good case study in this subtle shift. Many of the modern presentations of the Gospel, even among Evangelicals fall into the same error. Moreover, this ignoring or, at best, de-emphasizing of the necessity of the atonement for sin, has opened the door to a quick and easy response to the “gospel.” After all. cheap grace means a cheap “gospel” and that means faster sales.


1. Analyze some of the present day formulations of the Gospel with a view to the place that is given to the atonement.

2. Present Scripture proof for the necessity of the atonement.


As we penetrate deeper into this whole matter of “receiving Jesus Christ,” we begin to uncover a chain of theological compromise which has been forged for the express purpose of securing quick and easy decisions. One of the main links in that chain of compromise is the concept of the nature of sin. The old liberal defined sin as maladjustment, improper development, lack of love, etc. Today it is done more subtly. Now sin is defined as lack of social concern, self-centeredness, an attitude of indifference, etc. The result of such a compromise on the nature of sin is that we can present a “gospel” which calls for a simple acceptance of a simple solution to a simple problem. But when our concept of sin is based on Scripture it becomes a far different story.

When sin is acknowledged as “trangressions of God’s Law” (I John 3:4) and it is recognized that as guilty sinners we stand under God’s judgment and condemnation (Rom. 3:19–20), then Christ as Savior has an infinite price to pay, a curse to bear, a judgment to satisfy. And if we are committed to the Biblical teaching that the effect of sin is man’s total depravity, then receiving Jesus Christ as Savior from sin demands a radical conversion experience. Here is the Nemesis of so much of modem evangelism. We water down the concept of sin. Then we get mealymouthed about the reality of guilt and judgment. Then we try to escape the “offense of the cross” and we compromise the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. And the end result is that we can sell this cheapened product at a bargain price and “all you have to do is ask Jesus to come into your heart.”

Question: Make a careful analysis of some of the modem formulations of the Gospel with respect to their concept of sin and judgment, in the light of Scripture.


In the entire Scriptural presentation of the response to the Gospel the need for repentance is boldly prominent. How striking that this is the very concept which is left out in much of modern evangelism. And let no one say that the demand for repentance was limited to the Old Testament or to the Jews of Jesus’ day. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–5) with the clear-cut demand that those who are to be saved must 1. be spiritual mendicants; 2. have tasted the tears of penitence and 3. recognize their own unworthiness. Peter, on Pentecost, in reply to the question, “What shall we do?” cries out, “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:37–40). Again in Acts 3:19, 17:30, 26:20, etc. there is the clarion call to repentance. A sincere acknowledgment of sin is basic not only to Paul’s own conversion experience (chief of sinners) but also to his entire Gospel presentation. II Corinthians 7:10 calls for the “godly sorrow that worketh repentance unto salvation.” All our Reformed Creeds confirm that there can be no true conversion without true repentance.

Question: Write down a careful definition of true repentance. Do a bit of research on this. Then relate this to this matter of saving response to the saving Gospel.


This emphasis which we have placed on the necessity of repentance should not be interpreted as questioning the absolute necessity of true faith for salvation. Both in Scripture and in the Reformed creeds true faith is the sine qua non of a saving response to the Gospel. It should be observed, however. that true repentance is essential to true faith. A faith which does not turn to Christ out of the “bondage, sorrow and night” of sin is not true faith. Anyone who does not come to Christ fully aware of his “shameful failure and loss·· is not coming to the Christ of Scripture. Anyone who does not know what it means to be “dead in trespasses and sins” does not know what it means to be “alive in Christ.”

Question: Work out a careful definition of true faith—use the Heidelberg Catechism definition if you like. How does your definition relate to our discussion of “receiving Jesus Christ”?


Today we are told that we receive Jesus Christ by “personal invitation,” by “prayer,” by “asking Jesus to come in our heart,” etc. What do we make of all this? Surely Paul insists that we must “call on the name of the Lord” to be saved. There must be a confession with the mouth. But Paul also insists that the “calling on the Lord” must be the expression of a heart of faith. If that heart which calls on the Lord has no consciousness of sin and guilt, and no faith in Christ as the only Savior from sin, then it is crying for some secondary benefit and it is not a saving response to the Gospel. And then it is no “meaningful encounter” with Jesus as Savior. Repent, believe and call on the Lord—that is the Biblical formula for a saving response to the Gospel.

It should he added that those who have faith in the heart but do not express this in confession with the mouth—to God first of all, to other Christians, and before men, are frustrating that alleged faith and robbing themselves of the joy and assurance of their salvation. Faith must be confessed, but the faith that is confessed must be true faith. Only then can we claim the assurance that all our sins are washed away through Christ’s blood and that we have received the gift of eternal life by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Question: Read the form for profession of faith that is presently used in your Church. Do you think this adequately expresses the response that we should make to the Gospel? Explain your answer.


Lesson 10 THE MESSAGE (4)

Read Ephesians 2:1–10, Ezekiel 37:1–14

Before relinquishing this pen to brother [Dr. Roger] Greenway, who will write the concluding articles in this series, we must focus our attention, in at least one session, on what is perhaps the most crucial concept of Reformed Evangelism Let’s paint the spotlight on the central Biblical teaching that sinners are saved only by the grace of God. Any method or structure of evangelism which does not give proper place to the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit and the life-transforming power of God’s sovereign grace is neither Biblical nor Reformed. Oh, we may still sing, “Saved by Grace,” but far too many of our highly tooted programs of evangelism have lost the magnificent truth of salvation by grace alone, under a mounting pile of methods and tools and gadgets.

Question: How do you explain the fact that men and churches who have signed the formula of subscription to the Reformed Standards, are quite willing to forget all about this commitment when they enter the area of evangelism?


A patent Scriptural given is that the natural man cannot accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. In this article we will not burden you with lengthy quotations from the Reformed Creeds. You can read them for yourself. We would, however, plead with you brethren who are eager to “get involved in evangelism” and to launch an “evangelism thrust” to read our great standards of doctrine again and with great care. And then don’t swallow a method or program of evangelism which is condemned as heresy by these very standards to which you have signed your name.

But for now let’s just stay with Scripture:

– Ephesians 2:1, 5: “We were all dead through our trespasses and sins,” and dead people do not cross bridges, open doors, make personal invitations, etc. Add to this passages such as Romans 3:11, Romans 8:7, Jeremiah 17:9, etc.

– I Corinthians 2:14: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him—and he cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned.”

Question: How do the Arminians interpret these verses? Check the Rejection of Errors of Canons III-IV.


One of the keynotes of Reformed Doctrine is that regeneration always precedes and is essential to true repentance and faith. This is, of course, the continental divide between Reformed and Arminian evangelism. Again, need we quote the creeds? Consider also:

– Acts 16:14: “Lydia . . . whose heart the Lord opened so that she gave heed to the things spoken by Paul.”

– Ephesians 2:1; “You did He make alive when you were dead . . .”

– Ephesians 2:10: goes so far as to say that we are “created in Christ Jesus” . . . dead sinners do not create themselves into true believers. Nor do preachers and evangelists have instant creative powers.

– Even when we use such a favorite passage as John 3:16, how easy it is to overlook the preceeding context in which Jesus points out that “except a man be born again he cannot see” a true relationship to Christ. John 3:3–12 must be kept before John 3:14 ff.

–Note carefully that John 1:12 does not close with a period and should never be quoted without John 1:13—Those who receive Him “were born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Question: What is the inevitable result when single verses of Scripture are ripped out of their Biblical context and used for evangelistic purposes?


What a beautiful word! This writer has asked hundreds of people, “What is grace?” and it is astounding what confused answers have been given by people who claim to have accepted Christ. Yet the Bible says:

– “By grace are you saved, and that not of yourselves.”

– “Not of works, that no man should boast.”

– “If it is of works, then grace is no more grace.”

– “They that believed through grace.”

Unmerited favor! Forfeited gift! Unearned benefits! Grace!

Can we claim to be committed to Biblical Evangelism and forget that Jesus said, “I will draw all men unto myself?” (John 12:32) and that it is the Good Shepherd who brings in His sheep? (John 10:16) and that no one comes to Christ except the Father which sent Him draw him? (John 6:44) and that it is the Spirit that gives life? (II Cor. 3:6). Spend a little time with your concordance and look up all the passages that emphasize salvation by grace alone.

To be sure, we with our finite minds cannot comprehend the working of God’s sovereign grace. We can’t formulate God’s ways in neat, logical laws that can be explained to any man on the street. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are far beyond our thoughts (Is. 55;8, 9, Rom. 11:33–36). But in humble faith we obey His command, sow the seed of the Word, and leave the increase in His omnipotent, gracious hand. We go forth in the faith that:

Those who were dead in sin before

By Sovereign grace are made alive.

Question: Why, in so much of modern evangelism, docs the emphasis fall on what man must do rather than on what God does for our salvation?


Many of our people have been convinced that if you really want to be evangelistic you have to soft-pedal or ignore these basic Biblical truths. In a recent publication, one of our denominational committees suggested that anyone who had the audacity to bring up these doctrinal matters is actually in league with the devil. All kind of desperate efforts are put forth to try to get around these doctrines. Some attempt to establish that, after all, we really can save souls. Many who are looking for quick results on their evangelism efforts become discouraged with the Biblical prescription. They then go off on a mad scramble for new methods that are “proven effective,” new tools that really work, and more training sessions that guarantee results. We borrow from the neo-orthodox or we borrow from Arminians or we borrow from Pentecostals and the end result is a mass of confusion which has left Biblical truth lying in the dust of the road.

J. T. Packer, in his excellent little book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, speaking of the disillusionment of many evangelistic efforts, says: “We were silly to think that any evangelistic technique, however skillful, could guarantee conversions. We must recognize that man’s heart is impervious to the Word of God. We should not be surprised if our evangelism fails to result in conversions.”

Question: Can we be hue Calvinists and at the same time evangelistic? Give some solid basis for your answer.


What then is the answer? Shall we admit defeat and quit? Shall we conclude that the Reformed Faith is inimical to evangelism? Shall we concede that since only God can change hearts, there is nothing we can do anyway? Shall we lock the doors of our Churches and just try desperately to hang on to the people we have? Or shall we turn to the liberal social Gospel and launch programs of social welfare and economic improvement for the needy and just settle for “evangelism” by deeds? Or shall we close ranks with the Pentecostals and get our kicks out of being “charismatic” while we ignore the primary work of the Holy Spirit?

Oh no, we won’t!

God still carries on His program of grace unto the salvation of sinners through His own ordained means—the Holy Gospel. The Holy Spirit still breathes upon the Word and, by means of that Word, brings men from death to life. Christ will continue to gather His sheep and build His Church “by His Word and Spirit” until the last one of His own has been brought to Himself.

And now we are back to our first article on The Message (See THE OUTLOOK – Dec. ‘72). God has not called us to save souls. Christ has not commissioned us to make converts. He has commanded us to preach the Gospel. When we are faithful in proclaiming “the Word of His grace,” in sowing the Seed of the Word, He will grant the increase (I Cor. 3:6). His Word does not return empty (Is. 55:10–11). Our labor is not in vain, in the Lord (I Cor. 15:58).

Questions: What was the price of faithfulness that the Old Testament prophets had to pay? What was the constant objective of the enemies of the New Testament Church as far as the Apostles were concerned? See Acts 4:17; 5:28; 5:40, etc. What is the constant objective of the enemies of the church of Christ today?


The Holy Spirit qualifies those who are called to proclaim the Word. Through the means of that Word preached, the Holy Spirit brings new life to dead souls. And the Holy Spirit responds to earnest prayer (Acts 1:14; 4:24–31). The God who saves sinners by His grace through the means of the Word is the God who hears and answers prayer. Is prayer, perhaps, also one of the great omissions in our evangelism? Why was not the Christian Reformed Church called to a month of prayer in preparation for Evangelism Thrust? The Word of God soaring forth into the world on wings of prayer and the faithful proclamation of the Holy Gospel, preceded by, supported by, and followed by prayer and more prayer—that is Reformed Evangelism. Certainly we do not have all the answers.

I know not how the Spirit moves
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith within.
But I know whom I have believed . . . .

Question: Why do our Churches not have weekly prayer meetings? How much prayer preparation has gone into your Evangelism Thrust effort? Why?


Read again the dramatic vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 37:1-14). Today, again, the hand of the Lord is laid upon the Church and the Holy Spirit places us in the midst of our contemporary valley of dead men—dead in trespasses and sins. Behold, there are very many. And they are very dead.

Today, again, the voice of God commands: “Prophesy—proclaim the Message that I have given you. Say to these dead men, ‘Hear the Word of the Lord.’” Today, again, we pray for the Holy Spirit (breath, wind): “Come from the four winds, Oh Holy Spirit, and breathe upon these dead men that they may live.” And by God’s sovereign grace, the Spirit breathes upon the Word, and they live. By God’s sovereign grace they stand upon their feet—and become a great army of the Lord.

Hear the command of God, “Proclaim the Gospel, sons of men, proclaim the Gospel!” And we reply, “So we proclaimed the Holy Gospel, as He commanded us.”