I’ve been asked more than once What do you say, then, when you are calling people to … here the words matter but I don’t want to parse them at this point … decision? The Sinner’s Prayer is neither here nor there; it’s not the point; it can be the right thing for the right person but it can (too) easily become a magical potion for some evangelists and for some responders. We need to begin at the core of what the proper response to the gospel is:
1. Remember, gospeling is not fundamentally about pleading, persuading, pleasing, or getting folks to decide. Gospeling is to announce something about Jesus. The rhetorical bundle of revivalism, which I have sketched in The King Jesus Gospel, is not the gospel of Jesus or the apostles, and it is bundle of rhetoric designed to persuade and plead and to precipitate decisions. This bundle has convinced many that the bundle is the gospel. It’s not. The revised edition of The King Jesus Gospel has a chapter on how this bundle developed and who is responsible for it.
2. The gospel itself awakens, through the power of God’s Spirit, folks to respond. Don’t forget this: our calling is to witness and declare; God’s Advocate, the Spirit, awakens and draws people to God. God’s Spirit is at work in all and for all.
3. The appropriate gospel message about Jesus is a message that generates this question: Who is Jesus? The proper response then is to repent, to believe, and to be baptized. Confession, yes, of course — inchoately or not — but all of these can be wrapped up into the notion of surrender. I make no apologies for these terms repent, believe, baptize — they are rugged, pervasive terms in the apostolic writings, the source of Christian theology.
4. What we are to do is point people to Jesus in his dimensions, and each dimension summons to a different dimension of the response of surrender to Jesus: we ask them to look to him, to love him, to live before and under and through and by and in him, to call them to give themselves to Jesus and to what he calls us to do. God’s Spirit is at work; God’s Spirit works repentance and faith and leads to baptism. When we get ahead of the Spirit, we run the risk of aborting new birth.
5. What do I say? “Give yourself to Jesus!”