My daughter came home from attending church the other day and shared with me her frustration with preachers who make altar calls at which time they say something to this effect: “Now, with eyes closed and every head bowed, raise your hand if you wish to accept Jesus as your Savior.” It is a frustration that I share, and I strongly believe that this practice—and the underlying belief behind it- is one of the reasons for the ‘lukewarmness’ that pervades our American churches today.
This method of ‘saving souls’ does not date back to scripture; rather, it began in America in the 1800’s. Besides the obvious concern that this practice isn’t scriptural, it also easily leads to the impression that people should be ashamed to profess Christ as their Savior. What possible reason is there for such a discreet method of inviting people to accept Christ as their Savior other than the concern that the person might be afraid to profess his belief in God in front of others? Think of it: sinners in a church service surrounded by others who profess to believe in and trust in God, given the impression that they have something to hide if they want to be aligned with God. How absurd it is—and grievous– to think that sinners who deserve hell and damnation for their rebellion against a Holy God should be encouraged in a church to feel fearful before men for aligning themselves with God, the very One who loved them so much that while they were yet sinners, He died for them. (Romans 5:8)
We have not been called to fear man, but only to fear God and to fear Him above all else. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25) We also need to remember the words of Jesus Who said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:26
Can you imagine Paul or any of the early disciples sharing the gospel and making such an altar call that involves no public profession of one’s faith? Do you think that such a practice is consistent with Paul’s words recorded in 2nd Timothy?
“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace… But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (italics added) 2nd Timothy 1:7-9, 12-13
In nations where hostility toward the gospel is the rule, people who receive the gift of salvation and are baptized into the faith are aware that being aligned with Jesus might well cost them everything, including their physical life. In contrast, in America, we all too often assure people that they are ‘saved’ just because they raised their hand at a church service. First and foremost, although we are called and commanded to share the gospel and to make disciples, only the Father can draw anyone to Jesus. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) God alone is able to save; He alone knows the hearts of people and whether or not they are indeed disciples. Yes, Jesus’ death on the cross was all that was necessary to pay the price for our sin. However, in order to obtain salvation you must believe in Him (John 6:29), and a true belief in Jesus will lead you to repent of your sins and to follow Him.
Jesus would not have told us to count the cost of following Him if all we had to do is raise our hand to be considered one of His followers.
Listen to Jesus’ words written in Luke:
“Now great crowds accompanied him (Jesus), and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (italics added) Luke 14:27-29, 33
Before we ask people to raise their hands in church to indicate that they want to receive Jesus as their Savior, shouldn’t they know what it means to be a disciple of Christ? Shouldn’t they know that it will cost them dying to their old life– a life filled with selfish ambitions and worldly desires (Luke 9:23)– and in exchange they will receive the power to live the only life worth living…a life dedicated to the glory of God and filled with His peace, joy, and love ?