How do we issue the gospel invitation? We agree the gospel is important, but we have different ways to get people to respond. Should we follow Billy Graham’s approach, inviting people to respond to an altar call to be saved?
What’s niggling me is that the New Testament letters tell us nothing of how to issue this important call. They seem to think the call comes from God.
We’re in Ephesians, and it has no guidance on how to issue a gospel call to our neighbours. It speaks of God calling people:
Ephesians 1 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you. (NIV)
Ephesians 4 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. … 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.
The other NT letters do the same (e.g. Romans 8:28-30; 9:24-26; 1 Corinthians 1:9 24-26; Galatians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 5:24; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:15; 2:9, 21; 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3; Jude 1).
Even when the NT speaks of us partnering with God in announcing the good news, it’s still God who issues the call, e.g.: He called you to this through our gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
Now, you may be thinking, “Allen, you sound like a Calvinist.” Calvinists have been saying this for centuries, but this approach doesn’t require buying the whole TULIP farm. Calvinists conceive of God as issuing his call only to elect individuals. We’re not going to resolve this in a blog post, but election language doesn’t have to be understood that way. It might be better to think of God as the gracious sovereign who is calling his earthly kingdom back under his kingship, rather than one who calls only certain elect individuals.
Consider God’s corporate call to Zion: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you (Isaiah 61:1). The presence of God among his people would then illuminate the nations too: Nations will come to your light, and kingdom to the brightness of your dawn (61:3).
God’s call today is to more than Zion: he’s calling the whole world out of death, into the Christ light:
Ephesians 5 14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
As we saw, sleeper is a corporate entity. God is calling not only Zion but all nations to rise from death into corporate life in his anointed (Ephesians 2). But only God can call the dead to rise.
That’s why there’s no instruction on the mechanism we are to use for the gospel invitation. It isn’t our call.
Instead, what we’re called to do is to be the community that embodies what God is calling us to. This is the outcome:
Ephesians 5:15-20 (compare NIV)
15 So, take a careful look at how you [plural] live life, not as fools but as wise. 16 Emancipate the season, since these are the evil days. 17 Consequently, don’t become mindless blobs; understand what our Lord expects.
18 Don’t get drunk on wine, so you’re “wasted.” Let the Spirit fill you [plural], 19 so you speak to each other with praises and anthems and songs of the Spirit, the song and praise from your communal heart for your king, 20 always expressing to God our Father our gratitude for everyone in the authority of our Lord, Jesus the anointed king.
The logic here is identical to Isaiah 61. As the Redeemer returns to Zion and issues his awakening call, she is filled with the brilliance of his reign, and that’s what draws the nations. As the Messiah’s people live in the wisdom of his reign (instead of the folly of life without him) we participate in God’s emancipation of this season, even while the rebellion against him is still present. So, the emphasis is on being the community that understands what our King has called us to: embodying the brilliance of his reign.
In the gospel of the kingdom, it is the king who calls creation back into his kingship. Only he can call people to rise from the dead. We are bearers of his good news, but we don’t need to design mechanisms to get people to respond to us.
We’d be better to pour our efforts into living as the community that’s responsive to his call, embodying his reign with peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice, joy in each other and gratitude for our king, empowered with his Spirit (5:18-20).
The best we can do to encourage people to answer his call is to embody the brightness of his reign.