'Coming to Christ' - What Does this Mean?
The expression 'come to Christ' is a good one, but it is surrounded by much ignorance and confusion when it is made part of wrong methods of evangelism. What does this expression mean to its hearers? Surely it is necessary for sinners to 'come to Christ' in order to be saved. But when a preacher calls sinners to the front of a church, while the congregation sets the mood by means of an 'invitational hymn', it is likely that most hearers will equate coming to Christ with 'coming forward' or 'walking the aisle'.
If questioned about the matter, the preacher might say 'walking an aisle' does not save. Yet, at the same time, by his very language and methods, he is equating 'coming forward' with 'coming to Christ', and thus, many poor souls are deceived.
'Coming to Christ' is a good biblical expression. It is used to express the act of the soul. 'Coming to Christ' includes leaving all self-righteousness and sin, and receiving his righteousness as our righteousness; his blood as our covering and our atonement. 'Coming to Christ' embraces repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 'Coming to Christ' is the first effect of regeneration.
When the preacher says, 'Come to Christ' at the end of the service, to many it means coming to the front of the church or 'going forward'. What do our children think it means when the preacher says, 'Come to Christ', and at the same time he invites them to the front of the church? All true preachers and evangelists know that 'coming forward' in a church is not the same as 'coming to Christ'. They may even say 'walking an aisle will not save you' but they proceed with the invitation system as though they think it is 'coming to Christ'.
Many preachers are not judicious in their so-called invitation, and as a result many of our people, possibly most of our people, equate the physical act of coming forward with 'coming to Christ'. Not only is the practice not in the Bible, it was never practised by our Lord or the apostles. In fact, it was never practised in the Christian church until about one hundred and thirty or one hundred and fifty years ago. Charles G. Finney introduced the inquiry room and the anxious seat. But even Finney did not equate coming to the inquiry room with 'coming to Christ'.
Why am I so concerned about this subject? Because many people are deceived, and to be deceived about their own salvation is the worst deception that can come upon any human being.
Two Scriptures most often used to support the invitation system are Mark 1:17 and Matthew 10:32, 33. 'Follow me and I will make you fishers of men' (Mark 1:17). The disciples left their nets and followed Jesus. He was there physically and they followed him physically. But men cannot follow Christ physically today.
What is it now to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is learning his teachings; living under the influence of those teachings and applying his teachings to our everyday practice.
In the days of his flesh, a physical response was literally possible. The fishermen literally followed him. Zacchaeus physically came down from the tree and followed him. But even in the days of his visible presence, repentance and faith were what Christ intended primarily by the words, 'Follow me', 'Come unto me'. Therefore Mark 1:17 is not a valid text to support any physical act or invitation system.
A second Scripture sometimes used to support this system is this:
Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:32, 33
Let us take a careful look at what our Lord is saying. Is he teaching that by the act of confession, or by some physical act, we become Christians? Or that the mark of those who are Christians is that they will confess and live a life in which they openly acknowledge him? To confess Christ is a duty of those who are already Christians. Confessing him is not the way in which we become Christians. It is the way in which we testify verbally to what God has first done in us.