Should the preacher invite persons to ‘decide for Christ’?

Not only is no such form of words used in the Bible, but the thought behind the words is not there either. Some may point to Joshua 24: “choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods whom your fathers that were on the other side of the river served, or the gods of the Amorite, in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah” (v15), but this has nothing to do with the Christian gospel as such. It refers to the period of Law, “our tutor up to Christ” (Gal. 3: 24) when God tried man and proved him wanting. As Judges 2: 11 demonstrates, man is incapable of making the right choice, and while the children of Israel may have said “Jehovah our God will we serve” (Josh. 24: 24), these were really empty words. If Josh. 24: 15 is used in the Gospel, then the word of truth is being mishandled (see 2 Tim. 2: 15). The preacher is starting with a flawed apprehension of the message he is about to preach (that it is about choice), and then finding a text to support what he thinks.

   What you do find in Scripture it that the Gospel is presented for the obedience of faith. A great many Scriptures can be quoted to demonstrate this: “and a great crowd of the priests obeyed the faith” (Acts 6: 7); God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent” (Acts 17: 30); “by whom we have received grace and apostleship in behalf of his name, for obedience of faith among all the nations” (Rom. 1: 5); “but to those that are contentious, and are disobedient to the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [there shall be] wrath and indignation” (Rom. 2: 8); but thanks [be] to God, that ye were bondmen of sin, but have obeyed from the heart the form of teaching into which ye were instructed” (Rom. 6: 17); “but they have not all obeyed the glad tidings” (Rom. 10: 16); “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and those who do not obey the glad tidings of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1: 8); “became to all them that obey him, author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5: 9); “unto [the] obedience and sprinkling of [the] blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1: 2); “having purified your souls by obedience to the truth” (1 Pet. 1: 22); “what [shall be] the end of those who obey not the glad tidings of God?” (1 Pet. 4: 17). Man is not therefore presented with a choice, but with a divine commandment to obey. Where there is choice, it is God who does the choosing (see John 15: 16; 1 Cor. 1: 27; Eph. 1: 4; 2 Thess. 2: 13; 1 Pet. 2: 9).

   Of course, there will be some who say that it does not matter whether ‘decision for Christ’ is a Scriptural invitation since so many have been converted under it. Certainly we can thank God that He blesses, even when the message is presented in a defective way. However, if the foundations are not laid properly, then there is a danger that what is built on them may be not what it should be. ‘Decision for Christ’ implies that the will of man can be inclined towards God, but this a flat contradiction of Rom. 8: 7: “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God” and leads to an inadequate view of man’s depravity. Man is not just a sinner, but “dead” (Eph. 2: 1), and a dead man has no ability or inclination to seek Christ. Those who think they were saved because they chose Christ, are very likely to carry this misplaced confidence in themselves into their Christian lives, seeking to maintain a godly walk through their own efforts. The Scriptural position  is what Paul told the Philippians: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both the willing and the working according to [his] good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 12-13, my emphasis).

   Again, ‘decision for Christ’ is incompatible with new birth, for the expression “born again” (1 Pet. 1: 23, my emphasis) infers that spiritual birth is to be paralleled with natural birth, and, clearly, I had nothing to do with my natural birth. Indeed, new birth and the will of man are mutually exclusive for the children of God “have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God” (John 1: 13). This does not undermine the Gospel for we preach because “how shall they hear without one who preaches?” (Rom. 10: 14)—and if anything, the more depraved you believe man to be, the more wonderful the Gospel becomes—but salvation is “not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shews mercy” (Rom. 9: 16).

   There are two sides to salvation. On the one side, I am responsible to obey what God sets before me, namely “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20: 21). I am not at liberty to disregard what God has commanded. On the other side, it is only the goodness of God that leads us to repentance (see Rom. 2: 4). ‘Decision for Christ’ (however well-meant it may be) is man trying to get in on the act of salvation. “Salvation is of Jehovah” (Jonah 2: 9).