Evangelicals began using altar calls and invitations in the 1830s. From Charles Finney’s invitations to pulpits today, the same urgency drives a need for every person to respond in faith to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Half-baked and incomplete invitations can inoculate the lost to thinking that they have heard all they ever need to hear.
What response does your sermon generate? When Peter preached, the Holy Spirit convicted people to action.
• At Pentecost: “…they came under deep conviction and said… ‘Brothers, what must we do?” (Acts 2:37 HCSB) And 3,000 were baptized.
• In the Temple: “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to 5,000” (Acts 4:4 HCSB).
• In Caesarea: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all who heard the message” (Acts 10:47 HCSB). And Cornelius’ entire household was saved and baptized.
Peter’s sermons were delivered with boldness attributed to being filled with the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would come upon Peter and all the disciples (Acts 1:8). Peter fully believed that delivering a message was conveying truth and would save hearers from the imminent coming judgment of God through forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:42-43).
The late Roy Fish served for years as the distinguished professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Tex. In the book, Preaching Evangelistically: Proclaiming the Saving Message of Jesus by Al Fasol and others, Dr. Fish wrote:
Real expectation and confidence in God will seldom be disappointed. Even the very words used in the invitation should express confidence and expectancy. For that reason, it is not honoring to the Lord to say Sunday after Sunday, “Isn’t there one person here today who will respond to the claims of Christ and come?” That question should be asked like this: Not “Isn’t there one?” but “How many of you here today will receive Christ as your Savior?” Rather than “Won’t you come?” make it, “As you come, I will be here to greet you.” … Words something like this should be expressed: “This morning, if you are willing to turn from your sins and trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, I invite you to slip out from where you’re standing and come forward. I will be here at the front of the auditorium to meet you as you come.” Excerpted from: www.lifeway.com, cited 12/14/12.
When delivering a gospel invitation, it is important to deliver it clearly, expecting a response. In Romans 10:17, Paul said that faith comes by “hearing,” which meant receiving a report in order to take action. There is a need for hearers to encounter Jesus in such a way that it brings spiritual transformation. Hearing does not mean words just come flying by our ears, but communicating so that next steps are understood. And this often means allowing for the adequate time needed to invite them to salvation.
God used the messages of Peter to draw listeners to Himself. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, He can use your invitations, too.
Mark Snowden is the Director of Missional Leadership (DOM) for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association.