What Are They Doing?
I was amazed at what was unfolding before me. I had just given the first altar call in my ministry life and suddenly, kids started to come forward, first one, then three and before I knew it, 59 of the 64 fourth, fifth and sixth grade boys were filling the front of the camp lodge indicating that they wanted to follow Christ!
As much as I would have liked to think that God was calling me to take Billy Graham’s place as an evangelist, He wasn’t.
Something wasn’t right… and I knew it.
I looked at the 5 boys still seated and saw the bewildered looks on their faces. My altar call had been confusing and even a little manipulative. Who knows why all those kids responded that night? Was it because they wanted to know Christ? Or because they thought it was the cool thing to do? Or because everyone else was going forward and they didn’t want to be left out?
The last thing I wanted to do was to mislead a kid into thinking that he was a true believer when in fact he had just been caught up in the emotions of a moment.
That night at Jr. Boys Week of camp caused me to face a vital question: When someone responds to an opportunity of follow Christ, just what are they doing? Are they responding in faith to Jesus with an understanding of their need for a savior and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection, or are they responding to an emotional experience? Or possibly their response is a step towards salvation, but not yet an expression of faith?
I realize that only the Lord knows the heart and intentions of each person, so how do we know what is going on?
I wrestled with this through the years until I realized that Jesus gave four different calls to people that met them where they were on their spiritual journey and moved them forward.
Call #1 – “Come and see.”
When people are introduced the Jesus, they often have reservations and questions about Him. Jesus recognizes this and gives them the freedom to investigate Him. He is Truth, and He knows that He will stand up under any and all honest scrutiny, so He welcomes it.
When two of John the Baptist’s disciples first saw Jesus, they asked Him where He was staying and Jesus responded, “Come and see”. In other words, “Check me out” (John 1:38-39). Later, a Pharisee named Nicodemus had questions, and Jesus welcomed his inquiry (John 3:1-21).
Call #2 – “Follow Me.
Matthew and Philip were given this call (Matthew 9:9; John 1:43). This is a call to learn more about Jesus by following Him and seeing how the Lord makes a difference in day-to-day life – to become a disciple in the broadest terms. Answering this call is not yet true faith in Christ, but is a step towards saving faith and leads to a greater understanding of who Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross.
Some people who answer this call become active in the local church and believe that they are saved, when in fact they are not. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 7:21-23 when He spoke of their lack of saving faith and impending judgment. These people would also include Judas Iscariot as well as the disciples who chose to walk away from Jesus in John 6:66.
But for some people, coming to faith in Christ is a process that grows and deepens until the person comes to realize their need for a savior. I am one of those people. I first responded to the gospel as a six year old, but it wasn’t until I was eleven that I fully understood that I was a sinner and Jesus was offering me the gift of eternal life through faith in Him. That night, I exercised faith and became a child of God by answering call #3.
Call #3 – “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”
Peter and Andrew were first given this call in Mark 1:17. This call is where salvation takes place. We are invited to trust in Jesus and commit ourselves to Him, and experience the transforming power of eternal life in Christ (Matthew 10:38-39; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Evidence of answering this call is seen in the transformation that occurs. Jesus makes us into something that we weren’t before – fishers of men, children of God, saints – giving us a new life purpose and vision.
Call #4 – “Do you love Me more than these?”
This call to total surrender to Jesus is what Peter received in John 21:15 when Jesus asked him, “Do you love me more than these?” The “these” Jesus spoke about included Peter’s boat pulled up on the beach next to them, the catch of 153 large fish, as well as his friends and family standing nearby. Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him more than his livelihood, financial success and stability, as well as his family and friends. In other words Jesus was asking Peter if he was willing to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
These calls are not a 1-2-3-step process for everyone. For some, it is, but for others, like the apostle Paul, their first call is a combination of #3 and #4. What is important is that we realize these different calls so we can respond appropriately to where a person is on their journey to Christ.
To help us whenever we are talking with someone about a personal relationship with Jesus we need to remember to:
- Be praying for discernment and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Do not assume you know what their spiritual need is.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Respond to their answers as well as to their questions.
- Ask them if they are ready to make a commitment to Jesus as their Savior.