Every evangelist faces a huge temptation. No, I’m not talking about sexual immorality or financial impropriety. Although these are dangerous temptations as well, there’s another that is just as perverse, pervasive, and powerful—if not more so. I believe that most evangelists, at one time or another, succumb to its evil whisper.
What is this Satanic seduction? It’s the temptation to bolster evangelistic responses (“altar call numbers”) by muddying the simple and clear message of grace with works. I’ve seen this happen again and again. I’ve witnessed it at conferences, outreaches, church services, youth groups, and festivals. The evangelist’s temptation is rampant and real.
A confusing call
I’ll never forget an awkward conversation I had years ago with a famous preacher about this very subject, after hearing one of his evangelistic sermons. I shared with him how much I enjoyed his sermon but that I had a few concerns with the way he executed his altar call.
I shared with him that I thought his Gospel-response time could be confusing the audience and perverting the Gospel itself. “In what way?” was his seemingly sincere response.
I explained to him that when he gave the invitation, I couldn’t tell if he was asking Christians to rededicate their lives to Christ, walk in victory over every sin, and live wholly for Jesus, or asking unbelievers to put their faith in Christ to save them. He had mixed up the message of the free gift of salvation with the high cost of discipleship and had, knowingly or unknowingly, mixed up a heresy smoothie that was heavy on “turn or burn” and light on “believe and receive.”
Any Christian could say “yes” to his invitation, and every unbeliever was, most likely, confused by it. His Gospel focused on what we must do for Jesus, not on what Jesus did for us on the cross.
When I finished sharing with him, he responded: “I receive what you are saying, brother.” I was so excited and relieved. (It’s intimidating to confront someone!) But, sadly, the next time I heard him preach, he did the exact same thing with his altar call.
He confused his audience with an unclear Gospel, but the numbers of people who came forward were big—and that’s all that matters, right? Wrong! What matters is that people genuinely repent (change their minds) about what they are trusting in to save them and put their faith in Christ and Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins, based on His finished work on the cross.
Keep the Gospel clear!
What matters is that authentic regeneration takes place in the heart that responds to the shockingly simple message of grace, as articulated in John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, and in other passages all over the New Testament. Sadly, and far too often, big numbers are to evangelists what big muscles are to bodybuilders. And there’s way too much flexing going on. What a dangerous thing to do!
How dare we abort the simple message of grace for an external response that bolsters our pride! If you’re an evangelist, I implore you: Refuse to mix works into your Gospel presentation to get a bigger response at the end of your sermon. There are too many souls at stake to abuse the Gospel, just so evangelists can feel good about themselves.
Remember this strikingly strong warning from the apostle Paul to those who add to the Gospel of grace:
But even if we or an angel from Heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!Galatians 1:8-9
Don’t give in to the evangelist’s biggest temptation!