When We Respond
If you come to church regularly you will probably hear about 150 invitations to respond to the lesson or sermons a year. That means thousands of invitations in a person's lifetime.
Ever wonder what is really happening when the invitation is being made? Is it just a convenient time to announce that you have decided to become a Christian or an occasion to acknowledge a sin that is "public" in nature? These are reasons why people come forward but they do not explain what is happening when they respond. What is really happening is not that someone has the opportunity to give the results of his decision to become a Christian or give up some sin. When the invitation is extended, we are not invited to come and give anything, we are really being given the chance to come forward and receive something from God, and that "something" is His mercy!
The best example of this is the prodigal son of Luke 15.
"11And He said, "A man had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them. 13And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."' 20So he got up and came to his father."
- Luke 15:11-20a
What he did was foolish and selfish. What he received was just (starvation, humiliation, loneliness). Note that when he decided to "come forward" in the sense of returning home to repent, he made up a speech and a bargain: admit his sin before God; admit his failure as a son; take the position of slave (since he spent all of his money that is the only position allowed to him).
But look what happened…
20b"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate."
- Luke 15:20b-24
Note that his father brushed aside his speech and his bargain and restored him to his original position with all of his privileges; he even made a feast so they could laugh and rejoice again. His father gave him mercy, and mercy made a new man out of him. He did not come to his father to give something, he came to receive something.
The same principles operate today. When we respond to the gospel invitation, remember that we do not come to give God something (an explanation, a bargain).
When we come forward, we come to receive His mercy offered through the blood of Christ. The unbeliever comes forward to confess faith and be baptized but what he or she comes forward for is the forgiveness and gift of the Holy Spirit offered to all who respond.
The brother or sister who comes forward does so to receive mercy, to receive the prayers of the church, to receive forgiveness if a public sin has been committed, to receive help and ministry through the prayers and concern of the brethren.
The invitation is for the brethren whose burden is too heavy to bear alone: a child is sick and I am worried; I feel guilty about the past; I have a struggle with sin that I need your help to win; I have done wrong and I am sorry
The offering of God's mercy through Jesus' blood made available through the extension of an invitation is a major reason for our being together. Every time one is extended someone has an opportunity to become a Christian, or Christians have the opportunity to take a giant step forward in their faith.
Let us remember that the invitation is a way of getting for ourselves the things we need to continue and grow as Christians: mercy and help to bear under trials; forgiveness for sins; strength to overcome sinful habits; reassurance that we are loved by God and His people.
When you hear the invitation song, therefore, do not ask if you have something to give to God. Examine yourself to see if you have a need to receive God's mercy in some form or another.