I used to attend Monday nights with Greg Laurie at Calvary Chapel when I was a kid. At the end of every service Greg used to invite people in the front to make a decision to accept Christ and become born-again after repeating a one minute “sinner’s prayer.”
This practice became more pompous at the yearly Harvest Crusades when after reciting the sinner’s prayer, fireworks went off and Greg would declare: “welcome to the family of God.”
Is the personal decision to become born again unto eternal life grounded in the Bible? And is it ok to label a person born again after reciting the sinner’s prayer?
Billy Graham has been applying decision theology throughout his evangelistic career, and he famously declared that only 5% or less of those making a profession of faith at his crusades eventually make their way into the Body of Christ by joining a church.
It then follows that a huge number of people who make a decision to believe, make a profession that is NOT of faith. That is just the tip of a nefarious iceberg. These folks leave the crusade thinking they are saved and they continue to live unchanged lives. They are left with an empty decision, a profession, and a false declaration of salvation by a celebrity evangelist.
This problem invariably gets into the monergism vs synergism debate. Monergism holds to the supreme sovereignty of God in matters of salvation, and states that a human decision is not involved in becoming born again, while synergism claims that a human decision for salvation is necessary and synergistic with the work of the Holy Spirit.
But I argue that when it comes to conversion, philosophy can muddy the waters. Let us go to the Scriptures to highlight the fact that salvation belongs to God and it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The only thing that humans can do is abandon salvation.
First, a confession of true faith stems in the gift of faith given by God, NOT in a human decision:
Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”
Second, this faith cannot be activated by a human decision because such an action is contrary to fallen human nature:
1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
It becomes clear that in order to make an authentic confession of faith one has to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit because the unregenerated natural man is not able to do this.
Even repentance is not the result of human decision but something that is granted by God:
Acts 11:18 “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.””
I need to stress that human participation in salvation is not robotic. But also, it is not a man initiated event by decisions and sinner’s prayers. It is the result of the quickening of the Holy Spirit.
An appropriate altar call should include the presentation of gospel facts and gospel terms followed by an invitation to repent and surrender to God. Decisions to become born again have no place in a biblical understanding of salvation. Neither do declarations of eternal salvation for those who make professions of faith.