The Response of Preaching: Why the Invitation Matters

 |  November 28, 2018

Jerusalem was probably quiet as the Day of Pentecost dawned on those one hundred twenty believers who prayed fervently in that upper room. Few outside that sacred prayer vigil could have expected the glorious events about to occur. Then marvelously, God opened the windows of heaven and endued those Christians with the Holy Spirit. The Shekinah fire that had shown gloriously above the Mercy Seat now burned inside the hearts of every follower of Christ. That heavenly wind gave a deafening noise as the glaring light of the celestial tongues of fire spread through that room. Suddenly, supernaturally, unlearned men spoke inexplicably about the glories of God in languages they had never learned. The Great Communicator revealed the Gospel of His Son to the Jews first. He made sure they heard that message in their own, particular dialect (cf. Acts 2:16f).

Unsurprisingly, some rogues accused the evangels of being “full of sweet wine.” But Peter, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, rather than denying Jesus, took his stand with the other eleven apostles and spoke out. He proclaimed the Gospel based on several Old Testament texts and concluded by extending a Gospel invitation for his listeners to respond. Luke gives a synopsis of Peter’s invitation:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38–40) 

That was the first Gospel invitation to be extended after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. It gave birth to the church by calling people to repent and turn from sin. Such repentance included simultaneous faith in Jesus’ vicarious death and victorious resurrection. Those who repented and believed would “be saved,” filled with the Holy Spirit, receive “the forgiveness of sins,” and would express their salvation publicly by being baptized. Three thousand souls were ushered into God’s kingdom that day. We know that because Peter preached the Gospel and extended an invitation.

Oddly, some preachers today avoid extending Gospel invitations when they preach. That seems so unbiblical and strange. Why tell people about salvation and not give them the chance to receive it? Why offer living water and not invite people to taste and see that the Lord is good? Who has attended a wedding where the preacher failed to lead the couple in their vows?  Even so, why should any preacher recoil from the extending of sincere, persuasive Gospel invitations?

Some say they fear manipulation that might result in bogus conversions. On similar grounds, some forbid immediate baptism for new converts to make sure those who respond bear spiritual fruit that confirms the legitimacy of their conversions.

But does such hesitancy line up with Scripture? It’s certainly not found in the Book of Acts. The earliest Christians preached the Gospel and extended persuasive Gospel invitations to repent of sin and believe in Christ then and there. They also baptized new converts immediately as a sign of conversion.

Peter’s sermon on Pentecost affirms that. After Pentecost, Peter preached again in Jerusalem and invited his listeners to “Repent and return that your sins might be washed away.” Many did so immediately (cf. Acts 3:19f). Philip preached to a eunuch from Ethiopia and invited him to follow Christ. He was saved and baptized immediately (cf. Acts 8:35–36). Paul preached to the aristocratic Athenians, inviting them to repent and believe in Christ saying, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” Some were saved on the spot (cf. Acts 17:30–34).

I began preaching in 1977. I’ve served as senior pastor of four Southern Baptist churches since 1983. I’ve preached thousands of sermons. I have ALWAYS concluded my sermons by publicly extending a Gospel invitation. I encourage listeners to repent of their sins, believe savingly in Jesus, and receive Him as Lord and Savior. I call them to do all of that at the time and place I preach. Thousands have responded to those invitations. And each time, I’m reminded that we plant and water, but only God gives the increase.

My mentor in extending public invitations was the late Dr. Roy Fish. He served at SWBTS as Professor of Evangelism for 40+ years. He suggested multiple ways to extend an invitation at the end of a sermon. There’s the “come forward” invitation where the preacher invites those who want to be saved to walk to the front of the worship center at the end of the service in order to be counseled. To be sure, a person does not have to “walk an aisle” to be saved.  At the end of the sermon, the preacher can invite potential converts and seekers to a room that is close to the worship center to talk with a counselor about being saved. At Bellevue, we use both of those methods every Sunday. We also inform them that when the worship service concludes, counselors will also be available at the front of the worship center to share the Gospel with them. It doesn’t matter which method you utilize as long as you invite them to be saved then and there.

Every preacher should include in every sermon a clear invitation to respond to the Gospel. Tell the listeners what they need to do, how to do it, and then encourage them to do it then and there. Invite your listeners to repent of sin, believe in Jesus and receive Him as Lord Savior.

The Gospel demands a response. That is why Jesus, Peter, and Paul extended Gospel invitations, and so should we.

Steve Gaines is the Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and holds a PhD in Preaching from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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