No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. - John 6: 44 (ESV)
I watched the debacle that was the Christmas Eve service from New Spring Church. New Spring is a mega church, sporting multiple campuses and encompassing upwards of 20,000 attendees weekly. It is the prototypical purpose driven church. It has a CEO, vision caster as its pastor in Perry Noble. It strives so hard to be relevant to the world that one of the worship songs that week was the Miley Cyrus hit song, Wrecking Ball. I have already written before about the content of the sermon, which was an horrific attempt by Mr. Noble to rewrite the Ten Commandments. What is equally troubling however was the underlying motivation for his sermon. He kept repeating over and over again that these promises from God could be yours if you would just "say yes to Jesus." When his altar call appeared to be very abysmal, he dropped to his knees on stage and begged people to come forward and "say yes to Jesus."
It is not just Perry Noble. This is the blueprint for the seeker friendly, mega church building, purpose driven pastors. Even the father of the purpose, Rick Warren, says that all you need to become part of the family of God is say this simple prayer - "Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you." Joel Osteen and countless others use the "come into my heart" variation of this. The notion being that we must invite Jesus into our hearts. We all know the drill. We have seen it played out so often in churches today by both well meaning and unscrupulous preachers. You give a half hour sermon that is as user friendly as possible and then ask people to "make decisions" for Christ. You tell them that they must "step out in faith" and show that they are "not ashamed of Jesus" by coming forward. You then pray the sinner's prayer, which is some of the worst theology alive today and proclaim them saved. Hand them a bible, a shape application and a date for their baptism and voila! I see it every week from pastors proclaiming on Facebook how many decisions for Jesus were made that day at their churches. It makes for great drama and social media attaboys but the question that nags at the back of my mind is if any of it is even remotely biblical and the answer is simply no.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." - Matthew 3: 7-12 (ESV)
Beloved there are only two outcomes. We are either wheat in His barn or we are chaff to be burned with unquenchable fire. What is John The Baptist saying here to the Pharisees and Sadducees? What was wrong with their coming to get baptized? Because they were not sincere! Not truly! They came as a failsafe. They viewed themselves as wheat because they considered themselves children of Abraham much as most of the church today think themselves as heirs to the blessings of Abraham. The Pharisees and Sadducees however did not come to John because they were truly repenting just as much of the church did not go for altar call due to truly repenting. So what does John say to them? Bear fruit with the keeping of repentance! Let's see your life cash that check your mouth is writing!
Beloved, I am not saying that one cannot be saved through an altar call; I was. But it was not because of the altar call. It was not because of any manipulation on the part of the pastor. The newest trend in modern purpose driven churches is to literally offer up to attendees to "try Jesus out" for a few weeks. I kid you not. Like He is a car you need to test drive first before you commit to purchasing. That may sound ridiculous but is it any more unreasonable than asking the Creator of the heavens and the earth into your heart? Is it any sillier than the notion that Sovereign Lord over the entire universe is some wallflower at the prom of our life just hoping that we ask Him to dance? Make no mistake about it beloved. That is exactly how we view Him in modern Christianity. He is some poor nerd standing on the sidelines at the gym which has been turned into a dance hall for our homecoming. He is looking around unsure of Himself. Hoping beyond hope that we will ask Him to come into our hearts. Ask Him to be Lord of our lives. Ask Him to dance. What is wrong with that picture? Who is God in that scenario? Who has the power? Do not fall for this set up.
Our key verse today makes it very clear who does the drawing and it is not us. No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him. No one can "say yes to Jesus." No one can "invite Jesus into their hearts." No one can ask Him to dance. It is His dance beloved. Not ours. That word "draws" in the key verse is actually translated as "drags." Now that is a good word picture for what truly happens when one repents. We play a part; do not get me wrong. I do not ascribe to the theology of pure predestination where God purposefully assigns people to hell. I think people confuse the fact that God knows who will repent because He is above all time with God deciding who will repent because He is all powerful. The verse today however cannot be clearer. God draws. Well what does that mean? First of all, creation testifies to the existence of God:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. - Romans 1: 18-25 (ESV)
Saved or unsaved, what can be known about God is plain for all to see. Yet many choose to either ignore it through agnosticism or deny it through atheism. How one can watch a sunset and think it to be random is simply more confounding to me than the deepest mysteries of the universe. Watch how those who run to embrace science act when it comes to the things of God. By mocking God they claim to be wise. They become futile in their thinking. They exchanged the glory of an immortal God for the foolishness of trusting in man. They are without excuse. Creation draws men to God if they are willing to subject themselves to a higher power. Many however are not. The second way God draws is through the Gospel.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. - John 16: 8-11 (ESV)
These are the words of Jesus regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit. He will convict the unsaved of their sin. That is the drawing but our part is in how we respond. This is why the Gospel simply needs to be preached. It does not need to be massaged, changed, sweetened or made relevant. It needs to be preached so that the spirit can convict people of their sins and they can respond. It is not a matter of inviting Jesus into our heart because our heart is wickedly deceptive above all things and beyond a cure according to Scripture. When David was confronting his sin with Bathsheba what was his cry?
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. - Psalm 51: 10 (ESV)
I remember when I first said the sinner's prayer in 1998. It was 3 AM and I was watching an infomercial with born again baseball pitcher, Andy Pettite. My life was a mess and he was convincing. I said the prayer, called the toll free number and they sent me a bible. I quickly put it on my bookshelf without reading it and even when God straightened my life out, I went right back to living the same way I always had. I believed in God. I always had. But I liked my sin. I think that it would be so much healthier for us as believers to simply admit that we still are human. We like our sin. It is our nature. Repentance does not change our sin nature. Repentance changes how we view it. What do you mean preacher? Well, fast forward four years in my life and I am sitting in a Pentecostal church for the first time. The pastor who would become one of my best friends was preaching the Gospel. I do not recall the exact sermon subject or Scriptures used but Calvary was at the heart of it all. His altar call was not three sentences and a cloud of dust. He was not concerned about where he was going for lunch. He waited and waited as the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins. He waited and waited as the weight of my sins became unbearable. He waited and waited until I realized how a holy God saw my sins and then I crawled to the altar. A more scriptural way of saying it is God dragged me to the altar. That was my drawing. Was my nature still a sin nature? Of course and it remains so until this day. Now though I understood how God sees my sin. What God did to redeem me from my sin. My perspective on sin changed. That is what repentance is. From that point forward I remain an imperfect human being but I was no longer the same. There was now fruit in keeping with my repentance. There was a conscious desire to not want to sin. Perfection? Hardly. David sinned. Peter sinned. Paul sinned. So does Anthony. But now the sins break my heart because I know they break the Father's heart. As such, they are either avoided, mitigated, or repented of immediately in godly sorrow. That was why John the Baptist told that brood of vipers to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Because he knew they never would. They did not come to him because they were drawn or dragged. They came to him in their own wisdom and under their own wiles. The same reason far too many respond to altar calls today. Only instead of being greeted with "you brood of vipers" they are greeted with "welcome to the family of God." Let us close today by examining when the Apostle Peter "decided" to "invite Jesus in his heart."
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret,and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken,and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. - Luke 5: 1-11 (ESV)
Luke explains the backdrop to us here for a reason. Peter was a fisherman by trade. He knew how to fish. He knew where to fish. He knew when to fish. This was no weekend hobby. It was how Peter made his livelihood. Thus when the miracle is wrought in front of his eyes he understands the severity of it. He understands that the catch that capsizes both boats is simply not of man. When he sees the haul of fish after a night spent trying it using human skill and wisdom and catching nothing, he fully understands that what has happened is divine. Prior to this he was someone who believed in God but now he was someone who was seeing God. There is a vast difference and immediately Peter recognizes his sinful state in front of such a holy God. As when Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, Peter so sees how utterly filthy he is before God. Depart from me! Jesus was drawing Peter that day and he responded with a better understanding of his sin before God.