(Photo: Dan Delzell)
Some Christians in their witness consistently invite unbelievers to "make a commitment to Christ." Other Christians seem to mainly invite people to "believe in Christ." Which approach is correct?
It is important to say here that both faith and commitment are part of what it means to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Without faith in Christ, you cannot be His disciple. Without a commitment to Christ, you likewise cannot be His disciple. Both are essential. Both faith and commitment go into what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Imagine a man and woman getting married, but not having vows where they state their commitment to one another. Or imagine them stating their vows but not really meaning it. That "marriage" would be a sham. Without genuine commitment, how can you call it a real marriage?
Christ followers want to live for Christ. They want to commit their bodies and their minds and their speech to doing His will. They want to obey the 10 Commandments, as well as all of God's instructions for holy living. Disciples are committed to doing what God wants them to do. And disciples know they are saved by grace through faith in Christ. (see Eph. 2:8,9) Disciples do not attempt to earn their salvation. That "works-righteous" approach would actually keep them outside of the family of God. (see Gal. 5:4)
So should we invite people to make a commitment to Christ, or to believe in Christ? Yes. Do both. Explain both. Don't sell anyone a bill of goods. Don't lead them to think that biblical faith can actually exist without genuine commitment to the Lord. And don't lead them to think that genuine commitment to Christ can exist without saving faith in the cross where Jesus died to redeem us. You cannot have one without the other. If you do, you are not a disciple. It's not "true faith" if commitment is not also in the heart, and it's not "true commitment" if faith is not also in the heart. These two always go together. You have both, or neither.
Are we saved by our works and by our commitment? No. We are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all sin. (see 1 John 1:7) We are saved by what Christ did for us and not what we do for Him. Salvation cannot be earned. It can only be received. (see John 1:12) Like marriage, it produces a very serious relationship. It involves more than just an easy "profession of faith," or a simple "walk down the aisle." It involves a genuine commitment to the Gospel message and a genuine commitment to the Gospel Man, Jesus Christ.
So can someone be saved without a commitment? No, anymore than someone can be saved by trusting in their works for salvation. The Holy Spirit works in us to believe the good news and to commit our lives to following the Lord. It is a miraculous relationship that gets established by the power of God. He is the author of the new birth. (see 1 Cor. 12:3 and John 1:12) He works through His Word. "Faith comes from hearing the message." (Romans 10:17)
We are saved through faith alone, but genuine faith is never alone. It is always accompanied by an authentic commitment to live for Christ. It is heartfelt and sincere. It is not hypocritical. In fact, the Bible never uses the word "hypocrite" to describe a believer in Christ. A hypocrite is one who pretends to be connected to Christ, but whose heart is not in it and therefore not sincere about it.
Judas was a hypocrite. Peter was not. Judas betrayed the Lord. Peter denied the Lord three times. Judas did not give the Lord his heart. Peter did give the Lord his heart, and in some moments of weakness he went against his heart and his intentions. Judas, on the other hand, went through with his premeditated plan to betray Christ. One of those men had faith and commitment. The other had neither. Peter was a true follower of Jesus. Judas was a "disciple" in name only.
One who is committed to Christ is one who wants to do the Lord's will in all things. That is his motive. That is his heart's desire. His faith in Christ and his desire for holy living are consistent with each other. Even though he falls short of God's perfect mark, he nevertheless presses on in following the One who saved Him. (see Phil. 3:13,14) That is what a Christian does because that is what God works within us. His love. His forgiveness. His will. That is what drives the Christian to keep going.
Are you one? Would you like to be? The risen Christ is "standing at the altar" so to speak. "Will you take this Man to be your Lord and Savior, to trust and to follow, until death brings you home to heaven?" You cannot split up "Lord" and "Savior." He will be both of them for you, or neither.
I guess those Christians who focus more on inviting people to "make a commitment" to Christ would be wise to always include that bit about believing. And I guess those Christians who always emphasize "believe in Jesus" would be wise to always include the necessity to commit your life to Christ. If we leave one of those two things out of the equation, we are simply selling someone a bill of goods.
Nobody likes a bait and switch. It's much better to hear the real deal on the front end. That way, there won't be any confusion when you start to run into some challenges in your Christian life. And those challenges will come. Make no mistake about it. That too is just part of the package. If only Christianity were as easy as "just believing a few things," or just "doing some religious stuff," with no crosses to carry and no burdens to bear.
The real thing is often different than what our preconceived ideas led us to assume. But maybe that's not such a bad thing in the end. After all, why should Jesus fit nicely into our little preconceived religious box? I am glad He is a lot bigger than our little boxes and our puny thinking. Aren't you?