Can you make a decision for Christ?
“Have you made a decision for Christ?” One often hears this question from radio
and television preachers, or even from our friends and family. “Have you invited
Jesus into your heart? Have you received Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?
Have you dedicated your life to Christ?” Many churches have a “Time of Decision”
at the end of their services, with altar calls and emotional appeals for the
person to respond. All of these questions rotate around this same premise: the
unbeliever has the ability and responsibility to choose Jesus. But is this what
the Bible teaches? Can the unbeliever make a decision for Christ?
What Can We Do?
St Paul speaks of our conversion as a move from death to life. “And you He made
alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” [Ephesians 2:1, see also 2:5 and
Colossians 2:13] Dead in trespasses and sins. Not sick, not crippled, dead. We
are, says St Paul, dead in our sins, completely unable to choose or decide
anything regarding Jesus. Again, St. Paul, “But the natural man does not receive
the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he
know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” [1 Corinthians 2:14] The
things of the Spirit of God, this certainly includes the truth of Jesus and His
cross and death for us, all these things are unknown and unknowable to the
natural man, the mind of flesh. The Gospel is “foolishness” [1 Corinthians 1:23,
25] to those who do not believe. How, then, could we invite the unbeliever to
make a decision for that which is foolish? It cannot.
Again, St Paul says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and
the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each
other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” [Galatians 5:17] Far
from accepting the good news of Jesus, our sinful flesh fights against it. As
Stephen, the first martyr after Jesus' Ascension, preaches to the Jews in
Jerusalem, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always
resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” [Acts 7:51] Such
accusation stands over all the unbelieving world, “They are darkened in their
understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is
in them, due to their hardness of heart.” [Ephesians 4:18]
Far from having a free will to choose or make a decision for Jesus, the
Scriptures speak of the natural condition of man as an enemy of God. “For the
mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's
law; indeed, it cannot.” [Romans 8:7] The fleshly mind “does not” and “can not”
submit to God's law. Such sure testimonies should answer the question “Can we
make a decision for Christ?” The Scriptures plainly tell us “no”. St Paul quotes
from the Psalms, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one
seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no
one does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12] And the Lord Jesus testifies,
“The light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” [John 1:5]
Conversion: God's Work
The Bible says that we cannot choose or turn to God, that we are completely
helpless when it comes to heavenly things. How, then, are we to believe?
Conversion, turning from death to life and from the devil to God is a work of
God Himself; a work of God alone. We call this the teaching of monergism, God
alone is the cause of our salvation; He creates faith [see Ephesians 2:8-10] and
gives repentance as a gift. Such is the testimony of the Scriptures.
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." [Acts
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of
purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay
attention to what was said by Paul. [Acts 16:14]
Jesus says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one
knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and
anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” [Matthew 11:27] And again, “To
you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them
it has not been given.” [Matthew 13:11]
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that
we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus
Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. [1 John 5:20]
Just as the Lord spoke and the universe was created out of nothing, so our
knowledge and trust in the Lord is created out of nothing in us. “For God, who
said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the
light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [2
Corinthians 4:6] God's Word alone creates faith in us. For I am not ashamed of
the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,
to the Jew first and also to the Greek. [Romans 1:16] So faith comes from
hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [Romans 10:17]
It is the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, who gives us faith and
trust in Jesus and His cross, for it is God who works in you, both to will and
to work for his good pleasure. [Philippians 2:13] So what we learn in the
Catechism is a marvelous summary of this Biblical teaching:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus
Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the
Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole
Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith
Our faith is a work of God the Holy Spirit through His Word.
Jesus' Work is Our Comfort
It is plain from the Scriptures that the unbeliever cannot make a decision for
Jesus or invite them in to their heart, but that the Holy Spirit, through the
Word, converts the heart and gives us faith. But does this matter?
Jesus teaches us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and
I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
[John 15:5] This is a verse of marvelous comfort, for here we have Jesus'
promise that, abiding in Him, we will bear much fruit. But Jesus is also warning
us to not think too highly of ourselves. “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”
Jesus means what He says, there is no doing anything good or holy apart from
If we think that the unbeliever has the will to choose Jesus or make a decision
for Christ, then we undo Jesus' words, as if He wanted to say, “Apart from Me
you can do nothing except invite Me into your heart.” But Jesus wants us to have
the comfort that He Himself, through the Holy Spirit, has given us repentance
Far from making a decision for Jesus, the Lord's people rejoice that He has made
a decision for us, to die for us, to forgive all our sins, to baptize us into
His family, and to call us through His Gospel. Our faith is Jesus' work, and
this is our great comfort.
May our Lord's words to His disciples also grant us peace: “You did not choose
Me, but I choose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and
that your fruit should abide.” [John 15:16]
The Lord's Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Wolfmueller is the Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, CO.