Jesus never commanded his disciples to save people, but to preach repentance.
The challenge of the gospel is repentance. Jesus begins his ministry with “Repent!” (Matt 3:2, Matt 4:17). He and his disciples went out and preached repentance (Mark 6:12). After Jesus’ commissioning and ascension, his disciples preached repentance (Luke 24:47). At the birth of the church, Peter preached repentance (Acts 2:38). And on his missionary trips, Paul preached repentance (Acts 20:21).
Have we lost sight of the aim of preaching? I believe we have. When salvation is the focus, repentance becomes an after-thought. There are two problems with this: no repentance from sin, and false assurance of salvation.
Repentance from sin
What happens when we throw out the invitation for salvation with a sinner’s prayer is that a person’s sin isn’t dealt with. We by-pass the “repentance from sin” part. The sinner who wants to be saved isn’t asked about their sins. They aren’t told to renounce their sin. We offer salvation without explaining the meaning and requirement of it. And so, without a revelation of their sin to flee from, these folks continue to live in sin.
False Assurance of Salvation
Another big problem is offering salvation. Who are we to think we can offer salvation? Who made us the grantor of salvation? When we tell people that they’re saved because they recited a prayer, or affirmed the church’s doctrinal statement of faith, or felt remorseful and confessed their wrong-doing to a pastor, we have deceived them and ourselves. We can’t promise eternal life with these acts alone. Only God grants salvation to whom God desires.
We need to stop jumping ahead of ourselves and trying to save people. By placing salvation before repentance, we inadvertently permit sinful behavior by making people believe they can be saved without change. It’s time we stop getting ahead of ourselves. We do our job, God does his. We offer the opportunity to repent, people are given the free choice to respond, and God exercises the power to save.