Edward F. Lundwall Jr
The Evangelist pleads with those in his audience that they must find forgiveness if they expect of go to Heaven after they die. Many with a guilty conscience will respond. Many are confused, many have been disturbed by the sermon so that they are convinced of the need forgiveness. Somehow their conscience remembers actions been awakened to burdened them by feelings of guilt. Their consciences have been awakened and convicted of their sins which compels them to respond to the altar call.
Very frequently a personal worker will talk with them giving a short outline of the Gospel and lead them in what we call the sinner’s prayer. Their name and address are recorded on a decision card and handed to the pastor. He then asks them something about what they have come forward about and what they have done by coming forward. Then, often in independent fundamental Baptist Churches, they are immediately baptized.
Most frequently they are told that they are born-again into a salvation that they can never lose! Often when they inquire whether there are lifestyle changes that they must make to make their salvation real, they are told no, because the Scriptures say that it is not by works of righteousness that we do, but according to God’s mercies He has saved us!
A missionary friend told me of an experience he had with a lady in Mexico. After he and his fellow missionary had led her to make a profession of faith and pray the sinner's prayer, she felt that she would have to give up her business to really be saved. They told her no, because salvation is faith without works (Ephesians 2: 8, 9). Then they asked what her business was. She said her business was running a house of prostitution!
They were so surprised that they didn't know what to say, except come to Church. She came for while and then stopped. These missionaries neglected an important truth: Jesus came to save the repentant. His ministry was prepared by the ministry of John the Baptist who preached the necessity of repentance. Jesus also preached this message: "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent , ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5). As did the Apostles and the early Church conditioned repentance as a necessary part of faith that saves (Acts 2: 38; 26:20; Acts 11:18; Rom 1:5; 2 Cor 7:10).
This problem in the evangelistic work with both Church and mass evangelistic meetings resulted in great concern that a great many converts do not have a change of life, nor continue in their profession! There has been much written lamenting this phenomena.
Years ago after observing the instability in their professed converts, the Billy Graham evangelistic organization invited the Navigators to help remedy this situation. They began training counselors before the evangelistic meetings to counsel those making professions of faith. My wife and I had the privilege of being counselors in one of Billy Graham's crusades at Washington DC in 1954. I have gotten the impression from a number of sources that the results of this effort has been minimal.
Historic theologies have been constructed to both explain and resolve this problem in those professing faith.
In liturgical traditons, faith was mediated through being a member in that particular Church and participation in the sacraments. These churches include Roman Catholic, Anglican, Coptic, Eastern Orthodox and many of the oriental Catholic churches.
For Calvinists only those predestined to be saved would persevere in faith and righteousness. These are the "elect" of God. Their salvation is assured. In reaction to John Calvin, the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) asserted the freedom of the human will and rejected Calvin's interpretation of predestination.
In John Wesley’s theology, repentance is prior to receiving forgiveness and new life in Christ. In his sermon “The Way to the Kingdom,” Wesley identifies the steps toward becoming a citizen of the eternal Kingdom. He begins with repentance: “And first, repent, that is, know yourselves. This is the first repentance, previous to faith, even conviction, or self-knowledge.”
For Wesley, self-knowledge involves recognition of the seriousness of the infection of original sin and how this has spread into the life of the individual. This goes beyond identifying moral failures. Repentance shines a spotlight on the corruption of the inner man that brings moral failures and broken relationships. Most importantly, the grace to see ourselves as God sees us makes us humble and humility is one mark of the repentant soul.