Altar Calls & New Birth

An Issue Raised

That night of August 15, 1987, when Christ battered down the walls of my resistance and claimed me for his own, I clearly recall that I never "took Him as my Savior." At the time of my conversion, I had no more thought to "take Christ" than did Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road. Yet, I am as confident as was Saul, that Christ "took" me to be His own in that instant of regeneration. Some may say it was the power of suggestion, but I know I experienced physiological symptoms of chill and warmth at a time in my life when I had no personal experience of religious ecstasy.

And from that moment, I have been confident of Christ's presence in me and of my eternal standing as a child of Almighty God.

In the charismatic church that was my training ground, people often spoke of "accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior," as though a conscious effort were involved in the salvific process. In that assembly, and others I visited, it was a common practice for people to be called forward for healing and to receive means of repeating a sinners prayer. Once verbalized, this prayer assured the supplicant of his place in the Body of Christ. Or so it was preached.

To my recollection, I never have "taken Christ as my Savior" in this manner, though I may have repeated that prayer in assembly often.

I now understand that for many, the expression “taken Christ as my Savior” is merely their way of expressing a familial relationship with Christ; not to be understood in the literal sense that it was they who chose Christ, but that it was Christ who chose them. I do not believe sinners are saved by altar calls or by reciting a sinner's prayer. In calling a person forward and bombarding him with admonishments, exhortations and threats, followed by an intensely emotional recitation of a memorized prayer, I see a denial of the power of Christ and the sovereignty of God. Though perhaps well-intentioned, the pastor who uses the altar call to "bring people to Christ" as a drover drives cattle into a pen is, in effect, announcing to the world that God is not really sovereign in the sinner's life and that Christ's atoning sacrifice is insufficient for salvation. In other words, the seeker's "faith alone" is not enough; pastor, or some other third party, must be present to "lead" the seeker through a conscious process of "converting" belief in God into saving faith. This process suggests that the seeker cannot be saved until he completes the works of prayer, confession and petition, preferably with the guiding presence of a "true" believer.

Catholicism's baptismal ritual is another denial of the power of faith and the sovereignty of God. The Scriptures tell us that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, yet Romish doctrine relegates faith to a virtually needless accessory to the “sacramental work” of the Catholic priest. Babies are baptized into the Catholic Church, and the Catholic version of salvation, while still on their mothers' breasts; too young to comprehend what is going on and needing someone else to respond to the priest's ritual questions in their stead.

In Rome's way of doing things, water baptism is not always necessary for salvation. One might be enlisted in what is called the “Church Triumphant” if they intended to be baptized but die before they complete the ceremony

1259. For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., (C) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

According to the doctrines of Rome, another way to be saved without being baptized is to die for the faith.

1258. The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.Ibid.

When I read phrases similar to "taking Christ as my Lord and Savior," I think of all those, elect or not, who have been led to believe that all that is necessary for salvation and inclusion in the Body of Christ is to recite a sinner's prayer or silently read it from the back of a three-cent pamphlet or to submit to sacramental baptism. They verbalize the prayer or submit to submit to a ritual baptism and count themselves as saved, yet are unable to tell you in what they believe or who Christ is. God is and always will be sovereign in all things, but He will not give a person with what he is unable to receive for lack of saving faith. Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to cover the sins of all mankind forever, but the debt of those who lack saving faith is never marked paid.

We know God's grace is irresistible. He will not be denied. Those whom He has chosen will be brought to salvation. The question is: what about all those who dutifully troop up to the altar at pastor's insistence, repeat that prayer and walk away "feeling saved?" Do the elect who profess faith before they know in Whom they trust get another chance to learn and believe? Do those not chosen walk out of the room believing they are saved then morph into chosen ones by virtue of their faith and God's grace? Are only the elect drawn to even consider salvation? If that latter is true, how can so many of the "elect" find themselves in belief systems patently in opposition to God's revealed word?

A Response Offered

The modern "sinner's prayer" has no roots in Scripture, and does not impart the new birth, nor does Catholicism's sacramental baptism. There is no example of any apostle leading someone to Christ through a sinner's prayer. There is no example in Scripture of anyone being saved by being baptized. It is by God's grace, through faith, that we are saved. In the tenth chapter of his letter to the church at Rome, Paul made it clear that faith comes by hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:17). It is the Spirit of God who brings understanding to the person hearing the Gospel. Upon the understanding imparted by the Holy Spirit, saving faith is conferred. This is not by any act of our own will, such as making one's way to the front of the assembly in response to an altar call, reciting a sinner's prayer or being wetted by baptismal water. Our tendencies are bent away from God, not towards Him. With the gift of saving faith, the Holy Spirit indwells the new child of God, forever sealing him unto eternal life. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit - the new birth. It happens in a twinkling of an eye. Since it isn't something experienced by our senses we may be unaware of the totality of what God has done. After all, it is a work of God, not man. Therefore there is no requirement for us to be fully aware of all aspects of this work. We become more knowledgeable as we are built up in Scripture, and learn through a maturing process in our relationship with God through His Word.

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:--1 Peter 2:2.

Regeneration in Greek is palingenesia (palin = again, genesis = birth). The word is used in reference to the kingdom only in Matthew 19:28:

And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

It is used in reference to those regenerated by the Spirit only in Titus 3:5:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.

How would regeneration have been understood in Jesus' time? To discover this, we must turn to the Hebrew Scriptures where, in Ezekiel 36:25-27, we read:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

An expression of this regeneration, this new birth, is found in the New Testament in John 1:12-13:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Jesus explained individual regeneration to Nicodemus in John 3:1-6:

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Regeneration includes the imparting of the divine nature :

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.--Titus 3:5

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.--1 Peter 1:23

All believers have divine sonship:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.--Galatians 3:26

Concerning the nature of regeneration there are five facts. (1) A new life has been born which is eternal; (2) that life is the divine nature; (3) the believer is born by the Holy Spirit; (4) God the Father becomes our legitimate Father; and (5) all believers are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

On the human side, regeneration is conditioned simply on faith:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.--John 1:12-13

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.--Galatians 3:26


I believe it is the privilege, not only of some, but of all who are born again by the Spirit through faith in Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, to be assured of their salvation from the very day they *take Him to be their Savior* and that this assurance is not founded upon any fancied discovery of their own worthiness or fitness, but wholly upon the testimony of God in His written Word, exciting within His children filial love, gratitude, and obedience. (Luke 10:20; 22:32; 2 Cor., 5:1, 6-8; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 10:22; 1 John 5:13.)--From my Statement of Faith, under the heading "Assurance."

Home | More Doctrine Stuff | Catholic Stuff | PTG Forum