I still remember visiting a friend’s church. A fine church, I suppose. Bible-based they kept telling me. It’s the very word of God, the preacher proclaimed. Some music pumped us up. Some were crying and raising their hands. Nothing wrong with that. Then something strange happened. A spiritual thing, I was told. The preacher called me out on my fake faith! He said to everyone, “If you want to accept Jesus into your heart come on down! Come and get saved!”
My friends began to go up. I felt strange. Before I stepped through the church doors that night I had assumed I was a full-fledged Christian. I was baptized. My parents read devotions often in the evening to the four of us. I just sort of lightly lived in the confidence that God was in charge. Jesus died for my sins and rose again. And when I die I would go to heaven.
No one had ever asked me before if I wanted to be saved! I didn’t really want to then. I didn’t want to go down to the altar. But then I grew uneasy as people looked at me and seemed to wonder why I didn’t get up.
That week, I began to doubt myself. Did I really believe? Was I truly serious about being a disciple of Jesus? Was I saved? I didn’t feel like those other kids seemed to feel as they raised their hands up after accepting Jesus in their hearts. I felt guilty having just assumed I was a part of God’s kingdom and going to heaven. I questioned my commitment to Jesus.
Looking back, it wasn’t myself whom I doubted. It was Jesus. That’s what altar calls do. They take our eyes off Jesus and place them on ourselves. What’s in our heart? Do we really believe? Am I really a disciple? Placing an adverb before belief only creates an abyss of doubt. “Do you ‘really’ believe?” will never find an answer.
Jesus had given me rest in His promises way back when I was a baby in the ordinary waters of baptism. And now the preacher was making me feel guilty for simply resting in that. He made me feel guilty for just assuming that God loved me, forgives me and promised to raise me up from the dead. How dare I just rest in God’s work and in His faithfulness!
Sure my faith goes up and down. And sure I could be more committed as a Christian. But I don't need more focus on my faith! I need more Jesus! After all, He is the vine, I’m just a branch.
It’s not just well intentioned altar calls that hurt people’s faith in Christ. Satan has conspiring to cause doubt in Jesus since the beginning with calls to the altar of our heart.
So our Lord gives us a better altar call. A call to an empty altar, demanding nothing to place on it, because the only sacrifice needed has already been given. A call to the altar to not give our hearts to Jesus, but to receive Jesus’ heart in His body and blood! A call that does not demand but gives feely promises of peace that we can relax in: Forgiveness and Resurrection. Come down the altar and receive!
And don’t be afraid. You can indeed assume God has taken care of everything. You can relax in His promises.