A common evangelistic appeal today is: “Receive Christ and you will be saved.” While that appeal is commonly used, it is very uncommon in Scripture!
Only one passage refers to “receiving Christ” as a condition of eternal life. yet there are over a hundred which refer to believing in Him as the one and only condition.
If we want our witnessing to convey the emphasis of Scripture, ninety-nine times out of a hundred we should call people to believe in Christ. Only rarely if at all should we even mention receiving Christ.
Even the one passage which mentions “receiving Christ” makes it clear that believing is the sole condition of eternal life. John 1:12 says, in effect, that as many as receive Christ–that is, as many as believe in Him–become children of God.
The reason I bring this up is because of the confusion which this common evangelistic appeal often causes. It can be confusing in three ways.
First, if left unexplained, this appeal can leave the unbeliever completely in the dark as to what he or she must do to be saved. The typical unbeliever doesn’t know how to “receive Christ.” They know how to receive a phone call or a UPS package, but not how to receive Christ. Do they need to pray some prayer? If so, which one? Should they look to a feeling to know if they really have “received” Him?
Second, if the one witnessing mistakenly defines receiving Christ as inviting Christ into one’s life, then the unbeliever may wrongly think that if he does that sincerely he will be saved, regardless of what he believes. Of course, that is not the case. (For further discussion of this point, see my August 1991 GES News article, Don’t Ask.)
Third, if this appeal is wrongly explained as including turning from sins and committing one’s life to Christ–as it is commonly explained by Lordship Salvationists, then unbelievers incorrectly think that they can buy salvation by moral reform and promissory notes.
Anytime we prefer some invitation other than that which the Scriptures prefer, we risk garbling the Gospel.
I find it much clearer and simpler to call people to believe in Christ and Him alone for eternal life.
If someone asks me what it means to receive Christ, then I turn them to John 1:12 and explain to them that receiving is believing. Those who reject Christ and His message, as most of His countrymen of His day did, do not believe (John 1:11). Those who accept Him and His message do believe in Him (John 1:12). It’s that simple. Receiving Christ is simply a synonym for believing in Him. It has nothing to do with praying a prayer, feeling a feeling, turning from sins, or promising to be good.
Receiving is believing.