Preacher’s Toolkit: Should I Always Call for Repentance and Faith?

Editors’ note: 

The Pastor’s Toolkit is an ongoing series of practical resources for pastors, particularly focused on preaching and leadership. Find even more resources for pastors at our TGC Pastors page.

Expository preaching addresses the entire person—the mind, the affections, and the will. Sadly, many think of expository preaching only as mental instruction. While preaching must certainly instruct the mind, it must go further than mere mental instruction. An expository sermon must also raise the affections.

Jonathan Edwards, for example, spoke of this desire to raise the emotions of his listeners so that they might be on fire for the Lord and emotionally responsive to his truth. But a sermon must not only instruct the mind and raise the affections; it must also challenge the will. In other words, an expository sermon will always include a call to respond to God’s Word. By its nature, preaching both challenges and petitions the will.

Proclamation Demands a Verdict

An evangelistic sermon demonstrates the importance of calling for decision. In evangelistic preaching, the sermon invites unbelievers to repent of their sins and trust in the Lord. The ministry of Christ repeatedly illustrates this commitment to call for a decision. Christ says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Elsewhere he says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. . . . ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37–38).

Jesus continually invites unbelievers to respond to him in repentant faith:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28–30)

Jesus challenged the unbeliever’s will, and our expository sermons can do no less than call for a decision and invite the will to respond.Lightstock

Two Dangers to Avoid

While calling for a decision, preachers must avoid two dangers. The first is to manipulate the will. The preacher should never coerce or coax in a false way; believers should not be manipulated into a supposed “decision” for Christ. Pastors are not called to this method of arm-twisting. The second (and equally damaging) danger is to never challenge the will. Faithful expository preachers never manipulate, but they always call people to respond with their lives.

When I was dating the woman who would be my wife, there came a point where I had to go further than “I love you. I think you’re great. I can’t see living without you.” Eventually, I realized I had to ask the question, “Will you marry me?” She needed to hear me ask that important question, and that question drew her to respond, “Yes!”

Essential Element

Preachers have to do more than word studies on redemption and propitiation—and only frame the gospel theologically—in their sermons. Every preacher must also come to the point where he calls for decision and pleads with people to come to Christ. To be clear, calling for a response does not necessitate a call to get people out of their seats and walk forward; though, that may take place in your church. Rather, preachers petition the congregation to respond where they are sitting and within their own hearts—but the petition is no less a call to take a step of faith and commit one’s life to Jesus Christ.

Calling for the decision is an essential and necessary part of gospel preaching. Christ demonstrated this practice in his teaching, and it was also present in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. The crowd interrupted: “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s response was direct: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38).

And Peter is not the only example. Throughout the book of Acts the apostles were direct as they called for a decision from their listeners. Even so today, as preachers of God’s Word, we must bring our hearers to a point of decision. It is not enough for them to know some things; it is not enough for them to feel some things; they must do some things. We must call both believers and unbelievers to repentance and faith.


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