Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 14, 1956

How Does One "Receive Christ"?

F. Y. T.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — May 14, 1956. Night before last I sat as one of an audience of 15,000 people in the big stadium here to listen to pulpit-striding, arm-waving evangelist Billy Graham exhort sinners to "receive Christ" into their hearts. The night was hot, but a southerly breeze helped a bit; the audience was rapt with attention. Graham's sermon was probably typical of the kind he preaches — earnest, fundamental, filled with anecdotes and personal experiences, and designed from first to last to "get a verdict." It was heartening indeed in this day of cynicism and secularism to hear a man revert again and again to the once familiar words, "The Bible teaches ...." Graham makes no apology for appealing to the Bible as an authoritative guide. He speaks of "eternal hell" with the same apparent conviction with which he speaks about heaven or Jesus Christ. He pleads with his listeners to "turn to Christ" for salvation, warning them that they are making their decision right now either for eternal happiness or for eternal punishment. Rarely ever does he locate a passage he is using, and usually he paraphrases rather than quotes. But, on the whole, one would find little objection to his use of the Biblical text.

When the invitation was given, people from every part of the stadium began streaming down out of the stands and across the field. The Richmond paper reported yesterday that 532 responded at that service to the invitation. It was a moving sight. One could not help feeling the tense emotionalism with which the air was charged. Here were thousands of people who had felt the impact of Graham's words; and hundreds had been so moved that they were willing to make a public declaration of their desire and determination to "receive Christ," and begin a better life. Old and young, church member and non-church member, on they came in a seemingly endless procession. In spite of all predetermination to remain "on the side-lines" as an objective observer, one could scarcely escape the tremendous tug at the heart-strings as these stirred up people came and stood before Graham's improvised pulpit platform. Some were openly weeping: others were silent and thoughtful; all of them seemed completely in earnest.

It Was An Hour Of Infinite Sadness.

Sadness? Of course. For here were hundreds of people who had openly, publicly, and frankly acknowledged their desire to serve Jesus Christ, who had been willing and anxious to seek that "better life" which Graham had told them could be found only in Christ — and who were now to be turned away unsaved, unforgiven, and without promise or hope of eternal life! In the most crucial hour of their life, when their eternal destiny hung in balance, they were discharged with a false and impossible exhortation, a false hope, a false promise, and a wicked deception!! They were told simply to "receive Christ!" and were promised that instantaneously their sins would all be forgiven and they would be in covenant relationship with God.

But how does one "receive Christ"? And what does it mean to "receive Christ"? Graham did not say. All he suggested was that there must be a mental commitment, a dedication of the heart. He gave not one verse of scripture telling the penitent sinner what to do to be forgiven of his sins! Nor did he even refer in any way to the Biblical answer to the oft asked question, "What must I do to be saved." Graham ignored the answers given by inspired men of God to those of their day who asked that question. He could very easily have followed the words of Peter, who under similar circumstances thundered out to the trembling throng, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38.) That was the answer given by an apostle to a multitude of people who must have been in very much the same condition of heart as those to whom Graham spoke. Or he could have followed the words of Ananias, a teacher of God's will, who spoke to a penitent and praying man on this fashion, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16.) Or he might have been guided by the example of Paul and Silas who "spoke the word of the Lord" to the jailor of Philippi and to all there were in his house. "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." (Acts 16:33.) None of these people was told simply to "receive Jesus" into his heart. On the contrary, each was given specific instruction as to what he must do in obedience to God's will. Depending on the condition of his heart at the time, he was told to "believe" or to "repent," or to "be baptized."

Graham gave NOT ONE of these scriptural answers to the interested and emotionally stirred audience. Perhaps he would have justified his course by contending that the first two "belief and repentance" are comprehended in his expression "receive Christ," and by discounting and belittling baptism as "non-essential." But whatever his explanation or justification of his course, the simple fact remains that he did NOT give a Bible answer to the question of hungering hearts. Those people were sent back into their daily pursuits with a confidence built on falsehood, a hope for eternity which is without substance or foundation. Profoundly moving and infinitely sad was the sight!

God's word is not obscure or difficult. He has told man what to do to be saved. Why can we not all be content simply to abide in "that which is written"!