Many missional churches evangelize by inviting people to “accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour” (2 Peter 3:18). They understand evangelism as a proclamation of the Gospel that calls for a response to Christ who urges us to repentance, conversion and discipleship. Those who are evangelized are lead to make a choice, to make an informed decision to receive salvation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in”. (Revelation 3:20)
The expression “accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour” may seem strange at first because it is mostly used in evangelical circles. But in fact, it is at the heart of the tradition and teaching of the Catholic Church. Pope Paul VI once said that those who have been evangelized are “those who by faith have acknowledged and accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord”. (EN #77)
To evangelize is to invite to the confession of salvation in Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19 and Romans 10:9-10). It is to arouse a response of faith and true conversion in non-believers and those who live in religious indifference (GDC #29). Jesus becomes our Saviour when we ask him to forgive our sins; Jesus becomes our Lord when we surrender to him so that we may, with him and by him, order our lives to his service and to the service of his Kingdom.
In this perspective, evangelization is practiced with a clear intention: that the listeners welcome Jesus in their hearts by reciting a prayer similar to this one: Lord Jesus, I want to know You personally. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Lord and Saviour. Thank You for forgiving me my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be. Amen. This prayer is called the Sinner’s Prayer. At the end of a homily, teaching or personal testimony, the minister or the evangelizer invites those who wish to do so, to repeat it after him.
When prayed sincerely, it testifies to the initial conversion and shows that the missionary proclamation has reached its goal: “that non-Christians, when the Holy Spirit opens their heart (cf. Acts 16:14), may believe and be freely converted to the Lord, that they may cleave sincerely to Him” (Ad Gentes #13). It is the response to the Father who has communicated faith in Christ through his Word and the action of the Holy Spirit. The new convert can then enter into a personal relationship with God in Christ “already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection”. (Ad Gentes #13)
Let us not hesitate to adopt this way of evangelizing. By giving people the opportunity to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour through the sinner’s prayer, we help them express their faith and their desire to be saved and receive the grace of salvation (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32). Indeed, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. (Romans 10:13)
Pierre-Alain Giffard, Director of Pastoral Work