When I was growing up, I heard one word over and over again in discussions about how to be saved. People who taught me and shared the gospel with me encouraged me to “accept” Christ as my Lord and Savior. The funny thing was, as a child and even as a young man, I really barely understood what they meant.
I’m grateful to God for those who shared Christ with me. I’m grateful for those who called me to be saved. I want to be clear that God used those preachers and friends to bring me to himself. But I have to say that I do not think that the word “accept” was the most helpful word, the most biblical word, they could have used.
With the word “accept,” those who taught me were, I believe, trying to communicate to me a couple of significant concepts. Sadly, that word, left to itself, is too small and too unspecific. They wanted to tell me to accept, in the world of faith, that Jesus is who the Bible says he is and that he did what the Bible says he did. But also, in the hearts of the more faithful, the word accept had to also be including the concept of my yielding to Jesus’ lordship, his mastery and authority over my life. Thus, in that word, my dear pastors and friends were calling me to faith and repentance.
6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
When Isaiah called on the nation to return to the Lord, note his language. There was an urgency, as the time for salvation was limited. The people could miss it. This fits the urgency of any evangelism. People need to come to Jesus before they face the judgment of God.
Look then at verse 7. We see the concepts needed for salvation. One includes the wicked forsaking his way. A person who is to be forgiven by God must forsake his or her wickedness. That does not mean that the person cleans himself or herself up before bowing to the Lord and seeking salvation. But it is understood that a choice to follow God by definition includes a choice to no longer follow one’s own sinful desires.
Perhaps I can illustrate that with marriage. To choose one person as a spouse is to, by definition, forsake all others. Similarly, to come to God as Savior demands a turning away from choices of rebellion against God. To come to Christ to be saved is to say that you will no longer be the lord and master of your own life. It is repentance, or as my dear former pastors and deacons called accepting Jesus as your Lord.
But next, God talks about the person returning to the Lord who will have compassion and who will pardon. that is more than just turning from sin. This concept is one of believing something. In Isaiah it is believing that God will have that compassion. In the New Testament, it is better defined. To come to the Lord is to have genuine faith in Jesus. It is to believe that Jesus is who the Bible declares him to be and did what the Bible says he did. Jesus is God the Son who became a man, lived a perfect life, died to pay the price for our sins, and rose from the grave to live eternally. Thus, accepting Christ is also to believe in him, accepting the truth of what the Bible says about him.
Honestly, I would not use the term “accept” Christ as the best term for what it means to be saved. I think we communicate more clearly when we use the Bible’s language of repenting of sin and believing in Jesus for salvation. But, I am grateful to God that men of God, men who did not pretend to be scholars, used the best word they knew to help me to see the truth that I needed to accept Jesus, believing in him and his finished work even as I bow to him as my Master.