Oftentimes when we take our teenagers to a large youth gathering there is an opportunity for an “altar call” experience. This is usually preceded by a rousing speaker; a prayer accompanied by background music and a fervent invitation to make a decision for Christ. Even though this is not typical Lutheran fare, I do not have any problem with this, as it provides an excellent opportunity for discussion—which almost always ensues.
It is mainly a question of emphasis. The reality is, that God made a decision for you and for me on a cross 2,000 years ago. I have learned that as fickle as I am, that my faith, is not so much about me and or a decision that I make, as much as it is in Him, and the decision He has made for me in Christ Jesus. My faith is in His Faithfulness. That is after all, what makes it Grace. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of His love and amazing Grace, through His sacrificial decision for me, let alone for deciding to give Himself for this entire messed up world of ours.
Once when my youngest son attended a camp, there were altar calls every evening. He recalled with a chuckle that one young man went up every night, but by the bad behavior of the young man during the day, it made sense that he should need to do so! You see, another concern with an altar call is not that it does too much, but rather too little regarding the daily nature of faith. This journey of faith is an ongoing process of emptying ourselves of ourselves—so that He truly can be Lord and in control of our lives. I think Luther understood this daily need for relinquishing the reins so He might reign in us, when He recommended daily remembering our Baptisms as we have been claimed as His cross marked children.
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1, I believe, touched on this in the same way as he tells us to Present ourselves as living sacrifices to God". The picture of a living, breathing sacrifice, getting on the altar of sacrifice is quite interesting. The option to freely climb off this altar of sacrifice is quite real. The idea of daily submitting ourselves in response to the One who submitted all for us is a resounding theme during Lent and throughout the scriptures.
Luther also used this example: “When Satan would knock on the door of my heart, I used to answer and every time I did, He would defeat me. But now, when Satan knocks on the door of my heart, the Lord Jesus answers and says, “Martin Luther used to live here, but he moved out, I live here now and the devil flees.” Emptiness of self is necessary in order to be filled with God, death is necessary for life and abundant life can only come through the One who made and gave it.
C.S. Lewis put it this way...
“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end. Submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given way will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”