Because of parent conferences, I missed the Billy Graham broadcast My Hope America which was aired on his 95th birthday (11-07-18). I was glad to find the video, though, which not only features Dr. Graham, but Lecrae Moore and Lacey Sturm.
I grew up watching the Billy Graham crusades. Whenever they were aired, my dad would call us from various parts of the house and strongly suggest we watch with it only takes a little bit of your time or it won’t hurt you to watch, etc. I never told my parents that I actually responded to a crusade call during my elementary years and wrote to Billy Graham, Minneapolis, MN (that’s all the address you needed) to get follow up material. I include that incident in my testimony, believing that even at that age, God was making himself known to me. Fast forward several years to June 1987 when Dana and I had the privilege of being counselors at a Billy Graham crusade; driving 70 miles south each of three days to where Billy Graham preached and Cliff Barrows led the choir (and Johnny and June Cash brought special music one of the days).
I no longer hold to popular decision theology. I have come to see that regeneration precedes and produces faith; not the other way around. God is not the responder, waiting and hoping for people to respond in faith to his Son. Unless the Holy Spirit shines the light of truth into my darkened understanding, I am dead in my trespasses and unable to respond in faith to the cross of Christ.
We are indeed “saved through faith” and “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” “This [faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (see Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 10:17). Just as the world needed the Word of God to speak it into being, so too, we who are dead in our trespasses, need the same Word of God to quicken our hearts before we can be made new and respond to him (see John 1:1-4 and Ephesians 2:5).
For me, God began to turn his light of truth on in my heart over several years, but for many, like those at a Billy Graham, Louis Palau, or Greg Laurie crusade, it may feel like one puts their faith in Christ and is then made a new creature. We are unaware in that moment of the Holy Spirit’s work in helping us to “put the pieces together” and in the necessity of his call which prompts us to repentance and faith. Almost everyone at the time of conversion feels as if they “chose” Christ, especially, I’m sure, those who pray a repentant “sinner’s prayer” as Billy Graham invites. Only after, are many made aware through Scripture, that it was always Christ’s first move in their hearts that brought them to the realization of his saving work on the cross. It’s been likened to light that comes on immediately when a switch is flipped. Only with further study, we note there was a necessary outside source acting upon the switch, to close the circuit, and to bring about light. Our faith and regeneration often seem to come simultaneously, but it was God first regenerating our wills and our minds to bring us to the point of faith. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Charles Spurgeon put it this way:
“…When the gospel comes to some, they fight against it, and will not have it, but where men receive it, welcoming it, this is a sure indication that there is a secret work going on in the soul, and that God has chosen them unto eternal life. Are you willing, dear reader, to receive Christ? Then there is no difficulty in the way; Christ will be your guest; His own power is working with you, making you willing.”
The cross has always been an offense to many. It is not given to us to know who will receive or reject it. It is ours to hold out the Word of God and to unashamedly profess the gospel “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Likewise, in hearing the Word of Christ and desiring to receive him, one need not wonder if the gospel is meant for them or not. The font of such a desire is the “secret work going on in the soul” as Spurgeon put it and Christ assures us, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
[There is an answer to the title conundrum too–what came first the chicken or the egg? Genesis 1:24-25]