In Mark 1, Jesus says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” This sentence is then often shortened, if not in reality then in our own minds, to “unbelievers need to repent and believe.” This is of course true, but the shortened version puts the initiative for belief in the unbeliever’s court. The unbeliever thinks to himself, I need to DO something here.
In recent evangelistic conversations, I’ve taken the prayer from Daniel 9 as a way of putting the initiative for conversion back in God’s court. As I talk with unbelievers I’ll say something like “on the day of judgement, people will see that God even had mercy on Neil Robbie. God will be seen to be very merciful indeed.” Then later I’ll say, “Can I pray that God will have mercy on you?”
To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him. Daniel 9:9
Asking God to have mercy does not exonerate the unbeliever from repenting and believing but it establishes that salvation is God’s initiative. We need something from God, i.e. his mercy. Salvation is God’s initiative yet our response is necessary. This way round, the unbeliever no longer needs to DO something for a somewhat static yet threatening God. Rather the sinner responds in repentance and belief in light of God’s mercy.
When I have said “can I pray that God will have mercy on you.” I hope that the question which follows is “how can I know if God has shown me mercy?” The answer to that question leads naturally to the call to repent and believe because God has demonstrated mercy on the cross.