What motivates Christians to tell people about Jesus?
Even when a society is overwhelmingly averse to the Christian message, Christians keep on talking about the man from Nazareth. Why? I understand there are people in our communities whose motives are questionable, even unprincipled, however, it would be misleading to define the many by a few wolves who have found their way into the sheep paddock.
In Romans ch. 9 the Apostle Paul explains his evangelistic heart.
Last year at Mentone Baptist, we spent an entire term teaching through Romans ch. 8; one of the great climatic points of the Bible. The final verses of this Scripture explore the unchanging character of God’s love for his people in Christ Jesus. Paul writes:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ’For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God’s ever constant and never ending love is a love that is ours in Christ Jesus. And this love has a centre, the cross, which is alluded to by the phrase, ‘through him who loved us’. When Paul uses this form of the verb ‘to love’, he is referring to a completed love, which is one way of talking about Jesus’ sufficient substitutionary death on the cross.
Chapter 9:1 then introduces a new section in Romans, providing us with one of the longest expositions of a theology of mission in the entire Bible (chs. 9-11). Paul’s teaching on mission here needs to be appropriated in light of his understanding of God’s love in Christ. There may not be any conjunctions connecting 9:1 with 8:39, but the very first subject on Paul’s mind after meditating upon God’s love is evangelism, 9:1-5:
“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”
When we have truly experienced this love of God, it is impossible to keep it to ourselves. Embracing this love is personal and real, but God’s love experienced will become God’s love expressed. It is too wonderful to keep to yourself. The news is too important to keep private. According to Paul, assurance of Christ’s love:
1. Changes how we view people. He writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people”. There is no hint of spite or envy, no Hamlet-esque soliloquy. He grieves for his fellow Jews.
2. Changes what we want for people. Paul desires their salvation and for people to realise that Jesus is the Christ. He goes as far as to say that if it were possible, he would suffer God’s judgement for them in order that they might know Christ. The Gospel is too important and too phenomenal to hide.
Paul is of course under no illusions, not everyone would appreciate his endeavours, and at times the opposition would be strident, but some will respond by confessing with their mouths and believing in their hearts, Jesus is Lord.
3. Changes how we speak to people. Notice, there is an earnestness in Paul’s tone, and as he reflects upon the plight of his people he turns to the story of the Bible, God’s promise of salvation. Paul’s speech is theologically shaped and Gospel driven, and his manner is in tune with the very words he speaks.
In any culture, not in least 21st Century Australia, we anticipate that some folk will throw hissy fits at our evangelism, some will be genuinely angered, and others indifferent. But of course the aim of evangelism isn’t to win Australia’s Got Talent. Paul experienced opposition on mission, as did all the Apostles, and of course Jesus’ mission brought about his crucifixion. Should we expect any different?
Pride always wants to win the argument.
Greed looks for personal gain.
Retaliation uses the Gospel as a weapon to crush those who hurt us.
We are familiar with these temptations, but they are not what we most desire; they are intruders that distract us from God’s love. Indeed, the extent to which we know that Christ has loved us, this love will motivate our hearts to love the people around us: deeply, earnestly, and freeing us to speak of Christ with clarity and grace, boldness and love.
Australia’s view of Christianity may be shifting from a paradigm of suspicion to one of antagonism. Turning to fear, pride or retaliation are not options for us. Instead, let us all the more remind one another of Romans 8:35-39, and let this extraordinary knowledge fill our lives and words.