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A heart for the gospel

November 2007

A heart for the gospel

‘Moved with compassion’ is a telling phrase. The Lord Jesus was thus moved as he surveyed the sad spiritual state of those around him. The words reveal something of the motivation that drove him to teach, preach and heal in ‘all the cities and villages’ of Galilee (Matthew 9:35-36).

In the last analysis, most people are moved by self-interest. A few feel genuine compassion for those in need but it does not move them to sustained action. Jesus was different. When he saw people ‘weary and scattered like sheep without a shepherd’ – struggling with sin and the difficulties of life – his heart went out to them. He was touched with the feeling of their infirmities. He was concerned for their souls and it moved him to act.

 Passion for the lost

This is a quality of Christ’s ministry that we should imitate but seldom do. Our Saviour did not approach the task of preaching and teaching dispassionately. He did not go through the motions of a professional ministry but engaged personally, intimately and passionately in the lives of those around him – desiring to do them good physically, mentally and above all spiritually.

Jesus wept over rebellious Jerusalem. Do we ever do that over our own ungodly communities?

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ we too ought to have a heartfelt desire to see men and women brought out of their spiritual darkness to a knowledge of Christ. We ought to be moved with compassion for others whatever their needs, but most of all we should be moved with compassion for their eternal souls.

 We talk about evangelism and initiate outreach programmes, but why do we do it? Is it because ‘that’s what Evangelicals are supposed to do’ – or because we have a passion for the lost and a burning desire to see sinners saved and souls won for the glory of Christ?

Evangelism an attitude

Real evangelism is an attitude before it is an activity. Do you remember when you were converted to Christ? Do you recall your zeal for the new life you received in him, and the joy of telling others about Jesus and his love?

No one had to tell you to evangelise. Your evangelistic fervour was not learned from a church-growth manual. It just bubbled up inside you. You testified about your Saviour almost without thinking.

We need to rediscover a heart for evangelism. The apostle Paul could say that his ‘heart’s desire and prayer to God’ was that Israel might be saved (Romans 10:1). What intensity and fervour burned within him as he declared, ‘I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren’ – that is, he would accept his own damnation if in some way it could lead to their salvation (which, of course, it could not).

 Paul spoke as a sinner who had discovered the unsearchable riches of the mercy, grace and knowledge of Christ. A heart for evangelism flows from a personal view of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Knowing and fearing Christ

To truly know Christ, then, is the first qualification for those who would see men and women saved. We can never have a heart to see people saved if we have not ourselves discovered that the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Many lack a zeal for evangelism because their knowledge of Christ is cerebral (in the mind) rather than systemic (permeating the soul).

Secondly, a heart for evangelism understands the awful predicament of the sinner and the certainty of hell and judgement outside of Christ. ‘Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men’, confessed the apostle (2 Corinthians 5:11). It was as Noah was ‘moved with godly fear’ that he preached righteousness and prepared an ark to save himself and his family (Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5).

This element of godly fear at the impending judgement of God is seldom apparent in evangelism today. We tend to major on the benefits of the gospel in this world and neglect the awesome realities of ‘the world to come’.

Knowing what we do of grace and of impending judgement, we will want to publish the gospel of peace to all, that they might flee the wrath to come. A heart for evangelism will be earnest – not gimmicky or flippant – as it goes about its task. It will be dedicated to preaching Christ crucified and committed to showing sinners their need of the Saviour.

Of course, our work is to preach Christ, not hell. But we should preach Christ with hell in view.

Love

Thirdly, a heart for evangelism will be a heart filled with the love of Christ for needy people. Before declaring that ‘we are ambassadors for Christ’ and imploring the lost to ‘be
reconciled to God’, the apostle reveals the source of his compulsion – ‘the love of Christ constrains us’ (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).

It was the love of God that sent Christ down to earth to bring salvation (John 3:16). It was ‘the great love with which he loved us’ that made him give us life when we were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:4-6). If Christ’s mission to save his elect needed the fuel of divine love, we surely can accomplish nothing if that ingredient is missing.

A love for the lost is far more important than our planning, our grand initiatives or our evangelistic literature. And that love must be divine love – ‘the love of God … poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us’.

We acknowledge the need for the Spirit to work in the hearts of the unsaved if they are to repent and believe the gospel. Perhaps, however, we fail to see that the same Spirit must work in our hearts to give us the love and compassion we need if we are to evangelise with purpose and persistence.

The source

We sometimes engage in evangelism out of a sense of duty. We see it as something Christians should do and are prepared to take our turn delivering leaflets or ET’s evangelistic Christmas issue! Others imagine that evangelism is an occasional event, like a church meal or a special service.

We approve these activities but we need to understand that true evangelism bubbles up in (and out of) the heart – a heart of compassion and love for the lost. Evangelism is exercised in the way we walk and talk and interact with others, but its source is the heart of God.