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Evangelistic Passion ::

FRANK RETIEF looks at how we can regain our passion for the gospel.
Source: Perspective Vo10 No2 © Perspective 2002

How can any Christian believer not have a passion to evangelise? When one thinks of the enormity of what Jesus did on the Cross for us how can we refrain from sharing it? FRANK RETIEF looks at how we can regain our passion for the gospel

I am often introduced to audiences as a man with “a passion for evangelism”. The chairman sits down and I then have to face the audience wondering what he means. Is “a passion for evangelism” a sort of oddity, something to be scrutinised, marvelled at, perhaps even admired; but ultimately, something peculiar and unique to only certain people.

What, in fact, does it mean to have “a passion for evangelism”? Does it refer to a preacher who preaches with passion and fervour? It may certainly include that but there are rugby, cricket and political enthusiasts who are able to speak with great passion about their particular interest. Does it mean that it is given to some people in the church to have this “passion” but not others? Is passion tied to the “gifts of evangelism” but if you have the “gift of a teacher” you don’t need this passion? Is a “passion for evangelism” some sort of attachment that certain people carry around with them but which other Christians do not need to have – a sort of optional extra that is looked upon benignly by some who put up with the idiosyncrasies of those ardent and earnest souls who are always trying to win others? Is this passion indeed something that is outside of us that is somehow taken on board, or is it part and parcel of who we are as redeemed people?

In thinking about this “passion for evangelism” I would want to ask the opposite question: How can any Christian believer not have a passion to evangelise? When one thinks of the enormity of what Jesus did on the Cross for us how can we refrain from sharing it? Why is this salvation that Christ purchased for us considered so great and the consequences of not having this salvation so terrible that Paul could say in Romans 9:1-3:

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscious confirms it in 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 brothers, those of my own race ...

Or again we note that passionate statement in 2 Corinthians 5:9-11:

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.

We remember the awesome darkness that came across the land as Christ suffered, reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets who used darkness as a symbol of God’s judgement (Isaiah 5:20, Joel 2:31, Amos 5:20, Zephaniah 1:14-15, etc.). Think of the significance of the terrible cry wrenched from the innermost being of Jesus as in the darkness he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” About this event John Stott writes the following:

So then an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled, namely, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Cross of Christ p.81).

Then comes the mighty act of resurrection followed by his ascension to the throne of Heaven. These things constitute both a rescue for sinners from an unspeakable doom and a demonstration of God’s love for us that is difficult to describe. Hence Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:1-14.

True evangelistic passion is rooted in the belief that all these things are true. It not only happened but it all has a special meaning. It means that God has done something to make it possible for us to escape the final judgement and to live with Him forever. He sent His Son to die in our place on the Cross and to bear His judgement as our substitute. It means that all who believe in Jesus are pardoned, restored and transformed now. They experience God’s love and grace now in this life and have the promise of hope for the life to come.

Passion will mean that the true content of the Gospel is taught. It will ensure that the Bible is honoured and handled properly. But it won’t be a cold and sterile process, because true evangelistic passion will not be content until people have heard, understood and made some kind of response to the truth.

How can we not be moved, amazed, motivated by this? It is indeed given to some to express passion in a way others cannot. But this does not indicate a lack of passion on the part of others. It is a foolish thing to equate a passion to evangelise with mere fervour and zeal. It certainly includes that but is much more than that. We all have our own temperaments, personalities and characteristics through which the gospel is communicated. But evangelistic passion does not mean we all yell our heads off when we preach.

It does mean, however, that the gospel is always in our minds; that we constantly want to tell it; that we believe with all our hearts that it is the power of God to save people; that we feel immense pity and compassion for those who do not know it and consequently do not know God. Some may put their passion into preaching and teaching, others into writing, music or the arts. Yet others may look for different ways of expressing their evangelism that fits them as people with God-given abilities.

The truth of the Gospel will turn us into thinkers, indeed even “schemers”, always thinking of new ways to reach lost people. It will give us courage to do things we have never done before. It will make us willing to go the extra mile to help people. It will make us conscious that everything we do must count, for we can easily put people off. Thus we become focused on other people – their physical well-being, but most importantly, their spiritual standing before God.

In summary, here are some of the ingredients of evangelistic passion:

It is hard to think of Christians with no passion for evangelism or churches that do not instinctively evangelise. Perhaps they have not understood the enormity of the gospel. What about you?

Frank Retief is a passionate evangelist and Presiding Bishop of the Church of England in Southern Africa.

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