The compelling love of Christ

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 that 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’ve found their way into the sheep paddock.

Let’s take a look at how Paul explains his evangelistic heart in Romans 9.

At Mentone Baptist, we have just finished a two month sermon series on Romans chapter 8, one of climatic points of the entire Bible. The final verses of this Scripture explore the unchanging character of God’s love for his people in Christ Jesus:

“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 the aorist form of the verb ‘to love’, he is referring to a completed love, which is one way of talking about Jesus’ sufficient death on the cross in our place.

While chapter 9 introduces a new section in the letter, moving from teaching on Christian assurance to expounding God’s mission into the world, what Paul says here ought to be understood 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 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 this love of God has been truly experienced, it cannot be kept to the self. 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. For Paul, assurance of Christ’s love:

1. Changes how we view people: “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, for people to realise that Jesus is the Christ. If it were possible, Paul would suffer God’s judgement for them. The Gospel is too important and too phenomenal to hide.

He is under no illusions that not everyone appreciates his endeavours, at times the opposition is strident, but some will respond by believing this Gospel of Jesus.

3. Changes how we speak to people. 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.

We anticipate that some folk will throw hissy fits at our evangelism, some will be genuinely angered, while others are indifferent. Evangelism’s aim isn’t popularity. That was Paul’s experience on mission, as it was for all the Apostles and even for Jesus; should we expect anything different? I am not suggesting that we should be poor employees and begin a Bible study when we should be working, or that we misuse various platforms; it’s right to be pulled up when this happens. Integrity is an aspect of love.

Fear leads to the Gospel being diluted or disappearing from our conversations.

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 know these temptations, but they are not what we most fundamentally desire. They are intruders that distract us from God’s love. 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 antagonism. Therefore,  keep reminding one another of Romans 8:35-39,  and let this knowledge be evident in our lives and words.

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