Aflame with Passion for World Evangelism

The gospel is a declaration of the Lord’s constant openness to mankind. “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22). The Lord’s love for us does not change; He is not subject to moods. Though some human theologies propose God as preoccupied with anger toward sinners, and though some preaching thunders judgment far more than mercy, the starting place for capturing hearts for Christ is to capture the heart of God for the lost. Whatever heaven’s clear dismay over the impact of sin and sinning, and whatever the eventual justice of God to be visited upon those refusing His love, all proclamation of the gospel must be preoccupied with the wonder of God’s love. It abounds throughout His Word, it overflows in His Son, and it is the essence of the outpouring of His Holy Spirit (John 3:16; 1 John 4:16; Col. 2:8, 9; Rom. 5:5).
An Unswerving Flame

The unswerving attitude of God is the pivot around which swing varied responses to different people. “The Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent” (1 Sam. 15:29). Though 1 Samuel 15:11 reveals that God said He regretted that He had appointed Saul as king, He had not changed His heart toward Saul. Love for the miserable man Saul had become was not diminished. Rather, it could be said that God simply wished Saul’s violation of the authority he had been given had never happened.

God’s dealing with Saul illustrates God’s dealing with any person, irrespective of their condition; that is, He meets us where He finds us. “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; with a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; with the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. For You will save the humble people, but will bring down haughty looks. . . . As for God, His way is perfect” (Ps. 18:25–27, 30a).

A Boundless Flame

The presentation of the gospel resounds from the solid footings of its grounding in God’s unshakable love and faithful kindness to fickle people. In contrast to the self-righteous anger some believers feel toward sinners, heaven’s abiding mercy ceaselessly extends to the misguided living and confusion born of earthly passions. The Lord was provoked at Sinai; the shattered tablets of the Ten Commandments He had just written lay scattered at His feet. The people had deeply offended Him, yet He used that very moment to proclaim what He was: “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6, 7a).
A God of boundless grace was a revolutionary concept in the ancient world burdened with the fear of treacherous and cruel gods. Jonah the prophet evidences his familiarity with those words from Sinai, praying, “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jon. 4:2). Sent to Nineveh, the most depraved city on Earth, he became the first foreign missionary in history and the only prophet of Israel ever to turn a city to repentance. Was it deep consciousness of the fundamental truth of God’s compassion, as He Himself spoke in the face of Israel’s failure at Sinai, that explains why the Lord chose such a reluctant character as Jonah to be His envoy to wicked Nineveh?

The Old Testament Prophet’s Flame

Jonah is not alone in this understanding of God’s nature. All Israel’s prophets manifested God’s compassion in the task of bringing people back to God—an awareness that God is readily gracious to receive all who come to Him.

• Hosea portrays God’s moving heart-cry for adulterous Israel (Hos. 2:14–23).
• Micah’s prophecy ends with the familiar Sinai phrases like a sunburst in a stormy sky. He adds, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19).
• Preaching to Judah, Isaiah declares God’s heart: Though “the mountains shall depart . . . My kindness shall not depart from you” (Is. 54:10).

In Scripture, the gospel is never mere doctrine or abstract thought, but always takes shape in some vivid mercy, culminating supremely in Christ’s death and resurrection. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The New Testament Prophetic Flame

One person after another in the Old Testament trumpeted the theme of “God the Compassionate.” In the New Testament, it becomes the music of a vast symphony orchestra—the theme of every apostolic writer. Without the same passionate commitment to love people with Christ’s animating mercy, it is unlikely that the New Testament can be lived out to a lost world, or even that its pages can be properly appreciated since evangelism—the good news of God’s love—imbues every line. No one but a soul winner gripped by heaven’s compassion can appreciate Paul’s cry: “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren” (Rom. 9:3). God’s dimension of love lays everything “on the line” for lost sinners, instead of laying the sinner’s head “on the block.”

The New Testament provides the only answer to the world’s chaotic self-will—the gospel. The church has been birthed and set aflame to build a bridge of light and life to all people, darkened and adrift in self-will and needing divine salvation. An evangelist is “an angel messenger” of fire—sent from God to a rebellious and self-defeating world. The evangelist’s job is not to push religion, promote the church, or preach for emotional response. The gospel is not a religious technique but a treasure chest full of ways to proclaim the love of God, seen in “Christ crucified.” The gospel has the answer—but not necessarily to the questions the world asks. Most human inquiry merely takes its own cause further down the wrong track, for the gospel is not open to discussion, alteration, or amendment—not a subject for a talk show or a chat room’s idle opinions. It is a direct call, saying, “Repent and believe the gospel—the ‘good news’ of God’s love that calls to you with forgiveness and a new life.”

Spreading the Flame

As God’s “good news,” the flame of the gospel must be spread—told, announced, proclaimed—for it is only really “news” when it is published or broadcast. Every human being alive must have a chance to hear the gospel of love and life, whether he or she accepts it or not. Matthew 9:13 records that Jesus said He came, not “to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” and to set the example for evangelism. The Bible presents the gospel as the wisdom of God, the only saving truth. Nobody made it up, just as nobody invented water. No philosopher ever conceived equal hope. Preaching it releases the saving power of God. Those who are dead in trespasses and sins will hear it and be raised to new life.

The church’s evangelistic mission is a co-mission, as the promise of Holy Spirit power is only offered to accompany those who bear witness of the love of God in Christ. As one commissioned, the evangelist (in this case, all of us who carry the gospel within our hearts) is sent to Christ-rejecters and unbelievers, even as Jonah was to the most wicked city on Earth. Evangelism is not a program of stirring meetings for church members, but the result of the Holy Spirit’s stirring hearts with a program to reach to the unsaved. Christians who are set ablaze by the flame of God’s love will be fired with a passion for their generation. Rather than waiting for God to send a revival, or complaining about the state of the church, they will reach out to others—one by one. With such action, millions can be saved while others wonder why revival “tarries.”

An Abiding Flame

The natural temperament is prone to short-lived impulses—to live life limited by feelings that quickly catch fire and just as quickly burn out. Moses had seen wilderness bushes “flash and burn,” but one bush caught his attention and changed his life. That one bush drew him, not burning down or out despite the brightness of the flames (Ex. 3:2). He trembled with fear when he found out why: God was in it.

That is the secret of evangelism still ablaze in those who fully open themselves to the reality of God’s heart, the ceaselessness of His love and the glory of His Spirit’s presence attending them as they go forth: God is in them! Just as the fire in the bush leaped into the heart of Moses, the flame of Pentecost—tongues of fire over each head (Acts 2:3)—is waiting to descend on all obedient disciples today.

A Pure Flame

The flame of evangelistic passion is purer and deeper than loveless proselytizing—merely getting people to trade one religion for another. To religionists in Jerusalem, He said, “You travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matt. 23:15). The warning is necessary today, because the church’s history includes the tragic annals of such “religious passion,” instead of the com passion of evangelistic passion. Without the love of God (not merely church growth) and a love for people (not merely heads to count) at its core, religious enthusiasm can only ultimately inflict deep scars and permanent damage on the Christian witness in a community, city, or nation.

The Heart That Blazes

The heartbeat of God throbs in the gospel to set the pulse-rate of those who take it to the lost world. It will set a human heart aflame with a love that gives itself constantly and never reverts to preoccupation with itself. If evangelism is not a capital outlay of self-giving love, it is worthless. God means the gospel to be successful in its advance, and a fruitful evangelism cannot help but bring the servant of God some degree of recognition. Any prominence brings with it incidental temptations, the opportunity for self-promotion, the suggestion of careerism, and a vulnerability to exhibitionism. Yet the heart aflame with Jesus’ love will burn as Jesus “burned”—a true Light to the world, always living “not . . . to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28).

The role model is God Himself who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). God had only one sacrifice to make—His Son, the One most precious to Him. And in stating, “You shall be perfect [matured], just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), Jesus is saying, “Love as the Father loves.” Being a true child of such a Father is what keeps the flame of evangelistic passion alive and real. Aglow for God with His fire, evangelists are enabled to snatch brands from eternal fires of loss (Zech. 3:2).

The Inexhaustible Flame

The flame of Christ’s compassion for the world has never exhausted itself. What exploded at the Cross is a stream of fire to this day. Calvary is not an extinct volcano. Eternal fires are still there for all who spiritually visit that place. Those shuddering hours of crucifixion were a special work, but not a final “peak.” God’s love has neither peaks nor valleys, waves, or troughs: His compassions are steadfast, “new every morning” (Lam. 3:23).

The Cross was not a desperate, frustrated, spur-of-the-moment attempt to reach us. It was part of a long-range plan. Christ’s journey to Jerusalem and the Cross began neither at Bethlehem in Judea nor at Nazareth in Galilee, but His journey began “from the foundation of the world”—and it has not ended yet. He is still journeying beside and within us: “And [the disciples] went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them” (Mark 16:20). He evangelized with them; He will evangelize with you.

A Testimony to the Flame

I can do no more than fully endorse the truth of that remark, for the fire of His presence has accompanied me around the world. As I have preached, I have seen the shining eyes of millions like windows into hearts filled with the kindling joy in hearing of God’s love and set aflame by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.

Passing years could have rendered me indifferent, but with the continual warmth of His presence, somehow the Lord keeps me seeing people as He saw them from the Cross. Just as He said He had to do the work of the One who sent Him (John 9:4), that same imperative infects me. And His Spirit will impart that same urgency of His all-embracing desire for the whole world in any who open to that fire of eternal love. To be part of that work is our highest privilege as redeemed sons and daughters. It fills the heart with a fire that makes each day close with a sense of satisfaction and the promise of eventually having consumed a whole lifetime in the experience of life’s highest purpose.