Evangelism: Part 3

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A notable characteristic of love in a believer is placing Christ within the central place of his heart so that all affections and actions are done with a view to honor Him. This centrality of love is made visible by an activity of respect that confirms that Jesus is truly the Lord of his life.

Jonathan Edwards argues in chapter one and throughout of his book “Charity and Its Fruits” that true love to God will dispose a man to a free honoring of His commands. Since He is Lord and has authority, this means that a love to God is a ready submission to all His commands.

Having been purchased by Christ’s blood, and Him having all authority in heaven and on earth, His believers are then to do His will on earth. The final command in Matthew 28:19 that He bid His disciples to heed is to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,” which is the command to evangelize to all people.

However, this is not a command given only to the 11 disciples that were with Him at the time. The last words in this commission, “and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” extend this command to the church universal in all ages. From this extension, no one can say that this command no longer applies to modern day Christians.

Christ’s authority abides equally as strong in this day as it did when He gave this command, and this binds all followers to evangelize to the ends of the earth until the age closes, when Christ comes again. J.I Packer said that if the promise that is contained in the gospel message extends to us, then so does the commission and responsibility to share His word. “If, therefore, we love God and are concerned to glorify Him, we must obey His command to evangelize.”[1]

If we compare this text to what Jesus said to Peter in John 21:15-17, “Do you love me… feed my sheep,” then Edwards’ implicit warning in his book about love becomes manifest and true, that the opposite of heeding His command would not be an expression of love, but hatred.

Edwards often goes about explaining the nature of love by comparing it to what is opposite, because the default state of mankind has characteristics that are opposite to true, godly love. So, by disobeying the command to evangelize would not be an exercise of love toward God, but at its root, it would show to be a hatred of God.

Instead of being a faithful servant who, out of love, follows his master’s commands, he is rather disrespectful to the commander and spiteful of the command, and would rather that his own will be done than Christ’s. In fact, it is making a statement that he is ashamed of the gospel, that he cares not for the work of Christ, nor for the free gift of grace given to him. It is not trusting in His promise that He will be with us unto the end of the world, nor is it trusting in His assurance, as John 14:15-26 reveals, that it is the work of the Holy Spirit working in men.

R.B. Kuiper notes that upon Peter’s expression of his love of Christ in John 21, Jesus charges him, and ultimately us, with the evangelistic duty of feeding His sheep of those not only within the church, but “which have not yet been brought into the fold.”[2] This command is given almost as a condition to prove the love that was professed.

This is not some sort of unhealthy, emotional manipulation to get Christians to make Jesus the most popular person on earth, but is a reaction appropriate to and necessitated by a love equivalent to the stature of Christ’s person and work. To echo the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14, it is a love that is constrains Jesus’ followers.

According to Kuiper, this constraining love of Christ does not mean that the disciple’s love of Christ forces the men forward to proselytize, but that Christ’s love of the disciples joyously restrains them to not live unto themselves, but unto Him. Jesus’ ultimate display of love manifested on the cross “ought to constrain our affections that they go in no other direction than that of loving Him in return.”[3]

If we love Him in return, we will do His commands and feed His sheep, including the ones that are not yet in the fold. Our lives, by the natural response to Christ’s love to us, are devoted to the charge of His service, which is to glorify Him. And no greater service is there than to spread the truth of His glorious work.

[1] Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 75.
[2] R.B. Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1966), 102.
[3] Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism, 103. Quoting John Calvin.

 

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