"I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Romans 9:1-3 (ESV)
Where is the great burden to reach lost people in our churches today? Do we really care that a majority of the people that we meet in our day-to-day lives are on their way to spending eternity separated from our loving God? When was the last time you saw Christians gathered in prayer weeping over the spiritual condition of the people that they know?
This week I began calling North Carolina Baptist Churches for our Baptist State Convention that have reported zero baptisms during the previous church year. It is a project that I have assisted our denomination with for several years. I was discouraged to see that once again, the numbers of baptisms in our state have declined. This has been the trend ever since I started helping with the project. It is also a trend seen across the board in Western Christendom.
The good news is that I often find 800-900 unreported baptisms through this project. The bad news is even more churches in our state have reported zero baptisms during the 2009 church year. Why is this so?
I believe it is because we have lost the burden for reaching people with the gospel message.
Paul said that he wished he was accursed from Christ for the sake of his countrymen in order that they might be saved. He uses one of the strongest word possible - anathema - to describe this curse. He is saying that if it were possible, he would give up his own salvation in order to see Israel saved.
Moses expressed a similar burden for his people when he said to God, "Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” (Exo. 32:32 NKJV)
Corporately, I see very few churches that have this kind of burden for the lost. One might say, "Paul was speaking hypothetically." True, but his heart for the lost is clearly seen in this passage.
Regaining that kind of passion for the lost involves first, seeing people with the eyes of Christ. In spite of the stain of sin, people are of infinite value to God. (Otherwise, why would He have sacrificed his precious Son on the cross?) Their greatest need is to connect with God which is possible only when the stain of sin is removed through faith in Jesus Christ. If they are valuable to God, then they should be valuable to us.
Secondly, recognize that evangelism is not an act of imposing ones beliefs on another; it is the ultimate act of compassion. This is where so many post-modern believers get it wrong. Jesus said that He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He spoke directly and forthrightly to people about their spiritual condition. We are so fearful of offending people that we never get around to telling them the truth. Jude wrote: "Have mercy on some who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; on others have mercy in fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh." (Jude 1:22-23 HCSB)
Third, we must renew our understanding of the eternal implications of not reaching people with the gospel message...
People who die without Jesus go the hell. There, I said it.
Hell is not a place reserved only for the most wicked and vile -the Hitlers and Osama bin Ladens of the world. It is also reserved for the kindly grandmother who baked cookies for the neighborhood children and volunteered at the hospital. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We deserve to pay the penalty for our sin which is eternal death. Yet Christ died for us even though we had sinned. By faith in Him alone are we saved from this penalty.
We have placed too much emphasis on God's love and too little on his holiness and justice. It has resulted in an attitude of sentimental universalism and reduced God to a kindly old man who wants everyone to have a good time. As Charles Spurgeon said, "If you really long to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth."
God will hold us accountable for not sharing the Gospel with the lost. As believers, we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account of our service for Him. This will not determine our salvation for that is settled the moment we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ alone. It will determine our reward.
Join me in asking God to renew your burden for the lost today. It is the only way we can stop the decline of our churches and increase the number of baptisms and new churches planted in our nation and around the world.
DISCLAIMER: the views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina or its employees. Neither do I speak as an official representative of the Convention.