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Hedonism, not Humanism: Hallowing God's Name as the Fuel for Missions and Evangelism

By J. Aaron White

“Compassion for people must not be detached from passion for the glory of God.”

(John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions)

I always know when I’ve struck literary gold. While reading a book, if I come across a sentence or a concept that moves me greatly, I frantically reach for my trusty highlighters and begin painting the page an obnoxious corn yellow or Pepto Bismol pink. I know many of you can relate, so stop laughing at me.

As you can tell from the quote at the top of this article, my pick axe recently made contact with a treasure trove of thought-provoking sentences in John Piper’s classic work on world missions, Let the Nations Be Glad! To set the scene, let me share one of the nuggets that made my mental gears turn:

Compassion for the lost is a high and beautiful motive for missionary labor [local or abroad]. Without it we lose the sweet humility of sharing a treasure we have freely received. But we have seen that compassion for people must not be detached from passion for the glory of God.[1]

In other words, compassion for people (though noble and good) is not the primary biblical motivation for risky missions and evangelism. Christian hedonists say: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Filling bellies, building homes, and lifting up the downtrodden are steps on the path toward helping people see and savor the glory of God as their greatest treasure. Christian humanism (often unwittingly) makes filling bellies, building homes, and lifting up the downtrodden ends in themselves. Therefore, the fuel for reaching the lost centers on conjuring up enough compassion and empathy that will hopefully propel us into a risky mission field. John Dawson (from Youth with a Mission) puts it this way:

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to have love for the lost? This is a term we use as part of our Christian jargon. Many believers search their hearts in condemnation, looking for the arrival of some feeling of benevolence that will propel them into bold evangelism. It will never happen…Don’t wait for a feeling of love in order to share Christ with a stranger. You already love your heavenly Father, and you know that this stranger is created by him, but separated from him, so take those first steps in evangelism because you love God. It is not primarily out of compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is first of all, love for God…Humanity does not deserve the love of God any more than you or I do. We should never be Christian humanists, taking Jesus to poor sinful people, reducing Jesus to some kind of product that will better their lot. People deserve to be damned, but Jesus, the suffering Lamb of God, deserves the reward of his suffering.[2]

If you or I wait for enough compassion and fuzzy feelings to flood our hearts for lost souls in our families, neighborhoods, and world before we move out with evangelistic fervor, we may be waiting for a long time. However, if we are fueled by a zeal to see God glorified, his Son exalted, and myriads of souls around the throne worshiping and enjoying the Lamb, we will find the necessary fuel for risky missions and evangelism. Should we care for physical needs around us? Yes! But as we go, may Paul’s words resound in our hearts and provide the fuel that keeps our evangelistic fires hot: “So whether you eat or drink [or care for the poor, share the gospel, etc.], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). May the greatness of God and a burning desire to see his name hallowed propel us into compassionate and courageous missions and evangelism!

[1] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2010), p. 61.

[2] John Dawson, Taking Our Cities for God (Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 1989), 208-209.

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