And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2 ESV)
My wife pointed me to an article this morning about loving the LGBT community because that’s what Jesus would do. Apparently there are many young people within that community that are being bullied at school by Christians. I can see so many issues connected with this whole conversation. One of those is the push by Christian groups to legislate morality. While there are some good reasons for that, it poses a danger to the gospel – especially the way Christian groups often go about it. The Christian must never, never, NEVER forget that the gospel IS for sinners and not people who have first forsaken their sin. The gospel is a message of grace. It is THE message of grace. Jesus came to save sinners, plain and simple. He came to save those who had NO claim upon God because they have tried or because they have sought Him or because they were raised in a Christian home or a Jewish home or because they are not as bad as the next guy. Jesus came to save the worst of us and not those who somehow deserve it or have earned the right to be saved by first trying to clean up their life. Morality has become the message that people associate with Christianity. Those who don’t agree with Christian morals feel rejected by Christians and thus reject Christianity. Intentionally or not, Christians often send the wrong message.
“This man receives sinners…”
If we are to be like Christ, then we must earn this same reputation. It means having a messy church. Jesus did come to save us from our sin but that doesn’t mean he sets us free from sinning the moment we receive Him. He sets us free from the power of sin immediately in the sense that we are no longer condemned. He also sets us free from the presence of sin, but that takes a lifetime. This is the process of sanctification where the message of grace weaves its way through all the dark recesses of the heart, breaking us free from the sins that have held us for so long. Even the apostle Paul, who had the dramatic conversion along the Damascus road, did not immediately get everything right. As we read through his letters we find him recognizing more and more of his own sin as he gets older. We too, can’t expect someone to change everything all at once. The truth is, what we really expect, is people to change their lifestyles to match ours, rather than Christ’s. Some sin we highlight and demand change (like sexual sin) and some sins we overlook completely (like gluttony and pride), because that’s where we are.
We must be careful that we do not lose the message of grace out of our zeal for the purity of the church. The purity of the church must come through the message of grace, even if that means coming slower than we want it to come.
I have written before, “Jesus loves us just as we are. But he loves us so much he doesn’t leave us just as we are.” We cannot hold onto the second part of this statement without first being convinced of the first part.