Jesus didn’t have nearly as big a problem with “sinners” as He did with those criticizing them.
The religious establishment of Jesus’ day was fighting an “air war”, speaking out against those not living up to their standards. The Pharisees occupied the high moral ground, following the letter of the law, yet not the spirit of it – a “ground war” of love and compassion (Luke 11:42).
Jesus didn’t mince words with them or anyone else He viewed as critical or judgmental. A few familiar examples:
- “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye…” (Luke 6:42)
- “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” (John 8:7)
- “You clean the outside of the cup and dish but inside…” (Matthew 23:25)
- “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)
How did Jesus do battle?
Compare that to how Jesus felt about the “sinners” those religious leaders condemned:
- “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Mark 2:17)
- “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…” (Luke 15:7)
- “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
- “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day…you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:4)
Jesus clearly sought out “sinners”, spent time with them, healed them, served them, preached to them, and forgave them. He did not “come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)
The Pharisees were jealous. They thought – “If Jesus were truly the Messiah, He’d be hanging out with us, not with those people.” But Jesus didn’t fraternize with religious zealots, instead spending his time pursuing prostitutes, drunkards and other “lower class” citizens.
Chances are Jesus would be doing the same today if He were walking the streets of your city. He would be on a search-and-rescue mission to find the “lost sheep” and the “lost coin”, going places few church members today would dare to venture. That’s likely where Jesus is most present and preoccupied right now in your city – with the orphans, widows, homosexuals, alcoholics and drug addicts. He’s not as concerned about saving the righteous (Matthew 9:13) – those in small group meetings and church services across America. Jesus calls us to join Him where He is hardest at work at this moment.
How do most churches do battle?
In contrast, the average active church member today:
- Socializes more with Christians than with non-believers
- Serves the church more than the lost in the community
- Rarely evangelizes
- Is not currently discipling someone
- Will vote for president primarily based on a “hot-button” moral issue
- Is concerned about America’s declining morality and values
- Feels they sin less than those who don’t know the Lord
In other words, church members are too often Pensive, Passive and Private – not Powerful. Jesus acted AND spoke – preceding the gospel with compassion. We may love the sinner and hate the sin but every word we speak about our views on moral issues sound like judgment and criticism – because we haven’t followed Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love first. In that respect, we haven’t earned the right to speak to culture – but we do anyway.
Rather than pursuing “sinners” as Jesus did, too many Christians maintain both a physical and moral distance. Physically we don’t go near many of the dens of depravity the lost frequent. Morally, we speak out about what we’re against, rather than exhibiting well what we’re for – which is the gospel, whose central tenet is love. In God’s eyes the distance between “us” and “them” is minuscule – we’re the same, just forgiven. We’re equally as sinful, just redeemed.
When Christians fight battles over values with words alone, they lose the war for hearts and minds. In fact, we’re on the short end of nearly all of those battles as well. As we said last week “Name a moral issue that the church and Christians haven’t already lost, or appear likely to lose soon.”
Keeping our distance, voicing our concern without adequately showing our concern, isn’t growing the church or helping its public perception. The challenge Jesus issues to all church members is to BE the church even to those who stand for all that they’re against. Those alienated by the condemnation they hear (through their filter) from Christians are less likely to step into a church building than ever. So the only way to reach them is to leave the comfortable confines of our church buildings and small groups and stand in close proximity to them – but will we?
The problem with our battleplan…
What if Jesus no longer sees most American churchgoers as the “good” characters in the stories He told? What if He associates them more with…
- the proud Pharisee who thanked God he wasn’t like the cheating tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)
- the brother who couldn’t figure out why His father would celebrate the return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
- the stunned crowd wondering why Jesus was having dinner with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)
- the priest or the church worker who unlike the Good Samaritan walked by the beaten robbery victim (Luke 10:30-37)
- the goats who didn’t care for the hungry, the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46)
Yes, it’s hard to dig far into any of the gospel accounts without coming across a case of Jesus illustrating the importance of pursuing rather than judging “sinners”.
In Jesus’ eyes, are Christians today walking by on the other side of the road? Does Jesus feel His church is doing a good enough job of building disciples and mobilizing them to be a bright light to those living in the darkest corners of society? The general public feels churches have become skyscrapers and warehouses, distant from the world yet judgmental of it. Does Jesus agree with them?
How can your church adopt Jesus’ battleplan?
Flip the script and become the “good” characters in those 5 stories:
- Repentance – Like the cheating tax collector who never dared think of himself as morally superior to anyone else
- Rejoicing – Like the compassionate father who wildly celebrated the salvation of his wayward son
- Generosity – Like Zacchaeus who responded to overwhelming grace with breathtaking kindness
- Compassion – Like the Good Samaritan who not only stopped, but stuck around until all was well
- Mercy – Like the sheep who took time out from their busy lives and church activities to care for complete strangers
The Lord calls us to be Powerful Christians – not Passive, Pensive or Private. He “desires mercy” (relationship), “not sacrifice” (religion). In other words, He wants churchgoers to aggressively seek the lost exactly how He did – courageously stepping into possibly hostile territory rather than criticizing from afar.
It’s your turn…
Churches have the cure for “cancer” and know how to administer the prescription (because Jesus showed us), so why aren’t more churchgoers desperate to save lives, particularly of those who are most ill?