Only Sinners Welcome
- Wednesday, March 28, 2001
Author Ian Thomas has asked, "What is in your life right now that can only be explained in terms of the supernatural?" We can claim to have supernatural love, but it's only supernatural when one would expect hatred instead. We can claim to be forgiving, but forgiveness is supernatural only when there is no earthly reason for one to be forgiving. Compassion is supernatural when the smart thing seems to be to look out for number one. Freedom is supernatural when one would expect to be living in a prison. Joy is supernatural when circumstances don't warrant it. Integrity is supernatural when it's normal to define values in terms of one's own background and culture.
Nevertheless, as great as all this is, I really don't think that the major power of our witness is in our supernatural power and our righteousness. I think it has more to do with our honesty and vulnerability.
Jesus reached out to some very surprising people. He showed up in some very surprising places and He said some very surprising things. Unlike Him, we generally do what is expected of "religious" people. Being a "good citizen" is not the same thing as being a Christian, but in our society, goodness and Christian are used interchangeably. So church becomes the place where a nice, pleasant, bland person stands in front of other nice, pleasant, bland people urging them to be nicer, more pleasant and more bland. Jesus didn't die to create nice, pleasant, bland people. He died so that sinners would find grace and forgiveness, and, in the joy and exuberance of their discovery, would find it impossible to keep quiet about it.
It's worth noting that Jesus didn't condemn bad people. He condemned stiff people. We condemn the bad ones and affirm the stiff ones. Whether it was a prostitute or a tax collector or an outcast, Jesus reached out to them. It was a motley crew of riffraff that followed Him around, and it never embarrassed Him or made Him feel uncomfortable. It still doesn't. But He's still angry at the stiff ones.
One of the most radical statements Jesus ever made is found in Matthew 9. We've sanitized it and made it fit our institutional molds, and thus allowed it to lose its power. I'm referring to these words of His: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (verses 12-13)
The difference between Jesus and us is that He didn't condemn the bad people -- He loved them and understood them even though He would have been perfectly justified in
condemning them. We, on the other hand, can't condemn the bad people because we are them. Therefore, our only alternative is to tell them, as fellow beggars, where we found bread.
I believe that one of the reasons the world isn't attracted to our religion and to our churches is because they think what we have is only for good people. Therefore, they think, it isn't for them. We have done a poor job informing the world that Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven and accepted and slowly getting better. Jesus said, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). If that isn't happening, maybe it's because we have been lifting ourselves up instead of Him. Maybe it's because we are giving the false impression that we're good people and that Jesus only loves good people. Maybe it's because we're flying under false colors -- ours rather than His.
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