I don’t know how many times friends and co-workers have argued they can’t come to church: they’re too messed up.
One of them likes drinking – a lot.
Another swears constantly.
A long-time friend still harbors bitterness towards her ex.
Several women I know can’t forgive a parent for abandoning the family.
Some of them believe their habits are too impolite and unsavory. “If I walked through the doors of your church, I’d catch fire” is one friend’s comment. “If you caught on fire, so would I” is my reply.
The reality is that Jesus calls the broken. He wants to have a relationship with us, exactly where we are.
How do we know this? Jesus says so.
Jesus loves sinners.
In Matthew 9:13, Christ said “I came to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance.” He was dining with tax collectors and other scoundrels, hanging around with Gentiles. The Pharisees complained that this was no way for a Rabbi to behave, especially one with such influence as Jesus. Shouldn’t Jesus spend more time with them, the good people? Religious Jews, His people?
The Pharisees misunderstood why Jesus took on flesh: He “came to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
When Christians behave as though their church is a club for “good people,” unbelievers are understandably turned off. To the Pharisees, a person was “good” if he was a Jew and if he followed all the rules of Judaism.
The Pharisees had nothing to offer non-believers.
Moreover, they acted as though God resided in the synagogue. Jesus turned that idea upside down by going out to meet sick people, women, children, and Gentiles wherever they were. He exposed the reality that no one is good; only God. (Mark 10:18)
Jesus wants a relationship with you.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes because they favored legalism over relationship. Matthew 23:23 records a scathing rebuke in which Jesus declares several times “Woe to you, Pharisees!” and refers to them as “hypocrites” for preferring religious observance over “justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Relationship requires effort and empathy.
Jesus wanted the Pharisees and scribes to know that “what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (Romans 8:3)
Jesus saved me, then He changed me, and He didn’t need a special building in order to accomplish His purpose.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says “you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Jesus embodies the Good News. I have a relationship with the Person of Christ and He draws me to Himself.
Religion, however, condemns me. If we act as though going to church makes us Christian, we miss the point: nothing we do can make us worthier of salvation than the next person. I am just as sinful as my co-worker, but freed from exhausting religiosity by grace.
We also miss an opportunity to know the joy of Christ if we center our lives not on Christ but on Christianity, and that dry legality is what unbelievers will see. Who would want to travel in a desert with no promise of water?
People are not born Christians.
Co-workers and friends who never knew the old me think I was always a Christian. I must have been born into a religious household to believe this crazy stuff, right? At least I must have been born “good” or else Jesus would not accept me.
I wasn’t always a believer and I’m certainly not “good.” My parents were hostile towards Christianity and argued against the existence of God, so I definitely never went to church. Meanwhile, my pre-Christian behavior was ugly in ways anyone could have seen. The non-judgmental love of Christian leaders at camp and of a high school friend drew me to Jesus initially.
When I became a parent and met more believers, they picked up the baton. These men and women were patient, calm, peaceful, and loving while serving me; answering questions about creation, suffering, the resurrection, and more.
Christ’s message appealed to my emotional needs and satisfied my thirst for empirical evidence.
Every true Christian has made a decision in his or her own heart independent of family or church.
Not all Christians come from Christian homes and many who are raised in the church walk away. Free will is a gift, and not everyone will utilize that gift to worship Christ. No one is born Christian, although all of us are Children of God.“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Hebrews 5:13)
Don’t form an opinion of Christ based on the behavior of Christians.
One reason for the assumption that “Christians have it all together” is Christians’ tendency to forget the Good News for ourselves. We take the mission seriously, spreading the Gospel, forgetting that grace is meant for us too.
We can take a deep breath and stop wearing a mask of righteousness, as though our humanity will detract from Christ’s perfection. On the contrary: when Christians are authentic with skeptics, revealing our ragged edges and daily struggles, they are more likely to relax around us and listen to the truth. We become relatable, believable, and so does Jesus’ message.
“We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)
With tongue in cheek, James says none of us is perfect except Jesus, not even the most devout Christian. Yes, I am a generally happy person because, although I’m deeply flawed, Jesus is mighty and He is in me through the Holy Spirit. That’s cause for joy!
It's a free gift you can trust.
Most of the time, consumers are discouraged from trusting a “free gift.” Don’t sign up for offers like those, especially if someone wants your credit card number: there is always a price.
But salvation really is a gift offered by God to all people, always, before they even accept it. We don’t have to supply bank details first. Christ died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven to intercede for us with the Father. That work is already done. There is no catch but one simple requirement. Here’s what Jesus says in John 3:16:
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not die but have eternal life.
This most famous of Bible verses is so simple, one might overlook the qualifiers Jesus deliberately kept out. There is just one condition upon which salvation rests: believing in Christ Jesus. The verse is not preceded or followed by commands such as “but stop drinking and doing drugs first, and then you can have eternal life” or “get your act together; I’ll give you the gift then.” “Stop swearing, and I’ll think about letting you into heaven.” A gift is something you are given, not something you earn or buy.
Don’t get me wrong. Truly believing in Christ will lead to transformation of the heart, and behaviors are going to change. When a person really loves Jesus, her priorities shift. She wants to know Him better, and spends more time in scripture, in prayer. Christ slowly (or quickly) crowds out sinful habits and drowns out angry voices.
In the meantime, the Bible’s accounts of His miracles and acts of kindness towards people from all sectors of society reinforce a glaring absence of judgment and a steady stream of mercy. They show that God loves us now, and that only His love saves; although He will also help us to defeat our sinful habits if we ask Him to.
We won’t catch fire when we enter a church, but if we burn with conviction at the mention of His name, Jesus offers Living Water to quench the thirst caused by our flames.
Candice Lucey is a writer and counsellor living in beautiful BC, Canada with her family. She also writes a blog called Wordwell.ca, exploring scripture one word at a time.
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