This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them (1 Timothy 1:15, hcsb).
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16, esv). That was the reaction of the religious when seeing Jesus interacting with the common rabble of His day. The scribes and Pharisees had no reference point for hobnobbing with people outside their sacred circles—and would never have been invited there anyway.
But Jesus often was. And He accepted their invitations—which was hardly the same as accepting their sinful lifestyles. Jesus was never soft on sin. His “go and sin no more” (John 8:11, nkjv) was His way of saying, This is hurting you. You need to get away from it.
But He loved being out there around them. Among them. Because He really, truly loved these people. His message and ministry took Him to places where He could see His purpose fulfilled. “I came not to call the righteous,” He said, “but sinners” (Mark 2:17, esv).
So twenty-one centuries later, in the church of Jesus Christ today, surely we’re generations deep now in following His example, right?
Not so much. From the look of things, we somehow resent people who struggle with sin, as if they’re messing up our world. If they would just get their act together . . . if they’d just do what the preacher says from the pulpit inside our holy houses of worship . . . this world would be a better place.
But that’s precisely the kind of selfish attitude that Christ has called us to forsake. The “I’m better than you” mentality that seeks to combine a love for God with disinterest (or disdain) toward others who are not like us is the next thing we need to purge from our hearts and minds.
The church is meant to be a place of hope and healing for those who are struggling with sin—which, let’s admit, includes people like you and me. Those who are trying to live without Christ in our neighborhoods, classrooms, workplaces, and play-places should think of us as the most loving, compassionate, genuinely caring individuals they know. Everywhere Jesus went, people were floored by how loving He was. The Pharisees were disgusted by it, but everyone else was amazed by it. Attracted to it. They wanted to know more about what this Man was saying.
And we can be that kind of people to the world if we will carry out the legacy of mission that our Lord established us to embody. As wretched sinners ourselves—“the worst of them,” Paul said—who’ve been rescued by grace alone from the penalty of death we so clearly deserve, we are in the best position of all to say and live out to others, “You are not your sin. You are not your failure. You are not your past. You are who God says you are.” For like us, they were born into sin. And like us, they are loved by God. And for this reason, we should love them and desire their freedom with the same passion we desire our own.
Jesus hung with sinners, and people hated Him for it. All except for those who felt His love—and were saved by it.
Lord God, thank You for loving me despite my sin. Thank You for not finding me disreputable, beyond the reach of Your grace and compassion. Keep before me always a realistic awareness of my sinful condition and its horrible extremes, so that I can truly care and empathize with those around me who need Your mercy the same way I need it. Use me to be an expression to them of Christ, in whose loving name I pray, amen.