There has been something eating away at me recently (since last night) and I need to give it a voice. I am not sure I have worked it all through yet myself but I often find expressing it to be part of that process. It really rises from two questions: "How can we be effective for Christ if we do not associate with sinners?" and "How do we keep pure in a filthy world?"
For as many churches as there are in this world and for as many Christians who walk on the face of this planet, there are not very many people being saved. We do not seem to be effective in the mission we have been given, to go and make disciples. The problem is that it is hard to make disciples of people who are already disciples. That's how it is for many of us. We only hang out with Christians. We have withdrawn from the world, stopped associating with sinners and have hidden ourselves in our fortress of self-righteousness. We have not invested ourselves in others and instead have buried ourselves in the Church for safe keeping. I really don't think that is what Jesus was talking about when he said "go".
We seem to have a hard time handling sin. It's like it reminds us where we come from or we are worried about being contaminated. We say that God can have nothing to do with sin so we can't either. Or maybe it's the type of sin that we have a problem with. A bank robber we hold out hope for but a rapist we want nothing to do with. A couple living together out of marriage we will try to get through but a homosexual couple is the present day leprosy. It is like we believe that God is not powerful enough to transform everyone, only certain character types.
The Jesus I know hung out with some notorious sinners; some real social outcasts. There were people found in adultery, prostitutes, tax collectors even. Hey, didn't you notice on the cross, while in pain and agony, he even invited a thief into the Kingdom? Jesus went to parties at the homes of Pharisees who were probably the biggest sinners of the bunch. We have no idea what everyone was involved in but we do know the Pharisees criticized him for hanging out with the wrong bunch.
Now, I want you to clearly understand this. Jesus, who is God, came into a fallen world that was filled with sin. He walked with, talked with, ate with, slept next to, went to parties with, even touched, breathing the same air as people who were totally rebellious and full of sin. This is the Holy God who we say can have nothing to do with sin. What are we talking about? He loves sinners so much he went to the cross for them, yet we can't even shake their hand or have anything to do with them. We won't go into the bars as Jesus did to seek them out. We won't go into the prostitution area of the city because that isn't proper. We are afraid to go into the jails because who knows what these people have been involved in. We won't sit down for coffee with a homosexual because we might catch something.
Are we kidding ourselves here? Do we have any idea just how filthy Jesus got every day and the burden he took to the cross just for us? Do we skip over the verse that says that it was while we were still sinners that he dies for us? How about this:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
We worry about contamination. Wow! I guess we do not have a very good relationship with Jesus if we are worried that talking to a sinner will fill us with sin. Perhaps we need to look at what kind of relationship we have with Jesus if this is our fear. Those who are walking in the Spirit daily, developing their relationship with Jesus in prayer, Bible study and worship have nothing to fear. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)
He is faithful to keep you in his righteousness, which is not a self-righteousness. Are we saying that our God is not as powerful as we claim he is? Of course he is but we are right that there is some danger associated with the mission. We do have to remember who we belong to as we walk in our calling. We need to keep our relationship fresh and alive. We have to keep Jesus as our center and purpose at all times. We must remain focused on our Lord and the direction of the Spirit. At no time should we take the council of those who are lost because they do not have the mind of Christ or the perspective of the Kingdom. The Word instructs us:
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers. (Psalm 1:1)
In all his association with sinners Jesus never once entered into sin. He never once took direction from them. He stood his ground when they turned against him and never compromised on the truth. He was the light reaching out to those lost in the dark. He did not allow the darkness to infect him. He sat and ate with them but he would not participate with them. He always found ways of teaching them and bringing the good news to them. He did it with stories and he did it with speaking plainly. But the point is, he was there. How could he have done it if he refused to associate with them? He said that he has sent us in the same way the Father sent him.
We spend far too much time yelling at people from a distance; pointing fingers from a distance; preaching from a distance. The world will have no idea just how much they are loved until we get into their lives, invite them out, accept their invitations and become part of their day. It's time for us to get down off our high-horses and start walking around in the dirt of life. When we start doing this maybe Jesus and the Church will start looking a lot more attractive and inviting to those lost in sin. Maybe they will stop seeing us and will begin to see the light that is piercing the dark. Jesus said it would cost to follow him. It's time to start paying the price of our discipleship so others may also become disciples. He said "go"!