(This blog post was inspired by a brief discussion I followed on a friend’s Facebook page)
It has been said (and I have previously quoted) that, while Jesus was physically on the earth, sinners were drawn to him while the religious were repulsed, but today, the religious are drawn to the church and sinners are repulsed. It is my position that this statement has much merit to it.
The religious of Jesus’ day were all about enforcing morality, making sure the masses followed the moral law, all the while they created loopholes for themselves so that they didn’t have to follow the same rules of morality. On top of that, they made sure that the focus was anywhere but on themselves. They made sure that it was them who were sitting in the judge’s seat, pronouncing how others had violated the law of morality. As a group, they cared nothing about God’s love or His grace or His kindness being demonstrated to people. They saw themselves as God’s appointed morality police for the Jewish people. And they took their job quite seriously.
Fast forward 2,000 years. It has been the common practice and reality that the church has taken over for the religious of Jesus’ day. Much time is spent on denouncing those people and acts in our culture who and which do not adhere to the moral law. Jesus followers see denouncing sin in our culture and in the lives of people as a very primary purpose for existence. That’s exactly how the religious of Jesus’ day viewed themselves. And Jesus, figuratively, took them out back to the woodshed and let them have it. I find it interesting how Jesus’ harshest words were for the religious, those moral police, who had no room for love, grace, kindness, or mercy, who only saw the letter and turned a blind eye to the spirit. Yet, I don’t recall one instance where Jesus’ words to “sinners” was harsh. Even the times where he actually addressed a person’s sin, it was very kind, grace-filled, and brief.
But, many times, at least in what is recorded in the Gospels, Jesus didn’t address a person’s sin at all, but his very presence and what he brought to the encounter (grace, love, mercy, kindness) caused the person to reconsider his/her actions. I think of Zaccheus’ encounter with Jesus. Zach was a chief tax collector and a thief and very wealthy because of it. Zach encounters Jesus one day in Jericho as Jesus is passing through. Jesus looks at Zach (who was up in a tree so he could actually see Jesus for Zach was vertically challenged!) and says, “Zach, hurry and come down, for today I must stay in your house.” Jesus knew who Zach was and the lifestyle he lived, yet Jesus took the first step to come into a relationship with Zach. There isn’t one recorded word of Jesus railing against Zach’s immoral lifestyle, just a stated desire to go to Zach’s house. Zach’s response to Jesus is eye-opening; Zach responded positively stating that he was going to give half of his possessions to the poor and repay four-fold anyone from who he stole. It was Jesus’ kindness that elicited this response from Zach.
The response from the religious to what Jesus did was, “How dare he?! He’s gone and lodged with a sinful man!” If this encounter had been played out today, it would be the church who typically saying, “How dare he?! He’s gone and lodged with a sinful man!” I say that because the church sees herself as culture’s morality police. I believe that the church is convinced that it is through the denouncing of sin that people will be drawn to God. I find it interesting that this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did and what the New Testament teaches.
Over the past 6 months, as I have studied in depth and preached through the Apostle Paul’s letters to the believers in Galatia and Ephesus, some things have really stood out to me.
First, from Galatians 2:19b-20, is that we have been crucified with Christ and the life now lived in my flesh, and every other follower of Jesus, is not me but Christ living in me and what is lived in my body is by his faith. So, from that, what comes from my body, my actions, my thoughts, my perceptions, and my words, should mirror directly what Jesus did.
Second, is a passage from Ephesians. In 2:7, Paul says that the reason God raised us together with Christ and sat us with him in the heavens (v. 6) is so He could “display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God’s incredible grace is demonstrated in kindness. Furthermore, in Romans 2:4, Paul says, “Or do you despise the riches of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that God’s kindness is leading you to repentance?” How does the church demonstrate forbearance and long-suffering when it chooses the path of being the morality police for the world, denouncing this sin or that sin present in our culture? The church’s sole focus should be on having the riches of God’s grace in kindness displayed to others through us.
Finally, the last passage, also from Ephesians, deals with Paul’s view of the law, given in the Old Testament including what is known as the 10 commandments. In 2:14-15, Paul writes, “He (Jesus) is our peace, the one who made both one and destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, in His flesh, having abolished the law of the commandments in ordinances, so that, in Himself, He might create the two into one new man, making peace.” Paul many times reverts back to Abraham who predated the law, and the 10 commandments, by many years.
But, some might say, isn’t there danger in this? How will sin be restrained if the law is no longer in force? First, how well did the law do in restraining sin? It didn’t. The common result is what is found in Romans 7. It is now the Spirit of God who is in everyone who believes by which this is accomplished. This is every believer’s new identity. This means we live by the Spirit and what the Spirit desires which speaks to the character of God.
So, to wrap this all up, much like how Jesus described what the kingdom of heaven is like (mustard seed and leaven), it is not being the morality police for our culture that will draw people to the kingdom. It is through interaction, one person at a time, in which God’s wonderful and loving kindness is demonstrated. It is not by denouncing the sins of others, but by encountering others, coming into genuine and sincere relationships with them, and sharing God’s kindness through His grace and love.
The enemy is thrilled that the church sees itself as the morality police because then it isn’t about demonstrating God’s kindness to people which is what draws people to God. And so, the bride of Jesus, the church, is not threat at all to his kingdom.
And that is a sad reality.