Dan Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. This article and the two preceding it are edited from a recent sermon Dan preached in our church.
In the past two blog posts, we saw both the Pharisees’ and Jesus’ differing attitudes toward lost sinners. Today, I would like us to consider some practical applications.
As you read this post, I hope you can say with me that you want visitors to fill up your church building each Lord’s Day. And I hope that you are praying that many of those visitors would be people who have never heard the gospel before. I hope that your desire is that people from all walks of life would walk through those church doors. But how are we going to respond when people walk in who are obviously living a sinful lifestyle? How can we learn from our Saviour’s example?
First of all, we must never condone people in their sin.
Brethren, let us never be ashamed to call sin what the Bible calls sin. Despite what our society is saying, homosexual behavior is sin. Abortion is sin. Premarital sex is sin. Pornography is sin. We are not just old-fashioned religious fanatics who simply refuse to get with the times. We are not ashamed to say those things because God has said them, and God has not changed between now and the time when the Bible was written.
Our society, and even some professing Christians, would like us to believe that disagreeing with someone and calling their lifestyle sinful is the most unloving thing we could do for them. It will only serve to alienate people and make them cold and bitter towards the church. And so, they say, we must tone down this talk about sin and focus more on God’s love and acceptance of people just the way they are.
Friends, let me say this as plainly as I can. In light of eternity, to condone people in their sinful lifestyles is the most unloving thing we could ever do for them. When God has said that a life of unrepentant sin will lead only to eternal punishment in hell, how could it ever be loving to not warn people about it? How could it be loving to make people feel at ease and accepted by God while they are living a sinful life that is opposed to His Word? How is it loving to ignore the warnings throughout the New Testament that those who do not repent of their sins will not inherit the kingdom of God? Brothers and sisters, let us not downplay sin in order to win acceptance with people. Let us be like Jesus and be faithful to call people to repentance.
But secondly, we must be compassionate like Jesus.
While being careful to not condone people in their sin, we must also be willing to reach out to the lost like Jesus was. We must be willing to dine with the tax collectors and sinners. What does that mean for us practically as a church? What are some ways that we can do that?
Let me give this example. Suppose someone comes to church next Sunday that is openly homosexual. They come in and sit down and it seems like they really want to be here. How will you welcome them? Will you act like a Pharisee, thinking that you may become unclean even by talking with them? Or will you communicate your gladness to see them here and your desire for them to come back? Will you seek to build a relationship with them in which the Lord may bring gospel opportunities?
Maybe you are thinking at this point…is that ever going to happen? Why would a homosexual ever come to this church, knowing what we believe? Let me tell you a true story.
One Sunday, back in the late 90s, a woman living an openly homosexual lifestyle walked into a Reformed Presbyterian Church in Syracuse, New York. She came in feeling awkward because she looked so different than everyone else. But she knew she wanted to find out about who God was, and so she was determined to stay. How did she get to that point? What had led her to come to a church that she knew disagreed with her lifestyle? She was a professor of English at a secular university and was living in a homosexual relationship. She couldn’t stand the kind of Christianity that was promoted by right-wing conservatives, the kind that proclaimed nothing but hatred for her and all those living her lifestyle. So she began to research them to seek to understand them better. But one thing she needed to do in her research was to read the Bible. So she began to do that.
About the same time she met the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church and his wife. And they didn’t condemn her or treat her differently than other people. Instead, they befriended her. They invited her into their home, they had discussions together about the Bible and politics, and they treated her as a real human being. And then, one day………she walked through the church doors for the first time. She hadn’t been saved yet. She still wore her lifestyle on her sleeves. But her reading of the Bible plus her interaction with the Pastor and his wife had begun to really cause questions to rise up in her heart. And so, even though she had not yet relinquished her sinful lifestyle, she came because she wanted to know if God was real and what He really had to say about her life.
How will you respond if someone like that walks into our church? The world says there are only two responses. You either love them and therefore accept whatever lifestyle they are living. Or you disagree with them and therefore hate them. Brethren, by our words and actions, we must prove them wrong. We must show compassion while maintaining that God is holy. We must love people without condoning their sin. We must be willing to meet people right where they are.
There are some churches where people like this would not be welcome. No one would stop them from coming in the door, but the looks that people give them would be enough to communicate that they are not welcome there. They are basically saying, “go and clean up your life first, and then come back and try again”. But if Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, brothers let us do the same!
How will we receive the woman who has had an abortion and feels like she has committed the unforgivable sin? How will we welcome the homosexual who has been living that lifestyle but is longing for something more? How will we welcome the prodigal son who has gone into the far country, but is now coming back? On the day of judgment, I hope that no homosexual or anyone else could ever say of us: “Emmanuel Baptist Church had good news to share, but they wouldn’t share it with me.”
Brethren, let us continue to cultivate a church that we can be excited to invite anyone to, because we know that everyone will be thrilled to see them here. And why are we thrilled to see them here? Because we know that Jesus can save the unsaveable. His gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. He came into the world to save sinners
Remember that true story I just told you about that woman? Her name is Rosaria Butterfield and she is now a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. The Lord has even used to her to write books about her experience which have been a great help to many people. Isn’t that an amazing example of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6?
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Paul had preached the gospel to homosexuals, and adulterers, and idol worshipers. And God had saved them! Let us never forget that we are Christians not because we were somehow superior to others, or more upright than others, or more lovely than others. We are Christians because Jesus delights to save poor, wretched, unlovable sinners. If we remember that, we will be the most welcoming kind of church, where the gospel is freely shared with anyone and everyone who walks through those doors. Wouldn’t it be something if someone was to look in during one of our fellowship meals and see that we are sitting and eating with tax collectors and sinners.
A third and final application
If you are here today and you are not a Christian, there is good news for you. Jesus is a friend of sinners. Here in Mark, he is associating with the worst people in society. They were people who had a reputation for nothing but wickedness. And here he is condescending to their low state, meeting them right where they are.
My friend, listen to me. Not only does Jesus have the power to save you from your sins. He is willing. Maybe some of you have grown up in the church and you have learned that God chooses people to be saved and you wonder…..how do I know if God really wants me? How do I know if he will really accept me if I come to Him? Or maybe you think that you are too bad to come to Jesus, that your past life is too sinful to forgive!
Friends, Jesus Himself has said that you may come. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He says in the gospel of John, “whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out.” There’s only one qualification to come to Jesus. There’s only one thing you need to do. It’s simply this: recognize that you are a sinner. Recognize that you have sinned against a holy God and that you deserve His just condemnation and wrath and that you have no hope apart from Christ. If you recognize that about yourself, you will find that Jesus is not only able to save you, He is also abundantly willing to do so. Will you come to Him today? He is not ashamed to call Himself a friend of sinners.