Jesus

Jesus Welcomed REAL Sinners. Do We?

In a very real sense, the work of Jesus is complete. When it comes to our standing as beloved, forgiven, delighted-in sons and daughters of God, “It is finished,” just as he said. His sinless life secured for us a new and irrevocable status—holy and blameless in God’s sight. His death fulfilled the requirements of God’s justice toward our sins. We are summoned by Scripture to make much of Jesus. It is stunning that Jesus makes much of us, too. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and he died the death we should have died. Because of this, we are free. What a wonderful and humbling reality—God does not treat us as our sins deserve, because he has already treated Jesus as our sins deserve.

The work of Jesus continues in the world through Christians.

All this being true, there is still much work that Jesus intends to get done…through us.

Luke writes in Acts 1:1, “In the first book [the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Began to do and teach? How could there be more for Jesus to do than he what has already done?

That’s where we as Christ’s “ambassadors” come into the picture. We are now the chosen ones, sent into the world on his behalf, filled with his Spirit to represent him in the places where we live, work and play. The work of Jesus continues in the world through Christians.

Our calling is to labor in every way possible to model our ministry and message after his. We are to live as those who are “full of grace and truth” until our churches and ministries attract the types of people who were attracted to Jesus, and, by unfortunate necessity, draw criticism from the types of people who criticized him.

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?

Gandhi famously said:

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Gandhi admired Jesus but found it difficult to reconcile how the Christians in his life seemed to represent Jesus so poorly. In his mind, this is what kept him from becoming a follower of Jesus.

As Jesus’ ambassadors, we need to listen very carefully to statements like this one. We must carefully and lovingly examine the common barriers that stand between the real Jesus and people’s false impressions of him—impressions which, unfortunately, have been projected to a watching world by sincere yet misguided Christians. Let’s consider some of these barriers, shall we?

BARRIER #1: CONDEMNATION

Writer Philip Yancey often asks people he meets what they think about Christians. Sadly, the answer he hears most often from people is that Christians are judgmental, intolerant, and holier-than-thou.

When the September 11 terrorist attacks took place on the World Trade Center, one very well-known (and deeply misguided) Christian leader confirmed this stance by saying on national television:

If you are a homosexual, a member of the ACLU, in favor of abortion, or part of the People of the American Way, then I point my finger in your face and say you did this. You made this happen.

A Christian friend of mine who is an actor once invited a gay friend over to have dinner with him and his wife. Their guest soon realized (from the Bible on the coffee table) that they were Christians. He then said to my friend, “You are a Christian, and you actually like me?” This kind of story causes my heart to sink. Does it yours?

Are we serious about being Christ’s ambassadors in the world? Then we must humbly wrestle with, and fight with love to reverse, the idea that Christians are against people who don’t believe like we do.

Whether this impression is true or merely perceived, it is still our starting point in the minds of many non-Christian people. If we are not guilty ourselves, then we are at least guilty by association with believers who have misrepresented the biblical Jesus with harsh, abrasive, condemning or withdrawn attitudes. We must take personal responsibility, as far as it depends on us, to replace pictures of a false Jesus with pictures of the real Jesus—the Jesus who came full of grace and truth, and who even welcomed “sinners” and ate with them (Luke 15:1-2).

BARRIER #2: SEPARATION

I believe that Christians who want to separate themselves and their children from secular people, secular things, and secular ideas make a big mistake. Christ’s ambassadors must resist this “us against them” and often fear-based mindset. We must do everything in our power to become friends with as many non-Christians as we can—no conditions attached. This must be a central, core value of our lives and also our Christian communities.

Consider Jesus. It was only the religious proud who withdrew from Jesus, criticized him, took offense at him, and wished to rid the world of him. But what about the prostitutes, crooks, drunks, gluttons and sinners? These all wanted to be near to Jesus, and they wanted to hear what he had to say. And Jesus obliged gladly—so much so that he became guilty by association, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunk and a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

We know that these accusations of drunkenness and gluttony were false—Jesus was tempted in every way but without sin. But Jesus was unapologetically a friend to the least and the lost—to all who felt ostracized and belittled by the religious communities of his day.

Jesus was willing to offend strict religious people if that’s what it took to convince broken sinners that he loved them and had hope for them.

Are we?

Jesus was repulsive to religious insiders and a breath of fresh air to religious outsiders.

Are we?

BARRIER #3: SMUGNESS

There is a price to pay if we get serious about cultivating atmospheres that are full of grace. The more we begin to befriend the kinds of people that Jesus did, we will experience resistance and even rejection from “the faithful.” They may even be our fellow church members. It’s a simple fact. When we do the kinds of things that Jesus did and love in some of the ways that Jesus did, some will take offense at us. And they will tell themselves that their being offended is because of their love for God. But anytime someone is offended by kindness that resembles Jesus, our Lord says that this person, rather than acting out of love for God, is acting as a child of the devil (John 8:39-47). It is Satan, not God, who is the hater of kindness. It is Satan, not God, who is the accuser of the people that Jesus loves.

Consider Luke 7, where a woman described as “sinful” enters the home of Simon the religious Pharisee. In the name of love, and in the spirit of radical grace, Jesus receives with delight her very un-orthodox display of affection toward him. Jesus breaks with religious customs, allowing this ceremonially and morally unclean prostitute to touch his feet. He breaks with social customs also, receiving her as his disciple—putting a woman on equal footing with men in a very paternalistic, misogynistic society where women were seen as second class.

Most scandalous, however, is the way that Jesus even breaks with moral customs to demonstrate to this woman how dear she is to him. She lets down her hair, which was grounds for divorce in those days—a woman could do this only in the presence of her immediate family. She also touches him with the tools of her prostitute’s trade. He lets her anoint him with a prostitute’s perfume and kiss him with a prostitute’s lips!

Of course, we know the rest of the story—Jesus was shunned as a man of ill repute by the religious people at the sinner party. To these smug Pharisees, showing positive attention to this woman—whom they judged as a sinner not a child of God, as a thing not a person—was evidence of moral compromise.

This story has serious ramifications for those who wish to represent Jesus well in a modern context. We must come to terms with the fact that if Jesus were a 21st century American, he would not associate godliness with membership in a political party. He would not tell a lesbian she was “in sin” without also offering her a personal, no-strings-attached friendship. He would not talk about how smoking destroys God’s temple while simultaneously devouring his third piece of fried chicken at the church potluck. Jesus would not condemn adultery as being any worse than studying the Bible for the wrong reasons.

BARRIER #4: PRIDE

Becoming a friend of sinners begins with the understanding that we are much more like the “chief of sinners” than we are like Jesus Christ. Our approach with all people, no matter who they are or what their history, must assume the posture of “fellow beggars humbly telling others where to find the bread” (I got this magnificent quote from Steve Brown).

If we really want people to be impacted by the gospel and to enjoy the riches of God’s grace, they must first see in us the humility of those who have been, and continue to be, genuinely impacted by grace ourselves. Our humility must be authentic and not just an act. If we have never been brought low by God, we will approach other people from a high horse. And that is never any good for anybody.

Consider the Apostle Paul. He was not above humbling himself. In Romans 7 he gives us a window into his personal struggle with the sin of coveting—a sin nobody would see unless he told them—and the way that the gospel gave him hope in the face of his coveting. In 1 Timothy Paul identifies himself as the chief of all sinners. If we intend to reflect Jesus in our ministries and our messages, we need to get over our love for reputation and image. As the late Jack Miller once said, “Grace runs downhill.” We can only be drenched by grace toward the bottom of the hill.

And yet, how easy it can be to build our identities on how good we look—on being “model Christians” that people are supposed to admire because of how put-together we appear to be.But we must not do this. It is a trap and it will rob us of gospel power and effectiveness. If people around us are going to be changed by the grace of Jesus, they must witness the gospel working effectively in our lives—healing us of our sins and deepest wounds and fears. Changing us.

Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of Jesus Outside the Lines and Befriend (releases Oct, 2016).

Used with permission from ScottSauls.com, “Jesus Welcomed REAL Sinners. Do We?

Show Them Jesus

If kids are leaving the church, it’s because we’ve failed to give them a view of Jesus and his cross that’s compelling enough to satisfy their spiritual hunger and give them the zeal they crave. They haven’t seen that Jesus himself is better than any “Jesus program.” He’s better than the music used to worship him. He’s better than a missions trip. He’s better than their favorite youth leader. He’s also better than money. Better than video games. Better than romantic teen movies. Better than sex. Better than popularity or power. We’ve failed too many kids. We’ve fed them things to do. We’ve fed them “worshipful” experiences. But we’ve failed to feed them more than a spoonful of the good news. Now they’re starving and they’ll eat anything. They’re trying to feed their souls with something—maybe even a churchy thing—that feels like it fits them, when what they need is some one utterly better than themselves.

Who Has the Best Answers?

Church kids don’t just need the good news as much as other kids— they need it more. I saw an example of this while teaching at another Bible camp. Most of the campers were church kids, but not Ryan. His mom had signed him up because a neighbor had invited him and because camp was cheaper than other activities. Ryan had seldom been to church and didn’t even have a Bible at home.

At the start of the week I wondered if Ryan would be able to keep up. I needn’t have worried. He was my most attentive student, asking good questions and listening with excitement as I taught.

Most Bible teachers have experienced this phenomenon. Kids who are new to church are transfixed, while church kids hear the same lessons and remain ho-hum. Accepted wisdom says this is because the church kids have heard it before. But this time there was more to it. I was teaching the good news with every Bible story and the church kids were interested enough—they just weren’t excited by it. I soon realized that they weren’t even noticing the good news part of my teaching.

One evening near the end of the week I taught about King David and Mephibosheth. David had become king after his nemesis, Saul, died in battle. Not many descendants of Saul were left, which was good for David; they were a potential threat to his throne.

Mephibosheth was Saul’s grandson. As a boy he’d been crippled, but survived and lived in an obscure home on the fringe of Israel’s territory, away from his family’s land. From David’s perspective, this would have been a safe end for a potential enemy. But David was an extraordinary man who wanted to show kindness to a member of Saul’s family, so he summoned Mephibosheth to the palace. The lame man must have been terrified, but David told him, “Do not fear, for . . . I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always” (2 Samuel 9:7). David treated Mephibosheth like one of his own sons, and the Bible mentions three more times how Mephibosheth always ate at the king’s table.

I asked the kids an open-ended question: “What can we learn about life with God from this lesson?”

Several hands shot up. “We should be kind too,” said one. “God wants us to love our enemies,” said another. More heads nodded in agreement. These were good answers. But were any of them the best answer?

“Anything else?” I asked. Nope. Everyone seemed to have the same thought.

Then I saw Ryan’s hand. “It sounds like us and God,” he said. “We’re like Mephibosheth. We’re the hurt guy who’s not on God’s side. But God is kind to us anyway. He’s so good!”

Yup. That was the best answer, all right—and Ryan saw it before any of the church kids did. The church kids had years of experience with Bible lessons and had learned to respond to questions about God by thinking first, “What do I have to do for him now?” They’d need to unlearn this before they could admire Jesus as the King who invites them, his crippled enemies, to sit at his table. Both they and Ryan had heard the good news for a full week, but only Ryan was ready to respond to a question about God by thinking, “He’s so good!”

Partner—GCD—450x300How Christian Growth Stalls

There’s one more reason kids who are raised in Christian homes and familiar with church need more of the good news. This time it isn’t because of anything wrong; it’s because that’s just how Christian growth works.

As kids learn about God’s goodness and holiness, they ought to increase in awe of him. That’s growth. And as they examine themselves and see the ugliness inside, they ought to increase in conviction of sin. That’s growth too. But the combination of these will drive them to despair—unless their understanding of the forgiveness and righteousness they have in Jesus also grows.

Think of a kid who’s a new Christian as one starting to see God’s light. As he learns, the beam of light in his life shows him two things: (1) God’s holy demands and (2) the kid’s sin in falling short of those demands. We at Serge use a helpful illustration of this. The diagram shows these two things as the top edge and bottom edge of God’s light. The kid also sees the cross, which covers the gap between the kid’s sin and God’s demands. The kid has joy and confidence. He’s eager to live for God.

As his Christian life goes on, the kid learns more. His understanding of God’s holy demands grows. He also sees more fully how neither his life nor his heart can ever measure up, so his understanding of his own sinfulness grows as well. The beam of light widens. And if he hasn’t also been growing in appreciation for the good news—if the cross remains roughly the same size in his life—there will be gaps.

The kid becomes an Anxious Alice. He’s aware that his good deeds aren’t good enough and that his feelings for God aren’t strong enough. He knows he’s a hypocrite and is secretly haunted by guilt. He becomes a pretender, constantly scheming to make himself, his friends, and his parents believe the situation isn’t so bad.

He tries working harder to do better, but with no success. So he also acts like a Complacent Kyle. He fills the gap between the cross and God’s holiness by pretending that God’s demands aren’t really so extreme. Whatever little obedience he can muster up, he tells himself, must be okay.

The same kid acts like a Smug Sarah too. He fills the gap between the cross and his sin by pretending his sin actually isn’t so horrible. He stops repenting. Instead, to keep up a Christian image, he will lie, get defensive when corrected, tear others down, and do churchy things or obey his parents only to look good.

In short, the kid’s Christian growth stalls. Learning more about God’s greatness can’t help him because he can’t handle it. Telling him to sin less and obey more can’t help either, because he fights back, tunes out, or does both. For a church kid, this stall can happen very soon after becoming a Christian because he already knows so much about God and sin.

The solution is for the cross to grow along with everything else. The more a kid learns about himself and God, the more he must learn to trust and delight in the good news too. He must become ever more certain that he’s totally accepted in Christ, forgiven and adopted by God. It’s the only way he can keep growing.

The Bible tells us to expect this dynamic. Consider the prophet Isaiah, who had a thundering vision of God in the temple. His understanding of God’s holiness grew huge in an instant, and he couldn’t handle it: “Woe is me! For I am lost” (Isaiah 6:5). But an angel touched his lips with a hot coal and declared, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Only then, once Isaiah’s bigger understanding of God’s holiness and his own sin was matched by a bigger confidence in his forgiveness, was he ready for ministry.

A kid who’s fed by the good news has a growing appreciation for Jesus and all he has done for him. That kid will be an amazing, non-pretending Christian. He won’t try to look better than he is but instead will dare to confess sin openly and repent earnestly. He also won’t have to pretend God is easily satisfied with a little churchy behavior, but he will dare to draw ever nearer to a holy God. This is because his sin and God’s holiness just show him how much more he’s been forgiven. They enlarge his love for Jesus.

Jack Klumpenhower is a Bible teacher and a children’s ministry curriculum writer with more than thirty years of experience. He has created Bible lessons and taught children about Jesus at churches, camps, clubs, conferences, and Christian schools all over the world, including Serge conferences. Currently he is working on a middle-school gospel curriculum in conjunction with Serge staff. He lives with his wife and two children in Durango, Colorado.

From Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids, Copyright © 2014 by Jack Klumpenhower. Used by permission of New Growth Press, www.newgrowthpress.com.