Friend of Sinners

One of my favorite songs from the band, Casting Crowns is “Jesus Friend of Sinners.” One of the most convicting sermons I’ve ever read from Charles Spurgeon was “The Friend of Sinners.” God uses multiple sources to remind me often of this theological tightrope. Jesus was a “people-person” when He walked among us. He was “the friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). He befriended the alienated, morally down and out people of His day. Will Rogers once said, “I never met a person I didn’t like,” but Jesus would say, “I never met a sinner I didn’t love.” Jesus loved the sinner but hated the sin. He treated people He came in contact with as individuals of great worth. He looks at you and sees what you can become, not what you are. He holds out His hand and says, “Come, accept my friendship and be my friends.”
Jesus was able to relate to His generation because He was not afraid that contact with them would tarnish His holiness. Rather, He knew that His holiness would cleanse their filth. He was relevant because He walked where they walked. He spent time with drunkards, but never got drunk. He ate with corrupt tax officials, but He was not corrupt. He empathized with prostitutes, but never compromised His moral standards. After all, the efficacious work of Christ was clearly to bring in perfect righteousness.
The paradoxical balance of His purity and passion is lacking among Christians today. It seems we are more comfortable with extremes than striking the almost impossible balance required to live like Christ while loving like Christ. Discipleship and evangelism are not opposites. The blend of both spiritual disciplines is akin to the marriage of grace and truth. While individually, we gravitate toward one or the other extreme, the corporate body of Christ best portrays the required balance. Only in the church can the Spirit use diversity to create unity. When we find ourselves leaning toward one extreme and neglecting the other, we can learn to lean on the strength of our church in order to stay in check. While no local church may master this balanced tension perfectly, we must keep striving to reach and teach. It’s “both / and” – not “either / or.”
Modern Christians who are friends of sinners are an endangered species. Most of us are irrelevant to our sinful generation because we spend too much time around Christians and not enough time around sinners. Isn’t it strange that religious people hated Jesus, but 2000 years later, they love church? And, originally youth and sinners were attracted to Jesus, yet today both groups seemed to be repelled by church? If we are to regain our relevance in the 21st century, we must learn to be friends of sinners. In other words, Christians must once again become like Jesus.

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