The SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage has given the American Church a gift: a chance to follow Jesus in an old new way.
God has graciously challenged our addiction to making people “moral like us,” along with our love affair with the state to make this happen. He has removed these opiates that have lulled us to sleep, awakening us now, not to a brave new moralism, but to a renewed dependence on Him and the power of the Gospel to bring human flourishing to the earth only He can get the credit for.
This has been, and I pray it will continue to be the heart of City Church Boise.
We want to be for our City, which means we can’t merely stand on the edge of the city and call people in, much less throw stones at those walking by. Following the example of Jesus, we must learn to love our neighbors as God loves us, thereby inviting them to flourish in Christ with us.
But this means following Jesus into the tension of being in but not of this world.
This would be challenging enough if we saw the world with Kingdom eyes as He does. But many of us view the world through cultural lenses that keep us from seeing God, His Kingdom, and our mission clearly.
Within the sub-culture of modern Evangelicalism, we have tended to see God’s Kingdom and our role in it in terms of creating a moral society — with morality defined as good behavior.
This is why many of us have seen our primary role as “standing our ground” in a morally decaying world, by which we have meant, “obey and defend (selected) moral standards and enlist the State to help us ensure others do the same.”
In doing so, we’ve convinced ourselves we are defending the holiness of God and His commands (as if God needs defending) and/or keeping (certain) sinners from ruining society. Less often, we have sought to protect others from the destruction of their sin.
I believe these motivations have led us into a non-Jesus-like, “us vs. them” approach to the world, in which we despise people’s bad behavior more than we grieve over their lostness apart from Christ.
We talk of grace and of “hating the sin but loving the sinner” but our actions betray we are not for but against (certain) sinners; until they show a willingness to change their behavior. Then we can approach them and they can approach God.
Even in our concern over the deleterious effects of people’s sin upon them, we have been obsessed with changing their behavior; revealing our deep-seated belief that what people really need is to live morally (like us).
It’s true that human flourishing flows from aligning ourselves with God’s design for us, which means that loving people includes calling them into the life they were created to live. But our moralistic, behavior-focused approach ignores the fact that:
Jesus doesn’t call us to make people moral. He calls us to announce and embody God’s lavish grace that makes and keeps us His and compels us toward holiness and flourishing for His glory and our best.
Missing this distinction has led many of us into a quagmire of moralistic religion that sets us against the world in non-Jesus-like ways by compelling us to isolate and discriminate against (certain) sinners whose behavior is especially offensive to us.
Even more troubling, this approach opposes the Gospel we claim to believe by implying people must meet certain standards to be accepted by God after all. This may not be our intention but it’s the message the world has received: one more akin to the Pharisees than Jesus.
Contrasting the ways Jesus and the Pharisees interacted with sinners is a sobering exercise. In doing so, I can’t help but wonder which I am more like. This has led me to ask in fresh way,
“What does it look like for me to walk as Jesus walked with sinners?”
Jesus was clear about His Kingdom values and mission. He plainly affirmed He was not of this world. Even so, He was so engaged with sinners, the Pharisees accused Him of condoning sin. This is what they meant by calling Him, “a friend of sinners,” even implying He participated in their sin.
After all, they said, He “receives sinners and eats with them.”
Sharing a meal in that culture was a sign of fellowship, love, and respect. Moreover, the word for “receive” in this verse connotes an intensely personal interaction. It means to welcome, receive favorably, cultivate a personal relationship, etc. Because Jesus received sinners, He was willing to eat (fellowship) with them. This much the Pharisees got right.
But of course, Jesus never actually condoned the sin of others. But these moralists insisted He did — merely by His association with them; something they would never have done.
But this was the power of Jesus’ message embodied in His actions: loving,
engaging, and enjoying people in the midst of their sin, while remaining sinless and calling them to trade their sin for flourishing in Him, not merely by His words but through His posture toward them.
Notice how easy it was for Jesus to be Himself without compromise, even as He received sinners. I love that He didn’t feel the need to say things like:
“You know how uncomfortable I am with you being a prostitute don’t you?”
“You realize I don’t affirm your drunkenness, don’t you?”
“I want to be close to you but your repugnant behavior makes it hard for me.”
No. The Pharisees got this part right. Jesus received sinners: some of whom were drawing near to Him because He had drawn near to them, as others experienced His love for the first time.
But even as Jesus captured and transformed the hearts of such untouchables, the moralists could only conclude He didn’t care about holiness or sin. Sound familiar?
If we would follow Jesus in this old new way of pointing people to Him, we must learn to love sinners (like us) as He did: freely and seamlessly, on their turf, without feeling the need to “stand firm” on our moral high ground by continually telling them (with our words or discriminatory actions) how uncomfortable we are with their sin.
They already know that. We’ve shouted that message loud and clear.
We’ve given them the Pharisees. When will we give them Jesus?