Danger! Achtung! Peligro! Kindynos! Pericolo! Beware! Sinners have invaded! They are everywhere! They are at the gas stations, at the grocery stores, at the restaurants, at the coffee shops, at your jobs, at your houses, and even (get ready for it, hang onto your hats!)… at… your… churches!
What do I mean by sinners? Well, it’s basically anyone who has missed the mark of God’s perfect Law. Some synonyms that could be used for sinner would be transgressor, trespasser, offender, rebel, etc. While there are many words to describe a sinner, there are basically two categories of sinners – forgiven and unforgiven. And these people are everywhere! In fact, for anyone reading this (I hate to be the one to break the news to you but), YOU are also a sinner. So now you see my cause for alarm!
Ok, enough with the sarcasm. I know I am laying it on a little thick here, but sometimes I really wonder what goes through our minds. We as Christians, followers of Jesus, redeemed and regenerated believers, people of the Name, should not be surprised when people act like sinners. The reason they act like sinners is because they ARE sinners. WE are sinners. Funny how easily we seem to forget that. Or maybe since we fall into the category of forgiven sinner, we tend to downplay our fallen nature while being shocked by others who have not yet experienced Christ’s forgiveness. Who knows?
But before I ramble on too much, I’d like to get to the point and talk about our responses to these sinners in our community as well as those in our churches. There are two different responses that I want to discuss which will be split into two different posts.
The Disappearing Turtle
When you consider turtles you find that turtles basically have two reactions when they feel threatened. Interestingly, the church can be tempted to react similarly when feeling threatened. The first response that we will look at in this post is what I am calling the Disappearing Turtle Response. The Disappearing Turtle Response is really self-explanatory when you consider the behavior of turtles. When they feel threatened, how do they react? One way is by withdrawing into their shell. I think this is a great picture of how some of God’s people react to being around unforgiven and unregenerate sinners that they feel somehow threaten their holiness and righteousness. They withdraw into their shells, refusing to engage, hoping and praying that they will just go away so they can come back out of their shells again and return to life as normal.
Jason Upton wrote a song about this a few years back entitled “Lullaby for a Petrified Sacred Society.” The song addresses the church that has become unhealthy and self-centered, walling themselves off from the rest of the world.
“Shut up the windows
Lock all the doors
Make sure nobody gets in
Learn to protect what is rightfully yours
Or someone will take it, my friend
We’ll all sleep well tonight
With no worry about tomorrow
Everything’s all right
Safe in our panic room
We’re building a wall
Higher and higher
Come, join the gospel crusade”
While this picture may sound extreme and unfair, it is actually more common than you think. For instance, I remember hearing about a church awhile ago that seems to fit this description. Since this church had a remote location in their town, there were several signs that pointed the way to their building. Out of frustration along with a touch of the Turtle Syndrome, they decided one day to remove those signs so that if any new people (sinners) showed up, it would really prove that it was a move of God that had brought them there.
Another time, I remember a pastor trying to explain to me that when Matthew the tax collector invited all of his tax collector buddies over for lunch with Jesus, that our Lord wasn’t really eating with sinners that day, because Jesus wouldn’t dare to associate with the unclean sinners. He went on to explain (with no scriptural evidence I might add) that somehow Matthew had led his friends to repentance before Jesus showed up, therefore, allowing Jesus to fellowship and break bread with them. His argument was that Jesus wouldn’t have given them the time of day if they were unregenerate sinners. (Matthew 9:9-13 in case you want to check this).
Again one more example, the other day I ran into some old friends at the store that I hadn’t seen for a while. These friends are believers. As we made small talk, I asked them what they had been up to. The gentleman responded by saying, “Just trying to avoid the world!” His spouse responded with a bit of a laugh and clear disdain in her voice, “Good luck with that!” As I look back on that, I hope they were kidding, although I have a feeling they weren’t. And therein lies my point…We aren’t SUPPOSED to avoid the world! We are called to engage the world with the powerful, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ coupled with the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit!
Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane for His disciples, past and present, saying:
“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.“ John 17:15-18 (NASB95)
Interestingly, Jesus didn’t ask the Father to remove us from the world and it’s people, but, rather, He prayed that we would be protected from the devil and also be sanctified in the truth of the word of God. I wonder if by allowing the devil to have footholds in our lives (see post …Of Devils and Demons) as well as a lack of sanctification in the word that these are reasons for us playing turtle with the world.
Again, scripture addresses our engagement with the lost when Paul confronted the Corinthian church, saying:
“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NASB95)
He goes on to explain that what he meant was for them not to associate with so-called brothers in the Lord who were walking in open sin. More on this in Part 2 because this requires a different turtle analogy.
I think the point is clear, whether it is in Jesus’ prayer, Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians, or a number of other scriptures, we as believers are supposed to separate ourselves in purity and holy conduct, but in no way are we called to avoid the sinners of this world. God made us powerful through His Holy Spirit for a reason – to make disciples. How can we make disciples if we aren’t engaged? I suppose God could supernaturally bring them into our churches (which does happen), but maybe He wants to supernaturally bring us to them!
“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Luke 10:2-3 (NASB95)