Why are so many people turned off by Christians and by our churches? Perhaps it has to do with our honesty and vulnerability, and reminding ourselves of the reason we are there in the first place. How do we stop condemning ‘bad people’ – we are them!
Jesus reached out to some very surprising people. He showed up in some very surprising places and he said some very surprising things. Unlike him, we generally do what is expected of “religious” people. Being a “good citizen” is not the same thing as being a Christian, but in our society, goodness and Christian are used interchangeably. So church becomes the place where a nice, pleasant, bland person stands in front of other nice, pleasant, bland people urging them to be nicer, more pleasant, and more bland. Jesus didn’t die to create nice, pleasant, bland people. He died so that sinners would find grace and forgiveness, and, in the joy and exuberance of their discovery, would find it impossible to keep quiet about it.
It’s worth noting that Jesus didn’t condemn bad people. He condemned “stiff” people. We condemn the bad ones and affirm the stiff ones. Whether it was a prostitute or a tax collector or an outcast…Jesus reached out to them. It was a motley crew of riffraff that followed him around, and it never embarrassed him or made him feel uncomfortable. It still doesn’t. But he’s still angry at the “stiff” ones.
One of the most radical statements Jesus ever made is found in Matthew 9. We’ve sanitized it and made it fit our institutional molds, and thus allowed it to lose its power. I’m referring to these words of his: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (verses 12-13).
The difference between Jesus and us is that he didn’t condemn the bad people—he loved them and understood them even though he would have been perfectly justified in condemning them. We, on the other hand, can’t condemn the bad people because we are them. Therefore, our only alternative is to tell them, as fellow beggars, where we found bread.
The False Impression
I believe that one of the reasons the world isn’t attracted to our religion and to our churches is because they think what we have is only for good people. Therefore, they think, it isn’t for them. We have done a poor job informing the world that Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven and accepted and slowly getting better. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). If that isn’t happening, maybe it’s because we have been lifting ourselves up instead of him. Maybe it’s because we are giving the false impression that we’re good people and that Jesus only loves good people. Maybe it’s because we’re flying under false colors—ours rather than his.
I love the story of the Anglican priest who saw an elderly woman who, because of the thought of her sin, shrank from drinking from the communion cup. The priest finally stuck it under the woman’s nose and said, “Take it, woman! It’s for sinners! It’s for you.”
It’s a relief. I’m better than I was before I knew Christ, but my goodness still isn’t enough to attract anyone to anything. But I can point to him. People like him a lot better than they like me anyway.
Time To Draw Away
What if you were honest about your sin and struggles? What if you were that vulnerable? It takes just one to open that door—which then becomes a floodgate—of grace and freedom. After all, as Christians, we don’t have anything to prove. All we’re called to do is to point to Christ. Then we run to him for mercy, forgiveness, love and acceptance. And that is quite attractive to us and to them.