Can You Believe That Guy is Here?

Have you ever been surprised to see someone you know show up at church? In other words, have you ever thought something like, “Wow, judging from what I see of so-and-so’s life, I would have never thought he/she would darken the door of this church”? If so, here’s perhaps a more important question: what else ran through your mind in that situation?

That’s the question I found myself asking recently as I read through Jerram Barrs’ Learning Evangelism from Jesus, a book we selected for The Crossing’s most recent book discussion this past Monday night. And I bring it up because it’s important to consider our answers in light of biblical teaching.

In these situations I’m guessing that there are plenty of instances where our thoughts have contained something similar to the following:

“She sure doesn’t fit here.”

“Him? Here? Really?”

“Note to self: steer clear of those people.”

“He’s probably just trying put up a good front.”

“This isn’t really the place for someone like her.”

“It’d be better for everyone if they’d just go away.”

Many of us would never say any of this out loud. We may not even think it actively. It might just be an inarticulate feeling that reflects those sentiments. But behind it all is our desire/belief/attitude that church is the place for people who have got it figured out, who are serious about following God and leading a life pleasing to him. It’s supposed to be a nicer and tidier here, where we put on our best face. Those with dirty laundry had best take it someplace else to wash.

Biblically speaking, all of this would be silly if it wasn’t so repugnant. Such thinking ignores two prominent points that are underscored again and again in the Bible. The first is the fact that God actually delights in pursuing and saving sinners. For example, Luke 15 records Jesus famously telling a series of three related parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and what is traditionally called The Prodigal Son (though as many have pointed out, The Two Lost Sons is more accurate). In all three parables, the character representing God in the parable expresses great joy in finding the sheep, coin, and son respectively. Through these stories, Jesus is offering three pictures into the heart of God.

Of course, Jesus’ practice perfectly matched his teaching. He was consistently happy to rub shoulders with those whose lives were judged to be so characterized by sin that they were ostracized from the respectable circles of society. The man whose life was the very definition of righteousness ate and drank with prostitutes (self evidently problematic), tax collectors (despised both for their corruption and collaboration with the hated Romans), Samaritans (half-breed heretics) and the like. Nowhere is he recorded as looking down his nose as he did so.

The second point we often ignore is the fact that all of us, even as people who believe in and follow Christ, remain sinners in desperate need of grace. Unfortunately, this is all too easy for us to forget when we consider—however legitimately or necessarily—the sins and shortcomings of others. Rather than soberly acknowledging truth from a position of humility, we act as blind persons condemning others for their inability to see.

Who is it we should expect to find in church? The answer should be obvious: people who fall painfully short of God’s holiness. And that description fits us as well as it does those we’re surprised to find walking through the doors.

All this means that we should be excited—delighted even—to find every manner of messy person whom God has drawn alongside us. And along with the apostle Paul, we can confess, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).

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