Hanging-out with “sinners” has always been a scandalous activity for Christians who do it. The Pharisees had a big problem with how Jesus was spending his time (Luke 15:1-3). From their perspective, Christ was guilty by association. The people Jesus hung-out with were actual real unsavory characters; there was really no doubt about their bad character.
But Jesus did not come to earth to make already righteous people feel good about being around him; he came to rescue sinners and restore them to God.
And Jesus never wavered from this fundamental mission. With everything he said and did, Jesus communicated that lost people matter to God – and that practice eventually got him killed.
Earlier in my Christian life I adopted a practice that most Friday nights I would go to a certain bar known for its less than virtuous clientele, order a bowl of chili gumbo and sit and talk with people. I learned a lot about speaking with people about Jesus. I learned even more about God. I saw the terrible brokenness of many people’s hearts, and saw that the heart of God was pained and that he longed to restore such persons.
One night, in the middle of winter, as I was walking back to my place with a friend at about midnight, we encountered a guy so drunk that he could not walk straight. He was not wearing a coat, and he had no pants – he was in twenty degree weather with only a shirt and underwear. All the people who passed by him laughed and kept walking. It took several minutes to get some semblance of a story out of him about what happened and where he came from and where he lived. He could not remember losing his pants which had his wallet and keys. He had come from a bar that was blocks away, so he had been outside for a while. He lived far enough away that there was absolutely no way he would have ever made it home. It is likely that without someone helping him he would have passed out somewhere and died. We got him home, found a way to get in his place, and tucked him in his bed.
The next day I went and checked on him and had a good conversation about what happened and why we helped. We ended up meeting several times together and talked a great deal about God, sin, Jesus, and salvation. But, meanwhile, not everyone was happy about it. Some of the people in my church were not pleased with me spending time in a bar with sinners. “Bad company corrupts good character” and “it looks bad” they would tell me. I just looked at each person who had a problem with it and said with as much D.L. Moody flavor as I could: “I like the way I am reaching out to lost people better than the way you are not.”
We are in danger of becoming encrusted with so much insulation from lost people and their real hurts that we do not know God’s heart for them.
Jesus, better than any of us could ever imagine, knows how awful and horrific sin really is because he suffered by taking on the sinful baggage of every person who has ever lived. It is a staggering thought. So, because Jesus understands how incredibly terrible sin is, it is God who becomes completely uncorked with joy and celebration when just one lost sinner is restored to his heart.
Grace lies at the heart of the Father – a scandalous grace that defies all earthly sense. God’s deepest desire, God’s greatest yearning, and God’s most passionate dream is this: that lost people would return home (Luke 15:11-32). We were meant to be in harmonious relationship with God. When that is not true of people, it pains the heart of God and He longs for restoration.
In light of the reality that God’s heart burns for lost people, churches really need to: put away all their petty concerns and realize there are lost people dying apart from Jesus every day; put their worries about the future in biblical perspective because there are people with no hope and no God in our neighborhoods and workplaces; chuck their pre-occupations with attendance and money, and instead have a holy obsession with people coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior.
We are to make it our aim in this life to pray for, long for, look for, run after, and pursue lost people for Jesus Christ.
For what does it profit a person to gain the world but lose his/her life because he/she was too pre-occupied with everything but reaching lost people for Jesus? And what does it profit a church to have buildings, budgets, and butts in the pew but to never see a lost soul come to Jesus?