This is the third in a series called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should).” And I want to emphasis that last part in parenthesis “(but you should)”. You see, some people think you can’t say certain things in church, but these are things you absolutely should say, you must say, if you are to be the Church that Jesus Christ established.
You see Church is a funny thing. On the one hand, the Church was established by Jesus Christ in the Bible as the gathering of all who believe in Him, who are wholeheartedly committed to the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world. On the other hand, church is also a cultural phenomenon… White, southern church culture…
Many in the world today are sick and tired of the church, by which they are (not necessarily) talking about the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament; they are usually talking about the church culture that (often) has little or nothing to do with the Church Jesus Christ established. There are often a lot of weeds mixed in with the wheat of the Church and it can be really hard to tell the difference.
I’ve mentioned two things already that some people think you can’t say in church, but you really should—“I’m broken,” and “I’m on fire!” I want to add one more today. Some people think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.” Some people think you can’t say that in church, but you really should. I think you absolutely must, because it is an essential part of being the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament. It follows the example of Christ.
1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
The religious leaders of Jesus day didn’t like that Jesus quite often hung around with people they deemed sinners. They believed sin was like a contagious disease, that just being in the presence of a sinner you could catch the disease of sin. Jesus, who was the Son of God, tells a parable (actually three parable, because the whole the chapter is) about how God sent him to save a world full of sinners. Jesus came to save the people the religious leaders deemed sinners who were unworthy and that no respectable person would associate with. Jesus even came to save the religious leaders who are sinners too (but are blind because think they aren’t sinners). The point of all this for our purposes today is this: Jesus came to save sinners because He loves us. You see, Jesus was basically saying to the whole world, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”
You migt think it strange in the parable that the shepherd would leave the 99 good sheep to search after just one sheep. But Jesus is saying we are all sheep who have strayed off the path of righteousness. If the shepherd (Jesus) didn't come and find us, there would be no 99 good sheep. Every sheep has wandered off the path at some point, and the shepherd brought them back. How hypocritical, then, for the 99 to complain if the shepherd goes off searching for another lost sheep.
Everything Jesus said and did—including how he died on the cross—was a way of saying, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!” Romans 5:8 sums it up for us, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
But many people today think you can’t say that in church, but you absolutely should; you must if we are to be the Church Jesus Christ wants us to be.
Some people today are just like the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus day. They think going to church is all about being a good, respectable person and following all the rules. They always try to do the right thing (even if doing the right thing is sometimes more about keeping up appearances than pleasing God) Furthermore, they often confuse God’s rules for holy living with what society says is the right way to live. So they can often do some very terrible things—segregation, neglecting the poor, etc.—all in the name of being a good person who follows the rules. So they think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.” They don’t love people who have sinned. They’re ok with being judgmental and pointing out how people sin, but they don’t love sinners (they may say it with their lips, but they don’t really love them in their heart). There have always been self-righteous judgmental people in church—all the way back to Jesus time. And Jesus came and pointed those Pharisees out. He told them, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.” Unfortunately, the religious leaders didn't want to hear that and so they crucified him.
But because the church throughout history has so often been full of self-righteous, judgmental people, we’ve come to a place today where there are so many people in our world (and even in the church) who err in a whole different way. There are many who have concluded that you can’t even say, “You’ve sinned” anymore. There are so many people who say, “The Bible says ‘judge not, lest ye be judged.’” And so they’ve concluded that Jesus doesn’t even want us to tell people they’ve sin (because that would be judging). A lot of people say nowadays, Jesus just wants us to love people (and leave the whole part about sin out).
And so it’s come to a place where the world we live in just says you should welcome everyone and just accept them for who they are. We’re not allowed to tell people, “You’ve sinned” anymore. And we see all kinds of behaviors accepted by our culture that the Bible deems unacceptable and even repulsive to God. Is that how Jesus treated people? (pause…)
There should be no doubt that Jesus loved people. He proved his love by dying for us on the cross; not because we deserved it, but because we desperately needed it and Jesus loved us. So his example is worth following. Here’s how Jesus loved people. He loved people enough to go be with sinners-even eat with them. He did this, even though it put him at odds with the self-righteous religious leaders. He was willing to leave 99 “good” sheep to go find the one foolish sheep that got himself lost. At the same time, he never pretended the sinners he sought were not lost, were not sinners. For example, once a woman was caught in the very act of adultery. They dragged her int the city square and asked Jesus, "The Law of Moses says we should stone her. What do you say?" Jesus said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." Then he stopped and began writing in the dirt. We don't know what he wrote, the Bible doesn't say. Some have speculated he began writing out all the sins the people in the crowd had committed. At any rate, everyone in the crowd began to drop their stones and walk away. When everyone was gone, Jesus asked, "Woman, has no one condemned you?" "No, my Lord," she said. "Then neither do I. Go and sin no more." (John 8)
Recently, the local news showed some surveillance video of a vigilant school bus driver who saved a child from a terrible accident. The bus had stopped to let a child off and the video shows the bus doors opening and the child is about to run down the steps out the door. But the bus driver suddenly slammed the doors shut and grabbed the child's shoulder and yanked him away from the door just as a speeding car wooshed by the bus doors. Apparently, the car driver got impatient with the bus driver and sped around the right side of the bus just as the doors of the bus were about to open. If the bus driver had not been paying attention and stopped the child, the child would have certainly been killed or terribly maimed. What would you have done? I think we would have all screamed and reached out to stop the child if we were in that situation. That is, in a sense, what we are doing when we tell someone they've sinned (or their about to sin).
The Bible teaches us that sin is terrible. It destroys your life. It destroys other people’s lives. It destroys the world. And God hates sin, so it destroys a sinners relationship with God, who is the source of life and love and peace and hope. To refuse to tell someone, “You’ve sinned” is not much different from refusing to scream, “Watch out! You’re about to walk out in front of a speeding car!” It’s actually worse, because the consequences of sin are eternal. So if we truly do love someone, we must say, “You’ve sinned.” To do otherwise is not loving at all, but terrible and hateful.
At the same time, we must never forget the last part of the statement: “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.” We must never forget we’ve all sinned. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. I’ve sinned. And your sins are no worse than mine. I have no reason to think myself better than you and you’ve no reason to think yourself better than me or anyone else.
So don’t ever neglect to say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.” That’s who were are—the Church—and that’s what we say and how we live. It’s not optional. It’s what Jesus does for us and what we are called to do for the world.