Guest Post: How to Welcome Sinners into Your Church, part 2 by Dan Wakefield

 Dan Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. This article and the two to follow are edited from a recent sermon Dan preached in our church. 

In the last post the focus was upon the Pharisees’ attitude toward lost sinners. Now let’s consider..

Jesus’ attitude toward lost sinners

When we consider our Savior’s ministry to the outcast and the sinner in Israel, we find a sharp contrast with the attitude of the Pharisees.  Unlike these religious leaders who didn’t want anything to do with the outwardly unclean, Jesus showed compassion to them.  He was not afraid to associate with them.

As I get into this point, I want to be very clear.  In the midst of a society that wants to redefine the Bible to mean whatever it wants, we need to make sure that we carefully see what the Bible is and is not saying.  So in this second blog post, I want us to consider two things.

First of all, what Jesus is not doing

Jesus is not condoning sin or condoning people who are living a sinful lifestyle.  It’s amazing that people will take the gospels and use them to say that Jesus accepts all kinds of lifestyles that are contrary to the Bible.  But that just isn’t the case!  Matthew tells us in his Gospel that Jesus came to save His people from their sin, not so they could continue to live in their sin.  We must be clear on that.  This story of Jesus sitting down to eat with tax collectors and sinners doesn’t mean that Jesus was declaring His acceptance of their lifestyle.  That would be an utter failure to remember the beginning of the story!  Consider Mark 2:14again.  “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”  Levi didn’t stay in his tax booth; he left it to follow Jesus!

In his retelling of the event, Luke writes in Luke 5:27 – “After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.”  Levi didn’t follow Jesus while hanging on to his money-loving tax-collection business.  He left it behind!

Consider some other accounts from the Gospels that help to reinforce this point.  In Luke 5:32, in the parallel passage about the call of Levi, Jesus says this: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Jesus didn’t come to call sinners to himself who would have no change of life.  He called them to turn from their life of sin in order to follow Him.  Jesus also says to those who are already his disciples in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”  Jesus is using a figure of speech to show that his followers are those who will do whatever is necessary to put sin to death. Followers of Jesus are not those who are complacent about sin in their lives.

In the midst of a world that hates to talk about sin, we need to be clear on what Jesus says about it.  Not only is it rebellion against God, but unless repented of, it will lead to eternal destruction.  Even people who claim to do work in Jesus’ Name but who don’t truly repent will not be saved on the last day.  Jesus reminds us of this sober reality in Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

So we see first of all that Jesus’ association with sinners is not an acceptance of their lifestyle.

But then secondly, let’s consider what Jesus is doing in Mark 2

“And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:15-17

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus is showing compassion to lost sinners.  He’s not condoning their sin.  He’s not accepting their lifestyles.  But He is demonstrating real compassion.  How is He doing that?  He is seeking the lost, right where they are.  He went to Levi’s tax booth.  He went to the dinner party at Levi’s house where there were tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t avoid people like this any more than a doctor avoids sick people!  Jesus makes it clear that He is a physician and He has come to heal those who are spiritually sick.

Listen to what J.C. Ryle says about this account: “The Pharisees found fault with Him, because He allowed publicans and sinners to be in His company. In their proud blindness they [thought] that a teacher sent from heaven ought to have no dealings with such people. They were wholly ignorant of the grand design for which the Messiah was to come into the world–to be a Savior, a Physician, a healer of sin-sick souls.”

The amazing truth is that for those who come to Jesus in repentance, no matter what lifestyle they have lived in the past, He is not ashamed to associate with them.  He is a merciful Saviour.  This man Levi had been a traitor to the Jewish people.  He had sold out to the Romans so that he could get rich by extorting money from his own people.  But Jesus was not ashamed to associate with this repentant sinner.  Jesus was not ashamed to eat dinner with this crowd of tax collectors and sinners.  They had no doubt been invited by Levi in order for them to meet his new-found Saviour.  And many of them had already begun to follow Him.

The point is this: Jesus wasn’t associating with this crowd to condone their sin.  He was associating with this crowd so that he could heal them from their sin.  William Hendriksen says this: “When He associates on intimate terms with people of low reputation, He does not do this as…a comrade in evil…, but as a physician, one who, without in any way becoming contaminated with the diseases of His patients, must get very close to them in order that He may heal them!”  The church must always remember that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  As Jesus Himself said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Next time, we will consider some practical applications of these first two blog posts.

Guest Post: How to Welcome Sinners into Your Church, part 1 by Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield currently serves as a pastoral intern at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Florida. This article and the two to follow are edited from a recent sermon Dan preached in our church.

In a recent series, Pastor Jeff Smith demonstrated how we as Christians should respond, not only to the recent Supreme Court decision, but also to the overall condition of this nation as it spirals away from God.  He showed, from the Scriptures, that humble sorrow is an expected and righteous response to our nation’s rejection of God and his rule over us.  We ought to be grieved at the state of this nation.

But it might also be good to consider another aspect of this topic.  We have looked at a zoomed out, big picture response.  But what I want us to do today is to zoom way in.  I want us to think about how we should respond, not to the state of the nation, but to individual people.  What I mean is this: how will we respond when people living sinful lifestyles walk into our church?

We know that we ought to be grieved over the state of our nation and the fact that sin is being celebrated in the streets.  It ought to be a burden on our hearts that God’s commands are discarded and His holy name is thrown into the mud all over this country.  But how should we respond when people from the world come into this church?  How do we interact with people out in the world who we rub shoulders with?  I want us to answer those questions by looking at the example of Jesus in the Gospels, and then drawing out some practical applications for us living in the 21st century.  Our passage will be Mark 2:13-17.

The account of the call of Levi is told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Clearly, the gospel writers wanted to emphasize it as an important lesson for us.  We are going to consider two main lessons from this account, and then some application.  Today’s blog post will be the first main lesson.

1.     The Pharisees’ attitude toward lost sinners

We see something amazing happen in this passage.  In the midst of Jesus’ teaching ministry, he walks by the tax booth of a man named Levi.  Levi wasn’t a believer at this point in the story; not until Jesus walked up and said two simple words to him: “follow me”.  And without question, this man gets up and immediately becomes a follower of Jesus.  What a testimony to the power of God! Levi is so overjoyed with his new-found faith that he immediately throws a dinner party with Jesus as the guest of honor.  He also invites many others to come to the party, perhaps friends from the tax-collection business and others who were known publicly as sinners.  Perhaps there were also prostitutes and other adulterers there.  What a sight that must have been.  A group of people most blatant in their outward transgression of God’s law were eating dinner with Jesus and his disciples.

But the Pharisees were not pleased with what they saw.  Evidently, some of their number saw Jesus participating in this dinner and were disturbed.  In verse 16 they ask, “And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, ‘How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’”

It is not hard to see from the Scriptures that the Pharisees hated such people.  This is partly because of who the tax collectors were.  During this period of history, the nation of Israel had been conquered and was occupied by the Roman Empire.  And since it now was under the jurisdiction of the empire, the people had to pay Roman taxes.  The tax collectors in Israel were usually Jewish men working for the Roman government.  Not only were they working for the enemy nation, they were often charging more than the Romans demanded and keeping the extra for themselves.  As a result, they were viewed as both thieves and traitors by the Jewish people.

But there was another reason why the Pharisees hated Jesus’ dinner company.  All of the guests at Levi’s party were known publicly to be sinners.  They were people despised by the Pharisees because of their blatant disregard for the laws and the traditions of the Jewish religion.  And in their pride, the Pharisees thought that they were morally superior to such people.  Consider this parable Jesus tells in Luke 18:9-14.  “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raisehis eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

You see, the Pharisees thought that they were righteous before God because of all their religious rituals and traditions that they kept.  But their pride and lack of compassion showed them for who they really were.  They drew near to God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him.  Jesus said to them in Matthew 23:28 – “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  Such pride and hypocrisy did not result in compassion to those who were known as “tax-collectors and sinners”.  It resulted in disgust and condemnation.  Jesus also said in Matthew 23:13 – “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”

The Pharisees were more concerned with who was outwardly “clean” than with those who honestly desired to pursue peace with God.  In their minds, anyone who had lived a life of disregard for God and religion were automatically excluded from the kingdom.

So why were they so concerned about who Jesus was eating with?  Why did they even care?  Because they knew that everyone considered Jesus to be a prophet from God.  He Himself was claiming that He had been sent by the Father.  And here He was, eating with tax-collectors and sinners.

Remember the story in Luke 7?  Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house for dinner, and a woman known publicly for her sin comes and anoints Jesus’ feet with oil.  Remember what the Pharisee says to himself?  “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”  The Pharisees believed that God would have nothing to do with such vile people because they wanted nothing to do with such people.  Not only were they jealous of Jesus’ popularity, they were also disgusted that someone claiming to be sent by God would be spending His time with the “unclean” sinners of society.

The Pharisees’ attitude toward those who were outwardly wicked showed the true condition of their hearts.  While claiming to be righteous in God’s eyes, they were nothing but hypocrites.  They pretended to care about the truth, but really only cared about themselves.

Next time, we will consider Jesus’ attitude toward lost sinners.

Helpful Questions for Discerning a Credible Profession of Faith by Jeffery Smith

Ebenezer Morris was a powerful preacher in Wales, little known about today. He lived and preached during times of great revivals there and went home to be with the Lord at the age of 56 on Monday, August 15th, 1825. There’s a whole chapter devoted to his life in Volume Two of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, (reprint 1897, trans. John Aaron 2008 [Carlise, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008]).

A couple of days before his death two young preachers came to him seeking his advice. What he told them included a very important caution. Before I quote it let me explain that the term “seiat” was the Welsh term for a Welsh Calvinist society meeting. These were organized societies of converts gathered for prayer, teaching and mutual exhortation. They were really, in essence, local churches, operating outside of the established Anglican church of the time. Morris told these two young preachers:

“If you two are allowed to live long then no doubt you will see a period for religion when hardly any new convert joins the seiat. At that time, do not drag unexercised men into the church but wait for God, and seek him, who in his own good time will succeed the work. God gave a promise to Abraham of a son, but Sarai felt the time was long and despaired that she would ever have the privilege of becoming a mother, and so she gave Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. He was not the son of the promise and this brought much sorrow to Sarai afterwards. So also, you must wait for God’s promise, and not go after the flesh, unto the children of the promise are found for the Church.” (italics mine)

This is very wise counsel, counsel much needed by many of us who are pastors. It speaks to the necessity of requiring a credible profession of faith before receiving a person into the membership of the church. In our church we have what we call a membership interview with any one asking to become member, as do many of you. Below I give a sample list of suggested questions that can be helpful in charitably discerning the credibility of a person’s profession insofar as we are able and required to do so as men who cannot see the heart. In fact, we have actually sometimes given these questions to younger converts and asked them to take them home and write out brief answers to bring back to us in a subsequent meeting. I’m not suggesting that all of these questions should be asked in a membership interview or that all, or any, of them should be handed out to take home to write out answers. I just mention these to give some ideas of the kinds of questions that might be asked. Good, carefully thought out, questions can go a long way in helping us discern where a person is and in guarding the church from the danger Ebenezer Morris spoke of in the quote above. Perhaps, pastors reading this blog might find these helpful.  Some of these have been picked up from the suggestions of others.  In cases where we actually hand out a document with these questions for a person to take home, at the top is the following introductory paragraph:

Please take the time to think carefully over these questions and answer them in your own words. These are not trick questions so don’t be nervous or worried. We simply desire to know about your understanding of the gospel and what God has done and is doing in your life and to encourage you to think about these things. This will also help facilitate profitable interaction in our membership interview.

Here are the questions that follow:

  1. Are you a sinner? What makes a person a sinner?
  1. Have you ever felt that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment because of your sins? If so why do you think that?
  1. Besides outward sins what are some sins in your heart that you’ve been guilty of that God has shown you?
  1. When Jesus died on the cross what was he doing that has to do with the salvation of sinners?
  1. Can God just forgive sinners or was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross for God to do that? If so why was it necessary?
  1. Are there any good works that you have done that you believe make it right for God to receive you as his child and take you to heaven? If not what are you trusting in for acceptance with God?
  1. What are some verses of scripture that give you hope and comfort when you think about your sins and your relationship to God?
  1. Do you ever pray and read your bible? If so how often?
  1. What are some ways God has changed, or is changing, your attitudes and behavior?
  1. What are some things God has been teaching you lately?
  1. Do you desire, with God’s help, to follow and obey Christ in everything with no exceptions?
  1. When God convicts you that you have sinned in some way what do you do?
  1. Are there any problems you have in your relationship to any of the members of the church?
  1. Do you ever get anything out of the sermons? If so could you give an example of a sermon, or of something in a sermon, lately that has helped you? If so how did it help you?