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.

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?

 

 

 

 

Peace Sought but Not Found: Why?

I was reading Spurgeon recently and in a section of one of his sermons he took up the very practical pastoral question as to why some who are to some degree anxious about their souls can never seem to find peace. They seem to be concerned at times and enquiring after salvation but never obtaining. Most of us who are pastors have probably met with situations like this from time to time. Here is a summary of some of the reasons Spurgeon mentions for this condition. Of course, other reasons could be given but I list these with quotes from Spurgeon under each point:

1. Unbelief

“In most cases unbelief is the damning sin. You will not believe God’s word. You reject the testimony of God concerning his Son Jesus, and thus put away from you eternal life. You say, ‘I cannot believe.’ But that will not do, for you know that God is true; and if God be true how dare you say that you cannot believe Him? If, when I stated solemnly a fact, you told me, ‘I cannot believe,’ I should understand you to mean that I am a liar. And when you say, ‘I cannot believe God,” do you not know that the English of such an expression is this—you make God a liar by refusing to believe on His Son? This unbelief is sin enough—sin enough to destroy you forever…May God help you to roll it away by saying, ‘I will believe; I must believe. God must be true; the blood of his dear Son must be able to wash away sin. I will trust in it now!’”

2. Impenitence

“Are you hardened about your sin? Do you refuse to quit it? Is there no sorrow in your heart to think that you have broken the divine law, and have lived forgetful of your God?…he who will not own his sin and forsake it is wedded to his own destruction. May God soften your heart, and help you at once to repent of sin!”

3. Pride

“Are you too big a man to become a Christian? Are you too respectable, too wealthy, too polite? Are you too deep a thinker? Do you know too much? You could not go and sit down with the humble people who, like little children, believe what God tells them. No, no; you have too much brain for that: have you?….You read reviews, and you like a little dash of skepticism in your literature. You could not possibly listen to Jesus when he says, ‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ You do not care for such old-fashioned doctrine, for you are too much of a philosopher..One’s pride may carry him far if he is a great fool; but let him not suffer his pride to carry him into hell, for it certainly will never carry him out again”

4. Secret, hidden sin

“I have been frequently puzzled to know why certain persons cannot attain peace. Do what we may with them they appear to have a tide of disquiet for ever ebbing and flowing and casting up mire and dirt. They have seemed to be in a fair way to salvation, and yet they have never reached it: they have been one day near and the next far off. In one or two instances I have not discovered the reason why the gospel never succeeded with them, till they were dead. When they were gone the sad truth was revealed which accounted for all their uneasiness…There was a secret which, if it had been known, would have made their character abhorrent to those who in ignorance respected them. Does any man here carry about with him a guilty secret? Does he persevere in shameful acts which he labors to conceal? How can a man hope for peace while he wars with the laws of morality? What rest can there be while solemn vows are broken, and the purest of relationships are treated with despite? Nay, while there is any uncleanness about a man, or about a woman, there cannot be peace with God: such sins must be given up…Would you for a moment insinuate that the Lord Jesus died to allow you to sin and yet escape its penalty?”

Submitted by Jeffery Smith