In a conversation with friends the other night about some recent events, the comment was made, based on a meme (oh, how we have progressed), that “Jesus ate with sinners and prostitutes but obviously wouldn’t have __________ (insert conservative Christian hypercriticism here).”
Political implications aside, this statement made me pause and think. Not because it was true or even insightful, but because there was something fundamentally so wrong about the logic that it took me a moment to work through it intellectually and spiritually. (Full disclosure: I had a beer or two and I was tired, so my brain wasn’t working as fast as normal.)
As I’ve meditated more on it since then, the fundamental problem with the statement became more and more troublesome and more an insight on the spiritual narcissism and danger of our modern culture.
Essentially, what is expressed in the original statement is that Jesus went to eat with people considered sinners, out of love, and so therefore, then we who claim to be His followers should do the same. On that point, I have no argument. That is biblical.
But here is also what Jesus did. He reached out to those people to change their behavior. Do we think that Jesus went to eat with the Pharisees and others that would eventually seek His death, giving false witness at the Sanhedrin, possibly, without an agenda of addressing their lifestyle and behavior? With His scathing words against the religious leaders of His day recorded for us, of course not.
Do we think he went to eat with sinners (prostitutes, tax collectors, etc) with the expectation that it was okay with them remaining as they were? With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus absolutely fought for her absolution and forgiveness against those who would judge her out of their own hypocrisy. But he also said, “Go and sin no more.”
Sin is destructive. It kills. Out of love, Jesus sought to bring people into a righteousness that came from the deep places of compassion and the heart. Knowing that the acts of sin come from the heart, then it was the heart he sought to change. Change the heart to one of love for God, and righteous acts that please the Father would follow.
So yes, we should encourage those who claim to follow Jesus to reach out to all people regardless of behavior, but if Jesus is the model, then our agenda should be to change hearts and correct behavior for their good.
Love corrects. The scripture says that if I don’t correct my children, I hate them. It says that God loves those he disciplines (chastens, corrects, etc.). We should see the correction of God, as uncomfortable and countercultural as it may be, as love. He loves us and it is for our good.
Culture, modern philosophy, ancient rock and roll stars, these do not define love. God does. If He is love, then He defines it, not us.
But those aren’t the kind of Christians we want. Because that’s not the Jesus we want. The modern, “progressive” view of love is that we let people do whatever they feel makes them happy, despite how it goes against any moral code – unless what makes them happy is something conservative and Christian based on that moral code. To take a stand on that is evil, somehow, and exempt from the modern definition of love.
We don’t want the Jesus of the Bible, of the scripture, of sound doctrine, the Jesus who loves us so much he seeks our good through correction, through transformation, through change of our hearts and behavior.
Jesus is after the sin in our hearts, the sin that we think makes us “happy” as well as the sin we see as evil. Greed, lust, betrayal, pride, unbelief, and yes, sexual sin. All of it.
To want a Jesus who “loves” us but does not seek our correction is to want a Jesus who hates us. We are asking for a God who hates us.
But that God doesn’t exist. And so what we manufacture with our own hands based on our modern, “progressive” philosophy is an idol. And idols will tell us whatever we want to hear.
Jesus loves us to reach out to us where we are. He comes to us in the midst of our mess. “While we were yet sinners” he died for us. But he loves us too much to let us stay there. He seeks our good, our eternal happiness, and works for that. He guides and corrects for that. It’s all love.
It humbles us and angers us and makes us wrestle with big questions and our own pride and selfishness, but in the end we are saved and blessed in our Father. Sounds like love to me.