Also See The Inclusiveness of Jesus
It’s true that the inclusiveness of Jesus was extraordinary. Unlike his religious contemporaries, Jesus included among his followers those who were generally excluded from religious life, if not polite society, people such as tax-collectors, “sinners,” lepers, and women. Yet, the inclusiveness of Jesus was not of the “come as you are” sort. Jesus offered new, transformed life in the kingdom of God, not acceptance of all people as they were in their sinful state.
Would Jesus Do That?
CHARISMATICS AND New Evangelicals often defend their worldly behavior and their association with those involved in that which is forbidden by Scripture by claiming that Jesus Christ would associate with the lifestyles and behaviors of the unsaved if He were walking the earth today. Often, Fundamentalists are accused of being "holier-than-thou" because they refuse to attend Christian rock concerts, nightclubs or bars. Likewise, they abstain from alcoholic beverages, raucous parties and body piercing which has become a hallmark of rebellion and a Gothic subculture steeped in mysticism and darkness. "One must gain the respect of the unsaved, indulge in the interests of the unsaved and even live like the unsaved in order to win them to Christ" is the oft-heard cry of those who condemn Fundamentalists as hypocritical "Pharisees." [Also See ‘Christian’ Rock on THIS Page]
Sadly, those who espouse living like the world in order to win the world for Christ actually hold up Jesus Christ as their example of One who would embrace and live according to such a pragmatic philosophy. But is their claim valid? Would Christ, or did Christ, actually live like the world and indulge in the interests of the world in order to win converts?
A recent editorial by J. Lee Grady and a feature article highlighting the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA) in the August 1999 issue of Charisima magazine epitomize this attitude of many Charismatics and New Evangelicals. Both Grady and CMA evangelist Greg Heinritz unequivocally claim that Jesus Christ spent "most of His time "associating with sinners rather than believers, and they use such a claim to support their own philosophy that the believer must act like the unsaved and become involved in the interests of the unsaved in order to win them to Christ.
In his editorial, Grady applauded Roman Catholic Priest John Zenz who recently began a "refreshing method of evangelism–a Tuesday-night discussion about God and current events called 'Theology on Tap"' in a Birmingham, Michigan pub. The editorial says, "Apparently this mixture of booze and Bibles was a hit with tavern patrons. The Detroit Free Press said 150 people crammed in the back of the bar to hear Zenz while they sipped Guinness and Bass Ale." Grady went on to say he hoped this philosophy sparks a trend but added that believers today will not lead Bible studies into every bar, pool hall and night club in America "as long as we cling to our holier-than-thou attitudes." Grady then challenged readers by adding; "You don't think Jesus would take His message into a pub? Actually, He spent most of His time there, hanging cut with tax collectors, prostitutes and the riff-raff of Jerusalem while the Pharisees stood outside and sneered." He added that he hoped the readers of Charisma would "be inspired to break free from your own pharisaical attitudes" after reading the article about the CMA and those on the CMA ministry team who "sport long hair, tattoos and pierced ears."
CMA evangelist Greg Heinritz accepts Grady's same philosophy and justifies his association with booze, drugs, rock music and rebellion by claiming that Jesus Christ would be evangelizing in the same way if He were physically present. The Charisma article says, "CMA evangelist Greg Heinritz, 43, points out that Jesus hung out more often with sinners than with religious people." Referring to a March motorcycle rally in Daytona Beach, FL, Heinritz told Charisma, "We are going to Daytona to get on the same level as those people, in order to earn the right to present the gospel to them." Charisma magazine even admitted that the atmosphere at Daytona Beach during Bike Week, as well as other locations where bikers gather to party and show off their bikes, is one of "drinking, drugging, exhibitionism, loud rock bands and Mardi Gras-style hedonism." Yet, as CMA president Herbie Shreve notes, "the CMA is not a recreational club for biking enthusiasts–a place where Christians can separate themselves from the world." Rather, Charisma adds "CMA is pure ministry geared to mix Christian bikers with unbelievers."
Sad to say, many modern church growth programs likewise stress the importance of catering to the interests of the world and imitating the world in order to advance the cause of Christ. Thousands of churches across the United States and Canada have changed their worship services in order to accommodate the unsaved visitors and make them feel comfortable in an atmosphere more conducive to their worldly lifestyles. Church growth proponents often use either Jesus Christ or the apostle Paul as an example of one who fraternized with the ungodly in order to witness to them. But is this true? A case has already been made to show that the apostle Paul did not live like the world in order to preach the Gospel to the unsaved ("All Things to All Men, "Foundation Magazine, Jan-Feb, 1999). But what about Jesus Christ Himself? Charisma editor J. Lee Grady said Jesus spent "most of His time" with prostitutes, derelicts and the "riff-raff" of Jerusalem. As intelligent believers who desire to "search the Scriptures" rather than take any human individual's word as fact, are we going to merely accept what Grady and Heinritz say as fact, or shall we discover whether or not God's Word declares otherwise?
See Section on Church Growth Movement
Many New Evangelicals and Charismatics often use three particular portions of Scripture to support the idea that Jesus Christ embraced the interests of the unsaved, thus "proving" that believers should, therefore, do the same. These Scriptures are: Mark 2:13-17, Luke 19:110 and Luke 7:34. Yet how these individuals deduce that Jesus Christ spent "all" or "most" of His time fraternizing with worldly sinners or even living and acting like sinners is an enigma. Any individual who reads through all four Gospels will gain an entirely different picture of Christ than that portrayed by Grady, Heinritz and others. Throughout the Gospels we continually read that Jesus went into the synagogues to expound the Scriptures or that multitudes followed Him as He walked throughout the cities. Over and over again, we read that individuals came to Jesus to either hear His message or to be healed of a physical ailment. No, Jesus never lived or acted like a sinner as many today assume. Nor should we as believers in Christ live or act like sinners in an effort to win them to Christ.
So what do the three aforementioned passages of Scripture say about Jesus' relationship to the unsaved? It is obvious that these three references, when compared with all of Scripture, do not teach that Jesus "always" imitated or associated with worldly activity. But what do they teach? Notice each Scripture passage in its proper context.
This portion of Scripture, as well as its parallel portions in Matthew and Luke, addresses the salvation and call to discipleship of Levi. Levi, or Matthew (Matt. 9:9), served as a tax collector for the Roman empire and was, therefore, hated by his fellow Jews. The Pharisees and Sadducees especially hated the publicans, even calling them "sinners" (v. 16), because they believed these individuals were violating the Law of Moses by exacting usury and becoming rich at the expense of their fellow brethren. To the Jews, and especially to the Pharisees, a Jewish publican was a traitor to his fellow Jews. But Jesus Christ personally called Matthew to follow Him and become one of His twelve chosen disciples. What was Matthew's response? "He arose and followed Him" (v. 14). Matthew's life was changed at the very moment he believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and as his personal Savior and obeyed His command to follow. Of course, in this context, to "follow" does not mean that Matthew merely walked behind Jesus wherever He went, but it means he accepted Jesus as the Messiah, his own Savior.
Matthew's change of heart reveals itself not only by his association with Jesus but also by his testimony to his fellow colleagues. After some time had passed, Matthew "made Jesus a great feast in his own house" (Luke 5:29) and invited other publicans to join him and partake of the meal. Evidently, Matthew wanted his associates to hear Christ and to follow Him so that they, too, could find Light and Life in the person of the Messiah. Jesus sat and ate in this new believer's house despite the contemptuous words of the Pharisees. Notice that it was the Pharisees who called these men "publicans and sinners." The Pharisees hated these men because of their occupation that made them rich at the expense of the Jews. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that Jesus acted like the publicans or became interested in their "rip-off schemes" in order to witness to them. It is important to realize that Christ did not live like the unsaved or act like them in order to "evangelize," as so many Christians today would have us believe. No, Jesus simply accepted the hospitable invitation of Matthew, a new believer, and sat to eat a meal with those who needed to hear His message.
The account in Luke 19 is rather similar to the account found in Mark 2. Both texts involve Jewish tax-collectors, or publicans, coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through their belief in Him and then preparing a feast for Him in their respective houses. And, both texts reveal evidences of a change in the lives of Matthew and Zacchaeus subsequent to their conversion. Because they became "new creatures' in Christ, they changed the way they lived. The world noticed this change because these believers were now different from the world.
Zacchaeus, "chief among the publicans" (v. 2), wanted to see Christ so badly that he climbed into a tree in order to gain a better view. Jesus knew Zacchaeus' heart and commanded him to come down, for He desired to fellowship with this new believer. Zacchaeus' change of heart manifested itself in his desire to pay back fourfold those whom he had cheated. Jesus responded to his belief: "This day is salvation come to this house" (v. 9). Notice that the Pharisees still called Zacchaeus a sinner" (v. 7) and objected to Christ's fellowship with the publicans. But Zacchaeus was no longer a sinner in the sight of God. Jesus fellowshipped with a new believer who not only had a change of heart but also a change in desire and action. [See Born Again]
Many professing Christians today grossly misapply and misunderstand this text. They use this verse to "prove" that Jesus spent all His time living like the world in order to win the lost. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, CA, and author of The Purpose Driven Church, says, "From the gospels, it is obvious that Jesus enjoyed being with seekers far more than being with religious leaders. He went to their parties and was called the 'friend of sinners."' Warren then asks, "How many people would call you that?" (p. 208). But what is this text actually saying? Notice that Jesus is quoting the words of the Pharisees who falsely accused Him of living a worldly lifestyle, just as they had falsely accused John, saying he was demon possessed (Lk. 7:33). Was John demon possessed? No. Was Jesus a winebibber and a gluttonous hedonist? Absolutely not. To use this text to justify worldliness is an abomination. Certainly Jesus was not a winebibber, and while He did love the unsaved, He never imitated, lived, nor acted like them in any way.
Many use the aforementioned texts to try to prove that living like the world is acceptable to God, claiming that Jesus spent more time with sinners than with believers and that He would even act like them in order to witness to them. However, they are grossly mistaken. Christ fellowshipped with believers, but He never neglected the opportunity to share His message with unbelievers. Yet notice, He never acted like the world, indulged in their sins or attempted to imitate the worldliness around Him in order to get His message across. Jesus loved the unsaved, just as we should love the unsaved. Jesus witnessed to the unsaved, just as we have been commanded to witness to the unsaved. Yet we have also been commanded throughout Word of God to separate from the world and to avoid even the appearance of evil.
The believer who desires to be obedient to his Lord and evangelistic in his personal ministry should follow both the example of Jesus and the words He has given through the Holy Spirit within the New Testament text. This means:
First, he will have a genuine love for the lost and a desire to see the unsaved come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Because God loved the world, He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. Such sacrificial love should characterize the life of every believer as well, for God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9b). The fact that God loves all people and the fact that He desires for them to receive His free gift of salvation should serve as an impetus for the believer to love the lost.
Second, he will preach the Gospel to the unsaved. Because he loves them, he will tell them the Good News that they need to hear and believe in order to be saved from sin and emptiness in this life and from the lake of fire in the next. He will understand that Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life" and that no man can be acceptable in the sight of the Father except through genuine belief in the work of Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6).
Finally, he will live a life of holiness and obedience to the One who has called him and saved him. This means that while he will love the lost and preach the Gospel to them, he will not live nor act like the world from which he has been rescued. This is necessary for two reasons.
First, because God explicitly commands separation from the world, that is, the world system in which the believer finds himself (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Obedience to God is imperative in order to "abide in Him."
Second, because the believer is to be different from the world due to his new nature. Nowhere does Scripture exhort or command the believer to imitate the world or live like the world in order to reach the unsaved. On the contrary, the believer is a new creature" in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) who must use his testimony as a "new creature" to show others that he has left behind his lifestyle of sin and worldliness. Believers are even to abstain from any appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).
[See What Is Holiness? And The Myth of Faith Alone]
Live so others can see a difference. Live so Christ will be glorified. Do not fall into the same trap Saul did by thinking it is better and more effective to "sacrifice" than to obey God's Word (1 Sam. 15).