No church is perfect, but the church is supposed to be a community of people who are all both sinners and saints, welcomed into God’s presence because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For a church to be this, it needs to constantly return to the gospel. Only people who need Jesus can love other people who need Jesus.
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” —Luke 5:30–32
Jesus spent his time with the people who knew they were sinners. He saw it as his mission to seek the lost, to love the hopeless. Christians are often less than welcoming. In fact, I know too many people who have experienced horrible things from church people. Jesus was different. Why aren’t his followers more like Jesus? Would Jesus attend your church?
Today there is a lot of talk in the church world about being “gospel-centered” and “Christ-centered,” shaping a church’s entire faith and life around the gospel, rethinking everything in light of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That sounds good, but in my more cynical moments, I wonder if it is simply a marketing scheme, a way to establish brand identity.
Motives aside, for gospel-centeredness and Christ-centeredness to be more than cheap talk, there needs to be real grace. I think there is a simple way to test this question: how does a church welcome sinners? Here are three truths to keep in mind if you want your church to be a church that welcomes sinners where Jesus can be found.
- Offering Forgiveness to Sinners
The gospel is about God’s free acceptance of sinners! The gospel includes forgiveness, justification, and the promises of eternal life in communion with God. The apostle Paul teaches that if we believe the gospel, the only proper response is to forgive others:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col. 3:12–13)
It’s a challenge to practice forgiveness, but because of the gospel, God commands that his people forgive. Yet, forgiveness brings with it true love—a love that doesn’t allow victims to suffer, abusers to maintain power, or the weak to remain voiceless. With forgiveness comes a love that is bold enough to seek real reconciliation and repentance. It’s a process, but it is a work that God has promised to do through the Holy Spirit.