Hang Out with Sinners, But Still Be a Saint

The Christian life often desired and sought after works like a mouthful of Jolly Ranchers.  It delivers non-stop bursts of intense chemical fruit flavor.  But if feelings of buzz are the only aspect of your Christian faith, it eventually won’t be enough for you.  Intelligent human beings need more than mere self-fulfillment.

And there is something more—the mission, the adventure, of bringing Christ to the world, of working together with God in His field.  If there were ever a Christian “spinach,” evangelism would be that.  You might not always like the taste of it, but it’s vital, nonetheless.

In fact, you can’t open the Bible and see yourself in those pages until you’ve attempted to reach somebody else for Jesus and felt the elation or the disappointment or the awkwardness of it.  Only then can you relate to the concerns and movements of the apostles.

But as we consider talking to people and serving them, even inviting them to church, what happens when someone invites you to something?

You’ll get invitations from non-Christians to thoroughly non-Christian events—bachelor/bachlorette parties, get-togethers, celebrations of all kinds, and holiday parties.  Or maybe just lunch with a few colleagues. Should you go?

 

Some of us who are more socially active would give an unqualified yes, and wonder why I even pose the question.  As long as there are friends, food, and fun involved, why not?

Then there are the rest of us—folks not exactly inclined to accept social invitations.  We think of the time and energy outlay and the awkwardness of being in a mix of folks you don’t know.  So…nah.

Let me suggest you go to the event.  With some spiritual discretion.

Jesus spent an incredible amount of time with non-religious types who were essentially failures at the art of holy living.  Noticing this habit of His, the Pharisees, the religious experts of the day,  said to the disciples of Jesus, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when he [Jesus] heard it, he said, ‘those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’”

In the face of criticism, Jesus didn’t try to justify his deeds by downplaying the partying that went on.  Instead, he explained based upon how He viewed Himself and others. 

First of all, Jesus saw Himself as a doctor.  He saw the sinners surrounding Him as sick.   When He went to a party, He didn’t go as a bored single guy looking for some fun, but as a doctor making a house call.

Still, I doubt He went and stood aloof in the corner with arms folded, disapproving of everything.  He wasn’t like Mister Spock from Star Trek, lamenting how emotional these humans were.  Much to the opposite, He seemed to have had an unparalleled bedside manner.  In the space of short conversations, sinners opened up their lives to Him.

I remember the first time I got invited to a party after coming to faith in Christ.  I was young and clueless—didn’t know whether to be stiff or free, John-funny or religiously somber.  Even in my pre-Christian life, I hadn’t possessed a lot of social fung-shuei.  That day turned into a learning experience for me.

The birthday party was for a fellow who had a drinking problem and anger management issues.  But he liked me.  “I want John to come” he told his sister, who then transmitted the request to me.  So I went.  I arrived fifteen minutes after the official start time, and the guy was already a couple of six packs down.  “Hhhhhhhiiiiii,” he said, blowing a cloud of Budweiser into my face.

Now what, Jesus?  Nobody’s interested in the Bible in this place.  This isn’t my scene. 

But that wasn’t the point.

When you go to the party, you don’t show up as the lone healthy dude who has graciously condescended to come save all those sick, dirty people. 

No, you bring the doctor.  You don’t assume to be Him.

We’re actually all sick people in various stages of recovery.  Yes, some of us have received an immunization by having already believed in the cross of Jesus.  But even then, we’re not disease-free.  You could say we’re sick folks on the mend, hoping to help other sick folks.  We’re like interns in hospital gowns, following Christ around, watching him chart patients, learning how to serve others so they won’t die like we were going to.

Yes, as a high-functioning introvert myself, who prefers privacy and quiet, I’m going to suggest going to the party.  But go with wisdom. 

Learn to ask yourself a couple of big questions and then be honest with the answers.

1.  By going, am I inadvertently reintroducing myself to a prior addiction/ temptation?   Jesus told the disciples to “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41).  Temptation is serious business.  If Jesus gave such a stern warning about it, we shouldn’t take it lightly.  It’s like setting fire to a bale of hay.  You can’t realistically expect for the thing to burn halfway and then suddenly go out.  Yes, “the spirit is willing” to obey Jesus, but don’t be foolishly confident and forget that “the flesh is weak.”

2.  By going, does this represent a bad habit of trying to harmonize my Christian life with a life of sin?  Paul said, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”  (2 Cor. 6:14). Visiting and socializing with people in their chosen contexts is one thing. But when you seek to yoke yourself, to share a life purpose and direction with unbelievers, your faith will become increasingly anemic.  Similarly, if you partner righteousness with lawlessness it will result in a casual approach to morality.  And bringing light and darkness into a fellowship—mixing them—only results in grey.  Overall, you will end up with a diluted Christian life.

3.  By going, will I personally participate in sin?  1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil.”  Dick Staub, Christian author and cultural commentator, wrote about being invited to a birthday party, but discovering in advance that two lesbian strippers had been hired to provide the entertainment.  Though he had a good practice of accepting invitations to events for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, he found a way to be somewhere else that night.  Yes, there’s a delicate balance involved when attending a function where the unsaved are simply being themselves.  We also must be true to our truest self, and the Savior who redeemed us.  This won’t happen if we start drinking from the same polluted well we were allegedly saved from.

As a common theme, each of these questions reflect a healthy fear of sin.  If you’re not afraid of offending God or being caught up in destructive behaviors, then don’t go. You’re not qualified to freely move in and out of sinful circles. 

Even for a heathcare provider, there’s an appropriate level of concern about getting sick.  That’s why doctors and nurses wash their hands and disinfect continually.  They guard against being stuck with old needles or inhaling contagion of various sorts.  No matter how liberal Christians spin it otherwise, there’s nothing heroic about being morally or ethically careless.

Go have a good time, but don’t be foolish.

When He was criticized for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus said, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.”  His going to those parties reflected divine wisdom.  How could He justify that statement?  How could this “wisdom” possibly be justified?

Many of the sinners He ate with repented and began to live a holy life.  They started following Jesus.  All of this indicates that when Jesus was at get-togethers, He wasn’t casually there. He was checking charts the whole time, taking temps, and blood pressure.  He went with a purpose.

The imbedded lesson for all the interns:  Also go with a kingdom purpose.  Be pleasant.   Have a good time.  Don’t get sick yourself.

And don’t wear that plaid sport coat.

 

 

Photo Credit:  J.I. Johnson

 

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