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There is an ever-present mindset among Christians that concerns me. I first noticed it when I was 14 years old while on a mission trip with my church youth group. We did some housework for two elderly women living alone. They were only barely able to take care of themselves and their home showed it. We rebuilt their porch that was rotting and falling away in places, patched up some issues in their roof, and re-painted the outside of their home.
One afternoon, we met one of their neighbors. He chatted with us on his porch for several minutes. When he asked why we were there, we took the opportunity to share the gospel. He was very receptive to it. He said his son had been begging him to accept Christ for years. The problem, he told us, was that he liked to drink a lot. He didn’t want to become a Christian because he didn’t think he could stop drinking. He legitimately believed that he couldn’t accept Christ until he could fix his alcoholism, and that just wasn’t something he believed he could do. I didn’t have any clue how to respond. My heart broke for him because I knew he had something fundamentally wrong, but back then I couldn’t put my finger on what that was or how to explain it to him.
The truth is, Jesus didn’t say, “I’ll die on the cross for you if you promise to stop sinning and be a good person.” In fact, he said quite the opposite in John 6:37 & 40, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away...For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life...” We put far too much pressure on those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior. That man didn’t have to cure his alcoholism in order to become a Christian. When Jesus saved the adulterous woman from being stoned, he didn’t pull her aside and say, “Hey, I can save your life right now but I need to know for sure that you are never going to commit adultery ever again.” He didn’t require anything from her at all. He saved her life first, he refused to condemn her first, then he told her to “go and sin no more.”
We shouldn’t assume that an alcoholic, adulterer, or anyone living in a sinful lifestyle cannot be saved unless they first stop committing that particular sin. Remember who you were before you were saved. There is no biblical basis for assuming that you have to change any aspect of who you are before you accept Christ. There is no caveat that says you have to stop sinning in order to accept Christ. That would defeat the entire purpose of his death and resurrection.
Jesus came to save sinners. He loves us as we are right at this very moment.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32
We need Jesus because we are sinners. That isn’t confined to the small “easy to fix” sins. That applies to ALL sins. I wish I had been mature enough as a 14 year old to tell that man on his porch that it didn’t matter that he was an alcoholic. Jesus loved him exactly as he was. Jesus loved him, and knowing he was an alcoholic, Jesus died for him anyway. We put so much pressure on ourselves, but the truth is that we need Christ. We need him because we absolutely cannot live the way we are called to live on our own.
We shouldn’t look down on lost people for sinning. That’s the most hypocritical thing we could do. We can never forget that we, too, were once lost. We, too, were once drowning in our own sin. And I don’t know about you, but I still struggle to keep my head above water every day. We are broken; we are sinful. Jesus comes in and changes that. If we had the capability to change it ourselves, then we wouldn’t need him. He wouldn’t have had to die on the cross. None of that is necessary if we can “fix” ourselves on our own.
For the record, I am not arguing for living in continual sin. Jesus takes us exactly as we are, but just like the woman caught in adultery, he expects us to “go and sin no more.” The difference is that before we accept him we are blind to our own sin. Afterwards, something inside our hearts changes and now we have a desire to be more Christlike. My heart breaks for the people who believe that they aren’t “good enough” for Jesus. It frustrates me that there are Christians out there who perpetuate this idea. This is dangerous. None of us are good enough on our own.
The thing that is so wonderful about Jesus is that he changes something fundamentally inside of us. It’s a change that cannot be described in words, it can only be experienced. What I couldn’t explain to that man when I was 14 is still incredibly difficult to explain now. You don’t have to change for Jesus. He is the one who changes you.
Even those of us who have accepted Christ aren’t perfect. We need to cut each other - and ourselves - some slack. We need to recognize that, yes, we have to live to a certain standard to be Christians, but that Jesus is about forgiveness first. He forgives us before he changes us, and then he continues to forgive us over and over again.
We have to remember that we are only human. We have to remember why we need Jesus; why his sacrifice was necessary. We have to remember that true change of heart requires supernatural intervention, not human intervention. We have to remember not to get things in the wrong order.
Jesus first. Accepting Christ is the first and most important step. He will initiate the change after someone accepts him into their heart.
It never hurts to remember that we are all human; and therefore, we are fallible. We are not and can never be perfect. It’s a new year and I know we are all in the process of looking at our lives introspectively and deciding on resolutions to live up to. In doing so, I hope we can remember to not be so harsh on ourselves or others. I hope this encourages you when you do mess up. We are going to fall. We shouldn’t rub each other in the dirt or walk by as we look on scathingly. We should get down and help each other up.
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Rachel-Claire Cockrell is a wife, a writer, and a high school English teacher. She is passionate about her students and does her best to exemplify the love of Christ to those kids who may not experience it anywhere else. She and her husband live in Arkansas. Follow her blog at http://rachelclaireunworthy.blogspot.com/ or on Facebook.
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