Monday, January 27, 2014

The Radical Christian Says No To Legalism

Legalism reigned in Christ’s time and continues to reign in many homes and churches today. Minimally, legalism is a strict enforcement of rules. In our context, these are the rules (laws) of the Bible.

In its most ugly manifestation, legalism opposes salvation by faith through grace by mandating obedience to laws (works) to gain salvation.

Legalism fundamentally contradicts the fruit of the Spirit and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘The Message’ version of Galatians 5: 22-23 demonstrates this clearly, “He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.  Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.(MSG, Emphasis Mine)”

Forms of Legalism

Some forms of legalism are:

1. Pastoral Authority.

2. Behavioral Regulations: Movies, Alcohol, Dancing, Dress Code etc.

3. Doctrinal Regulations: Tithing, Baptism etc.

4. Worship Regulations: Songs, Version of the Bible, Reading of the Bible etc.

Some churches strictly enforce tithing laws (voluntary giving of one-tenth of our income to God). They are legalistic (strict) to the point of not offering membership to those not tithing their income to that church. Then there are churches that enforce strict baptism laws. If not baptized in their church, one would not be recognized as [born again] Christians.  

Responding To Resolve Legalism
As true Christians, how are we to respond to legalisms? Are we to subscribe to legalisms? Or do we need to raise our voices against the legalistic practices in the church?

Examine a simple instance of legalism. Some churches persist with traditional hymn singing (of course, there is no fault in it). But if young people are the church’s key target audience, it’s reasonable to change the tradition to attract young men and women into the church of Jesus Christ.

However, the church could remain legalistic by maintaining that hymns in their traditional arrangement should not be modified. Now it’s quite possible for the church to lose her young men and women, for they prefer a different genre of music.

Consider actress Whoopi Goldberg as Sister Mary Clarence in the movie ‘Sister Act.’ Appointed as a choir director, she changes the traditional rendering of the song “Hail Holy Queen” into a gospel rock and roll genre. The hymn, when sung in gospel rock, attracted young people from the neighborhood. Please watch this clip.

               The hymn in its traditional rendering didn’t attract the young people in the church’s neighborhood. But when the genre of the hymn was modified, the young people walked into the church. Isn’t this the need of the hour? This phenomenon is not limited to movies but found in real life as well. Young people are in greater numbers when the singing suits their desires.

            In the clip you saw, the Reverend Mother was displeased. Any intent towards constructive change in the church of Jesus Christ will encounter resistance.  People living within the confines of their tradition would oppose radical shifts, for they have been dwelling in a comfort zone. Those who oppose radical shifts tend to look inward – to their satisfaction, seldom having cognizance of the Kingdom goals, which God desires.
            How do we resolve this situation?
            Let’s consider singing and dancing in churches. “Joyful Joyful we adore thee” is an exceptional hymn. This hymn can be wonderfully rendered in its traditional form. Please watch this clip.

                 But if young people are into a different genre of music, why not render the same hymn in the genre of music the young people prefer? If they prefer to dance, and if the church has space, then why not allow dancing? Please watch this clip of “Joyful Joyful we adore thee” (from the movie Sister Act 2) but in a hip-hop motivated rendition that attracts young people.

When the truth is not being distorted, why not be innovative (change the genre of songs) so to extend God’s Kingdom? Would not God prefer an extension of HIS Kingdom?

Should dancing not be allowed in the church of Jesus Christ? If you are anti-dancing, you may need to reconsider your persuasion (cf. 2 Samuel 6: 14; Psalm 149: 3, 150: 4).

If dance is to be prohibited in the church since it’s presumed to attract all glory to the dancers, then a sermon that is presumed to attract all glory to the preacher is to be prohibited in the church as well!

Dancing in proper attire and attitude will give all glory to God, as much as a sermon preached in true worshipful attitude.

Any innovation in worship that does not glorify the performers or lead people into any sin is acceptable in the church of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5: 22).

So do not resist a change or an idea to innovate. This is the first step to move forward. Of course, ensure that the innovation does not distort the truth of the Bible. If the innovation gives God all glory, then, by all means, adopt it. This is a radical step; a step away from legalism.

What about churches adopting legalistic tithing practices to the extent of not offering membership to those, not tithing? Radical Christians should take up this matter to the church leadership and prayerfully dialogue for good biblical sense to prevail.

What about churches with legalistic baptism laws? Radical Christians should never force new believers to get baptized. Baptism is an individual preference, so teach the Bible to the new believer, so that he is moved by the Holy Spirit to get baptized.

The Bible does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. So please don’t make baptism necessary for salvation. Please avoid fighting over the better / genuine baptism – the adult baptism or child baptism. It really doesn’t matter.

(Child baptism mandates that a baptized child be confirmed as a communicant member of the church when he/she can take an independent decision to follow Christ. Adult baptism necessitates the believer’s baptism when he/she is able to independently decide to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.)

A believer will go to heaven even if he dies without getting baptized. This is what the Bible says (cf. Luke 23: 43), so let’s not make baptism a major concern.    

Trivial Legalism
Let us also not major the minor. Some churches specialize in trivial legalism.

The goal of the church is to bring people into God’s presence. It’s all about inward transformation. But many churches concentrate on the outward and lose the inward transformation.

Some churches have anti-chewing gum policy. What’s wrong if people chew gum inside the church building during the worship service?

Gum overcomes bad breath, which provides a healthier hygiene (especially to the neighbor!!) during the worship services. But in the process, you may find an odd gum stuck to the bottom of some chairs. So what?

Is the priority of the church to keep its premise clean or to keep hearts clean? Isn’t the priority of the church to transform the hearts of those attending the worship services?  

Why should the church and its leadership spend time monitoring and managing chewing gum related matters when all they need to deal with is that of God’s love for man and man’s love for God and fellow humans?

But for heaven’s sake, what’s the purpose of this anti-chewing gum law? Even if I were to concede minor benefits, would you rather not have gum-chewing young people or gum chewing namesake-Christian or a gum-chewing non-Christian in your worship service so to bring them into God’s presence? Think about this, please.

Some churches have a no-footwear-inside-the-church-building law. Would you rather have a person without footwear, but with stinky/foul smelling feet (or socks) ruining the worship experience of those around or keep him with his footwear and maintain the sanctity of the worship experience intact?

Alternatively, if footwear is deemed unholy, theologically speaking, when I am the temple of the Lord, should I not wear footwear (cf. 1 Corinthians 6: 19; 2 Corinthians 6: 16)? Think about this, please.

For hygiene or for any other valid reason, if the members of your church prefer a no footwear policy, then, by all means, adopt it. But for the sake of Christ, please do not throw someone out or even gently criticize him/her for wearing footwear inside your church. It really doesn’t matter.

God is much greater than gums or footwear. God’s people - Christians and Non-Christians included - are to be treated with greater respect for they are made in the image of God.

In conclusion, let us worship God in spirit and in truth. But may we never worship the law and in the process distort and negate God’s grace and truth. Amen.

P.S: If you are interested, please read another case study in legalism.

Legalism – Another Practical Case Study
This is my personal experience, which I had mentioned in a previous blog, albeit in another context ( I find that valuable experience of mine valid in the present context, so please bear with me if you are reading this again, “Since 2003, I did not consider the church as a building. I lived this belief and experienced the public wrath of the traditional Christians. I was awarded a 6-month suspension from public worship, for providing oversight to an evangelistic hard rock concert that was held in the “church building.” The traditional Christians considered this radical evangelistic event (where the gospel was proclaimed) as sacrilege and even went to the extent of cleansing the church precincts of evil spirits.1 They disregarded people for the sake of the building!

What then is the truth? The church building contains virtually no holy significance. Our bodies are the temple in which God lives, so we carry the temple into the church building to worship God in the fellowship of fellow saints.

These were my thoughts on my blog about the church building, “the temple made of flesh and blood replaced the temple made of stones. We do not go into the temple to worship God, but we carry the temple to worship God in the community of the saints. This is the church.” This is the truth.

The hard rock concert in which the gospel of our Lord was proclaimed was deemed evil by the governing authorities and traditional Christians. I most surely think that heaven would have rejoiced when the gospel of our Lord was proclaimed in the church to a majority of young people who were not Christians.

Now, who, in this case, were radical Christlike Christians? Was it the traditional Christians or the young people who organized the evangelistic concert? I most surely think it was the young people who organized the evangelistic concert inside the church building. In being radically Christlike, they neither violated God nor the Scripture. The evangelistic hard rock concert was a Christ-honoring moment. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Radical Christian Says No To Caste And Clan

The Lord Jesus Christ is the truth; these verses say so, “So the word of God became a human being and lived among us. We saw his splendour (the splendour as of a father’s only son), full of grace and truth…For while the Law was given by Moses, love and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14-17, PHILLIPS, Emphasis Mine). 

Because Christ is truth, HE lived the truth. Because Christ is truth, the radical Christian should live the truth. This is Christlikeness, and this is the truth.

Living in the truth demands living against lies. Christ opposed lies through HIS words and deeds. Christ did not tolerate business in the temple; HE threw the businessmen out. Christ did not tolerate the Pharisees, Scribes and Teachers of the Law; HE condemned them. Christ lived the truth by confronting and condemning evil.

One such evil / lie is in ‘groupism’ that manifests through undesirable and unjustifiable caste and clan hierarchies.

The Evil of Casteism
Any social system that glorifies some and ruins others is evil. Caste system deems some as superior, others as average and yet others as despicable.

At some point in time Christians embraced Casteism. As a result, there is the unwritten but highly prevalent upper and lower caste Christians!  This inequality is offensive to God and man.

God did not create people as unequals - superior and inferior. God created mankind as equals; the only distinction HE built into mankind is the gender - male and female.

If you walk into some churches in India, you will observe casteism in its glorious evil splendor. People belonging to a specific caste will occupy all-powerful positions. To be politically correct, they may donate meaningless or subordinate roles to other castes. In some instances, they are so full of themselves that they totally disregard people of other castes.

Casteism manifests defiantly and differently as well. This is a matrimonial advertisement by a Christian in “The Hindu,” dated 20-Jan-2014: 

“CSI NADAR 26/174 B.E., MBA (IIM, Ahmedabad) working in MNC seeks suitable employed B.E./M.E. Nadar girl, aged below 24 years…THE HINDU,Madurai-625020. (Published on Jan 19, 2014)”

‘CSI’ refers to Church of South India, ‘Nadar’ is a caste, and ‘IIM’ is Indian Institute of Management – a premier academic institution in India. Here is a well educated Christian boy and his parents desiring only a girl from the same caste. Why?

I do not see any valid reason for this demand. The only reason I see is that the parents and the boy have not understood the Bible. Hence this caste cruelty will proceed for generations in this household until they see the light of Christ’s gospel in their life.

Is inequality correct? It’s not even correct from an irreligious vantage point. Is inequality biblically correct? No! The Bible does not support evil practices that destroy man’s inherent worth.

The Bible urges everyone to serve each other. The Bible encourages us to descend into greatness; never to ascend to greatness (Luke 18: 14).

Casteism is a lie. People are not born superior or inferior. All men and women are made in the image of God.

There is another form of casteism in churches.

I was once visiting a very small church. During communion, the pastor announced that only those who have been baptized by that church can partake in the Lord’s table. Since I was the only non-member of that church in attendance that day, I was sure that the pastor’s announcement was intended at me.

For the sake of peace during that worship service I considered it unwise to violate pastor’s mandate. Respecting the church’s policy, I didn’t partake in the Lord’s table. However, I did not agree with the Pastor’s mandate. It was absurd. The bible does not make those demands on communion.

Christians should not be a part of caste based groups be it in church, social media, public or private. Christians cannot subscribe to casteism in any form or size.

The Evil of Clannishness

Inequality manifests in other ways as well. Consider clannishness, and more specifically language based clannishness.

There is nothing wrong in a church that worships God in a specific language. Of course, churches worshipping in a specific language will attract people speaking that language. This is acceptable. There is nothing wrong in gravitating towards our friends and neighbors speaking the same language.

But some Christians are so caught up into language based clannishness that we go to the extent of disrespecting or antagonizing Christians speaking other languages. Clannishness raises its ugly hood when we focus and support only those speaking our language to the point of disregarding or eliminating the ‘others’ from our group(s).

A Church of South India diocese that I shall leave unnamed has its Bishop-elect waiting to assume his office since a good number of pastors are protesting his election. Why? The Bishop-elect originally belongs to a neighboring state (speaking a different language)!

What’s wrong if a pastor (from a neighboring state) gets elected as a bishop of a diocese (of another state) that he has been serving? Why should the local pastors protest this man’s election? Should the bishop be elected on the basis of his language / state or because of his anointing (cf. Acts 6: 3)?

There should not be any language based clannishness in the Church of Jesus Christ. There cannot be conflicts between language groups in the Church. This is an abomination.

Isn’t this an evil instance of clannishness politics? Would Christ affirm clannishness? No! 

To conclude, Christ came for all men, not just the Jews or for a specific people group. HE came to save all men.  

When we overtly or covertly subscribe to casteism or clannishness of any form, we are not living a Christlike life. To be radical as the Lord is to love all our neighbors equally - without partiality - just as we love ourselves and just as Christ loved us.  Amen. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Radical Christian Always Loves The Sinning Christian

The theme of my previous blog was about loving our neighbor by overcoming our instinctive self-righteousness.  But some Christians may use passages such as 1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 to expel and disassociate from their fellow Christians. If this teaching is univocal in its application, expelling or disassociating from our fellow Christian sinners may be the right decision always. But is this teaching univocal in application?

In other words, is the Bible instructing a Christian (a sinner by nature) not to associate with a fellow Christian who sins? Is the Bible also instructing the church to expel this [willfully] sinning Christian from the church?

Please read the verses in three different translations in the table below:

1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 (Emphases mine)
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
New International Version (NIV)
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
…I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one…Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
…I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people…Expel the wicked person from among you.
…I tell you not to associate with any professing Christian who is known to be an impure man or a swindler, an idolater, a man with a foul tongue, a drunkard or a thief…Don’t even eat with such a man…It is your plain duty to ‘put away from yourselves that wicked person.’
The sins necessitating disassociation and expulsion from church fellowship are, Incest (v1), immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and swindling. These sins could be described as follows:
1. Immorality: Prostitution and sinful sexual intercourse of any kind.

2. Greed: Greed of gain, especially at the cost of others. Greedy are the power hungry people within the church of Jesus Christ. They could be those not contesting for positions in the church but also sponsoring unworthy candidates through unworthy means.
Then there is a personal greed for greater personal glory – material and spiritual, within and outside the church. Amassing wealth, being corrupt and aiding corruption are included in the sin of greed.

3. Idolatry: Person(s) worshipping (revering / following) false gods. Since the context of this passage refers to Christians, it is obvious that Christians will not be worshipping false gods, such as the deities of Hinduism, Islam etc.
But there could be other gods the Christian worships. A Christian’s work, career, talent, materials are some false gods. 

4. Slander: To slander is to defame or abuse others with or without using foul language. Slander includes ‘false accusations.’  

5. Drunkenness: Getting intoxicated through substance abuse – alcohol, drugs etc.

6. Swindling: To rob / take ownership of anything that is not rightfully one’s own.

7. Incest: Sexual relationships with any member of family where marriage is forbidden.

Sinner’s Character
The context of 1 Corinthians 5 implies that the sinner was unrepentant and willfully continuing in his horrendous sin, maybe even disregarding valid biblical counsel. Since the sinner within this context is a Christian, one could question this Christian’s truthfulness or maturity as the Lord’s disciple. No one claiming to be a true or a mature disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ would willingly and hedonistically continue sinning.

Biblical Consistency
Is this teaching to disassociate or expel in 1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 biblically consistent?

The teaching ‘do not associate and expel’ seems to be a commentary of Deuteronomy 13: 5, 17:7, 19:19, 22:21-24, 24:7 and Judges 20: 13. This New Testament teaching is consistent with the Old Testament.

The Bible advocates ‘disassociation’ for other sins as well.
Romans 16: 17; Titus 3: 10
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-10
Laziness and refusal to work
2 John 10-11
Teaching heresies

Did Christ teach similarly? Yes, Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisees, Scribes and the teachers of the law are very similar. Christ’s condemnation of the religious leaders of HIS time appears to be an eternal condemnation (Matthew 23: 33). The disassociation and expulsion taught in 1 Corinthians 5 is temporal aimed at saving the sinner  (1 Corinthians 5: 5).

So yes, the teaching is consistent with the biblical teaching on the whole.

Practical Pitfalls
Is this teaching easy to execute or are there any practical pitfalls that demands greater diligence before executing?

Identifying sins of drunkenness, swindling, slander, idolatry and greed are more complicated than identifying the sins of incest and sexual immorality.  Take drunkenness as a case in point. A Christian may get intoxicated in one drink and another may drink like a fish and still remain normal and stable. There are some who drink once a week and get intoxicated, while there are others who cannot live without their one or two drinks every day. If a Christian cannot be at peace without his daily drink, he is an addict. How then should the church disassociate / expel fellow Christians, and based on what policies?

If a Church or a Christian disassociates or expels a practicing sinner on account of one of these sins, it ought to disassociate or expel sinners practicing all the sins mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5. If all churches are firm in disassociating or expelling fellow Christians on account of these sins, then these churches could eliminate a great number of her members. Moreover, every Christian would have less or no Christian friends. Correct me if I am wrong! Expelling one member and not others is an inconsistent practice amounting to partiality, which in itself is a sin.

Disassociation or expulsion is not a case of perfection judging the imperfection. It is the case of one imperfection judging another. Those who enforce expulsion or disassociation are not superior to the one being disciplined.

Given this scenario, the church should exhibit greater grace and love before embarking on disassociation or expulsion.

Preeminence of Love and Grace
The Lord in HIS incarnation was abundantly gracious to sinners. HE taught against sin but at the same time, HE forcefully emphasized grace through forgiveness. The Lord’s words to the woman caught in adultery was to ‘go and sin no more,’ the statement in the Lord’s prayer was to ‘forgive us as we forgive our debtors,’ and HIS teaching that we should forgive always (Matthew 18: 22) should remain in us always.

Apostle Paul echoes his God in Galatians 6: 1-2, “Even if a man should be detected in some sin, my brothers, the spiritual ones among you should quietly set him back on the right path, not with any feeling of superiority… (Phillips). 

Disassociation and expulsion should be the last step of restoring the believer to HIS maker. Love and grace should precede and possibly supersede disassociation and expulsion. 

Case for Disassociation and Expulsion

Disassociation and expulsion could be affirmed from the perspective of church discipline. One corrupt man can ruin the whole group, so in the interest of group’s spiritual wellness it is better to expel that one corrupt person. The Bible affirms this action.

The benefits of this action are:
(1) To restore the sinning believer (Galatians 6: 1).
(2) To keep the sin from spreading inside the church.
(3) To protect church’s purity.

It would be grossly unjust if a person who has not sinned is either expelled or disassociated. Thus disassociation and expulsion should be implemented if accusations are proven, the sinner clearly convicted of his sin, and if he is unrepentant and willfully continuing in sin.

I believe hell to be a reality. God’s grace is active only until HIS righteous judgment. Christ’s judgment does not offer grace to the unbeliever. When an unbeliever willfully rejects Christ, God allows the unbeliever to remain without HIM throughout eternity. Thus, expulsion of an unrepentant sinner from the church or from a Christian’s domain is valid because grace ends when the sinner rejects Christ’s teaching to not sin willingly.1

If the sinful Christian in contention is a church elder, he/she should be treated as per the teaching found in 1 Timothy 5: 19 – 21.

Having said this, I do not consider this teaching to be the only viable option for the church when it encounters sins in her members. Disassociation or expulsion should be the last option for the church or a Christian. Valid biblical counsel should essentially precede expulsion or disassociation. It is the church / Christian’s sole responsibility to ensure that expulsion or disassociation be soaked in love than rejection or condemnation. 

Being Radical

If a professing Christian is sexually immoral (incest, premarital sex, homosexuality etc.), and if he is unrepentant and willfully continuing in his sin, then, as a last option, he could be expelled from the church, but graciously and lovingly.

However, a radical Church / Christian would continue to love this person. But doesn’t the Bible teach us not to eat with this unrepentant Christian (1 Corinthians 5: 11)? Yes the Bible does teach that, but the Bible also teaches that we should restore a fellow sinner, so we could follow Galatians 6:1.

I would rather err on the side of grace than on the side of law. I would do this in hope and prayer that my brother/sister would stop sinning and be restored by the grace of God.

While loving this person, we could teach the Bible and the real meaning of being a disciple of the Lord – that discipleship includes hating and not practicing sins. Thus this person can grow into truth and maturity as the Lord’s disciple.

Radical Christians would continue to love their fellow sinners for they have little or no means to identify their fellow Christians who are greedy, idolatrous, slanderous, drunken, and swindling.

Personally I don’t think it’s wise to expel one sinner and at the same time allow ten sinners to prosper and grow in their sins. This is not the Christian life Christ would want me to live. So I would rather err on the side of grace than on the side of law.  

1 Christians who do not believe in hell and believe in universalism will reject this teaching of expulsion and disassociation. If these Christians accept the teaching of expulsion and disassociation, then they are hypocritical in their practice. Why would you reject a sinning Christian when God, according to the universalistic belief, does not reject anyone – even the most compulsive sinner?  

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Radical Jesus: Sinner’s Savior; The Self-Righteous Christian: Sinner’s Satan.

Contained in the angel’s first message about the birth of Christ to Joseph was Christ’s identity - Son of God, and HIS purpose - to save people from their sins. If God, in Christ, came to save people from their sins, how did Christ respond to sin?

In HIS first encounter with the devil, the source of sin, Christ quoted three verses from Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, 6:13 while overcoming the devil. The three verses cited by Christ ascribe preeminence to God over devil and sin.

In HIS first encounter with people, the doers of sins, Christ’s first message was for them to repent of their sins (Matthew 4: 17; Mark 1: 15). We should repent to God, for only God can forgive sins. Once again Christ ascribes preeminence to God – that God alone can forgive sins. 

If we recollect Matthew 1, we remember that Christ is Immanuel – ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1: 23). Christ is God!

True to HIS Immanuelness, the gospels narrate instances of Christ claiming to be God. Christ’s claim to divinity offended the unbelieving Jews, who accused HIM of blasphemy. However, Christ continued to assert HIS divinity.

Therefore as an initial response to sin, Christ affirms the Scriptures, ascribes preeminence to God, stakes claim to HIS divinity and urges people to repent of their sins.

Christ did not desire for people to continue in sin. Instead, HE desired that people be righteous. While describing sins, Christ taught that anger is as sinful as murder, and lust is as sinful as physical adultery (Matthew 5: 29 - 30). Christ thus revealed a new dimension to sin.

While urging people to not sin, Christ travels to the metaphorical extreme of urging people to pluck out or tear off that part of our body that leads to sin (Matthew 5: 29-30). Such an opposition to sin was expected of Christ, since HE is God and in God is no sin. Sin is an assault on God. 

While urging people to be righteous, why did Christ NOT say that our righteousness should exceed that of a murderer or an adulterer? If murder, adultery and the likes are sins, shouldn’t righteousness be classified as not committing these sins? Interestingly, Christ taught that our righteousness should exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5: 20). Have you wondered why? Surely, Christ was not promoting or endorsing sins!

How did the Scribes and Pharisees respond to sinners? The answer to this question could answer the question as to why Christ used Scribes and Pharisees as an example for sin over a common sinner such as a murderer or an adulterer.

Luke 18: 9 states that the Pharisees were so confident of their own righteousness that they looked down on others, the sinners, with contempt (“God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18: 11, NASB). These so-called holy men (scribes, teachers of the law and pharisees) separated themselves from the sinners to the extent of condemning them. Little did they understand that holiness is separation from sins and not sinners. 

Christ came to save people from their sins and not condemn them (John 3: 17). If this were to be accomplished, then HE most surely had to be friendly with the sinners. And HE was more than friendly with the sinners, so much so that Christ was notoriously branded as a ‘friend of sinners’ (Matthew 11: 19 & Luke 7: 34). 

The radical Christ was thoroughly unlike the so-called holy men (scribes, teachers of the law and pharisees). While these so-called holy men hated sinners, Christ loved sinners. The radical Christ did not promote sin, instead HE taught people not to sin. But please remember that Christ loved sinners.

Do we love sinners? We most surely love ourselves, and we most surely are sinners. If we are to be as radical as Christ, then we are to love our fellow sinners as we love ourselves. If we so love our sinful selves, what makes it difficult for us to love our fellow sinners? Our self-righteousness is the most significant barrier that prevents us from loving our fellow sinners. 

Often some Christians move away from the sinner. If he moves away in fear of falling into the same sin, then the disconnecting Christian could be justified (cf. 1 Corinthians 15: 33; 1 Thessalonians 5: 22). But if the disconnect happens because the Christian does not deem it fit to socialize with the sinner, then he surely is wrong.  

The error of the Scribes, teachers of the law and Pharisees was further revealed by their perverted encouragement or ignorance of businessmen at the temple (John 2: 13-16). The Scribes, teachers of the law and Pharisees remained ignorant of the businessmen at the temple, whereas in utter contrast Christ eliminated these very businessmen from the temple precincts.

While the so-called holy men deplored the sinners because of their own righteousness, they allowed a sin of a greater kind at the temple. Shouldn’t these holy men have known what they were doing? Shouldn’t they have known if their actions were pleasing to God or not? They distorted or damaged worship to God at the temple by making the temple a marketplace. This certainly did not please God!

The temple was not to be a marketplace. It was to have been a place of worship. Thus the scribes, teachers of the law and pharisees were greater sinners than a thief, murderer or adulterer (cf. “And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin”” - Luke 17: 1-2, ESV).

This seems to be the problem plaguing Christianity today! The greater sinners feign holiness and ridicule the average sinner. The holy men are so intent in removing the speck from their neighbor’s eye that they ignore the log in their own eye. Therefore, we do not see an average sinner walking into the church of Jesus Christ and being loved graciously (without supporting the sin).

If the sinless Lord socialized actively with the sinners, why aren’t we socializing with a fellow sinner? Please allow your imaginations to wander. If a person honestly announces his sin in your church, how would your church respond? Importantly, how would you respond?

We don’t need to support his sins, but would he be welcome and loved by our church? If we say no, then our self-righteousness is at fault. So we are the greater sinners (cf. Luke 18: 14). When our self-righteousness prevents a sinner from worshipping the living God, then not only are we NOT radical but we are NOT Christlike. We are the greater sinners.

We are called to save sinners (cf. 1 Corinthians 9: 22-23; James 5: 19-20). We are not called to encourage sin. Satan encourages sin. The Savior saves people from their sins. If we claim to be Christlike, we are called to save people from their sins and not encourage them to sin.

We cannot save people if we do not love them. Christ loved and still loves sinners. If we do not love our fellow sinners, then we are not being Christlike.

Love is the antecedent to salvation. Christ came to save sinners. A perfect God desires and loves all sinners to save them. Since Christians are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12: 27), we should love all sinners so to be an instrument of their salvation.

Some will believe in Christ to accept HIS free gift of salvation, and some will reject Christ and HIS free gift of salvation. But if we claim to love God, we should love our neighbors, who are as sinful as we are, if not lesser (Leviticus 19: 18; Matthew 22: 36-40).

If Christians do not love their fellow sinners, they cannot be Christlike, let alone be radical. Failure to love fellow sinners is a violation of all God’s commands (cf. Matthew 22: 40).

Since our self-righteousness is the greatest enemy to love sinners, we ought to plead fervently with Christ to enable us to be humble in our innermost being. We need to intentionally be humble in our thoughts, words and deeds. May the good Lord bless those who fervently pray for Christlike humility in their lives. A humble Christian is a Christlike radical. Amen. 

Postscript: My next blog will be on 1 Corinthians 5: 11, which could be used by some Christians to detach from sinners. Is this a univocal teaching? How do we understand and practice this verse? May the good Lord guide and bless our thoughts as we strive to understand HIS will for our lives.