Amazingly, Jesus, the most holy person to ever walk the face of the earth, was also known as a “friend of sinners” (see Matthew 11:19).
One of my pastors recently shared—out of all of the names and attributes of God throughout the Bible, there is only one that is actually attainable by you and me—friend of sinners.
Since we are called to follow Jesus, it should be our goal to be a friend of sinners as well.
But this can be a struggle for any Christian. Once we are saved out of sinful habits and destructive tendencies, it can be really easy to surround ourselves with only Christian friends, and Christian activities, and become insulated from the world around us that needs God so much.
When we get so wrapped up in what is known as the “Christian bubble,” we soon forget what it feels like to be “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
How can we get back to this holy calling of being a friend of sinners? What obstacles stand in our way? Here are five reasons I believe we can struggle to be a friend of sinners:
1. We’ve forgotten how much God loves the world.
John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If you’ve forgotten how much God loves all people, even struggling sinners, read how God opened D.L. Moody’s eyes to his incredible love here.
Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to travel to Israel and visit some of the places of the Bible.
In Joffa, we saw the port where Jonah ran from the call of God to preach repentance to Nineveh. He was eventually swallowed by a large fish and spit up on the shore. In this very same port, many years later, the Apostle Peter stayed at a friend’s house and had a vision from God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles as well as Jews.
Interestingly, in this same area, God was repeatedly trying to get His message across to take His hope to lost and broken sinners.
We need God to break our hearts for what breaks His: a lost world. God’s heart breaks for millions of people in our world who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a Shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
God longs for people’s eyes to be opened, and the veil to be removed so they “see the bright light of the gospel in the face of Christ” (see 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6).
2. We’ve filled our schedules too full.
One of our biggest challenges to doing what we know we ought to do is margin in our schedules.
In 1970, two psychologists discovered that not having enough time made the difference between seminary students being a good samaritan or passing by a person in need.
Learn to not pack your schedule so full of good things that you don’t have time for the best things. Leave spaces in your schedule to befriend and have real conversations with people who are far from God.
3. We’ve forgotten how to deeply connect with others.
In their book 5 Gears, Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cochram share the importance of learning to slow down and deeply connect with other people.
Sometimes we can get so busy rushing about life that we go months without deeply connecting with others. It’s important to shift gears, slow down and connect deeply with others. Including those who are outside the church.
4. We’ve forgotten how to be hospitable.
One of the most meaningful ways to connect deeply with others is through hospitality, and sharing meals together.
This is a simple and practical way we can take a step to befriend people outside the church: invite them over for a meal, or go out for a meal together.
And don’t start the conversation with your faith or the gospel. Connect with them, and share life with them. Unless the Lord impresses you, be patient to show the them gospel in your kindness and care, and when they “ask you about your hope” (1 Peter 3:15), they are primed to hear what God has meant to you.
5. We are too condemning.
If we spend too much of our energy on social media berating culture, we can seem unapproachable and harsh. We have to balance what we say with grace and love, and not pick a fight with every culture-war that pops up. People outside the church should see the love, compassion and grace of Jesus in our tone online and offline.
It’s unacceptable for Christians to be fundamentalists about every Scripture except for the loads of passages about the importance of showing love, kindness, gentleness and compassion. It’s not one or the other. We are called to spread truth, always with love and grace.
As Seth McBee stated, “Jesus must’ve known how to balance truth and love, because He definitely spoke the truth, and he still got invited to the parties.”