We all want to be accepted. We all desire to be welcomed. No one likes to be rejected or told we don’t measure up. But does the message of inclusion that is often presented today contradict what Scripture says, or is it in line with the heart of God?
Many of us have stories or know of others who have shared how and when they came to Christ. In the depths of despair and sin we cried out to a God who is there and who hears. We heard the message of grace and responded. No, we didn’t have to “clean up” our lives, to somehow make ourselves acceptable to God. No new suit and tie or new lifestyle, we simply came as we were and surrendered.
One story I recall is from a friend of mine who has had a profound impact on my life. He is a teacher, shepherd and missionary. Yet when he encountered the Savior, he was in the midst of the 70’s drug culture. He was high in a hotel room and spent a night reading the Bible. When I say he was reading the Bible, I mean he read the entire Bible (a couple of times through!) He knew that things were not right in his life and that the direction he was heading was a dead end (see previous article by Pastor John). That night he read how God sent His only Son to live as a man and go to a cross to die in our place. He understood that this gift was his to receive if he only believed what he was reading was true. That night this man, a sinner, was forgiven and made right with God and his life has never been the same. How is that different from the message we often hear today? Today it is often stated that God loves everyone and accepts us as we are, that we are good enough. Is that true and why if it is not?
The real question is does God exclude anyone? The short answer is yes, the Gospel message is very exclusive. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and other so-called sinners. There were some religious leaders who saw this and questioned His disciples as to why Jesus would do such a thing. Jesus overhears their questions and replies, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17). At first glance it seems that Jesus was very welcoming and accepting of those “sinners”, and He was, but look at how he describes them. They are sick and need a physician and they are sinners, not righteous. He knew they were not right, that they were lost, that they needed a savior and that He was that Savior. He says at another time that He is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. So the good news of Christ is only for those who are in need, for the sick and sinners. Those who don’t need a savior, are those who are righteous. These people can stand on their own merit before a Holy God. They are good and can enjoy unhindered fellowship with their Creator. Well… there is a problem: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good there is not even one” (Rom 3:11-12) and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The Bible is clear, all of us are sick and are sinners in need of a savior. God doesn’t accept us as we are and leave us there, He saves us as we are and changes us to something completely new. That brings us to the second point.
We can only be made right with the Father through Jesus Christ. By surrendering and trusting in His work on our behalf will we become “born again”. There is no other way. God will not accept us “as we are” because “as we are” is not good enough. When our message is that God accepts us as we are, we become the ones who make the rules and standards. We negate the need of the cross, we present another way to God and make Christ a liar. That is a hard message to hear but it is a needful message.
So when we water down the message of the Cross in order to become more accepting (as the world defines it), we are actually putting road blocks in the way of those who need this truth. We are not acting in love. We as a church must be open to all who may come, and we must remove any hindrances. We must be kind and loving. We must be open to all, because the ground at the foot of the cross is indeed level. But the message must be clear: we are sick sinners in need of a Savior and that Jesus is THE way, THE truth and THE life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. Let this message be available for all to hear.