Monday, July 28, 2008

Jesus and Sinners

What did Jesus teach about sin, repentance, and judgment? The most widely invoked saying of His is "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone..." (John 8:7). Yes, Jesus did say that and we should not go around seeking to destroy sinners in the manner of the scribes and Pharisees as described in the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11).

But often when this particular saying is invoked, the implication is that we are all sinners (which we are) and that we can't ever expect change, reform, or repentance from each other (which simply isn't true). The mindset is that expecting such infers judgment ("Judge not," we readily quote from Matthew 7:1), and is like throwing stones. Unfortunately, we live in a time when many invoke Jesus’ teachings to justify sinful behavior rather than use them to overcome it. Lest anyone think that this is an indictment of all but myself, think again. This is as applicable to me as it is to anyone, and truly it applies to everyone.

The following synopsis of Jesus' words spoken during His mortal ministry as recorded in the Bible is given to bring to our consciousness His expectations of all of us. I highly encourage you to follow the links to the references to read His words for yourself and to come to your own conclusions on the matter.

Obedience, not lip service, is the first law of heaven (Matthew 21:28-32). Jesus taught that to know God’s law and not comply with it is sin, but ignorance of God’s law is forgivable (John 9:39-41). Sin is a type of slavery, but the truth will make us free (John 8:31-34). Jesus declared that all but the unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, are forgivable (Matthew 12:31-32). But once made whole, Jesus instructed, we shouldn't continue in sin lest a worse thing come upon us (John 5:14). Ultimately, evil works lead to damnation (John 5:29).

Without question, Jesus preached repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15). He also commissioned others, like His twelve apostles, to preach the same (Mark 6:12). He taught them to “rebuke the transgressor,” to admonish sinners to cast away their sins (Luke 17:3-4). Jesus instructed that repentance should be preached in His name, for He alone had power given Him of God to remit sins, and His atoning sacrifice and resurrection bring about the conditions of repentance and the remission of sins (Luke 24:46-47).

Unequivocally, Jesus proclaimed, “Repent or perish” (Luke 13:1-5). He taught that the unrepentant will be condemned at the last day and will not go into the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41; 21:28-32; Luke 10:13-16; 11:31-32).

Often accused of defiling Himself by associating with sinners, Jesus taught that the whole need no physician, but they who are sick (Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:30-32). Sin, compared to an illness, requires repentance to be healed by the Physician. Jesus taught that all efforts to reclaim even a single sinner are worthy of our time and attention. God, His angels, and all heaven rejoice over repentant sinners (Luke 15:1-10). We too should celebrate and rejoice rather than be as the brother of the repentant prodigal (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus has power to forgive and heal those with faith in Him (Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 5:5-12; Luke 5:19-26). The faith of friends and family can work great miracles in the lives of their loved ones. Faith in Jesus and repentant service to Him bring forgiveness. Those who feel that they need little forgiveness love God the least, whereas those who perceive that they need the most forgiveness love God the most (Luke 7:36-50). The faithless do not perceive or understand God’s will for them; they usually are not converted to Jesus and will not be forgiven of their sins (Mark 4:11-12).

Forgiving others opens up the avenue for our own forgiveness (Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:37-38; 11:4). Jesus taught that we should forgive as often as we are sinned against (Matthew 18:21-22). In fact, Jesus instructed His followers to forgive unceasingly the repentant sinner (Luke 17:3-4). As we extend mercy to repentant sinners, we in turn receive mercy from God (Matthew 18:23-35).

Jesus commanded His followers to judge righteous judgments (JST Matthew 7:2; John 7:24). He also emphasized that we correct our own faults before we attempt to correct others’ (Matthew 7:2-5; JST Matthew 7:4-8). God the Father has given Jesus authority to judge all humankind (John 5:22-30). His judgment is reserved until the “last day” (John 8:1-11, 15-16; 12:47-48). Christ’s word, or teachings, will judge us (John 12:47-48). Christ came to save the world (John 3:16-17; 12:47), not to judge and condemn the world (John 3:17; 8:10-11, 15-16), but some will be condemned at the last day by their works and unbelief in Jesus’ word (John 5:28-29; 12:47-48). Rather than judging others and justifying ourselves (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:36-38; 18:9-14; John 8:7), we ought, as the publican, to acknowledge our unworthiness before God at all times (Luke 18:9-14).

In summary, Jesus did not condone sin—He preached against it and taught about the consequences of sin: separation from God. He taught that He came to take away the sins of the world by the shedding of His blood (Matthew 26:27-28; John 1:29-34). He showed mercy to repentant sinners and indicated that final judgment would be reserved till the last day. However, He indicated that unrepentant sinners would incur stiff penalties for their lack of faith and their disobedience to His commandments. Jesus commanded His followers to repent, forgive, and extend mercy and to not justify their sins and find fault with others. That we all have need for repentance and improvement should be self-evident. That we will do Jesus’ words and not simply hear them; that we will repent and not perish; that we will have faith on His name unto salvation is my prayer and hope for all of us.

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