Sean McDowell | November 16, 2019

Was Jesus a Moralist? No!

Was Jesus a Moralist? No!

Here’s a question I wish more Christians would deeply wrestle with: What will it take for nonbelievers to turn to the church when they are broken?

The statistics are not encouraging. An increasing number of people are coming to believe that Christians are bigoted, hateful, and homophobic. No wonder many don’t turn to the church when they are spiritually, emotionally, or relationally hurting. Think about it: If people viewed hospitals this way, would anybody visit one when they are sick? Of course not!

Turning People to the Gospel

If we want to start turning the narrative, it starts by following the example of Jesus. What did he do? Simple: He dined with sinners on their turf.

When the Pharisees saw him dining with “tax collectors and sinners,” they asked his disciples why he eats with them. And Jesus responded

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

Jesus is not saying there are genuinely two kinds of people: righteous and sinners. He believed that all people were sinners (John 2:24-25; Mark 7:21). Rather, Jesus was speaking ironically in terms of those who were self-righteous. While all people are sinners, some people think they are righteous, while others recognize their sinfulness.

Calling Sinners

Thus, Jesus did not come to call those who believe they are righteous, but those outcasts who knew they needed to be made whole. The call is not to get oneself right first and then come to God, but to take the medicine Jesus offers (his grace), and then be empowered to live differently.

Jesus did not preach a moralistic message. Rather, he preached a message of repentance and forgiveness to those who were willing to listen. And once they experienced his grace, then they would be empowered to live as God desires. First comes the transformation, then comes the moral behavior.

It is utterly vital we Christians get outside our comfort zones today and start building relationships with people around us. We must be willing to follow the radical example of Jesus by dining with those who see the world differently so they can understand the grace Jesus offers.

Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zones

Before becoming a Christian, Kirsten Powers strongly rejected Christ and looked down on Christians. A friend invited her to church, and she not only heard the gospel, but an apologetic defense for it by pastor Timothy Keller. And it transformed her! She gives wonderful advice in her book The Silencing:

"We should all make efforts to invite people who hold different views into our worlds. Contrary to popular thought, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds understanding and tolerance. Now, go make some unlikely friends.”

This is what Jesus did. And it is what Jesus calls us to do. How can we do this better? Please consider checking out my recent sermon on Mark 2:15-17, in which I unpack this passage in depth, and offer ideas for how we can engage those around us.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.