Friend of sinners? Not me!
In our efforts to become more spiritually “mature” and become more like Jesus, we run the risk of retreating into our comfort zones rather than engaging the helpless people of this fallen world. Sometimes our confusion over what the Bible means with its nuanced language drives us farther from mission and further into our “sanctified” isolation.
Being a friend of sinners like the Lord Jesus is not the same as being a “friend of the world.” We are to LOVE the people of the world in the way Jesus did, cherish God’s good creation of the world, but recognize and turn away from the principles of the world that are anti-God. (I just used the word “world” 4 times in this sentence) In John 17, Jesus’ high priestly prayer and I recommend you take 2 and read it, the word “world” (cosmos) is used 17 times employing 3 different meanings: (1) the planet; (2) the pagan (world) system; (3) the people of the planet. I won’t do the work for you, but if you read John 17 again and plug these meanings in as intended, there may be an “aha” rolling over your lips.
Worldliness as the Bible defines it, is a serious threat to the believer. We get that, right? But we are to be friends, not of the world, but of the people for whom Jesus came. Is isolation from “sinners” a less risky course? Absolutely! But that choice, while comforting and easier for us, is not the path laid out for us by our Savior. Jesus left a comfortable and more pleasant environment to visit earth, mingling with thousands of “sinners” and “deplorables” so that He might eventually reach millions like us through them. Sounds a bit like Christmas, doesn’t it? Are there 3 or 4 people in your relational “pool” who have yet to meet Jesus and whom you might be the key, perhaps the only “God-presence” they know? Do you know “sin-sick” people? Do you know the Great Physician? Are you willing to make a referral?
The admonition in James 4:4 regarding NOT to be a friend of the “world” does not contradict Jesus’ being a “friend of sinners.” And properly defined, “the world” is critical to the believer’s place in it. We can easily ruin two major aspects of the Christian life (winning the lost and restoring erring brothers and sisters) by isolating ourselves from the wrong group and tolerating the sin of a different wrong group. (See 1 Cor. 5) Please, go see it starting in v.9!
When it comes to the behavior of those not yet in God’s family, we believers are NOT in the behavior modification business. It is not our job to get our non-Christian friends to stop cussing, or drinking, or blaspheming, or cavorting, or gossiping . . . or whatever. In fact, if we make it our mission to clean up the behavior of them, we are very well making two serious mistakes. The first is we may be perverting the gospel. We might be communicating “Clean up your life and God will love you.” Or, “Stop your habits and you’ll make it to heaven.” Let’s major on keeping the method of salvation simple. Put your trust in Jesus and allow Him to begin leading your life. The Holy Spirit can certainly take it from there as the next steps are often a bit more complicated. We are NOT in the behavior modification business. We are in the hospitality business, introducing our friends to our Friend. Think About It.