In recent years, the secular world has been painting a picture of Jesus as a man who embraced all people with no questions asked. He dined with the sinners of His day and did not judge based on sin. They proclaim that Jesus was a minister of love who was all about accepting people for who they are.
The truth is that Jesus did expect repentance. He spoke often of the cost to follow Him. But throughout His ministry, His love came first. Jesus knew that once a person experienced the true love of God, they would never be the same.
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The following passage in Matthew gives us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus towards the lost:
Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36
Jesus had compassion for the lost. He saw them as lost sheep without a shepherd to guide them. There was no judgment. No condemnation. Nothing in Him said, “Wow. I can’t believe their sin. They are such sinful people.” Rather, His heart ached for them. They desperately needed Him.
When we look at the stories of how Jesus interacted and healed those He came into contact with, we see that repentance wasn’t a prerequisite for Him to work in their lives. He spoke up for the woman caught in adultery, saved her from being stoned to death, and then He told her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)
Time and time again, we see Jesus healing people and casting out demons. He never asks them to repent first. In Jesus ministry of love, He helped those in need first and foremost. He demonstrated who He was; and in response, they chose to follow Him. He proved His love to be authentic so that when the truth was spoken, His words were readily heard.
His love came first – repentance is what followed.
I’ve noticed two incorrect trains of thought recently within the church: One says that we have to get our act together before we come to Christ. The other says we don’t have to get our acts together at all even after we come to Christ. But the truth is that love is what compels us towards God in the first place. It’s His love for us that drives us to want to serve Him with our lives.
When someone has a true revelation of the love of God, their life will never be the same.
As Christians, we often hide in our church cliques and talk about how bad the world is getting instead of getting out there and demonstrating Christ’s love. (I certainly have been guilty of this…) But we are the body of Christ. We are called to share the love of Jesus to the world. Did Jesus ever embrace sin? No. But did He ever withhold His love from a sinner? Not once.
So how do we respond to this truth as Christians today? We embrace people. We serve them. And we love unconditionally. And then we let the love of God change their hearts and minds towards Him.
When Jesus healed and performed miracles, He did so with no expectations. While we were still sinners, He died for us.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8
Oh, how I love Jesus… because He first loved me.
Have you ever wondered why sinners wanted to hang out with Jesus in the first place? How many “sinners” do you know that actually want to hang out with pastors and evangelists? (Probably not too many…)
Jesus served them. He loved them. But He also never sugar-coated His message. He never condoned their sinful behavior, but He probably didn’t put them down for it either (otherwise their response would have been to avoid Him rather than spend time with Him.) His love for them must have been evident enough for them to WANT to be around Him.
In the same way, our love needs to be evident to the world. Instead of telling the world how sinful they are, we need to be telling them how much they are loved by their Creator. And not just telling them, but showing them through our actions.
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:12-13
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.