I recently posted a meme online that had been sent to me. It said, “Jesus didn’t eat with sinners and tax collectors because he wanted to appear inclusive, tolerant and accepting. He ate with them to call them to a changed and fruitful life, to die to self and live for him. His call is transformation of life not affirmation of identity.” (Emphasis mine)
I introduced the meme by saying:
Step 1 – Each of us is responsible for agreeing with God that without Jesus we are lost and desperate sinners in need of forgiveness.
Step 2 – Each of us is responsible for giving the leadership of our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and to receive the calling to our diving purpose.
Step 3 – Each of us is responsible to allow God to work in our lives and change us from who we are to who he created us to be. We are all a work in progress.
This posting, like many, received some emoji-type responses. But two lengthy responses are the reasons for this article.
The first came from a person who questions whether or not the meme is accurate because “some of us may have to answer for asserting Jesus’ intentions”. This person almost always responds to posts that discuss sin and forgiveness, and twists them to think I am, or other writers are, attacking the LGBTQIPA+ community. He consistently writes with great compassion comprehensive defenses for the LGBTQIPA+ community using the love and compassion of God as his argument.
The second came from a dear distant relative who is partially responsible for introducing me to the gospel of Jesus Christ when I was a child. She had a much different response. She wrote, “”He ate with THEM because he loved them and they needed his help. He did not see sinners, he saw children of our One Heavenly Father. He was eating with family. All much loved children of the One Father.”
These responses beg answers to at least the following questions:
- Were these people not tax collectors and sinners?
- Can we ever really know Jesus’ intentions and assert them?
- Are we attacking, indeed, even singling out the LGBTQIPA+ community with this meme?
- Was Jesus eating with “family”?
- Why did Jesus need to be tortured, crucified and resurrected?
Let’s take them one at a time.
1. Were these people not tax collectors and sinners?
The verbiage “tax collectors and sinners” is specific to Matthew 9:9-15 and Luke 15:1-7. In the Matthew account, verse 10, it says “. . .behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples”. In Luke’s version, chapter 15, verse 1, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering near to him.”
Both accounts tell us who these people were, not by accusation, but by observation and fact. They really were tax collectors and sinners. And they were hungry for what Jesus offered.
2. Can we ever really know Jesus’ intentions and assert them?
Simple answer: Yes! Absolutely.
In the Luke 15 context, Jesus made his intentions absolutely clear. He came to save that which was lost. He reiterated that expressed purpose later with another tax collector, Zacchaeus, in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, he was a chief tax collector. (To learn more about why tax collectors were so hated and included in the phrase “tax collectors and sinners, check out https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/why-exactly-were-tax-collectors-so-hated.html.)
So, to say Jesus came to save the lost in both the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15 and much more directly in Luke 19, allows us to assert a very specific intention of Jesus.
But, we’re not done here yet. We’ve identified “tax collectors” but what, specifically, was a “sinner” and why was a sinner “lost”?
According to Greek scholar Rick Renner, the word used here for “sinner” is the word “hamartolos”. This word was understood by those present with Jesus as “an offender, a lawbreaker, one who is guilty of missing the mark, or a sinner”. This means the “lost” person is one who has failed to meet the requirements of the righteous law of God and is therefore a lawbreaker or a sinner.
So, let’s ask the obvious: Who is a sinner?
Let’s flip over to Romans 3 to get the answer.
In Romans 3:10-12 (ESV) we read, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (emphasis mine).”
Further down, in verse 23 of the same chapter, we get the summary statement on the human race: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
So, yes. We can know and assert Jesus’ intentions. He came to rescue, to save, that which was lost. And, being that all sinners are lost, including you and me, Jesus came to save you and me.
3. Are we attacking, indeed, even singling out the LGBTQIPA+ community with this meme?
Absolutely not! As described above, ALL of us humans are sinners in need of a Savior. That Savior is Jesus.
Unfortunately, like the Pharisees in the Matthew and Luke passages, there are some humans who do not acknowledge that they are sinners in need of a savior.
In today’s world, it is simply not politically correct to identify anyone as a sinner. We have removed ourselves so far from the concept that we often pretend that we don’t know what the words “sin” and “sinner” mean.
Let’s define our terms.
“Sin” is both a power and a behavior. 1 Corinthians 15:56 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin (emphasis mine) is the law.” Why was the law of God the power of sin? It was the power of sin because the purpose of the law was not to save, it was to expose.
The nature of mankind was so corrupted in the fall of Adam and Eve that the only thing the law of God could do was to demonstrate that no one was capable of completely obeying the law. THAT was the power of sin. Sin so destroyed the human race that every one of us became sinners both by nature and by behavior. Our natural state is to live “in sin”. Therefore, we, all of us, are “sinners”. We can’t help but sin.
Sin shows up in many ways. In 1 Corinthians 6, the non-exhaustive list of sins includes the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. We are told that none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. Colossians 3 says to put to death what is earthly in us, namely sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness which is idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk from our mouths, and lying. According to James 1:17, sin also shows up when we know the right thing to do and choose not to do it.
Do I need to go on about what sin is? I don’t think so. There is enough here to justify the verse I shared earlier in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
But, then, the skeptic says, “So, what? What’s the big deal? So, I’m a sinner and I don’t get to inherit the so-called kingdom of God. What do I inherit? What’s behind door #2?”
Well, back to Romans. In chapter 6, verse 23, we are told straight out “the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
We all die. But, what happens after death? According to 2 Thessalonians 1:9, those who die in their sin, those who die as sinners, “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might”. In other words, if you die as a sinner, you will live a conscious existence after this life in a type of misery, pain and anguish you wouldn’t wish on your greatest enemy. You will suffer. Greatly. For eternity. Eternity is a long time.
The good news, no, the great news, is that God is not wanting any of us to suffer or be separated from Him. He made each of us (see Psalm 119). He wants a loving relationship with each of us. God loves you and me so much that Romans 5:8 tells us “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” and in Romans 8:3-4 that Christ’s death for us accomplished what we could not do for ourselves which was a complete forgiveness for our sins and that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”. In other words, when a person receives what Jesus did for him or her, that person is washed clean and is no longer identified as a “sinner”. The power of sin no longer controls the person and his or her behavior. God no longer looks at us as “sinners”. He now looks at us as “family” for it is only through Jesus that a person becomes part of God’s family (see John 1:12, 14 and 17).
4. Was Jesus eating with “family”?
Well, yes. . .and no.
If by “family” one means “created by God,” then, yes, every human being is part of the “family”. However, even God distinguishes between who is a member of the human family and who is a child in his family. A study of Romans 9-11 helps here. Do a deeper study on 9:6-7, as well as Romans 3:21 through chapter 4. Also, a good study of Galatians 3:23-29 is helpful.
The bottom line is this: God himself defines “family” as those who are “in Christ”. That’s it. Either you are “in Christ” or you are not. If you are “in Christ,” God no longer identifies you as a sinner. That doesn’t mean you never sin. It means He sees you through a new lens. The lens is His Son, Jesus. And Jesus no longer considers you lost. You are found. Go back and read Luke 15 again. It’s a great story about how the angels in heaven rejoice when a lost one is found.
Do you want to start a heavenly celebration? Get found.
5. Why did Jesus need to be tortured, crucified and resurrected?
If none of the above is true, then Jesus’ horrible suffering and death was an unjustifiable homicide cheered on by a horribly sadistic deity.
On the other hand, if the manner in which Jesus suffered and died fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law (Romans 8:1-4), then it was an act of the most supreme sacrificial love in the history of the universe, and his resurrection from the dead cements our being “found”. In Jesus we are no longer “lost”.
In Jesus we get to live a transformed life.
And that is what the meme was telling us.