How should saints relate to sinners? Perhaps a co-worker or neighbor who is not a Christian, has invited you to a party. Or you have been asked to attend the wedding of a very secular relative. Many of us feel uncomfortable socializing with people who don’t share our values. We worry about what to eat or drink and what to say.
Jesus spent so much time with sinners that the Pharisees and Scribes complained: “This Man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Jesus responded with three of His greatest parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Each answers the question: “How does God relate to lost sinners?” In these parables Jesus explains His mission and describes God’s plan of Salvation. Each of the three parables has three parts: 1) the loss of something valuable; 2) the search for what was lost; and 3) the celebration when what was lost, was found.
Jesus includes everyone, male and female, in these parables: “Which man of you . . .” (Luke 15:4). “What woman . . .” (Luke 15:8). As you read Luke 15, imagine yourself as the shepherd looking for a lost lamb, or imagine yourself as the lost lamb in the wilderness. Feel the woman’s anxiety as she searches for her lost coin and her relief when she finds it. As the Father rushes out to meet his prodigal son, remind yourself that God’s response to lost people is compassion, acceptance, and rejoicing.
What do you rejoice over? This is an important question for Christians to consider, for our answer indicates our priorities. Instead of rejoicing when a lost sinner is found and saved, we, like the prodigal’s older brother, get upset when a sinner receives compassion and forgiveness but not justice for what he did. We may sympathize with the older brother’s response when his father pleaded for him to join the celebration of his brother’s return: “I never transgressed your commandment . . . yet you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends. As soon as this son of yours came, who has [spent his inheritance] on harlots, you [celebrate]” (Luke 15:29, 30).
If you see your own attitude toward sinners in the older brother’s response, listen to the Father’s compassionate plea to him: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31, 32).
How does God relate to sinners? He searches for them until He finds them, celebrates their return, and accepts them as His children. He has done that for us, can we do less for others?
Douglas Jacobs, D.Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University