The Church Is for Sinners

((c) The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D., January 2006)

In my first pastorate, a man said to me that he would not go to church because there were too many hypocrites there.  I had enough rapport with the man to say: “You’re right so join us—we need another one.”  Sometimes we have the idea that Church is just for those who have no problems, for those whose life is always rosy, who never have rebellious children, whose spouses are models of virtue, whose bosses love how they do things, such as never late, who never have an impure thought.  If that is who you think you are, you don’t need the Church; but then, you don’t need the Triune God, either, or so you think.

And we Christians should be willing to admit that we have a long way to go in our growth in holiness.  Pretending to be something we’re not is hypocrisy, though we should not tell everyone all our problems, for that is destruction.  Yes, we have been forgiven by God through the merits of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, but we are still growing.  We have been adopted into God’s family, but like legal adoption today, that does not automatically make the child instantly and perfectly holy.  It does make the child an heir to our estate, and if we are rich so is the child.  But it takes a lifetime to train a child and for the child to grow into the kind of person we as parents desire him/her to be.  Likewise, God the Father adopts us into His family based on the legal attorney Jesus Christ, who puts up the bond, the surety, who is Himself our pledge, our guarantee of the adoption.  This gives us a change of legal status, but inwardly we are the same as before the adoption.  But the Father and the Son gave us the Holy Spirit to make us different over time—but that is the key word, TIME.

Consider that our heavenly Father is seeking to “rear” us in the faith our whole  lives, that He brings about problems so that we can learn to be mature, to respond in faith and love to one another and to His providence, that His priorities are not money, farms, cars, bank accounts, though there is nothing wrong with these in themselves.

And this heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, in His Church, the bride of His Son, so that we can care for one another.  And consider further that our sibling Jesus has already been through all the trials we have and knows what they are like, but also as God He gives us the grace we need to grow.  We are in a family that is supposed to love its own as the badge of our relationship with God: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  What do you do when loved ones are sick?  You care for them.

We are called to live by a different set of priorities from the world, to consider the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to be the highest priority and church and family second.  (Church and family actually go together.)  Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads: “He who dies with the most toys wins”?  That is the philosophy of the world, but our riches belong to another family—the Church.  Our estate and inheritance are from Christ, not in pursuing more and more schemes to make money.  Our security is in the Lord, not in our bank accounts that can quickly evaporate.

The world does not expect Christians to be perfect, but it does expect us to be genuine, which means we must be willing to confess mistakes when we make them and then seek to make things right.  Remember the case of the televangelist caught with a prostitute?  At first he was contrite, submitted to the discipline of his brethren, and agreed to the time suspension from the ministry that they placed on him.  This was a good start, but then he rebelled, rejecting their authority, and put himself back in the ministry under a new church.  It was a great testimony to the world to see the Christian Church at work, helping a fellow brother to grow in grace, exercising the authority of Christ, saying to everyone: “Yes, we are sinners, but we are willing to forgive when a brother repents.”  Who could have faulted that?  But the preacher rebelled and neutralized the great testimony.

In the early 1970s, Ruth and I were living in Dallas while I attended seminary.  W. A. Criswell was a great Baptist preacher in Dallas, TX, who loved the Lord, preached great Gospel sermons, and had a large congregation in downtown Dallas.  He was highly respected in the community.  Dr Criswell was interviewed on a local TV station on one occasion when I was watching.  The interviewer was very caustic, and assuming all the self-righteousness she could muster, she forcefully demanded to know why it had only been in the recent past that his church had opened their doors to African American Christians.  I’ll never forget Criswell’s answer, for it stopped her cold, and she stuttered for a come back.  His answer was something like this: “We sinned, and we’ve asked the Lord to forgive us.  Now we are glad to have our black brothers and sisters worship with us.”  That was genuineness!  The interviewer changed the subject!  We are not perfect but sinners, so let us recognize that!  But let us be confessing sinners, not arrogant or rebellious ones.  Pride will destroy us, but humility will lift us up in great favor with God and man.  AMEN.

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