[Originally published in the Monroe News on June 30, 2023]
The inclusiveness of Jesus really is an amazing thing. St. Paul really describes it best in Romans 5 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus went to the cross it was to die for every last human being that has ever lived. Jesus didn’t make distinctions or create boundaries when He poured out His life and His love, alongside His blood, on the cross. We hear of this kind of love in well known verses like John 3:16 where it speaks of God’s love for the world. And the openness and the inclusiveness of God’s love and salvation in Christ is amazing “whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” I’ve always loved that word there, “whosoever.”
In a sermon I preached a couple of weeks ago I tried to capture in more relatable terms just what God’s amazing love for us looks like. This came to be in a Gospel lesson we shared in worship from Matthew 9 regarding the calling of Matthew. When we first meet Matthew he is sitting in a tax booth likely doing his daily job. And Jesus very simply and bluntly says to him “Follow me.” And then the text tells us Matthew “rose and followed him.” Just like that. What’s amazing about this is the fact that tax collectors were widely regarded by society and particularly the faithful Jews of that day as being sinners through and through. They were seen as traitors to their own people as they aided the Romans. They were usually thieves and liars in how they conducted their business. We have no reason to think Matthew was any different. And so we come to the point: it was a sinner like Matthew that Jesus called to follow. That is amazing love.
We see many other examples like this throughout the Gospels. The Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus meets in John 4. Mary Magdalene who was full of many demons. Saul/Paul who was a zealous persecutor of the church. Even the woman caught in adultery in John 8 was called by Jesus to a more faithful life. Jesus explains his ways in Matthew 9 after calling Matthew the tax collector when he says “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick … I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
We should rejoice in this. Not that we are sinners. But that Jesus loves sinners, which means Jesus loves us. He loves us just as we are. He doesn’t force us to fix our lives and make everything right, first, in order to gain His love. No, His love is given freely and is offered to all.
This isn’t the whole story just yet though. When Jesus calls and loves sinners He doesn’t call them to remain and stay as they are. Which is to say, while Jesus loves the sinners, this isn’t the same as saying Jesus loves the sin. The physician doesn’t openly welcome the sick in his doors just to leave them in their illness. He welcomes them and cares for them so they can be healed. Jesus’ inclusive love for us is the same. With open arms He invites us into His care, so that we may be healed and forgiven. Many false teachers make the mistake of thinking Jesus’ love is not only about welcoming us, but also allowing us and inviting us to stay in our sin. That is neither Biblical nor loving.
In John 8 Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more.” Paul writes in Romans 6 “are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means. How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Jesus’ inviting love for us not only gives us forgiveness but it calls us to repentance and to a life where we leave our sinful ways behind. When the doctor tells her patient that she needs to leave harmful behaviors behind it is out of love the doctor does this. It is also harmful and foolish for the patient to ignore the doctor’s advice. It is a matter of love and discipleship that Jesus calls us to repent. In Matthew 16 He bids us “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Jesus' inclusive love for us is clear. It is offered and intended for all of us. His love reminds us that though we have nothing within us to be prideful about, He loves us all the same. And in His love for us He calls us to repent of our sin, to deny ourselves, to lay all that at the foot of the cross, and follow Him in the ways of true love and life.
Cling to this good news: Jesus shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners He died for us. But also remember why it is that Jesus had to die in the first place. He died to pay for our sin. He paid the price for us. He gave Himself up for us. That’s true love.
To God be the glory.