A Hospital for Sinners
By John Telgren
I read a disturbing article in Current Thoughts and Trends that was a little more than disturbing. It seems that abortions among conservative, evangelical Christian women are on the rise. Christian women have pressures placed on them that unbelievers do not because there are fewer stigmas attached to unwed pregnancies. But that has not been enough to stop many Christian women from engaging in sexual activity, getting pregnant and getting abortions.
Ironically, the reason more Christian women are getting abortions is because they are Christians. It has something to do with the question, "Who would you rather have as your judge? Jesus or your peers?"
I knew of a preacher who criticized and lectured a young woman in front of the congregation after she had come forward to confess fornication, which had become evident due to the pregnancy that had resulted from it. I knew of another young girl who was told she had to confess to the young peopleís group her sin (she was pregnant also) before she would be allowed to participate in anything. She did as she was asked. However, instead of love and support, she received a cold shoulder as was treated like a social leper. As a result of things such as these, many women are getting abortions, choosing to face Jesus as a judge rather than their peers.
I had to reflect on why this is the case. No doubt, some women abort their babies simply because it is an inconvenience they do not want to deal with. However, it is tragic that many single pregnant women keep their pregnancy a secret and abort their babies because of the dynamics in their church.
If there is a lack of grace, where did the lack come from? I believe it comes from basically two things.
Failure to wrestle with personal sin.
First of all, I am convinced that a lack of grace stems from the failure of Christians to wrestle with their own sins and failures. There is no way one sinner can help another if he has not or is not dealing with his own sin. It is an irony that the result of unresolved sin is often a personality of judgment, condemnation, arrogance, and legalism. We can clearly see this in the case of the Corinthian church with all of their unresolved sin. To them Paul writes:
"For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it (1 Cor 4:7)?"
"For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding (2 Cor 10:12)."
It is not unusual for those with unresolved sin to project all their ills on everyone else but themselves. Legalism is what shields them from being condemned in their own minds. The result is a hateful, mean-spirited people who beat brethren up with the Bible in the name of God. There are those who say things such as, "I serve God" while hurting Godís people. Sin makes them so uncomfortable that they cannot get anywhere near it. Ironically, the reason for their aversion to sinners is because they have not dealt with their own sins. Therefore, they cannot help others with their sins because they themselves have not gotten past it. The result is that they point fingers and condemn rather than eat with the tax collectors and sinners. It compounds the problem when these folks are church leaders, or men in the pulpit.
The early church in Corinth had similar problems. Until they came to grips with their sin, they would never be able to let it go. To this proud church Paul writes:
"On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:8-11)."
It is ironic that those who condemn others for being "revilers" are often revilers themselves. We need to remind ourselves that we are all sinners (1 Jn 1:8). We also need to remind ourselves that we were sanctified, set apart, dedicated to God. We no longer live according to our desires, but according to Godís. This means a transformation, a re-characterization. We have been transformed from being a trash can into fine china. God has made us into "vessels for honor (Rom 9:21)."
The only way transformation can come is through two things. It comes through the grace of God and his Holy Spirit, not through mere rules and legal requirements.
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Tit 2:11-13)."
Notice that the grace of God is what instructs us to live godly, not mere rules and regulations. This may be very unsettling if you are hearing this for the first time. How can grace do this for us? After all, donít we need to emphasize Godís rules and laws rather than this wishy-washy grace thing?
If you think about it, Godí grace will force you to acknowledge your sins. There is no way to apply his grace to your sin if you do not expose your sin to it. If you keep it hidden, Godí grace may never touch it. It will be ever present, but you will be blinded to it and therefore in bondage to it.
So emphasizing rules and legal requirements will have the opposite effect than what is intended. Paul discusses this in the book of Romans.
"But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me (Rom 7:8-11)."
We are "deceived" if we think rules and regulations are the answer. Just knowing them will not necessarily produce an inner change. We have many laws on the books against various crimes, but as the newspapers show, they are not very effective in stopping crime, even with law "enforcement." This is why Paul also said this:
" But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6)."
So we serve in the newness of the Spirit. God gave us the Spirit, and this is what helps us to overcome sin in our life. Notice the following passages:
"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5)."
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal 5:16)."
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom 8:2)."
"If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom 8:13)."
It is about inner transformation, and God gives us the power through his Spirit for that inner transformation. This is why he tells us to be "transformed" by the "renewing" of our mind (Rom 12:2).
A misunderstanding of our Lord
The second reason for a lack of grace would be a misunderstanding of who our Lord is.
One of the ways Jesus referred to himself was as a "doctor." Doctors typically use an anesthetic when doing certain surgical procedures. It is not absolutely a medical necessity to do so, though most people would strongly prefer it. However, it is possible for surgeries to be performed without it. So use of an anesthetic is an act of mercy.
It occurred to me that Jesus uses "anesthetic" when he operates.
"And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mk 2:15-17)."
Typically, sinners were not so threatened by Jesus that they could not approach him. Jesus didnít look down his nose at them, he didnít give condemning lectures, and he didnít beat them over the head with a Hebrew scroll. However, he did go home and have dinner with them. He did tell them to sin no more. He did touch them. He didnít cause undue pain, he uses "anesthetic" which is an act of mercy.
It seems that those who were typically threatened by him were those who did not use anesthetic. These "doctors of the law" used pain inflictors instead of painkillers. They did not use mercy in their trade. As a matter in fact, Jesus explicitly accuses them of neglecting the anesthetic:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others (Matt 23:23)."
Is it any wonder why sinners flocked to Jesus instead of to the Pharisees?
Donít misunderstand. You cannot make dealing with sin completely painless. Even after an operation, the anesthetic wears off and you have to start the process of healing after having a malignancy removed. There is something to be said for spiritual discipline, which is not always pleasant.
"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11)."
However, this discipline is an expression of intense, fatherly love.
"For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines (Heb 12:6)."
However, to cause needless pain is a travesty, especially when the one who causes it does so in order to avert attention from his own shortcomings. Since Jesus is our example, we should also use anesthetic for sins. Anesthetic is actually part of the fruit of the Spirit. It is called "gentleness (Gal 5:23)." Paul says explicitly that we should use anesthetic.
"Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted (Gal 6:1)."
Jesus dealt gently with those caught in sin, and so should we. Since Jesus used a medical analogy to refer to his ministry, I suppose it is appropriate to use a hospital analogy for our ministry. The church is a hospital for sinners.
If we openly wrestle with our sin and apply Godís grace to it, we can help others with their sin rather than simply shaming them. There is no room for shame. As a matter in fact, Jesus "despised the shame (Heb 12:1-2)." Jesus pursued the joy of God through the cross. However, shame is self-defeating. Guilt and shame causes despair, which causes hopelessness, and we are all about hope not despair!
When a sinner repents, God does not shame them, he rejoices (Luke 15)! Godís word gives us explicit instructions on how to empower the repentant sinner:
"Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him (2 Cor 2:6-8)."
"Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2)."
"Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled (Heb 12:12-14)"
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (Jas 5:16)."
"Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jud 21-23)."
The strongest defense against sin is to have an atmosphere of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22). In other words, walk by the Spirit. This will enable those struggling with sin to have more confidence to confess it to the brethren in the hospital for sinners. This will allow the brethren to restore each other with gentleness and kindness. This will enable them to confess with the confidence to know that the brethren are there to help build up, not tear down.
Unconfessed sin keeps us in bondage. Secrecy is Satanís greatest tool to isolate and conquer a sinner. Confession unites us together against him and deflates the power of secret sin. So, there is power in grace to conquer and overcome!
Jesus is the great physician, and we are his residents. We cannot help others unless we deal with our own ailments. Physician heal thyself! The church can continue the mission of the Great Physician in being among other things a hospital for sinners.