I’ve recently been rereading Learning Evangelism From Jesus by Jerram Barrs. It’s a fantastic book if you’ve not read it before. Naturally, being a book on evangelism, it’s drawn my attention to the intentionality Jesus had with ‘sinners’. Now in one sense, the word ‘sinner’ encompasses both believers and unbelievers as none of us have escaped entirely the grasp of sin on our life. But often in the New Testament we see the word ‘sinner’ used to reference prostitutes, drunkards, gluttons, tax collectors, etc. In this sense we see ‘sinner’ used as a specific label for societal outcasts and unbelievers. These people were lost socially, morally, and spiritually. Jesus though had a significant desire to seek and save the lost. So should we.
Take for instance the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. If you’re unfamiliar with it, take a second and read verses 1-10. Zacchaeus we’re told was a rich, chief tax collector. Everyone hated and despised him. Like most tax collectors, he used his position to gain great power and wealth. As you can imagine, Zacchaeus didn’t have many friends. But on this particular day we read that something amazing happens to him – Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home, much to the disapproval of the crowd gathered around. Jesus, in going to Zacchaeus’ house was breaking all sorts of social, religious, and moral barriers. That didn’t stop him, but I wonder if it’d stop us? We see at the end of the story that because of Jesus’ intentionality with Zacchaeus he actually becomes a believer.
Admittedly this story is both encouraging and convicting for me. You see, I’m greatly encouraged as I reflect on the power of the gospel to save the lives of those that are lost. I’m encouraged as I think about the beauty of Jesus’ love for the unlovable. But despite this encouragement, I find myself convicted as I think about the lack of time I actually spend around unbelievers. I often give lip service to the importance of establishing relationships with those that don’t believe in Jesus, yet as I think about my life it’s easy to see the numerous ways I’ve retreated to the comfort of my Christian bubble. I often try to justify why I do, but really it’s nothing more than a bunch of excuses to perpetuate my nice, comfortable lifestyle. In my quest to fulfill my own desires and agenda I’ve realized that I easily remove from my life the very thing that Jesus calls me to – fellowship with ‘sinners’. Jesus treated non-Christians with honor and love and I need to do the same. That might not always be easy, but every day Jesus comes to me in my rebellion; how foolish and arrogant of me not to follow in his footsteps with others?
In his book Jerram says, “The commitment to mercy, compassion, love, and service is the calling of every Christian, and it is that calling that leads us into close personal relationships with unbelievers around us.” Jesus throughout the New Testament loved spending time with unbelievers and as a result they enjoyed being around him! We need to ask ourselves, “Do unbelievers enjoy being with us?” As you reflect on that question, where is God calling you to be more intentional with non-Christians?