I am continually discovering that, if I was completely honest with myself, Jesus is not a person I would approve of. He turned water into wine. He was called a drunkard. He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors and the demon-possessed. I agree with his sermons and ideas, and I rejoice at his fulfillment of the covenant, but I hesitate at his choice of acquaintances, his daily life among the ungodly.
The idea that Jesus, if he lived in this era, would associate with alcoholics and sex workers and addicts, the outcasts of our society, forces me to reconsider every notion of religion I have. I am pleased to donate money to widows and orphans; I am warmed by those who love God despite having nothing; I am okay with supporting those who “deserve” my generosity and love. But the call to love those Jesus associated with, the kinds of people that I reject and judge behind the walls of my heart, goes against my natural desire to hold my reputation dear, and this is where it all comes together. I admire my own works more than Christ’s. I choose deeds that impress others, that make me feel good, instead of the denial of self that we are called to. In light of this uncomfortable truth, I can do nothing but assume that Jesus was speaking directly to me when he spoke so harshly to the Pharisees. I am the religious leader who speaks the truth but does not understand it, who proclaims God’s mercy but fails to be merciful in my judgment of others. I am far more self-righteous than I thought possible. I have failed to grasp the very core of Jesus’ message, that we all fall short of his glory despite social standing or sin or secrets.
And having accepted this painful reality, I must now come before Christ in the same manner I mentally preached to others—on my knees before the God of heaven, admitting my continual shortcomings without softening or comparing them, and humbly receiving the mercy I need equally to the alcoholics and sex workers and addicts. I may be religious, and I may preach a doctrine of truth and mercy, but until I can admit my sins, until I confess that I judge and reject the very people Jesus came to save, I cannot move forward.
O, praise the One who sees my hypocrisy and still chooses to love me, just as He loves the ones I reject.
“But to mean it when I say that I want my life to count for His glory is to drive a stake through the heart of self—a painful and determined dying to me that must be a part of every day I live.”