Above the door of the old Pure Life chapel hung a sign that read: “Sinners Only Allowed.” This sign was placed there for two primary reasons.
First, the men who come to Pure Life Ministries need to know that God loves sinners. Many of these men have carried deep shame and guilt around over their sin for years. In the past they have made and broken resolutions to change. They have shunned the discipline and correction of the Lord. They have hardened their hearts to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Most of these men enter into true repentance for the first time in their lives when they arrive in our residential program. They need to know that now that they have done so, they are free of all that past sin. They can now unreservedly receive the full measure of God’s love for them.
Second, they must be reminded never to forget that they are sinners. When a believer loses sight of the fact that he is an unworthy sinner in the presence of a holy God, he invariably rises up in self-righteous pride. Amazingly, my experience—both personally and with the many men I have ministered to over the years—has been that people who have been deeply involved in sin can often become the worst of Pharisees! We are all unworthy of God’s love and grace and the more we can keep that in mind, the more intimate we will be with God. Those who consider themselves “good” people are in a terrible delusion. It is commendable if they have not given themselves over to outward sin, but they have a depraved nature the same as the rest of us.
Only the Sick Need a Doctor
The Pharisees once got angry with Jesus because He was eating with sinners. He made an extremely poignant statement that would behoove all of us to consider: “Healthy people don't need a doctor—sick people do. Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: `I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices.' For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:12-13 NLT) The Pharisees were constantly attempting to convince themselves of their own righteousness. Many Christians unwittingly do the same. Knowing man’s natural tendency to avoid seeing himself in this light, Jesus told the following parable. Luke hit the nail on the head when he introduced the Lord’s reasoning: “And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:”
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-15)
People who are aware of their unworthiness before God constantly look to Him to supply the righteousness they need to live victoriously in a world of temptations. Those who attempt to maintain their own “goodness” through self-effort never know what it is means to have God’s imputed righteousness. Others who try to make it in the Christian life through a positive mental attitude are also attempting to mask the fact that they are sinners in constant need of God’s help. It is only as we acknowledge the fact that we are sinners, that we know the forgiveness and freedom that comes with that reality. I will conclude this commentary with the following quote:
An Organization of Sinners
“The church is not an organization of good people, it is an organization of sinners. It is the only organization in human society that takes sinners into its membership just because they are sinners. It is the only organization that keeps on saying week after week, year after year, age after age, ‘We have done those things that we ought not to have done and left undone those things that we ought to have done.’ No other organized body bears in its group consciousness the weight not only of its own members sins but the sins of the whole social order. This is the glory of the church, its uniqueness in human society, that it lives perpetually on the vitality and realism of its own repentance, its contrition, and its plea for God’s help and forgiveness. Let us not claim moral virtue for church members or for the church. Let us rather glory in the fact that the church is a society of sinners, who claim no virtue, but humbly rest their broken and burdened lives upon the grace which God has eternally revealed in Christ Jesus.”(1)
(1) Charles Clayton Morrison. (Stuber, Stanley I. and Clark, Thomas Curtis; “TREASURY OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH”; New York: Association Press, 1949, p 170-171)
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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