Daniel Niles, a methodist pastor from what is now Sri Lanka is credited with coining the phrase, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” This expresses a core aspect of our faith, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is a necessary and always timely reminder that none of us is able to occupy the moral high ground when dealing with issues of sin, whether we are discussing gossip, gluttony, disunity (sins which we often allow to pass unchallenged), or sexual sins. Each of us, in humility, recognises, or at least should, that it was my personal sin which put Jesus on the cross. As Stuart Townend wrote,
Behold the Man upon a cross
My guilt upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
When we consider sexual sin, however, there is a danger that we forget this very fundamental truth. This is a danger which manifests itself perhaps most clearly when considering same-sex attraction as this is a whole area of sexuality which is outside of our experience. Our way forward must follow the example of our Lord and the way in which he dealt with people. He does not, as we will be aware, speak directly to the issues of same-sex attraction, but he does deal with other issues of sexuality, and with other people who would have been seen, especially by the religious leaders of his day, as outside the scope of God’s favour.
In John 7:53-8:11, Jesus is faced with a woman who had been caught in adultery – a sexual sin. In his conversation with the woman, he does not condemn her, the condemnation comes from the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Instead, he shows understanding, grace and compassion. In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus meets Zacchaeus, a tax collector, who was considered , even by the ordinary people let alone the religious leaders, as beyond the pail. Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus’ unspoken desire to meet him is to go to his home and eat with him. The people who witness this event complain about Jesus’ being the guest of “a sinner” (Luke 19:7). But it is this act of grace which leads to repentance and to the final glorious comment that, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
If this is how Jesus dealt with people, in grace and love, then that must be our attitude as well. Of course, he does not leave either of these people in exactly the same place. Having met Jesus, they are changed. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11) Jesus says to the woman. But this change takes place in response to, and as a result of, meeting Jesus. Our role today, as sinners saved by grace, but also as Christ’s witnesses is to introduce others to Jesus, and allow his Spirit to change their lives as a result.
This is our second principle, that we are simply sinners saved by the grace of God proclaiming the reality of that salvation to all.