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•ASSOCIATING WITH SINNERS• When Jesus sat with tax collectors and sinners in his house, the scribes and Pharisees, as they were accustomed to, accused Him of sitting with sinners. But Jesus said one significant thing. He said, ‘ “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” ‘ MARK 2:17 (MARK 2:15-17). Those words established how God chooses to associate with sinners, and His attitudes towards them. As it is, and forever will be, Jesus is a representative of God (HEB. 4:14-15). So, through His words and actions, He showed how God is to a sinner. The sins of a sinner keeps God from forming a relationship with him, because God hates the very sight of sins; therefore, sin is made to be like a hollowness and emptiness that separates man from his Creator. It is hollow and empty because it has no reward, but still has the capability to separate God from men. Apostle Paul wrote about the former nature of the Colossians by describing them as people who were once estranged and hostile to God (COL. 1:21) (HEB. 11:6). That is one of the nature of sin, it is fruitless and at the same time evil. So, sin separates man from God, his Creator; thereby, stealing the main right God has given to man, which is to dwell with Him forever. But in spite of all these brethren, God still, is the God of sinners as well as the righteous, for He is the Creator of all (EPH. 4:6). For this reason, God does not cast away sinners and turn away completely from them. No, if that were the case, nobody would be saved; there would be no person saved by faith. Because frankly, we were all once sinners without exception (COL. 3:5-7; ROM. 3:23). If not for the grace gotten through Christ, we would not be here; we would not be fit to be called heirs with Christ, but children of wrath. So, all I am saying is that we are all living evidence of the fact that God does not totally face away from a sinner. As the mantra goes: “God loves a sinner, but hates his sin”. The Israelites were examples too, they profaned and sin many times, yet God held on to them, and through one of their lineage descended Christ. These all prove to say that the greatest gift of God to a sinner is the “heart of repentance”. It is through this gift all of us who are now in Christ got to be in right standing with God. Having established all that, I wish to proffer to you by the Spirit, how we are to associate with sinners. Because, whether we like it or not, it is our duty to do these in order to achieve a purpose, which is to try bringing them to repentance. It was part of Jesus’ assignments for believers. For He said that we should make disciples of all nations by preaching His commandments (MAT. 28:18-20). How are we then to do this brethren, if not by associating with them? Mind you, not in the intimate sense, no, but in certain ways, which I wish to prescribe honestly.
I emphasise that it is our responsibility to bring sinners to repentance, either by words or deeds (that is, the way we behave and act). Apostle Paul has shown this duty when he wrote in GAL. 6:1-2: ‘Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass (being controlled by sin), you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ’. By this, it is certain that it is will of Christ to associate with sinners for noble purposes; we are to behave like Him as He entertained sinners in His house. And in order to be like Jesus as He did with sinners, we must adopt His ways in associating with sinners. First in the list is the very purpose why we should associate with sinners, which is to lead him/her to repentance. That should be our aim and no other thing should be added to it, because that was why Christ accommodated sinners in His house. He said that He was associating with sinners because it was His duty to call sinners back to God (MARK 2:17). So, every aim of ours for associating with sinners is to bring them to repentance. Everything we do must have the aim of repentance to it, unless we just want to associate with sinners for our own selfish gains. We should act like Christ; we should follow the words of Apostle Paul in GAL. 6:1. Secondly, we should associate with sinners to counter our inclination to self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is simply the haughty attitude of looking down at sinners as if we are better than them. Such attitude is unpleasant before God, because it is more or less, pride and self-conceit, and it is clear how God feels about a prideful person (1PET. 5:5; JAS. 4:6; PROV. 3:34). There is no basis to feel prideful over a gift (gift of salvation), when we did not even earn it through our work (EPH. 2:8-10), but through the mercy of God. If we then earn it through another man’s work, will we not be hypocritical to be boastful about it? The Pharisees were such persons who were self-righteousness. They were the ones that pointed out that Christ was eating with sinners. They had the shameless audacity to label their fellow men sinners when they themselves were leaders of sinners (MAT. 5:20; 23:13-15). They were rebuked by Christ many times because of their self-righteous stances; Jesus did not spare them in calling them sons of hell. They were extremely judgemental and merciless. And all these were as a result of the titles accorded to them. They were teachers and custodians of the law; so, they thought they had the authority to condemn and look down on fellow humans. Brethren, in the same way, the advantages and favours of God on us might lead us to feel arrogant and self-righteous, making us to judge and look down on non-believers, as if they are lesser human beings before God, which is wrong. God loves them as He loves us; He created us all. It is a wonderful thing that when Apostle Paul instructed us to associate with sinners to lead them to repentance. He further says: ‘For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives Himself’ GAL. 6:3. So brethren, do not deceive yourself by being vainly conceited and self-righteous. If not for God’s mercy, you would not be a believer. Thirdly, the way we associate with sinners must be with compassion. With the full knowledge of their circumstance, we are to pity them. This would even be a motivating factor for us to all the more try bringing them to repentance. Apostle Paul says we should restore a sinner in a ‘spirit of gentleness’ GAL. 6:1. Likewise, in 2TIM. 2:25, he says we should correct our opponents (non-believers, sinners) with gentleness so that God may perhaps lead them to repentance. The way you behave might facilitate or hinder repentance, so, brethren, in order not to offend God while you want to please Him by helping save soul(s), be of right attitudes. Apostle Paul has prescribed these attitudes in TITUS 2:2, which are, to be temperate, serious, sensible, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Lastly, we must associate with sinners while “guarded”. That is, we must be watchful in our association with sinners in order not be drawn to that very sin we want to end in a sinner; thereby, while in the course of wanting to please God, we sin against Him. That would be bad. Apostle Paul warns us while in the course of associating with sinners that we should look to ourselves lest we too become successfully tempted (GAL. 6:1). That is why we must be serious (TITUS 2:2) and careful. Also, the association should be restricted, and not intimate; it should have limits, so as not to get trapped or ensnared.
Jesus while associating with sinners was surely not careless, but rather watchful so as not to be carried away. That is how we should be also. So, brethren, all in all, it is our duty to try bringing sinners to repentance in words or deeds. Apostle Paul says we should bear our fellow man’s burden to fulfil the law of Christ (GAL. 6:2). In order to do that, we must namely, be guarded and compassionate, having the aim of bringing sinners to repentance. Brethren, the benefit of this practice is not for sinners alone but for us also, to prevent us from being conceited and vainly self-righteous like the Pharisees. In conclusion, there is a big reward for saving every sinner as you cause the heavenly host and God Himself to rejoice over a saved soul (LK. 15). Apostle James shows the full rewards: ‘Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins’ JAS. 5:20. That is the reward, assurance of everlasting life and abundant grace. THE GRACE OF THE LORD IN CHRIST JESUS BE WITH YOU (AMEN).

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•ASSOCIATING WITH SINNERS•

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