Written By Charles Christian, Indonesia
“No perfect people allowed.”
The sign I saw hanging outside a church intrigued me. It reminded me that nobody in this world is perfect—including those who go to church. If churches were only for perfect people, they would be empty.
Many of us, however, do struggle with the fact that the church is made up of imperfect people. I have friends who have left their churches because of their disappointment with people there. One friend’s father, a deacon in their church, does not even allow her to get involved in church matters, because he has seen the “true colors” of people in the church and believes that it is full of hypocrites. Isn’t it sad?
When we are new to a church, it’s easy to think that it has only good people who love God, love others, and hate sin. But could that be because we’re viewing the church from afar? Zoom in a bit closer, and we’d realize that it’s quite different. There is no such thing as a perfect church, because the Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The church is made up of sinners. Yes, every single one of us is a sinner.
But if that’s the case, you may be thinking, is there any difference between who are in the church and those who are not? My answer is yes—I believe the sinners in the church are different because of the following characteristics.
Sinners in the church confess that they are sinners
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told this parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Here were two different individuals—one a respectable religious teacher, the other a despised outcast. But beyond the obvious disparity in their social status, it was the disparity in their responses that Jesus wanted to highlight. The tax collector knew and confessed that he was a sinner. The Pharisee, on the other hand, thought highly of himself. Jesus lauded the response of the tax collector, and said that he was “justified before God”.
The Pharisees’ self-righteousness had blinded them from realizing that they were “sick” and in need of a doctor (Mark 2:17 and Matthew 9:12-13). And that is a danger some of us—even in church—may fall into if we’re not careful.
Do we realize the depth of our depravity and come with a repentant heart before the Lord?
Sinners in the church depend on God
Sinners in the church believe in God and know that they are not able to save themselves—only God alone is able to save them.
We live a life of dependence on Him, which includes being honest about our deepest and darkest struggles with Him and regularly seeking him for His provision and forgiveness.
St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th-century Spanish nun, once prayed with great honesty: “Oh God, I don’t love you, I don’t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you!”
Do we pour out our heart to God and depend on Him daily?
Sinners in the church fight against sin every day
We are not immune to sin. We still fall into sin, but we make continuous effort to repent and fight against it. This is not an easy battle. God reminds us to be alert, as our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
It is only when we depend on God and keep close to Him that we can defeat the temptations in our everyday life. And whenever we fall, we can—by God’s grace—get up again.
Do we struggle with sin daily and ask God for strength to overcome it?
Sinners in the church love other sinners
Sinners in the church know that God loves the other sinners as much as He loves us. And because God loves the other sinners, we love them too. We don’t judge them of their wrongdoing or neglect them. Instead, we pray for them, remind them in love, and help them repent and become better persons.
Do we love others just as God loves us?
Writer Morton Kelsey once said: “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” Isn’t that true? But let’s not stop there. Because of what Jesus did, we are not only sinners in the church, we are saved sinners in the church.