For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)
Most congregations know this passage from Romans. Most students growing up in the church have heard this passage. Most would say “yeah, Jesus died for me.” But something happens when this moves from their life to someone else’s – when they experience the moment the “still sinner” walks through the door of the room.
Its funny – we talk about the need to do “outreach.” Like the whole point is to reach out to those who don’t know Jesus, share that good news in hopes that they come to know Jesus. But the reality in that is there is no formula – as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3, some plant, some water, only God gives growth. And Jesus speaks of the soil – every person is different. The same seed is cast but not everyone responds the same. My job is not to save anyone – I cannot save anyone. However – I do have the ability to reach out to those who otherwise wouldn’t have hope. The “still sinners” if you will. But this gets messy.
When we actually reach out to those students in our community who desperately need hope, you will feel it. I remember a few years back, some of these students started showing up. This gathering we began was to create a safe space where those who didn’t know Jesus could come and have their first experience in community, hear the gospel, and be loved – regardless of who they were or what they were doing. (They were “still sinners” – who Christ died for.) These first students cussed in the hall – it caused a few ripples.
Because these weren’t “good Christian kids” who had fallen off track – these were still sinners. The ones who desperately need the hope and transformational love of Christ. And the reality is still sinners are going to act like they are still sinning. My job isn’t to make them stop sinning. Only Jesus can do that. My job is to show them the unconditional love that was shown for me. That died on the cross.
Because God is made glorious when someone like me who was so messed up he stared at porn for hours on end suddenly has a life change and heart change.
God is made glorious when someone like me who felt so unloved he began to believe the best way was to end his life suddenly has a hope unlike anything he has experienced before.
God is made glorious when we who were unreconcilable are now reconciled through Christ.
But it starts with humbling ourselves, loving others unconditionally, and praying to the One who is capable of changing hearts and lives. Does it mean I agree with my students who talk like a sailor? Does it mean I agree with my students who sneak into the dark halls of the YMCA? Does it mean I agree with the student who fights behind the tennis courts?
What it means is God is greater than their circumstance, than their sin. He has overcome. I won’t do an outreach event if its for the kids who go to a Christian school and just aren’t paying attention. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of students in our community, in your community who desperately need to hear of the love that says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It will cause ripples. You will have the student who is on the watch for sexually harassing others show up – and how do you deal with it? You will have the students who don’t get along fight in your halls – how do you deal with it? You will have the student who thinks giving her body is the only way to get love – how will you deal with it?
Jesus is greater. God is glorified. Let us welcome and love these students – the farthest, the closest, the Christian school kid, the public school kid, the juvenile delinquent – trusting God will be glorified and God will give growth – because He is infinitely wise and infinitely just and loves beyond what we could ever fathom.