Christianity is not about being nice or respectable

Christianity is not about being nice or respectable

Many people think of Christians as nice, clean-cut people. Those who are respectable, who are pillars of the community. There is a perception that Christians sometimes feel that they are superior to other people, looking down on those who have made different lifestyle choices. And – let’s be honest – sometimes that accusation has truth to it.

It wasn’t that different for Jewish people in Jesus’ day. It was clear to most people who the good guys were and which people should be avoided. The religious leaders were the good guys. They took the law seriously and they were widely respected; you could even see their devotion by what they wore and how they arranged their hair. On the other hand, there were people that were commonly looked down upon, especially tax collectors and prostitutes. Not only were these less than savoury professions, they associated with the Romans.

Into that context, Jesus had a conflict with the religious leaders in Matthew 21. They saw him as causing problems in their area, the temple. They demanded to know whose authority he was acting under. After an initial discussion, Jesus went on to use three stories to unpack who he was. The first one was the parable of the two sons:

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matt. 21:28-32 ESV)

The first son was disrespectful. He did not obey the command of his father, something seen as inexcusable in that time. He looked to others like a bad son, but as he changed his mind and did what was asked, he was in reality a good son.

The second son looked to everyone like the good son. He said the right things, acted in the expected way, but did not actually do what was asked of him. So while he looked like the good son, he was the bad son, the disobedient one.

Jesus shocked the religious leaders with this, for his conclusion is jarring. People like prostitutes and tax collectors, who look like outsiders and bad sons, are coming to trust in Jesus. They look disreputable but are really accepted by God. On the other hand, the religious leaders who look good on the outside have rejected Jesus and are not in the kingdom of God.

There are two things to take from this; it depends on your situation as to which one you need to hear:

  1. There is a great danger in being nice and looking respectable to others. Other might assume you’re a Christian or growing in your faith when in reality your heart is far from God. God doesn’t judge you based on your reputation. It is all about your response to Jesus.
  2. Jesus accepts anyone who comes to him, even if they have a sinful past or are seen as disreputable by others. If you have a history of terrible things, that does not disqualify you from being accepted by Jesus. This is such good news!

Don’t focus too much on whether others think you are nice or religious or respectable. Follow Jesus. And, like Jesus, welcome anyone who comes to him, including those who you might naturally exclude or think are disreputable. Make sure you care less about how you look to others and more about how you can please your Father in Heaven.