I am tracking with many of you who remember “Just As I Am” as the invitation hymn for Billy Graham crusades, sung by a few-hundred-voice choir as literally hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people would get up out of their seats and come forward to receive Christ. I am one of those as well, and as a result, this song will always be associated with my salvation, just as it is for many of you.
What we’re doing this week in the Catch, however, is not reminiscing. It is taking that one step farther. We want to think of “Just as I am,” not just as an expression of how God accepts us as we are, but how we are to accept everyone the same way. If people don’t have to change to come to Jesus, why should they have to change for us?
When Paul wrote that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, and then started listing them as immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and then wrote, “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11); just when did they get to know these people? Before or after they were washed? Before or after they were sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God? Did they check everybody at the door first to find if they were clean, and if they weren’t, did they tell them to wait for the next Billy Graham crusade? “Billy Graham will take you just as you are, but in here, we only focus on the sanctified. We can only talk about past tense sin in here. You’ve got to clean up first.”
I don’t think so. I don’t think Paul means that. I think he means that the church is full of people like this at all stages of the journey, and that the fellowship of believers therefore welcomes and accepts all these people. That would mean that the very verse that people are using today to keep some of these folks out of the fellowship is the one that should be telling us to let them all in.
And one more thing. When Paul listed these people, he wasn’t focusing on their bad deeds, he was focusing on their identity. They were labeled by their particular sin as “idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, and revilers,” but in Christ, they no longer are known by their sins. Their sins have been forgiven. They have a new identity. They are now washed clean, sanctified and justified in Christ Jesus. Does that mean that they never struggle any more with the things that used to be their identity? I highly doubt it. We all still live in a body of flesh; we all still have to deal with sin; but we now have a new identity in Christ. We are no longer labeled by the former things.
“Just as I am,” is the way you and I were welcomed. “Just as they are” is the way we will welcome everyone. Otherwise, there’s no hope for any of us. This is what the Gospel of Welcome is all about. This is grace turned outward.