Jesus did not avoid sick and ruined sinners. Instead, he displayed “incarnational ministry.” He descended from heaven, dwelt among men, traveled from place to face, and befriended tax collectors, drunkards, and prostitutes. While other “holy men” kept their distance, Jesus was a friend of sinners who avoided not the wicked person who desired a Savior.
Contrarily, Jesus did avoid the sincerely self-righteous. He withdrew from those who precisely and radically practiced holiness, and then declared themselves righteous based upon their own merit. Jesus was the Great Physician who came to address sinners; he had nothing to offer those who, in their own eyes, needed him not. Therefore, after presenting the Gospel to them and being belittled and rejected, Jesus walked away and kept his distance. He packed up his twelve men with their revival tent and went to minister elsewhere. Self-righteous individuals, though they were very sincere and devout, were the “swine” before whom Jesus refused to cast his pearls. Jesus Christ avoided those who deemed themselves good, holy, and righteous and needed not a Savior.
Additionally, Jesus avoided those who were superficially and hypocritically religious. The Great Teacher had even less regard for religious charlatans who were only concerned with the outside of the cup. He couldn’t stomach men of the cloth who were duplicitous in their conduct; he had no regard for the Sabbath-only worshiper. Instead, with righteous indignation he looked at religious individuals such as Herod, Caiaphas, and Judas — men who worshiped, sacrificed, prayed, tithed, and feasted, but addressed not the filth in their hearts and habits. Jesus avoided those who were superficially and hypocritically religious.
So with this in mind, let us listen to the Apostle Paul’s words to Pastor Timothy:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
Friends, let us not be sincerely self-righteous. Can we not look at the Law above and see our depravity? Would we really claim to be always disinterested in self, disinterested in money, humble, gentle, submissive, grateful, pure, kind, peaceable, truthful, self-controlled, lovers of God more than lovers of pleasure? Would we really claim to be so all the time and without fail? Do we really think there is no part of God’s Law that we break? No, we are far more sinful than we imagine. Let us not be elementary in our assessment of ourselves. Let us not conclude we have sufficient righteousness to climb the hill of the Lord and dwell in his house forever.
Let us not be superficially and hypocritically religious. Do we really think God winks at men who attend church, study God’s Word, fall on their knees in prayer, and yet disregard his standards for living life? No, such individuals have the appearance of godliness, but deny its power. They may always be learning, but they are not growing, and they are not acceptable to God.
Let us not give false hope to those who are superficially and hypocritically religious. In our communities of faith, let us not offer false assurance to those who assemble, sing, pray, and tithe, but prove to make no progress in internal and external sanctification. They are displeasing to God; they are dangerous to us and our children; and they are deceiving themselves. Such men were avoided by Jesus, they prove to be avoided by Jesus’ Spirit, and they should be avoided by Jesus’ obedient church. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to love such unsaved worshipers by avoiding them until they become hungry for the Savior and his sanctification. .
But better yet, let us all be sinners, declared righteous by God, sincerely seeking to worship him in our sanctification. Let us see God’s Law, see our sin, and cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!” Let us recognize that we are thoroughly sinful to the core, and that only by means of Christ’s substitution may we be declared righteous. Then, let us not be interested in superficial religiosity. While we are not saved by making progress in sanctification, we do prove ourselves to be saved by making progress in sanctification.