When I was in college, I worked at Applebee’s. I went home every night smelling like an odd combination of smoke, beer, and fried food. It wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it paid the bills. And working nearly full-time hours meant I got to know my coworkers very well. Each person I worked with had their own story. Some were single moms trying to make ends meet. Many were fellow college students. Still others were using this as a stepping stone until they found something better. And almost all of them were non-Christians (by their own admission). After all, most of them had worked on Sundays and saw the “church crowd” come through every week. I remember one friend saying, “I see what ‘Christians’ are like. They’re rude, demanding, and they don’t tip. If that’s a Christian, I’m proud to say I’m not one.” Yikes. I couldn’t argue with that—so I didn’t. Instead, I did my best to show them what a Christian should be. I was friends with my coworkers. We would chat about nonsense on slow weekdays, commiserate on busy weekend nights, and help each other any time we could.

There are some very strong schools of thought on the subject of “hanging out with sinners.” Some people say that Christians have no business being “yoked up” with sinners and should focus only on their relationships with other Christians. The problem with this logic is that they aren’t doing the one thing Christ followers should do above all else—imitate Christ! Jesus didn’t shun the sinner. As a matter of fact, he sought them out. Shoot, he even invited himself to their houses for dinner. Jesus came to this earth to save the sinner, not the saint. And anyone who thinks that the disciples were perfect from the start has some Bible reading to do. Peter had a temper. Matthew was a greedy tax collector. And Simon was a zealot (aka an anarchist). Sound like a bunch of holier-than-thou folks to you? Didn’t think so.

Some other Christians might take this “hanging out with sinners” thing a bit too far, though. While we’re supposed to love the sinner, we aren’t supposed to love the sin. If your non-Christian friends can’t see any difference between their lifestyle and yours, there’s a problem. Also, while it’s good to be a friend to all—non-Christians included—your closest friends should have similar Christian values and beliefs. When you’re going through a tough time and need prayer, it’s important to have people who can pray and intercede on your behalf. And the idea that “metal sharpens metal” also applies here. Christian friends will hold you accountable and help guide you through this mess we call life.

Did I lead all my coworkers to Christ over the four years I worked at “the Bee’s?” Nope. But I answered plenty of questions about my faith. I prayed for them and with them when they dealt with tragedy. And I hope I was a light in a dark world. After all, being a Christian isn’t about being religious. It’s not even about going to church. It’s about reaching people—right where they are. It’s not our job to fix anyone or clean them up or save them. God handles that without any help from us! The Bible commands us to be a friend to the friendless. And if we can just point people in the direction of Jesus, he’ll reach out and take care of the rest.

Conversation Starter
When you hear the word “religion” what do you think of? Does it have a positive or negative connotation? Why do you think that is?

Question 1:
How do you think Jesus was counter-cultural while here on earth? What do you think it looks like to be counter-cultural as a Christian today?

Question 2:
Read Matthew 9:9-13
In this passage we see that Jesus sat or “reclined” and ate with well-known sinners. Jesus didn’t require people to change before coming to Him. What do you think of the idea that we should encourage people to “belong” before they “believe” or “behave?”

Question 3:
Read Luke 18:9-14
This parable reinforces Jesus’ point from Matthew 9:9-13. In Luke 18:9 it says that Jesus told this parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” How can we guard against falling into the same dangerous trap of trusting in ourselves for righteousness and treating others with contempt?

Question 4:
Who do you believe are the marginalized in our society? Do you struggle with reaching out to them? Why or why not?

Question 5:
Based on what we see back in Matthew 9:9-13 and throughout the Gospels, how did Jesus treat the marginalized or “sinners?” Who was it that had the biggest problem with this and how did Jesus respond to them? How should we respond when we are met with opposition for expressing acceptance to sinners?

Questions 6:
What do you think Jesus means when he says, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices?” What do you think it would look like to live that out in your daily life?

Question 7:
Read Romans 5:8 and Romans 2:4
Who do you need to show the kindness of God to? What is one small thing you can do to spend time with that person this week? To “eat with a sinner?”

Prayer Focus
Pray that God would help you to wholeheartedly follow Jesus- to wreck “religion” by echoing the words and ways of Jesus in your everyday life. Ask God to show you who you need to reach out to that maybe doesn’t know him and ask him to give you the courage to be able to share your past and your story with them in a way that points them to him.