Larry Kirkpatrick

A Positive Place on the Web for the Third Angel's Message

Jesus Friend of Sinners

  • Jesus took a humanity as our own humanity
  • He could come no closer.
  • He functioned under the same rules as we do

Jesus was accused of hanging out with the wrong people. In the occasion below, He had just been healing then spoke favorably of John the Baptist, and then offered this:

And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children (Luke 7:31-35 KJV).

When John the Baptist came preaching but kept himself from all things, some condemned him. Then came Jesus, attending social events of those condemned by the self-assured and pious. They accused Him of being a feaster, drinker, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. However God tried to interact with His people, He was condemned; He could not "win." But the problem was not on God's end; it was on the receiver's.

It can be useful for us to think about this today because of the different ideas out there about Jesus. One is that when Jesus came, God in human flesh, He came as a superhuman. In this thinking, He took a body very different from ours; He not subject to the human situation as are we. Jesus, so these say, had advantages we do not have, but that is OK because He is God. He operated under a different set of rules than we do.

This view highlights that Jesus was God. That is a necessary point; Jesus is God. But the package which has been connected to this view is a problem. Did Jesus really operate under a different set of rules than we do? Was He so different from us as to have a different kind of humanity than ours?

How do these questions play in the Great Controversy War? Can God bring the universe to a place of eternal safety so that all remain free agents, and still, sin will never rise up again? Does this mysterious action on God's part effect some sort of mostly opaque-to-us cosmic legal-transaction? Will the men and women living in the last generation really live without sinning, or, will they be transgressing right up until the moment Jesus appears in the sky? Finally, what difference does all of this make to the world for how we live today? Does any of this touch our lives so that our lives can touch the lives of others differently than we would if we knew not the answer?

Jesus is God

Let's start by making sure that we agree on this urgent item: Jesus was God. That is, Jesus has always existed as a person, has always had life within Himself, original to Himself. He, as a person, is not derived from, did not split off from some other being. Jesus is Himself God and was with God the Father in the beginning (John 1:2). As far back as human understanding can go, Jesus existed. He was part of the One God, a distinct Person in Himself. Before being carried to birth by Mary in human form, He had existed as a person. Angels are persons. Humans are persons. God the father, God the Son Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit, each are distinct persons. You do not need to be human to be a person.

Jesus Never Sinned

And let's make certain that we are clear on one other point. Jesus never chose to sin. Jesus was never guilty of personal sin. He never played with sinful thoughts; He never nurtured in Himself or developed any inclination to sin. His character was never tainted by, corrupted by, distorted or warped by sin. During His sojourn in humanity, Jesus was sinless. From as far back in His human experience as when He could have intentionally and with premeditation and moral awareness chosen to sin, until His last breath at the cross, He never sinned; nor before or after that time.

Are we clear so far? Jesus was and remained sinless by choice.

Different Rules or Body for Jesus?

Now let's process those questions posed. Did Jesus or can Jesus operate under a different set of rules from us and still save us? To be more precise, can Jesus use powers of deity not available to us to obtain victory in the human flesh He takes, which we cannot use to obtain victory in the human flesh that we are in? Can He do so and still win the Great Controversy War?

Let's think about "the rules" we operate under, and try to keep this very simple. Is it possible for people who have sinned to be saved? Yes. Inspiration tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). What is the result of sin? Death. You and I have sinned and by our own voluntary choice to be rebels, condemned ourselves to death.

But there is good news. God offers, through the help of His Holy Spirit, to change us. Jesus, through His living without sinning and then His death on the cross, has made it possible for a power outside of us to work in us to bring us to deep repentance, to make possible wholesale change in our lives. We are all sinners, but by choice; not birth.

Consider the train of circumstances. Our problem is not that we are born evil. Rather, we enter existence in a damaged kind of humanity. Before understanding what our choices are inclining us to, we act in ways that develop in us a predisposition toward self-indulgence. The idea of self-control comes later. It waits for the arrival of rationality and moral awareness.

Before we are equipped to base our actions on morally-aware decisions, we engage in what feels good. Later, when we understand the moral facts, we must fight against already habituated practices. Then there is a victory to be gained; then we face the necessity of self-denial. Then choices to indulge constitute rebellion and are sin for which we make ourselves guilty. Jesus never chose rebellion. He never sinned.

To clarify, anything that we did as infants, or, for that matter, that Jesus did in early infancy, before having the mental equipment in place to do them on the basis of weighed moral choices, could not be rebellion, could not condemn.

Only willful, intentional, morally-aware choices to rebel are sin. We all have made such choices. Jesus never made such choices. We trained ourself in self-indulgence before we knew better. Jesus did not.

He came here with a sinless character from a time before sin. He was a free agent. One possibility? He could legitimately ask the Holy Spirit beforehand to do certain things for Him during the time when He would not be able to make rational, morally-aware choices, just as you or I might legitimately ask a physician before an operation during which we would be unconscious, to do certain things for us. Thus the Holy Spirit could intervene in those earliest formative months to prevent the formation of inclinations toward self-indulgence. He preexisted. Perhaps He could do that. You did not preexist. You could not do that. He was a fully aware free agent before entering humanity. You did not exist; you were not. This was an early circumstantial difference between Jesus and you.

We need not sweat the details. The central question in the Great Controversy is whether morally-aware persons can, in power provided by God, live without sinning. Whatever the explanation for the time of His earliest infancy, in Jesus, we have a Savior. Since He is as human as we are, He can save. If He can live without sinning, in a humanity like, not unlike our own, and if the power available to Him is just as available to everyone else bearing the same kind of humanity, it follows, that through the same help provided to us from outside ourselves, we may live without sinning in the humanity in which we exist.

So, there is no reason why God would have to change the rules for Jesus. All that is needful is for Jesus in our humanity to embrace the help that has been provided for everyone bearing our humanity. In fact, if Jesus did live under a different set of rules than we do, it would follow, would it not, that we play no significant role in the Great Controversy War? We are unneeded? That the sin and suffering and mayhem of our spinning world continues--all unnecessarily? That, God, in fact, is authoring and perpetuating sin rather than ending it? That would be a problem--and a big one.

A connected question: did Jesus live in a different kind of humanity than us? Was He able to heal, walk on water, and so forth because powers existed resident in Himself that are not available to us? Was Jesus' humanity different than ours? Was He not impacted by temptation in the same way that we are? Was His mind clearer than ours and His heart more committed to His Father than ours because in Him there dwelt at all times the fullness of God?

Be careful here. In Colossians 2:9 where we are told that "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily," Paul's argument is that other agents, other intermediaries between God and man are not needed (1:16-19; 2:10, 18, 19). We can connect directly with Jesus; He is God. Paul's argument is not that Jesus retained at all times and places His rightful power of deity, but that He always continued to be who and what He was: God.

Clearly, when Jesus came to earth, He was subject to all the weaknesses and liabilities of humanity just as we are. And He overcame in spite of it just as we are to overcome in spite of it. In Jesus even now, this day, exists all the fullness of the godhead. But there is one attribute we understand that Jesus possessed before His incarnation that voluntarily He no longer does have: He is no longer omnipresent in Himself. He has never taken back to Himself this attribute. And yet, in Him dwells all the fullness of God. It is obvious then that a divine person need not retain at all times all of His attributes of deity in order to be God, or even to have in Himself all the fullness of the godhead.

Furthermore, we turn again to the Scriptures, and see this:

For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me. Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily not to angels doth he give help, but he giveth help to the seed of Abraham. Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted (Hebrews 2:10-18 KJV).

Jesus is of the same humanity as we are. We are truly brothers; we share in the same flesh and blood; we, Jesus and us, are of the seed of Abraham. He was made like us in order that He might be our high Priest and reconcile us to God. He was tempted in this humanity in order to save us in this humanity.

There is nothing at all in inspired writings to suggest that Jesus' humanity, His physicality, was different from our own. Everything that is true for us in our humanity must also have been true for Him in His. He was subject to insect bites, rise and fall of hormonal levels, changes in brain chemistry, involuntary responses of the sympathetic nervous system, weariness, hunger, feeling, sweating, and all the rest. In all these and more Jesus was like, not unlike us.

Jesus' humanity was, in every way that we can think of, a humanity as ours, a fallen humanity, a fallen-natured humanity. We can even call it a sinful humanity, that is, the kind of humanity that Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Zechariah and Paul had and that we have. It was a humanity impacted by, damaged by, messed-up by, degenerated by, corrupted by, depraved by sin. And yet, Jesus never harbored, retained, played-with, or generated a thought or thoughts that became sin. Jesus never sinned. He is our sinless Savior.

I know what some may be thinking right now. If Jesus' humanity was like our humanity in the manner in which I have just described it, I am saying that He too was a sinner, He too was born a sinner, He too had corrupted tendencies. Be careful. Be fair. That is not what I am saying.

No one on planet earth has ever been born a sinner. Show me even one statement from inspiration saying we are "born sinners." You can't. There is no such statement in all the inspired writings. We are born and Jesus was born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But being born in that situation is not being born a sinner. It only means one is born onto the battlefield, and that we enter existence as free agents impacted by sin in an environment deeply distorted by it.

Of course! For the Great Controversy War is still under way! And there will be, there logically cannot not be, a last generation born into this setting. How then will they--(perhaps we!)--air? Will there at the last, be a people who in the power of God experience the faith of Jesus and in His strength live-out all that it means to have our heavenly Father's name written in our foreheads?

Satan has cunningly calculated that he can prevent the rise of such a group. God has spoken through prophets to tell us that such a people will come to the front in the end-time. The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan is under way. God has made His plan clear: no sin. Satan has made his plan clear: no sinlessness. You and I? We will choose to become like Jesus or Satan. We will choose seal or mark. We will reproduce one character or the other.

Will men and women of the last generation live without sinning? If they sin, Satan empirically demonstrates that humans cannot overcome and that to insist that they overcome is unjust, unkind, unloving. If they are victorious over sin, then God demonstrates empirically that there is no excuse for sin, and that it is just, it is kind, it is loving, to restore His human race to Christlikeness, Godlikeness, Satan-unlikeness. Then the universe will be made safe for eternity.

What Difference Does Any of This Make?

What difference does any of this make to our lives and for how we touch the lives of others? If we don't think that meaningful victory over sin is possible, we will not invest ourselves in moving toward that goal. We will settle for being mostly nice, mostly loving, mostly friendly, mostly self-controlled.

The times call for more than this.

If we do not truly believe that the Bible shows that full victory is available for us in the battle with sin, our view of God's Christianity project will be different. If victory over sin is no necessity, if God is not using the church to give any substantial demonstration of godliness (Ephesians 3:8-10, 21), then everything about church, belief, covenant communities, even following Jesus, is reduced to pleasant option rather than gospel absolute.

Thirdly, if the experience of Christ formed within is insufficient to lead to full victory over sin, then what else could be done? Then we must admit that the gospel is impotent. Then really the conflict between good and evil can offer no decisive proof about moral rightness and wrongness, then we must all realize that our role is limited to audience, to passenger. Then God only does whatever He will do to finish the war and only lets us know at the end when it is all over. All this, while we and our loved ones are subject to Satanic attacks which God has either chosen to permit or cannot prevent, and that carry little meaning in the overarching whole.

To restate, if this view of Jesus and about the last generation is, after all, only a misunderstanding, then

  • We will fail of gaining the full victory over sin.
  • We will fail of fully embracing the necessity and purpose of soul-winning.
  • We will be unavailable to God to serve as agents through whom He will demonstrate His mercy and His justice.

The stakes could not be higher. Our aspirations must not be lower. We should never forget that Jesus is a Friend of sinners. We have been sinners. True, John the Baptist did not associate much with others, and true, Jesus did associate with persons who had been left behind, who were understood to be without hope in God in that time and place. Neither they nor we are willing to dance at the command of rebels. It would not win them anyway. But Jesus, coming in a humanity like our own, living without sinning, dying without sinning, shows the way. Jesus, still God, has come closer to humankind than any of us know. He became as human as we are so that we could become as close to His Father as humanity can.

This is the promise of the gospel. This is good news.


Clark Fork ID SDA 2012-06-02