When I was younger and churchy (unregenerate) I had this idea that Christians were meant to be engaged in the culture. By engaged I mean strongly involved with "sinners and tax collectors." I spent most of my time with those who were "of the world." I think there is a huge group that still believe this is the right thing to do. They are a group that believes Christians are to be "in the world but not of the world", or so they think. They attend church, read their Bible's, pray and I believe they really want to be like Jesus by ministering to these "sinners and tax collectors." But their greatest danger is they have engaged the culture too much with no help. Their closest friends are these people that are the "sinners and tax collectors." They have taken the teaching of Jesus too far. Listen to a few the passages they and I (in the past) use to defend their reasoning:
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matt. 9:10-11)
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (Luke 5:30)
We notice Jesus is most definitely reaching out and spending time with "sinners and tax collectors" as we, as Christians, should do as well. But if you notice in all his interaction with the unbelieving the Scriptures say his disciples were there with him. Two things that need to be understood when being "in the world" to reach the lost:
1. Our closest companions are not to be those "in the world" but rather other like-minded believers to help encourage and strengthen us in godliness. They are also to join us in the cause of Christ.
2. If your closest companions are "sinners and tax collectors" (unbelievers) then you are a lone ranger who will struggle in your pursuit of God.
If Jesus is our example on reaching the lost then we need to heed his full example by making sure we have an army of like-minded brothers and sisters to fight the war. We were not meant to fight it alone. Josh Harris once said, "A lone ranger is a dead ranger." The Psalmist also talked about this danger:
How happy is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path of sinners,
or join a group of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the LORD's instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water
that bears its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
The wicked are not like this;
instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,
and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin. (Psalm 1)
Grace upon grace,