Sometime ago I saw a post on social media that went something like this: We need more people who love and accept people for who they are. I believe Jesus intended that. I hear similar attestations from conservative “seeker-friendly” churches to liberal, unbiblical churches. “Come as you are” is a popular phrase that sounds evangelical — indeed, it’s basis is — but nine times out of ten, when it is applied, it is pseudo-evangelical.
Come as you are or Love people where they are is not wholly unbiblical. Many times and across both Testaments, God met people where they were: in the rut of their sinfulness. God met Sarah where she was, laughing at the promise of a son in her old age (Genesis 18:1-15), which moved her to name him Isaac, “laughter” (Genesis 21:1-7). God met David where he was, sending Nathan to call out the king’s sin (II Samuel 12:1-25), which moved him to repentance (Psalm 51). Jesus met Zacchaeus where he was, cheating his kinsmen of their money, which moved him to restitution (Luke 19:1-10). Paul met Onesimus where he was, hiding as a runaway slave, which moved him to accept Christ and become a brother in the faith with his Christian master (Philemon 10-16). On and on the examples go of people being met by God where they are.
Notice a common thread through those examples? Let me present one more.
Luke 18:18 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. (New American Standard Bible, ©1995, The Lockman Foundation.)
Jesus met this ruler where he was, outwardly righteous but inwardly rotten. Each and every person who is encountered by God in this way is presented with a call to action. Some respond correctly. Sarah is humbled, David is convicted, Zacchaeus is reconciled, and Onesimus is welcomed. The rich ruler, however, responds incorrectly and leaves “very sad.”
For the church to invite people as they are or for Christians to meet others where they are is to love them in their state of fallenness. But this is not the type of love the world advocates. When the world speaks of “love,” it has in mind open tolerance, relativistic acceptance, and a disregard for the design and holiness of the Creator God. True Christians meet people where they are and speak the truth in a love that produces growth into Him who is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 4:15).
When the Church, when the Bible, when Christians say “come as you are,” we are inviting sinners to come before the holy God, to lay their sins before His holy throne, repenting of their earthly desires, and receiving the forgiveness Christ offers through the Holy Spirit. When Christians meet people where they are, it is with the intent of drawing them to Christ, leading them away from bondage to their sin, into freedom in Jesus.
Change is the key difference between unbiblical and biblical calls to come as you are. Every person on this earth, alive today and in the future, is a sinner in need of repentance and reconciliation. When you come before God, you come just as you are, dressed in filthy rags and reeking of rebellion. If you want to stay where you are, Jesus simply answers “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23) But, if the Spirit is truly indwelling in you, you respond just as Simon, Andrew, James, and John did, “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Mark 1:18) Yes, come to Jesus, come to church, just as you are; but be prepared to cast aside the old self, the lifestyle of sinning, for a new life of cross-bearing (Ephesians 4:20-24).