Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
As I was thinking about the above verse today I was reminded how some people behave once they come to know Jesus as their Saviour. We are trying so hard to "get it right" and to not fail in our walk with God that we unintentionally assume an air of self-righteousness. We don't think we are superior in any way to those who don't have a relationship with God. However, to those on the outside looking in, our striving to deny ourselves and follow Christ, might give them the impression one has to be perfect to be able to approach God. They don't understand that we are sinners saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) and our desire to live a holy life comes only from our thankfulness at being saved in the first place. We want to please the Lord by making sure we do not bring shame to His name. But sometimes, it has the reverse effect.
I can remember back in the 70's, singing at the Yonge St. Mission in Toronto. At that time it was called Evergreen and operated as a coffee house where many Christian bands or soloists would come in for the evening and perform. One night while I was singing, a young woman came in and sat down at a table right in front of the stage. I should point out that singing at Evergreen could at times be dangerous. Drug addicts would often come in and you never knew what they would do. So volunteers were always at the ready should someone be difficult. This young woman was clearly stoned when she sat in front of me, but she was also clearly in need of God's love. At one point she laughed out loud and said, "Jesus isn't for someone like me. I'm too far gone." I looked at her from the stage and told her that no one is too far gone and that Jesus loved her just the way she was. She then said something that shocked me and has stuck with me for years, "Lady, you don't know what you're talking about. I'll bet you've never even sinned." I was floored. Was that the impression people were getting from me now? That I was perfect? I wanted to get off the stage and sit and talk with her for the rest of the evening. Instead, I told her that I was someone who had been changed only because of God's grace. That I used to be like her, in a bad place, far away from God. But she didn't believe me. She said, "Lady, you have never been as sinful as me." I found out later that she had been coming in regularly and that many of the counsellors available had talked to her about Jesus. But she was convinced that because she was a drug addict and a prostitute God would never love someone like her. She believed she had no hope because she was under the mistaken impression that she had to change first and then come to God.
Sadly, I believe many people think that same way today and this post is for them. Jesus died on the cross for you and me, He did it knowing we are sinners. He never said, "Change first and then come to me." He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT FIRST!
And we don't have to be perfect now. God did not call us to be self-righteous Christians. He called sinners to come to Him as they are and then let Him complete His work in us (Philippians 1:6). Change doesn't happen over night for new believers. Oh, yes, you will feel incredible joy and peace that you have done something right by accepting Jesus as your Saviour. You will for the first time in your life feel His presence like you've never felt it before. But you will still struggle daily with giving in to sin and returning to your former ways. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." And this is why some people get the impression Christians are "goody-two shoes" types of people. We aren't, we are just striving to be holy people who are thankful we are saved.
And that's the key right there. I came to Christ with a repentant heart. I knew I needed His intervention. I was very sorry for all the things I'd done in my life and told Him so and asked Him to please change me and be a part of my life. In return, He flooded my heart and my life with His Holy Spirit, who helped me to turn from sin. It wasn't always easy. I am a sinner saved by grace, but still capable of sin. But God is patient with His children. He began His good work in me and He is still teaching me (40 years later), so that one day when I stand before Him I will be the person He knows I can be. The person I want to be. And He will do that for you too. All you have to do is ask.