When Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer, turned his heart to Jesus and was baptized, many people were skeptical; some Christians were outraged. Is it just that a man so vile can gain entry into heaven so easily? It is if you believe in salvation by grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph 2:8-9 NIV).”
To say that one sinner is more worthy of hell than another is to argue that some people are more worthy of heaven; and that our worthiness (or righteousness) comes from something that we did or did not do (works!). Salvation is the gift of God. We cannot boast about it nor can we argue the injustice of another’s salvation.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells of a young man who squandered his inheritance on the fast life. He was immature and wanted nothing more than to indulge his lusts, no matter how expensive. He shamed himself, humiliated his family and embarrassed his community. After having lost everything, he decided to return home. There was no “I told you so” lecture. There were no tests of loyalty. His father welcomed him with open arms and celebrated his return. All his rights as a son were restored. John 1:12 tells us that, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (NIV).”
The elder brother felt this was unfair and was livid. He had been faithful and loyal and believed himself to be deserving of the attention that his brother was attracting. Unfortunately, this is the mind-set of some Christians when one our own falls into sin and returns to the church. They don’t rejoice with the angels. They react as if they had been cheated. They want to put a limit to God’s love and grace.
Consider the woman caught committing adultery in John 8 who was going to be stoned to death. Jesus did not disagree with the woman’s guilt or her death sentence. Jesus confronted the mob with their own sin and need for grace. When the crowd left, Jesus told her to go and sin no more. The woman did not ask for forgiveness and there is no evidence of her repenting or coming to faith in Christ. We don’t even know if she said thank-you. Jesus showed that woman grace, even though she did not deserve it. That is an example of how we are to treat the lost. “…While we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)”
Lost people matter to God and they ought to matter to us. “The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).” Church ought to be a place where the lost can encounter God’s grace and where Christian’s who have lost their way can come back home.