Most people assume Christianity is about behavior modification: don't drink or chew or run with girls who do.
But Jesus looked at the most moral and upright religious leaders of his day and said, "The prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21:31).
How in the world can a prostitute enter God's kingdom before a priest?
Jesus explains in the next verse:
"For John came to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him (Matthew 21:32)"
The reason prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before priests is that they believed John's message and the priests did not.
OK, so what was John's message?
"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:33).
According to John, the way of righteousness was not through a code of ethics or a system of self-discipline, but through a Person.
The Person, Jesus Christ, agreed, saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
Therefore, if you are a drunk, a prostitute, a drug dealer, a liar, a cheater, etc., you can easily get into the kingdom before some priests, pastors, and TV preachers. How? Not through good behavior, but through belief in Jesus, the Lamb of God, who suffered the penalty for your sin on the cross and rose from the grave three days later victorious over death and hell. Now, the only thing you need to enter God's kingdom is belief in Jesus and what he's done for you (Romans 10:9).
And literally anybody can get in on this.
No one merits salvation. No one climbs the ladder, passes the test, or checks the boxes. Jesus sweeps in and saves each and every one of us the same way–by grace (Ephesians 2:8). And he doesn't save us just so we can "get to heaven one day," he saves us so we can have the incomprehensible privilege of knowing him, RIGHT NOW.
This is the gospel. This is Christianity. It's not about obeying the rules; it's about knowing the Savior.
Is Jesus, then, endorsing sinfulness?
Not at all!
The person who truly knows and loves Jesus will automatically grow in right behavior and obedience to his commands (John 14:15). But the right behavior is a result of a relationship with Christ, not the cause of it. The true believer obeys out of love, not duty.
Unfortunately, many Christians don't fully grasp the power of the gospel for their lives. They equate the gospel message only with salvation, concluding that the purpose of the gospel is “to get people saved.” While it is true that salvation is one fantastic benefit of the gospel, there are many more benefits once a person becomes a Christian. The gospel works for both salvation and discipleship.
1. The Gospel Provides Balance
The gospel gives the Christian a healthy balance between two extremes. On one hand, while my sins often make me insecure and crush my spirit, when I think on the gospel, my sins don’t crush me because I'm reminded that I’m loved and forgiven (Rom. 5:8). On the other hand, while my "successes" and good works often inflate my ego, when I think on the gospel, my good works don’t make me self-righteous because I'm reminded that I’m loved and accepted only by grace, not my works (Eph. 2:8-9).
2. The Gospel Provides Power
The gospel empowers me to serve my neighbors. How? The gospel implies two truths: (1) I’m so sinful Jesus had to die for me; (2) I’m so loved Jesus wanted to die for me. Reflecting on (1) humbles me by reminding me I'm no better than my neighbors. I need grace just like they do. Reflecting on (2) inspires me to love my neighbors the way Jesus loves me. He gave his life for me; therefore, I want to give my life in service to him and the world he died for.