The church is a hospital for sinners . . . is a truth worth telling! Jesus’ justification to the Pharisees for His embracing of tax collectors and sinners was that they were sick and in need of a physician (Matthew 9:9ff). He went on to say that had the Pharisees understood the prophets, they would know that God places mercy and compassion above sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). So we’re in line with Christ and Scripture when we speak of the church in this way.
The church is a hospital for sinners . . . doesn’t tell the whole story though. And like any half-truth, it’s important to make sure we have the right half. Too many times this truth is used to rationalize lifestyles where little or no attempt is made to pursue the likeness of Christ. This complacency is defended with the reminder that the church is a hospital for sinners. What’s being said is this: The church is a place for sick people. I’m sick. End of story.
But it’s not.
It’s actually a misunderstanding of the story and metaphor. After all, what happens when you are admitted to a hospital? Your world is radically changed. You’re no longer in calling the shots. The hospital has established protocols which are part of their environment of healing and if you’re not interested in complying with them, they’ll quickly find another place for you to go. Why? Because they are totally committed not just to receiving sick people—but to helping them get better. (Really, who would want to go to a hospital where no one ever got better?).
The church is a hospital for sinners . . . who want to get well. That’s the complete truth. There are two groups of people at a hospital—those who are sick and those who are health care professionals committed to the work of healing. We all enter the church as sick people but we should aspire to become well enough so that we can be used help in the healing of others as we continue toward wholeness.
We see this second half of this truth emphasized by Jesus in John 5, when He asks the man who has been unable to walk all of his life, “Do you want to get well?” (v. 6). Christ realized that when someone has been in a situation for a long time, not only can change be difficult—it may not be desired. The man had been trapped in his old world for so long that it wasn’t wise to automatically assume that he wanted a new one. He made it clear through His question that an essential part of healing was having the attitude of wanting to get better. Possession of new life means we have left the old one. If we’ve come into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27), then it is God’s will that Christ come into us for not only does He love us too much to let us die in our sins—He loves us too much to let us live in them.
The church is a hospital for sinners who want to get well!