In recent years, many churches and hymn writers have explored new titles for Jesus. Some are now used more commonly than older, more traditional titles. The reason is obvious: using a title that is different—unfamiliar even—helps draw attention away from an image that is traditional but perceived as cliché ridden or dated. For example, many Charismatic and Evangelical Christians are quite embarrassed by the popular image of the Church, and wish to emphasise how they themselves differ i.e. are ‘more relevant’.
Perhaps novelty value can also lend value insofar as our own images of Jesus are ‘spring cleaned’. And a different name or title also helps those people for whom other titles have hackneyed and/or
The approach can work quite well. For example the relaxed and chatty style of the ‘Alpha Course’ is generally popular (especially with younger people). It is generally more attractive to former church-goers, though, than to those with no prior Church experiences.
Friend of Sinners This title almost defines Jesus’ role on earth. The classic example is Jn 3:16 ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that we should not perish but have everlasting life’ with the corollary ‘Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it’ (Jn 3:17).
All the way through Jesus’ life and ministry, it is impossible not to see how Jesus’ whole life—his purpose—was to meet with people at their point of need, and to bring comfort and redemption. Another example is Jn 8:1, the account of the woman caught in adultery: Jesus’ verdict as judge was clearly ‘guilty’ since her offence was clear, but his sentence of ‘I do not condemn, but go [i.e. be set free] and sin no more’ emphasises that sin is abhorrent but nevertheless repentance is possible and leads to a profound sense of spiritual freedom.
The title ‘Friend of Sinners’ therefore reminds us of the release that Jesus offers. The title has a powerful effect with those excluded from main stream society, or feel themselves to be unforgiveable.
The title is clearly not new, and occurs in many old hymns. Many of the Salvation Army’s early choruses used this title. The hymn ‘Alleluia! Sing to Jesus’ which says in verse 3, ‘Intercessor, friend of sinners, earth’s redeemer plead for me’; and the Advent favourite ‘Lo he comes through clouds descending’ says in verse 1, ‘he comes for favoured sinners’. But its reintroduction in liturgy and prayer is surely to be welcomed.