The gospel writer Luke recounts the time in Christ’s earthly ministry when he sat down for a great feast with a large company of tax collectors. The religious leaders, with great grumbling, asked Jesus’ disciples why he would be eating with sinners like tax collectors.
Aware of their complaining, Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). Jesus’ response is shocking and provocative.
Let’s observe some of the sins that identify the sinners that God saves to understand the shock value that the Pharisees experienced. God saves adulterers, perverts, murderers, pedophiles, traitors who betray and sell out Christians (like tax collectors), witches, sorcerers, and homosexuals, but He does not save the honest person, the faithful spouse, the one who sacrifices his life to save another, the religious church member, or the loving parent because of their good efforts.
This is a shocking, almost revolting statement of Jesus, isn’t it? As Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 6:11, with regard to these sins, “Such were some of you.” God does not save good, upstanding people. God does not let self-righteous people into His holy kingdom because humanity’s best efforts are actually filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).
As to the matter of entrance into God’s kingdom, all humanity is equally condemned. There is no scale for God’s acceptance. There is only the righteousness of God and the self-righteousness of the flesh, which is rubbish to God. All of it.
Then what value does honesty and faithfulness provide? Ecclesiastes observes that both the do-gooders and the evil-doers end up in the same place – the grave (9:2). So, as to the pragmatic end, there is no benefit. As to the horizonal perspective, there is a temporary benefit for our neighbors in that we show love by being honest, kind, and sacrificial.
But, as to the vertical dimension, with regard to God, Philippians 3:7-9 reminds us that it is all rubbish.
So, how do we explain God’s salvation of sinners, if he doesn’t save the righteous? The reformers delineated this apparent paradox whereby God saves sinners by describing Christians as sinner-saints.
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Chris Peterson was born in Gibson City, Illinois, a small town a few hours southwest of Chicago. He came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in 1980 while attending Westminster Bible Church in Paxton, Illinois. Chris graduated from The Master's College with a B.A. in Organizational Management in 1999 and completed his Masters of Divinity at the Master's Seminary in 2004. Chris met his wife in high school while attending Omaha Bible Church in 1992. Robin and Chris were married in 1994 and have three children