Christ came for sinners
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Mk. 2:17
What does this mean? It means that part of conversion to Christ involves a real understanding that we are sinners. This means more than just an acknowledgement that we have sinned. The Pharisees would have done that. I think a good test of whether or not we believe in our need for Christ and the grace of God is this: it is to put ourselves in the position of the man who knows that he is sick, really sick. Now a man may be sick and not know it. But such a person isn’t going to go to the doctor. On the other hand, the person that really believes that something is wrong is going to seek the advice and help of their physician. They know something is wrong. Do you know something is wrong, fundamentally wrong between you and God? A good way to determine whether or not you understand this is to ask yourself if you think that you are worthy of God’s judgement. As the old Isaac Watts hymn puts it, “And if my soul were sent to hell, thy righteous law approves it well.” Can you say that? Any Pharisee would have admitted that he sinned from time to time. And yet no Pharisee would have also admitted that he was exposed to God’s wrath because of those sins. His goodness was good enough to cover up his sins. Is that the way we feel? Because if it is, then it will be impossible for us to authentically hear the call of Christ in the gospel.
To believe this, we have to believe that in the final analysis our sins are against God. And it is to understand that God is so highly exalted and holy that to sin against him is the worst sort of evil, no matter how that sin takes particular expression. It is to say with King David, “Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight: so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Ps. 51:4, ESV).
Another test for whether we really understand our sinfulness and need of Christ has to do with our attitude towards sin. Again, put yourself in the position of the sick person who knows his sickness. Solomon put it this way in his prayer, “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart . . . then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive” (1 Kings 8:38-39). Do you know the plague of your own heart? A person who understands their sick condition is not going to be okay with it. They are going to want to be rid of whatever it is that is causing their ill health. In the same way, a person who understands that they are a sinner is going to want to be rid of sin. They are not going to be content to go on living in the quagmire of their moral filth. Do you? It is one thing to cry over your sin because of the consequences it has brought. It is another to turn from it altogether. Only those who truly turn from their sin prove that they really understand their condition in sin.
Which leads to a final point. You cannot divorce the call to forgiveness from the call to repentance. Or, to put it another way, you cannot separate the call to embrace Christ as Prophet and Priest from the call to embrace him as your King. And the simple reason is that those who know that they are sick are going to want to be rid of the sickness. Now the sickness that Christ has come to heal is the sickness resulting from sin. Those who are sick of sin are going to want to be rid of the sin in every aspect. We have to turn from sin if we want to turn to Christ.
That’s why Jesus said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (cf. Luke 5:32). Remember that the message our Lord began to preach at the very outset of his ministry was one of repentance. The idea that being saved means nothing more than intellectually accepting Jesus into my heart as Savior is so far removed from the Biblical idea of salvation as to have nothing in common with it. Those who are saved are those who follow Christ. And those who follow Christ are those who have turned from their sin and whose lives are increasingly becoming the Beatitudes.
To do this, you must see that Jesus Christ is worth it. You must see that here is such an extraordinary person that it is worth it to part from your dearest sin, no matter how precious you may perceive it to be, in order to have Christ. Matthew saw this. Here was a man who could heal leprosy at a touch, who could heal a sick man at a distance, who could calm storms and cast out demons. Here is the Messiah. Yes, he is worth it!
Though Mark doesn’t tell us this, Luke records that Matthew left everything to follow Christ (Luke 5:28). It was one thing to leave your fishing business for Christ. You could always go back to fishing if it didn’t work out. But when he left his tax booth, Matthew was making a radical decision. There was no going back, because the Romans would have replaced him with someone else. And yet there is no hint of regret. In fact, he gives Jesus a party in his own house. Before, he was taking money from his fellow countrymen. Now all he wants to do is to give Jesus to all his friends.
Is Jesus worth it? Yes, I believe he is. My prayer is that you would join me in following him. Let Paul’s word become ours: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:8-11).