Jesus once said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. For I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31,32)
As usual the context of Jesus’ words is important. Jesus had just called a sinner to repentance, and he repented. The sinner was Levi (Matthew) a tax collector. Jewish people considered tax collectors traitors and great sinners. Why? Because tax collectors were Jews employed by the occupying Romans and were known for their dishonesty.
Levi must have been somewhat familiar with Jesus because when Jesus said, “Follow me,” Levi left everything, rose and followed Jesus. Levi was so grateful and enthusiastic about how Jesus had changed his life that he made a grand feast in his house for Jesus and his disciples and invited lots of his fellow tax collectors and others. They were all eating together.
This greatly offended the Pharisees and their scribes (highly respected theologians, experts in Jewish law and traditions). They were not even happy Levi had left his tax booth because their real problem was with Jesus eating with all those “despicable” people. If he was sent from God, how could he even associate with “low-life” like that.
“Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they grumbled.
That is when Jesus made the statement at the beginning. What does Jesus mean? His first sentence is obvious. Sick people are those who know their need of a doctor. If there are no symptoms, we don’t see any need for a doctor.
It is the second sentence that is so important. Jesus had just called Levi by his life-giving word, and Levi repented and came to Christ. The Pharisees and scribes had heard Jesus preach many times, but they still hated him.
Why? They didn’t think they needed him. They had no need to repent (turn from their sins) and trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin. They were good enough.
Why? They thought they were already righteous or at least righteous enough to please God and face God on the judgment day.
That is exactly like most people today. Everybody seems to think he can get to heaven because he is good enough or can make himself good enough to please God—if there actually is a judgment day.
So, when Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous ...” he was speaking of those who think they are OK with God.
The miscalculation people make is that no one is by nature OK with God. As Paul, quoting Psalm 14, says, ”None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God ... no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
We are not what we think we are. Only God sees us as we are.
But Jesus did call sinners to repentance. Since all of us are sinners, what did he mean?
Jesus was speaking of those who know they really are sinful in God’s sight and under God’s wrath for our sins. Those who see their need of the only Savior God has given, the Lord Jesus Christ, and seek to be forgiven. These are the ones who believed in Christ then and ever since. Not the “righteous” but sinners. Just like those who are sick and need a physician.
Have you seen your need to come to the Great Physician?
Unbelievers often accuse believers of thinking they are better than others. That should never be true for the real Christian because Christians are the only ones who really know how unrighteous and needy they are. What we have is a good and righteous Lord and Savior.
So, do good people go to heaven?