A religious person recently gave me her “testimony” saying she had been “saved” as a young person. She listed a paragraph or two of good deeds she had done, with no mention of sin, repentance, faith or Jesus Christ. In further conversations, she never once said His name. She also became very angry at the suggestion of sin in her life and made it obvious that she thought she was righteous before God because she was a good person.
Today’s devotional reading reminds me how the religious leaders in Jesus’ day looked down their noses on Jesus because He ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” When Jesus about it, He said to them,
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Matthew 9:12-13).Just as a sick person will not go to the doctor if he thinks he is not sick, no human being is interested in a relationship with Jesus Christ if they think they don’t need His saving power. They will claim they are Christians, even do things that appear to be acts of goodness, yet Jesus says,
Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:22-23)Jesus knows the human heart. He knows that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He also knows that we try to justify ourselves, and try to appear good when we are not, and that “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This is why He came — to save sinners, and all of us are sinners.
But what if some are blind or refuse to see that they are sinners and need saving? He isn’t interested in their efforts to be good because those efforts are tainted by selfishness. As the Pharisees, the merely religious who claim goodness do what they do in their own power and those deeds, no matter how good they appear, fall short of God’s glory.
Just as salvation is not available to those who think they don’t need it, the power and life of Christ to live a righteous life is not available to anyone who is satisfied with their own righteousness. This applies to Christians too. Paul said, “I know that in me (that is my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18). He knew that apart from Jesus Christ, he was nothing and could do nothing that pleases God.
I know that too. Without Jesus, I can do nothing. I also know that those without Jesus Christ do not understand any of this. In their minds, they are not sick; they do not need His healing power. They have no need of repentance because they are convinced that they have not done anything against God and therefore do not need a changed life. Like the Pharisees did with Jesus, they are also prone to turn on anyone who tells them otherwise.
Perhaps that is why the Word of God tells Christians to avoid senseless arguments with those who walk in the darkness of self-righteousness. Believers are to admonish them twice and then leave them alone (Titus 3:9-10). The Holy Spirit can convince sinners, but arguing never does it. Not only that, by arguing, believers walk into fleshy territory themselves.
Those “religious” but self-righteous people must have brought sorrow to Jesus. He knew their need and He knew how to give them true righteousness, but they rejected His words and rejected His offer. What encourages me is that after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, some of these religious leaders who once rejected Him became genuine believers.
I think too about my own blindness. I once thought that I did not need anything or anyone, but the Spirit of God never gave up on me. Jesus softened my heart and helped me see how much I need Him. No matter how hard a person seems, there is always hope that God will change their lives.