9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“I’m too bad for God to love me.” This, and other similar statements, is a frequently occurring phrase, and it’s heartbreaking to hear. I think it often stems from a misconception that many people, including me for most of my life, hold. Namely, the misconception that Christians are good people or that you have to clean yourself up before you become a Christian. However, the Bible does not affirm this, and throughout scripture we see the opposite to be true. God calls sinners. Not just people who kind of sin every once in awhile or just sin in “less harmful” ways, but deep, rotten to the core, sinners.
Let’s consider the verses above. We see that Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors. At first glance, this may not seem like that big of a deal. I mean, most people don’t like to pay taxes, and I’m sure most of us wouldn’t be thrilled to see an IRS representative at our door, but they’re still people we may know, enjoy, and love. However, in the time this was written, tax collectors were despised by the culture they lived in, and there were many reasons for this. For one, they were collecting taxes for a very oppressive government. The Roman government used brutal tactics to achieve what it desired, and a tax collector was someone who not only represented this government but also forced people to give their money to it. In addition, tax collectors were widely known to take more money than was needed in order to pocket the extra amount for their own personal gain. They were very shady with their practices. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, gives a small insight into this.
8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Tax collectors were not “good” people and probably rightfully despised. They were not people you’d think of if someone asked you to make a list of upstanding citizens.
But, let’s take another look at Matthew 9:9-13. Who was it that questioned Jesus’ association with the tax collectors and sinners? It was the Pharisees, and Jesus makes them look like fools. This is even more interesting to me because the Pharisees were on the opposite end of the spectrum from tax collectors. They were the religious elite, the people that were seen as the most morally upstanding citizens around. They memorized huge portions of scripture and taught the religious law. They received honor for how good they were at following the rules. The Pharisees were the ones you may have expected to get high fives from God. However, Jesus turns everyone’s logic upside down with this statement, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus says that He didn’t come to call the religious elite Pharisees because He doesn’t desire religious performance, He desires mercy. This was very offensive to them and was one of many statements that eventually got Him killed. In fact, Jesus’ harshest words were usually directed at the Pharisees because what was wrong with them is that they honored God with their words, but their hearts were very far from Him (Matthew 15:8). They performed the external, religious duties, but deep down, they wanted nothing to do with God but only wanted to honor themselves and receive honor from other people. They sounded trumpets in the street whenever they gave to the poor. They loved to pray in public in order to be seen by others. They loved to “disfigure their faces” whenever they fasted in order for others to see and know they were fasting. They were the ultimate hypocrites. (Matthew 6)
With all that said, this idea of Jesus calling sinners and not “good doers” still doesn’t seem to make sense. Shouldn’t Jesus be lighting up the sinners and tax collectors and praising the “good” Pharisees? However, that’s not who He is. That’s not the nature and character of God. He came to call sinners. He doesn’t desire cold religion. He desires a new heart.
Here is the good news. Well, it starts with bad news. We all should be too bad for God to love us. We really don’t deserve His love. The Bible says that none of us are righteous (Romans 3:9-12), and we are all by nature not good (Ephesians 2:1-10). However, the good news, unbelievably good news, is that despite all of our unrighteousness, God loved us and sent His only son to die in our place and rescue us from our sin. We were dead in our transgressions. We had no hope, but Jesus made a way. He came to earth, lived the perfect life that we aren’t capable of living, died the brutal death that we deserved to die, and took all of God’s just wrath in our place so that we didn’t have to. Through Christ, God now sees us as blameless because He sees Christ’s perfection and credits it to those who put their faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). So, we are all too bad, but Jesus is perfect, and we cling to Him in faith and trust Him for our salvation. This is the good news that we put all of our hope in.
We can’t possibly be good enough. Jesus knew this when He came to die, and He still knows it now when He freely offers His grace.
You may be saying, “yeah, but you don’t know what I’ve done,” and you’re right. I don’t know what you’ve been through or done. However, I do know that no one can out-sin the grace of God. If that were possible, then I certainly wouldn’t be a Christian, and no one else would be. Let’s consider some of the heroes of the Bible for a moment. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, was actually not a good person at all. In fact, he dragged people out of their houses and put them in prison because they were Christian. He also beat them and even approved when people killed a man for being Christian. Paul was actually a horrible person, a terrorist, but God saved Him and loved Him. (Acts 22:19-20).
David is another person from the Bible who is seen as a hero but was actually really messed up. He’s the one who killed Goliath and wrote a bunch of Psalms. However, what we don’t think about a lot is the fact that David slept with another man’s wife, got her pregnant, and had the man killed in order to cover it up (2 Samuel 11:1-17). That’s about as messed up as it gets, but God still loved him and even called him “a man after my heart” (Acts 13:22).
Finally, Moses is another guy that is considered a hero, but he actually was a murderer (Exodus 2:11-15). Scripture doesn’t hide the fact that even the big name “heroes” were still big sinners in need of grace. If being good was a requirement for God to love you, then no one could stand a chance. It is amazing news that there is no requirement, no good deeds necessary, for God to love you.
So, where do we go from here? My hope is that we can see that even though we are all broken and undeserving, none of us is too far gone for God to love. He actually pursues sinners. Reflect on what we’ve read here. Consider what Jesus, God, has said. Most of all, come to Him. His grace is freely available right now. You don’t have to clean yourself up before He’s ready. He already knows everything about us, all our guilt, shame, and skeletons. Yet, even knowing all that, He still willingly went to the cross (Romans 5:8-10). Come to Him, and let His perfect life, His death, and His resurrection take your place. Ask Him to give you a new heart, new desires, and an abandonment of all else to know Him. Repent of your sin, turn to Him, and believe in The Gospel, the good news that God really does love people who are “too bad.”
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.