And the Pharisees grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “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 5:30-32)
As Jesus sat and shared a meal with tax collectors and others, the pharisees judged Him and His disciples for it. Notice how the Pharisees directed their grumbles to Jesus’ disciples, but Jesus jumped in and responded by telling them who He came for - “I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance." We can glean a couple things from this exchange:
1. How you identify yourself and others will affect who you spend time with.
Jesus identified Himself as the anointed one who was sent to proclaim liberty to the captives, fulfilling what had been written in Isaiah. This directed His time spent with people, and He spent time with those who were in captivity – people whom the Pharisees identified as tax collectors and sinners. Had Jesus chosen not to spend time with those types of people, they would not have heard the message and had opportunity to repent.
Jesus knew His Father’s will, that none would perish but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), and since faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of God, of Whom Jesus is (Romans 10:17; John 1:1), His mission would indeed be to spend time with sinners, and it would be His kindness that would lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Likewise, being ambassadors for Christ, if we are properly finding our identity in Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves spending time with sinners in need of Jesus. Now this isn’t to be confused with trying to find fellowship with those who are not saved, because that is a slippery slope that will sooner find you covered in the mud of sin sooner than it would find them cleansed from it. However, being mission minded and intentional in our time spent with those who have not yet accepted Jesus as their salvation, is exactly the heart of God and the ministry of reconciliation given to us as ambassadors for Christ.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
2. How you identify yourself will largely impact your response to God’s call.
The tax collectors and others knew they were sinners and they took the opportunity to eat with Jesus and listen to Him. The pharisees felt they were righteous in and of themselves by keeping the laws and traditions, and therefore misjudged the Son of God repeatedly. When Jesus said that He came not to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance, the pharisees likely then in their pride considered that they were not among those called to repentance because they were already “righteous”. But as both Jesus and Paul told us, there is no one righteous or good but God (Luke 18:18-19; Romans 3:10-12). Had the pharisees understood the purpose of the law and viewed themselves in the state they were actually in, sinners in need of God as their Savior, they may have heeded the call to repentance, desiring to spend time with and listen to Jesus.
If we are walking in pride, it creates a hindrance to repentance. No one who thinks they are good will want to spend time with the only One who truly is good, because it’s a major bruise to their ego when His light points out their darkness. But if we humble ourselves before God, His kindness leads us to repentance and we will be daily reconciled in our relationship with Him. Living in the marvelous light of God can only happen after a heart has repented, and that requires understanding and accepting that you are a sinner, loved by God, called to repentance, and offered grace and salvation by placing your faith in Jesus. This is something that non-followers of Jesus desperately need to know and understand, and something that followers of Jesus desperately need to keep in remembrance as they walk with Jesus everyday.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)
In a world seemingly bent on celebrating self-seeking and self-justifying identity, follow God’s desire for you by finding your identity in Christ, and let the outflow of the Spirit lead you in the ministry of reconciliation God has given you as His ambassador.