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Matthew 9:13 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.” (NKJV)

On the surface it seems odd that Jesus wants the sinners instead of the “good” people. Aren’t good people the type who want to follow God and believe in Jesus? Aren’t Christians the “good” people?

It is very common to hear today that a person will “go to heaven” because they are good. If you ask most non-Christians they will tell you that God is going to accept them in heaven because they are nice to their friends, help people and don’t do anything extraordinarily wicked. After all, a loving God doesn’t send people to hell and you get to heaven if your “good” outweighs your “bad”.

If you’re generally a “righteous” (good) person,
then you DESERVE to go to heaven.

Even Christians get trapped in measuring how “good” they are by examining how much they pray and read the Bible; or by how much they give or serve. Subconsciously they feel acceptable to God because they have earned it by being “good”. This is not to be confused with the very real sense of God’s displeasure or chastisement when we are indeed ignoring or disobeying Him. The type of “being good” I”m discussing here believes that God OWES us His favor because we have acted a certain way.

Any idea that being good earns God’s favor betrays a lack of understanding about what true righteousness is. True righteousness does not originate in us. True righteousness comes only from God. It is applied to us through our Savior’s sacrifice, and we are empowered to righteousness through obedience to God.

Why did Jesus not call the “righteous” (those who are good)? Because good people (in the sense Jesus was speaking) have not yet reached a point of being “poor in spirit” (Matt 5.2). To be poor in spirit is to realize that we are completely bankrupt of good, and that we have no hope of salvation unless the Savior comes to rescue us.

In the context of Jesus words, the “sinner” is the person who has this figured out. The sinner realizes who they are, and understands that they can’t do anything about their condition without help. Jesus came to call those who understand their true hopelessness and dilemma.

Jesus came to save the sinners..
those who know they have nothing to contribute to salvation.

The application to the unsaved is obvious. As long a person thinks their “goodness” contributes to salvation, then they have not yet reached a saving knowledge of Christ. But what about the Christian? How do this apply to you?

A Christian must reach a point of realizing that only obedience to God through the power of God will bring about true righteousness. Understanding “poor in spirit” allows you to let go of the frustrating treadmill of trying to merit God’s favor through self-induced good works. The Christian who understands that Christ has secured righteousness for us, is free to serve God without the bondage of trying to earn His goodwill. Once saved, you are righteous because Christ is righteous.

Does that mean we should no longer do good works? Quite the opposite. Now we are free to serve the Lord and do works of righteousness that are TRULY good. They are not done to merit God’s favor, they are done out of appreciation and obedience to Him.

The Christian no longer needs to struggle with the roller-coaster guilt trip of whether you are doing “enough” to keep God happy. God sees you as He sees Christ. We are now free to become more and more like Christ trusting God to empower us to this end.

O God, help us to understand what “poor in spirit” means. Give us humility and contrite heart so that we can quit struggling to earn Your love with our own effort. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Contemplation: Does it bother you to think of yourself as a sinner? Do you struggle with trying to keep God happy by being a “good” Christian? Do you think that your salvation is secured by how good you are?

Application: Jesus came to call sinners. Sinners are those who are “poor in spirit”. Being poor in spirit is understanding that we are destitute spiritual beggars in need of rescuing by Savior. It is understanding that all true goodness comes from God, not from us. Do you understand those things?

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?