Not the righteous

Thu, 26/05/2011 - 09:32 -- James Oakley

Every Christian believer will, at times in their life, feel the weight of the fact they are a sinner. Perhaps they have just done something that proves to them, and they fear proves to others, that they are a failure before God and before others in the church.

That can feel crushing. One source of comfort comes from the thought that, were it not for the Spirit of God at work in your life, you would not feel depressed by this at all. The very fact you feel like you've fallen flat on your face, the fact it bothers you, is testimony that God is at work to convict you of your sin and draw you back to himself.

Another source of comfort is that the Bible teaches that we are all sinners. Whilst it is true that some sins are more serious than others, and not all sin is equal, we are all on a level playing field when it comes to being sinners. So actually, that thing you've just done does not necessarily make you a worse sinner than anybody else. There is a sense in which all that particular sin does is put some detail on what we all already knew: that you are a sinner, just as the rest of us are.

For me, the greatest comfort comes from the words of Jesus himself. It's tempting to think, after some lapse or other, that he wouldn't want to know us, that the church wouldn't want us to come, that our friends (if they found out) would abandon us.

In fact, Jesus was criticised (often) for spending time with the notorious sinners of his day. Collaborators with the occupying Roman forces (tax collectors) and prostitutes were some of his more frequent companions. When challenged about this, he said:

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 5:32)

Those who stay away from the doctor are not just those who have no physical ailments. They are also those who wish to apply their own cures. Only those who know they need help turn to a doctor. And it is just such people that Jesus came for. He did not come for those who have no moral failings (for there are no such people), and he did not come for those who are unaware of their moral failings or who wish to solve them themselves (for he cannot help such people). He came for those who have fallen short of God's standards and know it. He came for you and me. And when you feel especially sinful, you are at that moment exactly the person Jesus came for.

Note that he's not saying that sin does not matter. He came to call “sinners to repentance”, not “sinners to stop worrying about that nagging feeling of guilt”. But as soon as we've said he came to call to repentance we are at risk of hearing him that say he came to crush and condemn sinners. That's not what he said either. He chose to spend his time with those who were outcast by the secular and religious society of his day, to call them to repent, to forgive them, and to sit and eat and drink with them.

Cue the words of one of my favourite hymns, written by Joseph Hart. The easiest tune to sing it to is Regent Square.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power:
He is able, he is able,
His is willing, doubt no more.

Now, ye needy, come and welcome;
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance –
Every grace that brings you nigh –
Without money, without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him:
This he gives you, this he gives you –
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Bruised and ruined by the Fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all:
Not the righteous, not the righteous –
Sinners, Jesus came to call.

View him, prostrate, in the garden,
On the ground your Maker lies!
On the awful tree behold him,
Hear Him cry before he dies,
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will not this suffice?

Lo, the incarnate God, ascended,
Pleads the merit of his blood;
Venture on him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude:
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

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