Q: I am confused about Jesus’ statement where he said that He did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance. Does it mean that there are actually people who are righteous enough that they do not need to be saved?
A: Jesus’ statement in Matthew 9:13 would appear to be a contradiction, but put in the right context, it is easy to understand what He was saying. First of all Jesus was talking to the Pharisees. Most of these individuals perceived themselves as being righteous due to their heritage, rituals, and outward works. Individuals who perceive themselves as being righteous see no need for salvation. This was made obvious in the parable found in Luke 18:9-14. However, Scripture clearly refutes the concept that man can make himself righteous by personal piousness or works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Isaiah 64:6 reveals that man’s best is as filthy rags to God. Romans 3:10 tells us that there is none who are considered righteous to God. The Apostle Paul goes on to say in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In Romans 7:18 we are told there is no good thing that can originate with the flesh. When you consider these verses along with many others that maintain the same theme, you will realize that everyone, including the Pharisees are sinners and need to be saved.
The idea of being acceptable to God based on outward piousness and works can also be seen in other arenas outside of religion. For example, those who think themselves to be decent enough do not see the need to be saved. Humanitarians see themselves as being in the role of savior, rather than needing one. There are those who are quite self-sufficient who also do not see the need to be saved.
As the great Shepherd of our souls, Jesus’ call to repent goes out to everyone, including those who see no need for salvation. However, only those who humbly realize their spiritual plight will hear the call of Jesus and will repent of their sins.
It is important to keep in mind that righteousness in God’s kingdom is not about works; rather, it comes down to position, status, or standing in relationship to God. It is upon the born again experience that we are placed by God in the essence of all righteousness, Christ Jesus. Once we have been placed in Jesus’ righteousness, we then will have right standing with God (1 Corinthians 1:30). Since there is no righteousness in us, God has to also count a matter as being righteous. Therefore, any act of honor or obedience that comes out of unfeigned faith is counted as being righteous; therefore, acceptable to God.
Sadly, since God called out to Adam and Eve, who were hiding from Him in the garden, His call continues to go forth through each generation, but often falls on ears of unbelief. Individuals with a spiritual hearing problem are those walking around in smug arrogance about their own code of righteousness, and those who are deluded about the worth of their personal decency, or are ignorant about God and the Gospel.