It is easy for many of us to become so overwhelmed with our sins that we lose heart in the Christian life and begin to doubt whether we are Christians at all. We become easily discouraged with particularly stubborn sins because we do not seem to be able to gain victory over them. We see precious little growth in our lives. And no matter how much we struggle against our sin, we still find Paul’s words in Romans 7:15–20 to be true of ourselves: we do not do the things that we want to do, and, instead, we do the things we do not want to do.
For these reasons, we ought to be grateful for passages such as Luke 5:31–32 that remind us that Jesus came to call sinners—not righteous people—to Himself. I find that to be tremendously encouraging because I know that I qualify. I am a sinner. And I am the kind of sinner that Jesus is talking about here.
Jesus is not talking about “sinners” generally or universally in Luke 5:31–32. All people are sinners in this general or universal sense, as Paul tells us quite clearly in Romans 3:9–20. Jesus is talking about a specific group of sinners in Luke 5, namely, those who acknowledge their sin and long to be healed and to turn away from their sin. We know that, because in the context of Luke 5, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees, who “grumbled” that He and His disciples were eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners” (v. 30) instead of associating with more respectable kinds of people (like themselves). Their question (and their grumbling) indicates that they did not consider themselves to be sinners. They were “righteous.” Even though they were sinners every bit as much as were the “tax collectors and sinners” and needed the healing of the Great Physician every bit as much as those other sinners did, the Pharisees did not believe it. They were uninterested in healing and repentance precisely because they saw no need for them. And Jesus’ point is that He did not come to call this kind of “righteous” person. He came to call those “sinners” who know that they are sick and need to be healed by the doctor.
And that ought to make this passage even more encouraging for you and me. When we are overwhelmed with our sins and tempted to lose heart or are burdened by particularly stubborn sins or discouraged at what seems to be a slow growth rate in our Christian lives, we need to remember that Jesus came to call people just like us—sick sinners who desperately need the healing of the Great Physician.
Samuel Rutherford once said that you and I are “at the worst” sinners, and sinners are “nothing to Christ.” The reason that sinners are “nothing” to Christ is because He came specifically to call sinners to Himself, to heal us of our spiritual “disease,” to work in us that which is pleasing to Himself. No matter how dark our sins may be, we know that Jesus really is able to wash us whiter than snow.