And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician,
but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous
but sinners to repentance.”
If you clicked this link expecting a post to rail against the purpose-driven, best-life-now books that fill so many bookstore shelves, and the no-Lordship preachers who fill so many pulpits, and the cheap-grace gospels that find a home in so many churches, you will be greatly disappointed. This post is meant to be much more personal. Its goal is to hit closer to home. I am writing for our camp—those who reject the easy-believism gospel, affirm the Lordship of Christ, and call unbelievers to repentance.1
My warning is this: If we are not careful, we can rightly reject the repentance-less gospel of our day, while practically accepting it in our lives. How? By believing the Siren who sings ever so softly, Your sin will not find you out. Sin will not bring the pain and hurt God promises. You can keep it quiet. You can keep it hidden. No one has to know—no one will ever know. It’s the oldie-but-goodie that debuted in the Garden of Eden and remains a favorite even today.
Every time we sing that song, we embody the easy-believism we claim to despise. We forget the cost of the cross that once broke our pride. We presume upon the grace we theologically cherish. We become distracted from the life of repentance we have been called to live. And if you doubt how seductive this song is, just think of the many well-known Christian leaders who have joined the Siren’s chorus only to shipwreck their ministries and shatter their families.
How do we avoid the easy-believism gospel that entices our flesh? How do we remove the cheap-grace songs from our playlist? How do we turn the station when a song that is so powerful and so easy to sing along to is played so often?
We learn a different song by another artist—the song sung by Christ, whose divine mission was to “call…sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
Sent with a Message
The call to repentance defined Jesus’ ministry. His first words in Mark’s Gospel are “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). His last words in Luke’s Gospel called His people to proclaim “repentance…to all the nations” (Luke 24:47). In the intervening three years of ministry, He sent His Apostles to “preach that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). He “denounced the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Matthew 11:20). He warned his hearers, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Why? Because proclaiming repentance was why the Father sent Him from Heaven to Earth.
The Heart and Soul of Gospel Commitment
Repentance is the heart and soul of gospel commitment—and thus, it must be the heart and soul of our lives. Where there is no genuine repentance, there is no saving faith (Mark 1:15).2 Repentance divides the broad road to destruction from the narrow path to life. This is why calls to repentance dominate the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament prophets (Deuteronomy 30:2; 1 Samuel 7:3; Psalm 7:12), continuing through the New Testament apostles (Acts 2:38; 17:30-31), and ending with the glorified Christ who warns: “Repent…or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place….Repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war…with the sword of My mouth….Repent…if you do not…I will come like a thief….” (Revelation 2:16).
Reread those threats again. They are graphic, and they are terrifying. But they are also personal because each was issued to a church!
The Siren has lied. Unrepentant sin will always be found out. It always brings the pain and hurt God promises. You cannot keep it quiet or hidden.
The Lord of glory knows, hates, and will avenge every unrepentant sin—either in Hell for the unbeliever, or by divine discipline for the believer.
At its most basic level, repentance refers to “a change of one’s mind”3—specifically, how one thinks about himself and his standing before the Lord.
This need for mind-change is evident in Jesus’ mission statement, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Do not miss Jesus’ biting sarcasm.
The Pharisees thought themselves to be spiritually healthy. But according to Jesus, they needed to think differently about themselves. They needed to realize that their health had failed, that the deadly virus of depravity had metastasized throughout every part of their body. They needed the healing balm of forgiveness the Physician of Souls was holding in His hand.
Yet sadly, the Pharisees refused Jesus’ diagnosis and rejected His cure. They thought they could cover their sin through external religiosity, keep sin’s effects at bay by obeying rigid man-made traditions, and even heal themselves through proud human effort.
Do not miss the application: Every time we hide our sin, refuse to confess it, and seek to ease the guilt of it we become more like the Pharisees than we would like to admit.
Our minds need to change about sin’s seriousness.
Our eyes need to see sin for what it truly is—a deadly virus that, if not repented of, can spread rapidly, destroying us from the inside out.
Though repentance is a change of mind, it does not end there. There are necessary “fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8)—actual changes that must occur—if repentance is genuine.
This is where Jesus’ call of Matthew fits into the story. Immediately before Jesus announced His divine mission, we read, “He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him” (Luke 5:27-28).
Why include Matthew’s conversion? Because this despised tax collector is a living picture of the repentance Jesus was sent to proclaim—the prototype for the spiritually sick to whom Christ grants forgiveness of sin.
Sorrow Over Sin
First, Matthew’s conversion shows that true repentance involves sorrow over sin. Think of Jesus’ words later in Luke’s Gospel, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes” (Luke 10:13).
The picture is vivid. Sackcloth was a dark, rough cloth made from goat hair. Ash was a reminder of man’s mortality, the dust from which we came. Combined, they serve as a visual picture of repentant sorrow (Genesis 37:34; Job 2:8). The outer discomfort of the hairy cloth symbolized the distress one felt inside, while the ashes revealed the ruin within the heart.
And though Matthew’s repentant sorrow is not specifically mentioned, we know that Matthew’s heart had been broken because he no longer loved the sinful life he once lived. Matthew “got up” (Luke 5:28)—indicating a decisive break with his old profession.4 “And he left everything behind” (Luke 5:28)—a radical abandonment of everything he held dear.
To borrow Paul’s words, Matthew was “made sorrowful to the point of repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:9).
Not only does repentance involve grief over sin, but it also demands radical abandonment of sin. Something clearly seen in Matthew’s conversion.
In first-century Palestine, there were two classes of tax collectors. One group was responsible for income and land taxes. And though this group was despised, another group was detested even more. It was this second group to which Matthew belonged. These collectors would sit beside bridges, canals, or state roads to collect their fees. Extortion is the only word to describe this second group. The Roman government offered these positions to the highest bidder, and once that bid was accepted and paid, the collector was free to charge the passerby whatever amount he chose.5
Seldom would a toll-tax collector post any set regulations or fees. The ambiguity allowed him to overcharge at will. In extreme cases, collectors would demand up to one thousand percent of the average rate.6 Tax collectors were lumped with thieves, harlots, and murderers. They were the dregs of society.7 The deplorables of the land. This was Matthew’s profession. This was his place in society. And this was the life he left behind to follow Jesus.
Matthew turned from his wickedness. He forsook his lying, extortion, and love of money. He could not come to Christ and remain at his booth. Jesus demanded a decisive break: either choose the booth, exploit others for gain, and die in sin; or leave it all behind, receive forgiveness, and be reconciled to God. Matthew chose to abandon his post.
Obedience is a third necessary fruit of repentance, as seen in Matthew's response, “he…began to follow Him” (Luke 5:28). Matthew’s decision was costly since Matthew could never regain such a lucrative post once he left. But the cost was worth the loss. Like the man in Christ's parable who sold all in order to purchase a field with a hidden treasure, so too did Matthew give up all that he had to obtain Christ (Matthew 13:44). Matthew did what the rich, young ruler refused to do—he gave up his desire for wealth for the sake of eternal life (Luke 18:18-23).
Matthew replaced his love of money with love for Christ. He traded his lies for “the Truth.” (John 14:6). He joined Christ in His mission and submitted to His authority. Christ was now his leader, not Rome; and he was now His obedient follower.
LIVING THE UNDISTRACTED LIFE
The undistracted Christian is not reluctant or hesitant regarding personal holiness. Christ was sent to proclaim repentance, and He holds us responsible to live a life characterized by repentance. Undistracted by sin’s lure—the easy-believism gospel of our day—we must “strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).
Terrify Yourself with Sin’s Consequences
Unrepentant sin should frighten us. No, it should terrify us.
Paul’s words should give us pause: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9).
Jesus’ words should shudder our souls: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
The undistracted Christian does not coddle sin. He refuses to play with its fire.
He makes decisive breaks and takes radical action because he recognizes the terrifying nature of unrepentant sin. John Piper is right, “The stakes are much higher than whether the world is blown up by a thousand long-range missiles, or terrorists bomb your city, or global warming melts the ice caps, or AIDS sweeps the nations. All these calamities can kill only the body. But if we don’t fight [sin], we lose our souls. Forever.”8
As much as unrepentant sin should frighten us, confession of sin should delight us. The divine joys promised to the confessor are unmatched.9 Confession of sin is the sweet balm that restores the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:10). It is what breaks sin’s patterns, removes God’s heavy hand of conviction, and restores the vitality of obedience (Psalm 32:4). Confession is the means through which our Savior washes us thoroughly from our iniquities and cleanses us daily from our sin (Psalm 51:2).
The undistracted Christian keeps these promises close-at-hand because he knows that sin’s greatest weapon is the lies it will tell.
Sin will always promise what it can never deliver.
It promises satisfaction yet brings only pain. It promises relief yet heaps only burden. It promises happiness yet always ends in regret.
Do not be deceived. The Siren cannot be trusted. Good gifts only come from above and are ultimately only given to those who flee to the cross in confession and repentance.
Plead for a Repentant Heart
A repentant heart is the work of God alone (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). It is not something we can muster; it is a divinely given grace.10 And thus, we must plead for the Lord to close our ears to the Siren’s song of easy-believism and turn us from our wicked ways.
Pray Matthew 5:4, asking the Lord to grant you the sorrow over sin He desires. Pray with the prophet Jeremiah, “Bring me back that I may be restored, for You are the Lord my God” (Jeremiah 31:18). Pray Lamentations 5:21, “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored.”
Pray these passages for yourself. Pray them for your church. Pray them for your unbelieving relative, neighbor, or co-worker. And pray them often—because the easy-believism gospel is more subtle than we realize, and we need repentance far more than we think we do.
 J.C. Ryle’s words summarize this well, “Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith…Just as you cannot have the sun without light, or ice without cold, or fire without heat, or water without moisture—you will never find true faith without true repentance, and you will never find true repentance without lively faith. The two things will always go side by side.” Monergism, https://www.monergism.com/5-marks-repentance-j-c-ryle (accessed April 1, 2023).
 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark LTD, 1994), 287.
 Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, NIGNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1978), 219.
 Harold W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1980), 73–79.
 Ibid, 76.
 According to rabbinic teachings, a Jew who collected taxes was disqualified as a judge or witness in a court of law, expelled from the synagogue, and brought disgrace upon his family. See: Hershey H. Friedman, “Ideal Occupations,” Jewish Law, http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/idealoccupa.html (accessed March 31, 2023).
 Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/if-you-dont-fight-lust (accessed March 31, 2023).
 Note these promises: (1) citizenship in God’s Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15), (2) the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), (3) forgiveness of sin (Mark 1:4), (4) eternal life (Acts 11:18), (5) salvation from sin (2 Corinthians 7:10), (6) escape from eternal judgment (Acts 17:30-31), (7) rescue from eternal destruction (Luke 13:1-5), and (8) deliverance from God’s wrath (Romans 2:4-8).
 Thomas Brooks put it this way, “No man is born with godly sorrow in his heart, as he is born with a tongue in his mouth…[it is a] plant of God’s own planting; it is a seed of His own sowing…it is a heavenly offspring; it is from God, and God alone. The Spirit of mourning is from above; it is from a supernatural power and principle.” As quoted in Mark Jones, Knowing Sin (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2022), 78.