But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. – Matthew 9:13

I wrote an article titled, “The Sinners’ Need” a while ago. In it, I said that sinners (Gentiles) can’t repent, what they need is remission of sin. So, someone asked me about the verse above. If sinners can’t repent; then what did Jesus mean when He said, “…I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13)? I think this is a great question but it’s always advisable to read the scriptures in context, otherwise one can always assume and come to erroneous conclusions.

Remember, Jesus didn’t walk the face of the earth under the New Testament. He lived under the Old Testament. The New Testament was effective only after His resurrection (Hebrews 9:16-18). Any Scripture, therefore, that is inconsistent with the teachings after the resurrection of Jesus is obsolete (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14).

The sinners He was referring here, were the Jews who transgressed the law. The Law was given only to the Jews, not the whole world and 1 John 3:4 says, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law”.

Sin is the transgression of the law! This therefore suggests that, it can’t be talking about the Gentiles (Non-Jews) since they were not under any law (Amos 3:2; John 1:17). They couldn’t have been the sinners Jesus was referring to since there was no law to condemn them for their ungodly practices – There was no law for them to transgress. They were called, the “ungodly” because they didn’t know God, they didn’t have covenant with God, “11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13).

Further proof of this is, when Jesus sent His disciples to preach. In the same context, the Bible records, “5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, GO NOT INTO THE WAY OF THE GENTILES, and INTO ANY CITY OF THE SAMARITANS ENTER NOT: 6  But GO RATHER TO THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL. 7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7).

So, contextually, He was referring to the children of Israel who transgressed the Law as sinners (The lost sheep of Israel), not the Gentiles who had no covenant with God. What the Gentiles need is the remission of their sins by the washing power of the blood of Christ, “…now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). Only after that can they repent if they do something wrong. One can only repent after he/she’s been saved. It was/is impossible for someone who wasn’t in covenant with God or is in God (born again) to repent because there’s nothing for them to repent to.

Repent is the combination of the words ‘Re’ and ‘pent’. ‘Re’ is an etymology of English words, meaning returning and ‘pent’ means the top (it can also mean closely confined; shut in). So repent actually means a turning back to the top (or get back to original state and stay there). But sinners (Gentiles) never had laws to return to; they never had salvation to return to. So it’s impossible for them to repent.

P.S: I usually reply questions on my Q&A blog, but since this question was asked on an article I posted on this blog, I decided to post this one on here.

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