In the time of Jesus, the Roman government was ruling over the Jewish people. The Romans got money from the Jews through taxes that they levied upon them. The Romans hired Jews to be the tax collectors. These tax collectors were often dishonest and guilty of extortion. As a result, they were hated and considered great sinners. Zacchaeus was a tax collector – a chief tax collector. Here is his story. Luke 19:1-10 “Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’ Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’” Zacchaeus was perhaps a great sinner, but salvation came to him.
Some of us have lived some pretty wicked lives before we became Christians. Others of us were born into a Christian family that trained us to live good lives. Regardless of your background, the truth is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is one of the great principles that we must accept. We are all lawbreakers. James 2:10 “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”
None of us are free from sin. Romans 3:22-26 “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” We are totally dependent on God and the sacrifice of atonement (propitiation) of Jesus Christ to have our sins taken away. Other religions do not have this propitiation – not Muslim, not Buddhism, not Hinduism, not Judaism because only through faith in Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God can we be declared just before God. God justified us through our faith in Jesus Christ.
Some people want to wait to become a Christian until they have become a “good” person that would be worthy of being a Christian. How ridiculous! God saved us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:6-8 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We could never do enough good deeds on our own to be declared righteous before God. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). God takes every one of us that comes to him in faith and cleanses us. Isaiah 1:18 “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’”
The apostle Paul considered himself to have been a very sinful person before he became a follower of Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:12-17 “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” Paul put himself forth as an example of being a big sinner and yet receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.
God has great love and mercy towards us. Ephesians 2:4-10 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Since you are now a follower of Jesus, you will want to do many good works to please Him. But you should never think that you earned your salvation or that you are good on your own or that you have been saved by your own strength or that you are better than others. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded” (Romans 3:27). You and I are sinners saved by God’s grace.
Give glory to God for your redemption, your atonement, your cleansing, your forgiveness, and your justification before Him! Because of His great love and mercy towards you, I encourage you to have a great desire to seek to please Him and do everything that He asks you to do.