• Chan Gin Kai

Misunderstanding Righteousness

Chan Gin Kai



Luke 13:1-9


In the last chapter, we saw how Jesus preached boldly about sin and judgement. This certainly stirred the crowd. As usual, it generated a rather surprising reply, which showed the misconceptions the people had regarding righteousness.


Many still hold these misconceptions today…


We Will Be Rewarded On Earth


Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? (Luke 13:1-2)


When Jesus preached about sin and judgement, some of his listeners brought up the Galileans whom Pilate had killed. Their reply reflected their misconception that punishments for sin (and rewards for righteousness) will happen physically, on earth. They didn’t think beyond this life about heaven and hell.


But this was, and still is, a common tendency. Many Jews misunderstood the Messiah when they hoped for a physical saviour who would punish their Roman enemies, and bless them on earth. Even Jesus’ disciples had this misconception at first. Aren’t we like them when we focus on the physical instead of the spiritual?


Because we are impatient, we seek blessings on earth instead of heaven. Because we lack trust, we demand physical proof of God’s love. Isn’t Christ’s death on the cross proof enough for us? Do we need abundant health and wealth to feel assured?

Because to be rewarded on earth is such a seductive notion, we misconstrue the Bible, twisting scriptures about God’s blessings to justify this very pleasing thought.


It doesn’t help that false teachers deceive us with promises of prosperity on earth when Jesus has taught us to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). If these teachings that our faith will be rewarded on earth were true, then the apostles must have been the worst of sinners. They were all poor, hated and persecuted.


God may bless us here on earth if He wants to. Or we may be assailed with pain and sorrow if He so allows it. Neither of them reflect our righteousness or faithlessness.


We can hope that we will be blessed on earth, but we can be sure we will be rewarded in heaven.


We Are Better Than Others


Through the people’s reply, Jesus knew exactly what was going through their minds. They felt those Galileans must have been “worse sinners” to deserve that terrible fate. But ‘worse’ in comparison with whom? In comparison with themselves of course. These people were self-righteous.


Many believe that the good will always be blessed and the bad will always be cursed. The fact that we love this misconception reveals something about ourselves that we hate to admit — we self-righteously think we are better than others, and more deserving of rewards.

That’s why we complain against God when bad things happen to us. And we get upset too, when the wicked achieve success. We treat God as though He is Santa Claus, awarding presents according to a list of who’s naughty or nice. And by whose standards do we make that list? We use the most “rubbery” of standards that somehow allows all sorts of excuses for our own weaknesses, but shows no grace to people we dislike.


I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:3-5)


Jesus explained that neither the people that Pilate killed nor those that were crushed when a tower fell were more guilty of sin than everyone else. Instead, he emphasised by repeating the statement, “unless you repent, you too will all perish."


While we like to compare ourselves with people we self-righteously deem more sinful, Jesus compares us with the Bible. While we imagine ourselves to be better than others, Jesus set the perfect example with his own life.


All of us are sinful, and we need to repent.


Repentance Is Work


We are saved by grace, through faith, and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Some believe that repentance is work, and thus not necessary for salvation. But this interpretation directly contradicts Jesus’ statement that we will perish if we don’t repent. According to Jesus, repentance is necessary for salvation.


It is true we are not saved by our works. But why is repentance considered work? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that.


Neither repentance nor belief are works. Both of them are our responses to God in faith. Both of them are equally necessary for our salvation.


Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)


We may read the above passage and feel that the owner of the vineyard was demanding. Or we may focus on the positive and realise that he allowed the fig tree a second chance.


The fact is, the vineyard owner had every right to decide what to plant or remove from his land. After all, it was a vineyard and that fig tree was out of place. Besides, it was perfectly right for him to expect a fig tree to bear fruits and not waste his land. He didn’t have to give it a chance, but he did.


The universe belongs to God, and we are His creations. He has every right to do whatever He wants, to set whatever expectations He deems is good. None of us have met His expectations, but He has decided to give us a second chance because He loves us. He has every right to cut us down if we do not respond to the chance.


Repentance is not work, it is the correct response to our second chance. If we really have faith, our lives will reflect it through change.



Chan Gin Kai

Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. He serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry of the Central Christian Church. He describes himself as “just a sinner who wants to get right with God”.