Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions
Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector—two men with very different perspectives on forgiveness, grace and their relationship with God:
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men ─ robbers, evildoers, adulterers ─ or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but… said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:9─14)
Jesus’ parable must have upset the self-satisfied who believed in their own goodness, while bringing comfort to those beginning to buckle under the weight of self-contempt. It can help us see ourselves and our attitude toward God and our neighbours.
The first man in this story was a decent, law-abiding, even generous individual. The question is why would Jesus condemn him and declare the second man justified instead? The Pharisee’s confession indicates he saw himself magnificently different, beautifully unique, having arrived at his goal of personal goodness, while seeing others as scarcely having begun the journey. While finding no fault in himself, he finds no value in his neighbour. It is this attitude of the heart that condemns him and makes it impossible for the grace of God to reach his life.
Recognising our limitations
To suppose that God makes some men good and others evil is to deny the fundamental truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Whether I like it or not, I am like my neighbour when it comes to my basic nature. True, I may be different from him in terms of gifts, abilities and interests, but I am just the same in my humanity and my inability to save myself by myself.
Notice that Jesus said the Pharisee prayed about himself. He was doing just that, for he had no need for God, believing he was adequate within himself. This man helps us to see how easy it is to substitute religious activities, even good ones, for God himself.
The tax collector’s confession, though, reveals a man who saw himself realistically. He recognised his limitations and failures and confessed his need for God’s help. Perhaps he never compared himself to anyone else. He knew he was a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness and mercy.
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This man saw God as One who would forgive and accept him as he was, for relationship with God depends upon the Lord’s love and nature, not our virtues. God always seeks to heal us and change our lives if we confess our need.
The keys are humility and trust—getting our egos and attitudes out of the way to allow the Lord to work his will and way with us. Without these qualities, we stand empty-handed on the outside of his grace, looking in. With them, we allow God to open the door to experience his nearness, forgiveness and love.
By: Thomas La Mance
The War Cry, October 2001