While I was on vacation back in June I read the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18.9-14). The introduction of the parable clarifies the point Jesus was trying to make, “He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt…” Jesus was talking to those who define themselves as superior believers because of their acts of righteousness. They do all the right things—tithe, study the Bible, pray, attend worship, practice the spiritual disciplines, as well as other things expected from those who call themselves Christians. So, what is the problem? It is their attitude. They do everything to show how deserving they are of God’s salvation. They look down on those who do not measure up to their definition of holiness.
I have to admit, there have been times in my life when I have played the part of the Pharisee. I have observed the life of others and looked down my nose at their unworthiness to come into God’s presence. There have been times when I figured I must make God proud to call me one of His children. Of course this all happened in my younger Christian days. I mean I would never have this type of arrogant attitude after being a Christian for over thirty-eight years, right? Unfortunately, if you are like me you fight pride and arrogance every day. It takes great humility and discipline to look at others as equals and not lesser humans because of their sinfulness.
God taught me a great lesson this summer that has helped keep my pride and arrogance in check. As I get alone with God to pray, I try to always begin with the prayer of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18.13). It is important to remember that I am always the sinner, and Jesus is always the Savior! My righteousness is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64.6); however, when I abide in Christ, His righteousness works in and through me to produce fruit for His glory and not mine (John 15.4).
When I remember that it is Christ working through me I have a different attitude toward those who are not abiding in Christ. I want to share with them why certain actions, attitudes, and aspirations are wrong. It is when I abide in Christ that I can approach those living in sin as someone who understands being tempted on a daily basis. I can approach them as someone who has walked in the same shoes, and yet, has been set free from the chains of self-righteousness and sin. I am moved by compassion to share with them the good news of Jesus and how He is able to change the life of those who place their faith in Him.
The truth is, if I try to help others live up to my measure of righteousness they are going to miss heaven. Living like Bob Pittenger will never save anyone. However, if I abide in Christ and live an example of a life changed by Jesus, then they too can experience His forgiveness, love, grace, and mercy. They too can learn to live a life of daily dependence on the finished work of Jesus Christ.
I would like to challenge you to try something new. As you have your prayer time today, try starting like the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Life is so much sweeter when we go along justified in God’s eyes instead of our own.