The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

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.

A Prayer for Smug Grace Legalists, Like Me

Talk about a great title for an article, “A Prayer for Smug Grace Legalists, Like Me.” As soon as I saw the title I had to read this post by Scotty Smith. This is a prayer most of us don’t pray very often; however, we should be praying like this every day. When we  exam our lives and then confess any forms of hypocrisy we are immediately drawn into a deeper relationship with God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that Scotty Smith’s post for The Gospel Coalition will touch you in a special way, and thus change the way you look at yourself, others, and the God you serve.

Smith writes:

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:5-8

Lord Jesus, these are strong words. What could be more painful and humbling than to hear you say, “You talk about me a whole lot, using plenty of spiritual language and Bible quotes. You’re very quick to recognize and correct false teaching. You’re even zealous to apply what you know to others, but your heart is far from me. There’s an unacceptable disconnect between what you say and who you are.”

It would be one thing if such a rebuke came to us because we were acting like the Pharisees and scribes you publically confronted—spiritual leaders who distorted and misapplied Old Testament law; religious teachers who put your people under the yoke of performance-based spirituality; Israel’s elders who replaced your commandments with their traditions; authorities who were more scrupulous about tithing mint, dill and cumin than “the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23).

But, Lord, help us to see and grieve, that we who love the gospel and a theology of grace, can be just as disconnected, hypocritical and rebuke-worthy as any legalist we will ever encounter.

Forgive us for being just as smug with our grace theology as we were obnoxious with our legalistic theology.

Forgive us when we call ourselves “recovering Pharisees” or “recovering legalists” when in actuality, we’re not really recovering from much of anything.

Forgive us, Jesus, when we enjoy exposing bad teachers and false gospels more than we love spending time with you in prayer and fellowship.

Forgive us for having a PhD in the indicatives of the gospel yet failing so miserably when it comes to the imperatives of the gospel.

Forgive us when we are quick to tell people what obedience is not, but fail to demonstrate what the obedience of faith and love actually is.

Forgive us when talk more about “getting the gospel” than demonstrating we’ve been “gotten” by the gospel.

Forgive us when we don’t use our freedom to serve one another in love, but rather use it to put our consciences to sleep.

Forgive us when our love for the gospel does not translate into a love for holiness, world evangelism, and caring for widows and orphans.

Forgive us when we love “the gospel” more than we actually love you, Jesus, as impossible or implausible as that may seem.

Forgive us when the word “gospel” is more of a hyphenated word in our vocabulary than a life-transforming power in our lives. Forgive us; forgive me.

Lord Jesus, change us by your grace and for your glory. So very Amen we pray, with convicted and humbled hearts.