LUKE 18:13-14: “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” NKJV
OBSERVATION: The problem with humility is? This is the question I am moved to ponder as I read the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. If I were writing the story I would have had three people praying in the Temple. I don’t want to identify with the Pharisee and I surely don’t want to be the Tax Collector!
Yet, Jesus did not insert a third person into this parable. Perhaps it was not even a parable at all. This could have been something Jesus observed during His lifetime. Regardless, if I am honest, brutally honest, most of the time I find myself lining up with the Pharisee. The longer I am a Christian and the more my life is changed, the more I will be tempted to become Pharisaical in my attitude.
Why does this happen? We know that we all come to Jesus as a sinner in need of grace and mercy. If we are not aware of our sin we would never come to Jesus. When we cry out to God for forgiveness we are saved by grace through faith. The Holy Spirit comes into our life and we begin the wonderful journey of transformation as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then it happens! Along the way we begin to look at our lives differently. The transformation, the healing, the spiritual growth that we have received gets attached to things that we are doing rather than the wonderful grace of God. We are not aware of this subtle shift but we begin to take credit for the work that God alone is doing. And, just like the Pharisee, we can find ourselves saying…
- “…God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” NKJV
Spiritual pride is the pitfall we are tempted to fall into as our lives are transformed into the image of Christ. When we came to Christ as broken sinners our focus was on the condition of our heart. As we grow in Christ we are tempted to shift this inward focus to an outward one. I will never forget how one old preacher illustrated this when he quoted, tongue-in-cheek, the words of a self-pious church member…
“I don’t drink, dance, or chew…or go with girls that do!”
We are tempted to begin to focus on Scriptures that reveal the sinful nature of others and neglect the reality that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. A perfect illustration of this is Paul’s writings in I Corinthians.
- “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” I Corinthians 6:9-11 NKJV
It is time for us to look in the mirror of our own lives. If we read the above verses and focus on the definition of unrighteousness – we may be on the brink of becoming Pharisaical. However, if we focus on the words – “And such were some of you…”, we are remembering our sin and our need for a Savior.
The blessed truth is that anything we bring to the Lord that has any worth is a result of His grace working in our lives. Paul reminds us – we were just like all other sinners. The only difference between us and them is that – “…We were washed, we were sanctified, we were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God!” So, as we come to the Lord, we must realize each and every time, it is His work, not ours. It is His grace, not our strength. It is His righteousness, not our filthy rags.
We are no longer poor miserable sinners lost for eternity. We are sinners saved by God’s grace. And, as such, there is no room for spiritual pride. When we come into His presence we are always reminded of our need and of His glory. We humble ourselves under His mighty hand. We ask Him for forgiveness and cleansing. We open our hearts anew to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As David so aptly wrote in Psalms…
- “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.” Psalms 51:17 NKJV
Lord, this morning, I am convicted of the many times I have stood before You as if this privilege was earned by things that I had done. Thank you for this powerful reminder, from a lowly Tax Collector, who left Your presence justified because he walked in humility before You. This morning, I lay down everything anew. I put my trust in You and You alone!
God, be merciful to me, a sinner!
In Jesus’ Name!