He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up 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, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
— Luke 18: 9-14 ESV

the difference between right and wrong 

Right versus wrong. There are times when it is easy to spot and times when it is not. As someone who is reading this story that Jesus is telling, it is easy to spot the difference in right and wrong. In this passage, you may see that Jesus is making a shocking statement that is reversing every normality that the Jews at that time were used to in their culture. Jesus tells a parable about two people, a Pharisee who is seen as a religious leader known for doing things “right”, and a tax collector who is known, because of his title, for being “wrong” (Tax Collectors were seen as crooked sinners in that day). Jesus, who is speaking to an audience who is “confident in their own righteousness (NIV),” strictly acknowledges the difference in the way that the Pharisee and Tax Collector prayed as they were in the temple. Take notice of the difference. 

God desires humility

When reading about the Pharisee, do you sense the arrogance as he spouts off (to God) his spiritual accomplishments and deeds? The one who does things so “right” based off of society’s standards because of his discipline to the law in that day goes before the Lord and bases his righteousness strictly off of what he was able to check off of his spiritual checklist. On the other hand, in verse 13, the tax collector cannot even recognize righteousness because he only recognizes his need for God. He knows that he is “wrong” and sinful in the eyes of society. Jesus makes a clear but profound statement that the way we should approach God is the same way the tax collector did; from a place of humility and dependence.

How do you approach God? Really think about this one. Whether you have a simple request, or are fighting for the deepest desires of your heart, or are lifting up your daily prayers, what does the posture of your heart look like (take note of the physical posture of the two characters)? Do you look to earn God’s approval through what you accomplish on a spiritual checklist? What pleases God are not the deeds we accomplish but a recognition of our need for His grace and power to pursue the things we dream to accomplish. That is the difference in “right” versus “wrong”. 

pray

God, Thank you for your mercy. Lord, help me to be motivated by what your Son has done for me on the cross. May that alone move me into action for your glory. May that be what moves me to worship you Lord. Thank you God. Amen

-Ladd Morgan