“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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 beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that his 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]
Make sure you take the time to read this passage. Jesus addresses the motives of our heart by distinguishing those of the Pharisee and those of the tax collector. If you looked just at the actions of the Pharisee then you probably would think great things… but that’s not the point. The Pharisee focuses only on himself, pridefully compares his actions to others, and lives a legalistic, religious life. Jesus opposes the Pharisee because his motives are all wrong.
If you looked at the actions of the notoriously sinful tax collector, you probably would assume he’s in a bad place with God. The truth is, man looks at the outward appearance; God looks at the heart. Jesus sees the tax collector embody humility, ask for forgiveness, and recognize his need for God. This sinful man goes home justified before God because He acknowledged his desperation for God and surrendered. The religious pharisee relied on his own goodness, and for that reason did not have a place with God.
When it comes to our status with God, we will be far from Him if we rely on ourselves; we will be hopelessly lost. But the moment we surrender ourselves to God, we get restoration with him in an instant. There’s no proving yourself to be righteous. It’s relationship restored with God, period. There’s a lie so many of us believe that we have to do the right things in order to have a place with God or be loved. This is a deception, and it corrupts so many of us. The truth is that He loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He loves us first, before we loved him (1 John 4:19). God is the one who justifies us, not our actions. The only thing God calls us to do is surrender--recognize our brokenness without God and give him our lives.
This parable warns us to watch the way we think. If we are doing good actions with wrong motives, we need to check our hearts and repent. The goal isn’t just good actions, it’s a humble heart surrendered to God.
Pray this with me:
God, I need you. I recognize that I can do nothing good without you. I pray you forgive me for wrong motives. I ask that you replace any selfishness, arrogance, or lie that I have to prove myself with truth. I pray your love which loves me even in my most messed up place transforms my heart, my mindsets, and my motives. I give you my life, Jesus. Amen