It’s amazing how though times change, some things never do. And in this passage, we see an example of this. Luke writes,
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable. (9)
This attitude was particularly common among the Pharisees of the day. The Pharisees had dedicated their lives to keeping every jot and tittle of the word of God. But in doing so, it led to a spirit of pride, and you see it here. In Jesus’ story, a Pharisee was praying out loud by himself (perhaps even to himself), saying,
God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. (11-12)
In other words, “God you are so lucky to have someone like me in your kingdom. See what a good person I am? Not like this…tax collector!”
Unfortunately, we see much the same attitude in many Christians today. Oh, they may claim to live by God’s grace, but their attitude says otherwise. Because a person who truly lives by God’s grace sees two things very clearly. Their utter sinfulness and their need for God.
That’s what we see in the tax collector. Tax collectors in those days were hated because not only were they considered collaborators with the Roman government who had conquered Israel, but because they consistently cheated the people when collecting taxes. But this tax collector came before God, and beating his chest cried out,
God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (13)
And Jesus said of him,
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (14)
How about you? Are you truly living by God’s grace? I’ve mentioned that people who live by God’s grace see two things clearly, their own sinfulness, and their utter need for God.
What are the characteristics of a person like this?
First, they are humble and grateful for what God has done for them. There is no room for pride in their hearts. Pride of their own righteousness. Pride of their gifts. Because they realize that the only thing they deserve from God is death. And yet God showered his grace on them and gave them a life they did not deserve. And so each day, their hearts are filled with thankfulness. Not bitterness because others don’t appreciate them. And certainly not pride for what they’ve “accomplished.” Thankfulness.
Second, they have a heart that extends the grace they have received to others. They don’t see themselves as better as others. Rather they see others as people that need the very same grace that they themselves have received.
There can be no despising of others, when you realize just how wretched you really are. There can be no looking down on others in judgment when you realize just how much you have been forgiven. Instead, there is compassion, and a heart that reaches out that others may experience God’s grace as well.
How about you? Do you truly recognize the need for God’s grace in your life?