Luke 18:9-14 New International Version
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “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.’
14 “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.”
This parable from Jesus strikes at the heart of self-righteousness.
A self-righteous person believes they are definitely righteous, especially in contrast with the actions, words, beliefs and deeds of others.
They are generally narrow minded and moralistic. They feel their actions and beliefs are right and other folk’s actions and beliefs are wrong.
The Pharisees were a self-righteous bunch. They wrote the manual on how to be the most self-righteous of all and we see the words of the Pharisee in this parable verifying this.
The Pharisee prayed which was good.
However, his prayer was 100% about himself; about how good he was and the good things he does.
He was thankful, but thankful about himself.
He said, thank you God, that I’m of the upper-crust and not of the low life element of society.
He said, thank you God, that I’m not like other people.
He likely thought “I love myself just as I am.”
He also made sure to mention in his prayer to God that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of everything he gets.
The Pharisees loved their religious actions to be seen.
Jesus accused them of loving to be seen as fasting and loving to pray so that others would hear them.
They were not concerned with others, but with self and appearance.
The Pharisee says thank you that I’m not like this tax collector over there. I can imagine him thinking “who appears to be praying, but what in the world does he have to thank you for?”
Instead of thanking God for his many blessings, he was thankful for himself.
Instead of praying for the needs of those less fortunate, he was thankful for how good he is.
Instead of meekness and humility, he is full of pride. His self-righteousness was on full display.
Now the publican or tax collector approached God in a far different manner.
He would not even look upward toward heaven and he hit upon his breast saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
The tax collector didn’t bring a list of his accomplishments or good deeds to God. He didn’t thank God that he was not like other people. He didn’t display pride or self-righteousness.
No, in meekness and humility he cried out to God asking for His mercy. Why? Because, he said, “I am a sinner.”
Paul tells us in Romans that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
This tax collector understood this. He knew he was a sinner and could only be saved by God’s grace and mercy. He knew what he stood in need of.
Jesus ends the parable by saying that the tax collector went home justified. The Pharisee did not.
Further he said those who puff themselves up or exalts themselves will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Paul also instructs us in this manner in the book of Romans and Ephesians;
Romans 12:3 New International Version
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Ephesians 2:8-9 New International Version
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
We must always remember that we are sinners, saved by grace and that it is nothing to do with us, who we are, or with how good we are.
Rather it is God’s gift to us. The only thing we contribute is our acceptance of this gift in repentance and belief.
We are not righteous in our own right, but are only made righteous in God’s sight through the blood of Jesus.
1 John 1:7 New International Version
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[a] sin.
We need to often take spiritual inventory.
We need to determine where we are on our spiritual growth journey.
Are we growing, standing still, or moving backward?
I like and use the analogy of a locomotive engine pulling many heavy cars. As long as it is moving forward, the momentum makes it easier to keep moving in this direction.
If the train is sitting still it is just as easy to move forward as it is to move backward.
If the train is moving backward, it takes a great amount of energy to stop and change direction, powering the train forward.
I believe this analogy applies to each of us as we run the race toward the prize, which I call our spiritual growth journey.
Through introspection, we should examine ourselves closely to make sure that we are growing spiritually or moving forward and not becoming complacent or stagnant. We must make sure we are definitely not moving backward.
We must also ensure that we have not become prideful and self-righteous.
As this tax collector, we should thank God every day for His mercy, grace and love. We should thank Him daily for providing a way in which we can be reconciled to Him, through Jesus Christ.
Let us thank Him every day, because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.