A few weeks ago, I was sitting among friends and overheard a conversation take place. One girl had entered the room dressed in her new outfit that was obviously deemed immodest. When another friend made a comment on her attire, she said that she had questioned it before she left home, but her reasoning for wearing it was that “It can’t be any worse than what ‘so and so’ wears”, mentioning the name of a girl who was notorious for dressing a little on the scandalous side. After hearing these words come out of her mouth, I cringed knowing that I too have done the same thing. I have found pride in comparison to others to exalt myself and help me to feel better about what I’m doing.
In the New Testament, there is a parable that has opened my eyes to the ugly pride of the human heart and its desire to exalt itself above God and all others. In Luke 18 we meet a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee had the reputation for religious superiority, while the tax collector was notorious for deceitfulness, greed, and stealing. As you read their two prayers, you’ll see one praising himself while the other is acknowledging his guilt. Yet, only one of them was right before God. First, we see from the Pharisee…
The Heart of Comparison Is Prideful
His prayer goes like this, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people-greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” He begins by looking at those around him and comparing himself to them. He assumes that his righteousness far exceeds those who don’t have a religious reputation and exalts himself through labeling others’ sin. Pride is defined by dictionary.com as “a high opinion of one’s dignity, importance or superiority. “ The Pharisee takes pride in who he is and in his good works and considers himself superior to others not like him. In Oswald chambers book, My Utmost for His Highest, he writes, “You must constantly be aware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person.” Be very careful that you do not subconsciously view yourself as superior to someone else simply because you might have more education than they do, or more money available to you, or even because you were raised in a Christian home and taught the right things. The danger in pride is that it will convince you that you have no struggle with it. Your only hope is that God, through His Word and Holy Spirit, might reveal to you the pridefulness of your own heart! Even though the Pharisee had a reputation of spirituality, he was not right before God. This is because…
The Heart of Contrition Is Justified
The prayer of the Pharisee was prideful and full of comparison, but the prayer of the tax collector was one of contrition, meaning sorrowful or the hatred of sin. It says, “the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept beating his chest and saying, ‘God, turn your wrath from me-a sinner!’” This parable we know was written to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on others with a false sense of superiority. Why would this man be justified before God instead of the seemingly religious man who did so many good things like, “fasting twice a week and giving tithes of all he had”? Isn’t God pleased with good works? The reason why the tax collector was justified in his prayer is because he understood God’s justice and pleaded for mercy. He knew his desperate need for God’s forgiveness because he knew the sinful state of his heart. Being right with God is not listing off how many good things you do every week, but it is true repentance and an understanding of God’s wrath and hatred of your own sin. Those who truly encounter God will first recognize their own sin and hopelessness without Him. The Word of God says that your righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), but true righteousness comes from God through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9). Donna Gaines at Bellevue Baptist Church has said, “We do not claim to be morally superior, only forgiven!” Like the Pharisees, those who compare themselves to others will always find a way to exalt themselves, but those who compare themselves to the sinless, perfect Son of God will always fall short (Romans 3:23). You and I are in desperate need of the mercy of God to come to us as we respond in heartfelt sorrow over our sinfulness. I once had a friend who wrote above her mirror, “God demands perfection”, so that every day she would wake up to see that truth as a reminder to fall on her knees in dependence upon Christ. After all, He alone is who makes us perfect before God!
Friend, has there ever been a time in your life that God revealed to you the sinfulness of your heart? If yes, then praise God for His kindness to you. If, through this parable, you recognize in yourself a prideful heart of comparison rather than a humble heart of contrition, then earnestly ask God to give you a heart of repentance. He is gracious and kind toward us and offers forgiveness to the heart of contrition. Let your prayer be that God would help you to hate sin and to show you your desperate need for Him. A heart that compares will exalt itself, but God’s desire is for a humble heart in need of mercy!
Lord, create in me a clean heart and renew a right Spirit within me. I ask that You give me a heart of repentance so that I might hate sin and follow You wholeheartedly. Thank You for Your mercy to me in sending Christ to die in my place so that I might be righteous before You. I praise You, Jesus, because my goodness is nothing apart from You!
1 Corinthians 1:30