I follow a daily Bible reading schedule using the Logos Bible program on my computer. (If you don’t have a Bible study program you’re using, I recommend this one; they have a free version that works well for basic study needs, and more extensive versions for the serious student) My latest reading has been in the book of Luke; today was chapter 18. The passage that sparked this post was the parable of the Pharisee and publican.
Luke 18:10-14 (HCSB)
10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’
13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’
14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We all like to look good and get credit for good stuff we do. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, no one else will. That’s why corporations want their name all over events, stadiums, and sponsorships. They want people to know who they are and what beneficial things they do. In order to get ahead in this world, you have to sell yourself and let it know how wonderful you are.
God has a different standard for evaluating worth. It’s why we sometimes choose to obey God the way we want or simply throw up our hands and reject Him outright. God’s standard is contradictory to the world; it’s 180 degrees opposite; from their point of view it’s nonsense. But to understand it you need to grasp the underlying reality.
We measure our worth against other people, and we can always find someone less generous, less pious and moral. It’s those individuals we choose as our standard of comparison. There are also people who are more generous, pious and moral than we are, but our self-esteem won’t let us make that comparison. The point of the exercise is to look good to the world, but if we’re honest, the reality is so we can live with ourselves. We swallow the lie that’s been fed to us, even if we do the feeding.
The reality is we are all under the curse of sin, which in its simplest definition is rebellion against God by demanding the right to ourselves. Therefore it’s necessary to convince ourselves we are basically pretty good people, maybe not perfect but better than a lot of others. It’s Satan’s lie- that we can save ourselves because we deserve it. If we were to believe otherwise, we become subject to depression, insanity or destruction. It is a situation without hope.
God established the true standard of measurement- Himself. He made us in His image, but sin corrupted and warped us, convincing us we are our own standard. When compared to God’s holiness, perfect love, and perfect justice, we can’t and don’t measure up. We see ourselves in shades of gray; to God, it’s a simple matter of light or darkness, and without Him, we are all in the dark. What’s more, we have no way of getting ourselves into the light.
As long as we think we can “fix” ourselves we will never become what the Word tells us we are to be. Only when we realize we are irrevocably broken and we gather up the pieces, bring them to Jesus and ask Him to fix us can we finally be made whole. The result is we are made into His image, and He is the standard by which God measures us. But it won’t work if we think we can hang on to some of the pieces, give Jesus the rest, and then expect Him to make us whole. He needs all the pieces.
We then have to realize we don’t get ourselves back. The pieces don’t belong to us anymore; we gave them to Jesus and they (we) are His now. So when we’re tempted to start comparing ourselves to everyone else, we need to remember we are in His image, and He is the standard by which we measure ourselves. We no longer have any bragging rights. Anything we do will come up short in comparison to what God has done for us.
That’s why Jesus told His disciples in Luke 17:10, “In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’” Any commendable service we do is simply what He has shown us and done for us.
I thought about my grandfather recently. As he approached the end of his life we begged him to write his autobiography. What could have been a significant book turned out to be a rather modest paperback. It wasn’t until his funeral that I learned the breadth of his service to the Lord beyond thirty plus years of preaching and serving as an elder. He was too modest and humble to dwell on his “achievements”. And probably too busy seeing needs and trying to meet them. He didn’t worry about accolades, save one: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We are all unworthy servants, unworthy of the gift of reconciliation and regeneration into what we were meant to be through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When we focus on glorifying the One who emptied Himself for us, we don’t think about achievements. God is the One who works through us to perform His perfect will. We are honored to be the vessel He chooses to use.