Jesus once told a parable about two men who went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). One, a Pharisee, felt able to stand in God’s presence and thank God that he lived a good, religious life; unlike some of the others in the temple!
The other man, a tax collector, stood some distance away from the Pharisee, head bowed, ashamed of the wrong he had done in his life and asking for God’s mercy.
One, a religious man, confident in his own self-righteousness, the other a social outcast, fully aware of his unworthiness. Both men went home, but Jesus tells us it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who went home justified before God. Why was that?
The reason is that none of us can stand before God and claim to be righteous in and of ourselves. Compared with God’s awesome majesty, glory and holiness, everyone of us is a sinner – Pharisee and tax collector alike, and so we can all only approach God a the tax collector did, and say ’God have mercy on me, a sinner’.
But the amazing thing is, that when we do that we find that we are justified before God. God, who is abounding in love and mercy, forgives us. The word ‘justified’ can be interpreted as ‘Just as if I’d never sinned’.
The Pharisee was not justified before God because his claim was based on his own relative goodness, as compared to his neighbour. However, the tax collector was justified before God because his claim, recognising his own shortcomings, appealed to God’s infinite mercy.
In our Christian lives, let us remember that we stand before God as sinners who need God’s mercy. But let us also remember that, having received God’s mercy, we go on our way rejoicing, forgiven, just as if I’d never sinned.
Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!