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The Pharisee, the Publican, and the Christian

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax  collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the publican 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.'  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself  will be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14, NIV)

Note how Jesus approved  of the publican. Most of us, on the other hand,  would try to avoid  people like him. Their grovelling and  theatrical breast-beating makes us feel uncomfortable. (Now who is wrong – us, or the publican?)

Not that we would prefer to be with the Pharisees.  Their pompous self-congratulation makes us sick.  How we’d like to take a pin and pop their bubble!

Jesus tells us how the Pharisee and the Publican prayed.  How then should the Christian pray?

Since Jesus commended the publican, should Christians pray as the publican did?  Not necessarily!  There’s a big difference between the publican and a Christian. Christians are “saved”, while the publican was not. Christians have already received mercy from the Lord (1 Peter 2:10), so why should they continue to ask for mercy any longer?

However, Christians continue to have abject spiritual needs, as grievous as the publican’s.  If we forget this, our prayers become self-congratulatory, like those of the Pharisees. To those Christians who claim, “I am blessed, I am rich, I have need of nothing”, this is what the Lord says:  “You do not realize that you are poor, pitiable, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)  If you think your spiritual attainments are great, then as yet you have attained little. (1 Corinthians 8:2)

Should Christians continue to ask God for mercy?  YES. God’s mercy of salvation is not the sum total of God’s mercy. Paul continues to pray for mercy for the Christians he writes to (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:2).  Christians must continually go before His throne of grace to obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews  4:16)

Isaac Newton is widely regarded as the greatest scientist of all time.  Of  him Alexander Pope wrote, “Nature and Nature’s Law hid in night, God said ‘Let Newton be’, and all was light”.  But Newton himself wrote,  “What we know is a droplet; what we know not, is an ocean.”  Spiritually, the Christian is  in Newton’s position. We too have seen a great Light through the glorious revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Nonetheless, the grace we have experienced is insignificant compared to blessings we have not yet touched, or even dreamed of.  We would do well to learn from Newton’s humility!

I am not belittling the greatness of God’s gift of salvation.  But the gift of salvation is a PROMISE of eternal life (Titus 1:2)--  it’s not an end in itself. The gift of salvation is like a bank check.  A check  for a billion dollars is a TREMENDOUS gift – but in itself, it’s not good for much.  You can’t eat it, wear it, drive it, or live in it.  To reap the benefits,  you need to deposit the check in the bank, and learn to use the privileges which result.  Now, even the most mature Christian has scarcely begun to experience the privileges which we have by virtue of our salvation.  The same is true of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is only a DEPOSIT of the inheritance of sons which we have not yet fully received (Eph. 1:14).  It is not the full inheritance!

If you do not acknowledge your abject need for God’s grace and mercy, then you shall never receive it.  Only those who recognize their spiritual inadequacy, humble themselves,  and ask  will receive anything from the Lord. (James 4:6-10)

Prayer: Father, truly You have blessed me with an abundance of grace and mercy.  Notwithstanding your blessings  Father, I only imagine that I see well because I am virtually blind.  I only imagine that I have attained because I have attained next to nothing. I only imagine that I am spiritually rich because I am spiritually impoverished.

Please, Father, through your Holy Spirit teach my heart a grateful thanksgiving for the grace and mercy I have received, as well as earnest supplication for the far greater riches which I still lack.  I pray in the name of Jesus Your Son, through whose death and resurrection all these gracious riches come.

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Copyright © 2001 CrossPollen
Last Revised: June 3, 2001

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