The Worst Kind of Christian
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18:11
In my drug addiction, I felt like the worst person in the world. I claimed to follow God, but I followed myself, even when I knew where it was leading. I ran my life, and the lives of those I was supposed to love, straight into disaster. I told myself God sees all sin the same, but I knew that I was worse than the one who failed out of ignorance. I was a colossal hypocrite.
Does God see all sin the same? There are certainly different consequences for different failures. If I lash out at someone in anger, that has very different consequences than if I relapse into drug use.
In today’s passage, Jesus told a story of what is perhaps one of the worst sins someone can commit. In the parable, a Pharisee (religious leader) and a tax collector (a great sinner) both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee loudly thanked God that he was better than those around him. He looked down on the tax collector and made sure everyone knew it.
The Pharisee probably did live a morally upright life. He probably didn’t have any big obvious sins. And that was the problem. He was blind to the most insidious of sins – his pride. His profound failure wasn’t some secret addiction. His greatest failure was on display for everyone else to see, while he remained completely blind to it. His sin – the sin that disqualified him from the kingdom of heaven – was that he thought he didn’t need God’s forgiveness like the lowly tax collector.
This is unfortunately, a common temptation for Christians. We don’t murder, steal, or do drugs, and so, we hold up our list of non-sins as proof of our goodness. Then, we look down on those we consider to be real sinners. Thank God I’m not like them. In doing so, we disqualify ourselves from God’s mercy and grace. Imagining ourselves not to need mercy, we abandon God without realizing it.
The Pharisee – in his arrogance – was actually more lost than those whom he looked down upon. If we want to live in God’s grace and mercy, we must continually choose humility, recognizing our need for him.