Why We Return to the Struggle
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 18:14
In jail and recovery meetings, I’ve heard many stories of relapse. They’ve almost all gone something like this: I was doing well, going to meetings, working on recovery, and then I got complacent as life started to get better. When my life was a mess, I was motivated to work on recovery, but when things returned to normal, I stopped going to meetings and I gradually drifted back to the old life.
I’ve done this. With my job and marriage on the line, it’s easy to be motivated to change. In distress, I go to God, promising to follow him forever, but as the threat of loss evaporates, so too does my commitment. Gradually, I turn back to my way. I know I need to maintain the same posture of my original recovery, humbly following God, but it’s my nature to follow me. If I don’t purposefully point my life at God every day, I gradually drift away from his path, going back to mine.
In today’s parable, Jesus told the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. He said that the tax collector – the one who repented and humbled himself before God – went home forgiven. The Pharisee – the one who thanked God that he wasn’t like those dirty sinners around him – went home unforgiven. The one who asked forgiveness, humbly admitting his sins, found faith and recovery from the old life. The other remained enslaved to his self-righteous misery.
Both men believed in God. The difference wasn’t in their knowledge of God. The difference between forgiven and unforgiven – the difference between life and death – was in their posture before God. One humbly admitted his need and repented, while the other pridefully followed his own way.
If we desire to know faith, recovery, and transformation, we must humbly admit our need before God. We must daily choose to maintain this recovery position. In forgetting our need, we grow complacent returning to our way. In going our way, we eventually return to the misery of the old struggles. As long as we remember our need though, humbly following God, we remain in the position of the tax collector, forgiven and free.