And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Luke 18:13)
I heard a story about a man who was sharing his testimony one day with another man. In the midst of the conversation he explained what a wretched life he had lived. Before coming to Christ, he had wasted his life and it was full of shame and guilt. The man declared, “I was no better than a publican.” To which the other man, putting his arm around him said, “Oh friend, you were not as bad as me. You see, I was once a Pharisee.”
Are there “Pharisees” today? Maybe not in name, but what about in deed?
During the first century the Pharisees were men of high standing in the religious community and were known for their strict adherence to the Law of Moses. Many times they are condemned by the Words of Jesus for their hypocritical actions. They sure looked impressive but Jesus knew their hearts. The Pharisees loved to make a show of their religion. They were what we would call today legalistic.
Don’t be confused by legalism. Many people think that just because a person is faithful and hates sin that they act as the legalistic Pharisees. Is it wrong to be faithful? (Matt. 25:23) Is it wrong to hate that which is evil? (Rom. 12:9) Is it wrong to strive to live like Christ? (Matt. 5:48) No. Living a godly life and following all of the commands of scripture is called obedience, not legalism. The reason they were legalistic was not because they followed the Law of God but because they were constantly looking for loopholes in it. Their hearts were full of evil. When it came to sin they were easy on self and hard on others.
But what about the publicans? As tax collectors they were hated by the Jews. Yet, what did Christ say in the parable? This man went home justified. Why? Because he was sensitive to sin in his life. He wasn’t looking for loopholes. He wasn’t looking for how much he could get away with and still be considered “good”. He didn’t try to justify his sinful behavior. He knew he was a sinner and he cried out to God for mercy. When it comes to sin this type of person is hard on self and easy on others.
So, now for the hard question? Am I hard on self and easy on others like the publican or am I easy on self and hard on others like the Pharisee? Regardless of the answer all I can do is cry out, “God, be merciful to me as sinner.”