Let me share a familiar story….
Luke 18: 9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer[b]: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
That guy in Jesus’ story who criticized and judged others, who elevated himself above others, and who was proud and self-righteous?….that’s me. Or, it was me, I hope.
See, some people come to faith from a history of addictions or illness or marriage problems, or any number experiences resulting from bad choices. But not me. I have been the ultimate “good girl”. I grew up in a wonderful two-parent home. I was loved and cared for and was taught how to work hard and live right.
My daddy was a pastor, and when daddy is the pastor, the whole family gets involved. I started playing piano for services when I was 14. I’ve led Sunday School and children’s programs since my teens years. It’s just a given when there’s something going on at church, we were going to be there. And keep in mind, I loved it. I never rebelled like typical teenagers. I chose church activities often over other social opportunities. I was such a “Good Girl”. You’ve heard the saying…I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke or chew…didn’t go with the boys who do” You get the idea.
I sincerely loved God and was dedicated to living right because I truly wanted to please God. But, as a result of me being so “good”, I often looked down on people who didn’t live my same ideal. I may not have said anything out loud, but in my heart I judged and criticized them for their choices. I did not have very much mercy or love for people who’ve experienced difficulties in life. I was a Pharisee.
Through the years, though, God has been teaching me and changing me and showing me what it means to be in real relationship with Him. It was through a sermon at church that I remember one of the first clear changes in my life in which I listened to the best description of grace I have ever heard.
The minister said “if someone comes to your house and kills a family member and you show up at the court trial to demand the death penalty, that’s justice. Now, if you show up at that trial and plead for leniency for the murderer, that’s mercy. However, if you show up at the trial and plead for the court to let the murderer go and you bring that person into your home and you love him and he becomes one of your own,… that’s grace.”
Judgement is getting what we deserve.
Mercy is not getting what we deserve.
And, Grace? That’s getting what we don’t deserve.
That’s what Christ did for us on the cross, and through His death and resurrection, we have the privilege to be one of God’s own.
I began to see that my own pride was worse than any of the other “sins” for which I criticized others. I realized I was white-washed religion on the outside, but inside?… that cup was still very unclean.
As I continued studying and seeking and praying, God revealed Himself to me in such a gentle yet powerful way. One afternoon as I was on the back porch swing, it was a summer afternoon and the sun was sprinkling light down through the trees. I had been reading many different verses about God’s grace, and it finally clicked. Tears began to flow down my face as I realized, I mean really get, that God loves me, and God forgave me, not because of trying to be good enough or trying to please Him enough. He accepts me just the way I am and I don’t have to do anything to make myself acceptable to Him. He simply wants me to believe and love Him back.
Since that time on the back porch swing, I have been learning that all of the things I do to serve, sing, play, etc etc need to be an overflow from my deep love for God. All those actions are my response to loving God, not an attempt at earning His love. I’m learning that being a Christian is not looking like I have it all together spiritually, but rather God’s love is shaping me in His image so that what flows out looks and acts like Him.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still don’t have it all together. I continue to struggle with pride, judgement and criticism. I continually have to pray the service I do is not for show or acceptance but rather out of love for God.
I hope and pray I am a little bit more like a different Pharisee- Nicodemus. If you remember in John chapter 3, Nicodemus came truly seeking Jesus one night and Jesus told him what it means to be saved. And then, later, Nicodemus, in a final act of worship, helped to bury the body of Jesus.
My precious sister…. whether you’ve heard this many times before or not, let me say it again:
God loves you. Yes, really. There’s nothing you can do to make Him love you any more. And, there’s nothing you can do to make Him love you any less. He loves you just the way you are. No need to be a Pharisee anymore!!