'To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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 tax collector 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 18:9-14 NIV
Which one would your friends; those who know you beyond the doors of the church you have membership in, that you volunteer just enough to be known in, or the one that you faithfully tithe to; would they say you are? Too many non-Christians today seem to think that they can decipher the Christian from the Pharisee. How?
Some would say that the Pharisees are the ones who are in the political arena, crying out against the Hate Crimes legislation that would add sexual orientation (including bestiality and others societally recognized moral wrongs in that arena) to the list. Some would say it’s the Christians who go to church on Sunday and then cut you off on the street with a blaring horn and harsh gestures. Some would say it's those who claim Christianity and fall into sexual temptation, financial debt, and other sinful and moral crimes. And still others would claim that the Pharisees are those who don't label themselves according to the 'true' faith, that being the one they belong to.
I would point to Luke's description in the beginning of the text. Those who were confident of their own righteousness that caused them to look down upon everyone else as weak, ineffectual, or pharisaical creatures. Those who refuse to love, as Christ taught us how to love.
The Pharisees who claim that one version of the protected, inspired Word of God is somehow the only version that is allowed. As one anti-King James said, "God doesn't speak in Shakespeare." And those who would claim the King James is the only version, as if God is limited by the sands of time and the culture of the world. They are those who would claim that God is us and we are to become Gods. It is those who go beyond the biblical word, that shape meaning and cause between the lines. Those who would claim salvational issues made from doctrinal ones, those are the Pharisees.
Locked in their own righteousness. Locked in their own determination. Secured in the denominational grouping of their faith. Those who would only hear the message of love, the message of peace, and so sectional God as to be in the position of Moses, only seeing His backside and calling it a complete picture. Whoa, sounds like I can be one of those I'm describing. Yes, I can.
But, there is something….that one thing that I know keeps me from being a Pharisee, secured in my own righteousness and my own assurance of justification. And its how I view my relationship with the Father.
I don’t have the right to be here. I do not have the righteousness to stand before the Father, before the Faithful, or even the spiritually newborns. I, as Paul claimed so long ago, am chief amongst sinners.
I don't have the right to be writing my opinions, my thoughts, and my testimony across the pages of the world stage. When I walk into that Chapel on Sunday morning and have the respect of those congregation members who always have a kind word to say, I don't deserve that.
I haven't earned the right to be a father to such wonderful and fabulous children as the three I am such to. I haven't figured out the formula that makes me the husband that my wife still claims allegiance and love to.
I haven't a clue on a lot of things that hit me in the world I live; why my family and I struggle with situations beyond our control and make a mess of things that are, why there are saints within the Church body that move away—for work, for inspiration, or more hearty spiritual food, when there is a struggling baby Christian that could use their mentoring. Why some faithful warriors within the body are taken, while others who struggle daily with the armor of God are tapped to take their place in the battle.
I stand in my prayer time with God much like someone waiting for the axe to fall, to receive the punishment that I deserve so many times over no matter how much I have achieved a humanistic level of 'righteousness' in the day. Shaking with the knowledge that even at my best, it is still the worst in relation to God's Holiness. Trembling with the sorrow that I know I cannot ever be 'good' enough to have the right to walk in my Father's presence.
Like the tax collector, there will always be someone who will claim superiority to me. Who will point to me and my sinful humanity and say, "See, I am much better than he. I haven't the financial problems, I haven't the relationship problems. I am an upstanding and 'by-the-book' Christian." And they would be right. I hide nothing because I am not without sin. It is by the power of the blood of Jesus Christ and the sweaty efforts of the Holy Spirit that I am brought into relationship with God. Made pure by the blood and perfected by the Spirit. And still, I am a sinful man.
But, like the tax collector, I am made righteous by the claiming of the salvation gift. And in the stillness of the night when God roams my world, a light shining in that darkness, I hear the call.
My soul rejoices in fearful trembling at the Creator of All giving me the gift. My heart sings in painful expectation at my LORD's promise of return.
And I give up my life again, regretting that it is only a simple, single life to give in pursuit of the kingdom goals. Froth with the sinful reality of fallen humanity, as I fight not only against the Enemy but also my old sinful nature.
Each day, the power of God is amongst the brethren of the Faithful. Renewing, restoring, and empowering to greater heights than we ourselves can achieve.