When you read this passage, notice the pompous, full of himself, arrogant, prideful (hmm, can I think of any more adjectives?) Pharisee. And instead of the word "Pharisee", insert "Melyssa".
[The Pharisee and the Tax Collector]
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 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 18:9-14 ESV)
Don't tell me I'm being too hard on myself, trust me, I'm not! I was that judgmental, and that full of myself, for most of my life up until about 4 years ago. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I should just say how this all came up. Derrick and I were reading this passage the other night and I was talking about how I remember in Sunday School as a little girl, seeing pictures of this story. And the Pharisee is standing there looking up towards heaven with his arms out, appearing all high and mighty and "holier than thou". And the tax collector is sitting there, looking like a pathetic, pitiful excuse for a human being. And Derrick remembered seeing the same kinds of pictures as a little kid, too, but he had a different perspective. It never says that the Pharisee is appearing like he is better off than anyone else, it just said he was praying it. Which most likely means it was all going on inside his head, not something that would really show on the outside. This really struck a chord with me, because I can't even tell you how many times in my life I have thought I was better than other people. I believed I was a sinner, but kind of like a top tier sinner. I wasn't THAT bad. I only did a few wrong things, like disobey my parents from time to time, or get grumpy and bossy towards my little sister. But I didn't do all of the things that seemed AWFUL to me, so I figured I was actually a pretty "good" sinner. Obviously there is no such thing, but I really believe that my religious upbringing taught me that though we are all sinners, we can strive to be better and therefore less unholy. Never once did I learn that it's the Holy Spirit working through us to become more like Christ, or that apart from Him, I am truly and absolutely the most horrible, wretched, sinner that there could possibly be. So, I always had this feeling about myself and others until really embarrassingly not that long ago. And to be honest, it is hard not to fall back into that way of thinking sometimes! It's so easy to say, "How could they treat me like that, I would never do that to them!" Without even thinking, I labeled myself to be a good person, deserving of the best treatment at all times. Umm, excuse me Miss Melyssa High and Mighty! Don't you remember that guy the Bible is about? Jesus? Oh yeah...umm, don't you think HE deserved the best treatment possible since He was like, well, GOD? And yet, even He says he came to be a servant. He gave his entire life, to the point of sacrificing Himself by dying the most atrocious death possible at the time. And I have the audacity to say that I deserve better than a little criticism, gossip, or hurtful words directed my way from time to time? Yeah, I'd better think again. I deserve all of that, and SOOOO much worse. I deserve eternal suffering in hell. I don't let myself stop think about that often enough. The worst possible punishment that could ever exist is being condemned to hell for eternity. Apart from God, apart from all goodness, apart from any comfort. Forever. And I am inherently evil and deserve that, just as we all do. God's amazing grace and mercy has rescued me from hell, and my punishment was taken on the shoulders of Jesus. But, it doesn't change what I deserve. I'll spend eternity praising God for saving me from what would have been a completely just punishment.
I think that's why I have a hard time understanding when Christians don't really want to make their lives 100% about Jesus. I've been there....I used to say some people took it too "seriously". How is that possible, though? If we truly realize who we are apart from Him, and what we really deserve, how can we really not want to focus every fiber of our beings on serving and worshiping Him? The Bible says that many people think they are followers of Christ, but when it comes to the end, Jesus will tell them, basically, "Sorry, you didn't really get it. We don't have a relationship and never did." Ouch. I think for quite a while I may have been one of those people. I sort of got it, and I wanted to get it, but I just felt like I was missing out, because I saw people truly worshiping God, and most of the time I still felt like I was going through the motions. And the things in my life that changed that aren't important. It's the fact that somewhere along the way, it all changed for me. Now, I AM the tax collector. I AM the prodigal son who has returned home. And I AM fully deserving of eternal punishment in hell for who I am as a human being, which is a wretched and completely lost sinner. Jesus has changed all that. Not some "sinner's prayer", not reading the Bible every day, not going to church, not volunteering or giving things away or being involved in a church. What changed that is the point in my life where God showed me, "Melyssa, you are a mess. But Jesus' death is enough for me to excuse your crimes. You're free." How can I be anything but grateful? And truly grateful. I'm not talking about a thank you note, "Dear Jesus, thanks for dying for me, I really appreciate it! Your death on the cross was a really thoughtful gift, and I'll be sure to put it to good use. Oh, and the Resurrection was pretty great, too. Thanks again! ~Melyssa". (I should also mention that I think Thank You notes are kind of a silly expectation people have, but that's another blog for another day.)
This is absolutely ridiculous. And yet how many people who call themselves Christians (including myself for a long time) live their lives like this Thank You note! Take a few minutes, thank Him once in a while, then go about your way. Put the gift on the shelf and let it collect dust, and maybe use it once in a while if you think of it. No, no, no! This is not a life of following Jesus! If that is what you're doing, friend, I plead with you to challenge your own thinking...because you may be missing out on what it really means to be a Christian! And my heart for you all is that you would truly know the saving power of the gospel!! When Jesus said we would be known by our fruit, He wasn't kidding. There should be some serious FRUIT coming out of our lives! And I'm telling you right now, I've produced some pretty shabby, dried up, rotten, worthless fruit (if you can even call it that), for most of my life, because I wasn't truly serving God with my WHOLE entire life! This is what Romans 12 talks about when it says to be a LIVING sacrifice. Are we giving our all, every day, or are we just showing up at church, or a Bible study here or there, acting like a good Christian, and then going home back to our stuff, our TVs, our hobbies, and forgetting what life is truly about? Are we looking to save money to make ourselves more comfortable, or so we can help others? Are we spending our time on projects for our own enjoyment, or are we treating others as more important than ourselves?
I hope and pray that whoever reads this will know that I'm not saying this in a condescending way, but out of love and concern. I only feel that I can speak to you all like this because this has been my life, and I am finally realizing the truth. If I'm pointing any fingers, it's at myself. Please, use me as an example of what not to do! Please, judge me for how I was, and use that to look at your own life and question yourself! Like I said in the beginning, I wasn't hard enough on myself. And I'm not beating myself up now, either. But I am repenting (which means doing a complete 180) and turning towards a life lived for Christ. I find myself seeking Him more, trusting Him more, and having an awareness for other's needs that I never had before. This is not me, it's the Holy Spirit in me, guiding my steps. I am still selfish, and He has to constantly work that out of my life, because it's pretty ingrained in this foolish brain I have. But I know that if I keep desiring Him with my whole heart, He will change me, and use me the way He chooses. I am SO excited about that! Whatever He wants, I can and will do, because I finally see that life is ALL about Him, and never about me. I don't need to take things personally, or get offended, because it doesn't matter how I get treated. I don't need to be afraid to share my faith, because this is truth, and I want people to know it. I don't have to debate or convince people that Jesus really existed, or that the Bible is really from God, because it's only the Holy Spirit who can awaken a soul. My job is just to share my life, and do it boldly. And I intend to do more of that, as my courage grows. :o)
OK, I think I'm done here. This is just such a burning passion on my heart, I can't help but go on and on! But I will stop. I'm not sure who all reads this, but if you are reading it as a believer, please, I implore you to search your own heart. Are you laying down your life as a living sacrifice? Or are you living your life like a thank you note? And are you judging people? If so, I suggest leaving those people alone, and taking a look at yourself, like the tax collector did. What you find may not be pretty, but in the midst of that is Jesus, and He has already dealt with the problem. He is perfect solution, the only solution, and the only reason for life.