Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
~ Luke 18:14
In the story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus teaches us that the sinful tax collector was the one that was forgiven by God, and not the perfect Pharisee. Why? Jesus tells us: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Pharisee was proud, looking down on others, exalting himself. The tax collector was humble, sorry for his sins.
What is Jesus saying there? Is Jesus saying that you earn the forgiveness of sins by being humble? “Look at how humble that tax collector is,” says God. “That tax collector deserves to be forgiven, because he is so humble!” Is that how it works?
That’s what a lot of people think, but that’s not how it works. If that’s why God forgives you, then your salvation would be completely dependent on you, and your level of humility. Then, you could never be sure if you’re forgiven by God or not, because you will never know if you have been humble enough for God to forgive you.
The truth of the matter is, neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector deserved God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee didn’t because he was conceited and self-righteous – thought he was better than everybody else, thought he was perfect. The tax collector didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness because of the terrible life he had led. Neither one deserved to be forgiven by God.
God forgives people purely out of his mercy. As a result of his undeserved love, God forgives people. God forgives people because Jesus Christ has taken away the sins of the world. Because of that sacrifice Jesus made on the cross – cleansing the world of all of its sin, he offers forgiveness to all. In this story, God offered forgiveness to both the Pharisee and the tax collector.
But only the tax collector received God’s forgiveness. Why? Because, in his mercy, God chooses to forgive only those who humble themselves before him.
Those who stand before God and say, “There’s everything wrong with me. Lord have mercy on me. I am a sinner” – those humble people who recognize their sin, recognize their need for God’s help – those are the people that receive God’s forgiveness. Not because they’re earning it by groveling, but because God shows undeserved love to all who are humble and sorry for their sins.
Lord, grant me the gift of humility before you and before my brothers and sisters, that I might show my love for you. Amen.
~ Don Schultz