How to Be Wrong With God… and How to Make it Right! Part 2

09 May
Humbled. Exalted.

(Photo credit: Fr. Stephen, MSC)

In my last post, we looked at how to be on the wrong side of God.  Today, it’s time to make it right!

Jesus’ story of the tax collector and the Pharisee’s prayers in Luke 18:9-14 is vintage Jesus: he paints a picture of two extremes, turns everyone’s expectations upside down, and leaves you with something to think about.

So, how do we make it right?

How to Make It Right with God

1.  Humble Yourself

Yesterday we noted that the Pharisee “stood by himself” to pray.  He was looking to stand out.  But look where the tax collector stands:

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed.” (Luke 18:13 NLT)

This tax collector knew two things: he hadn’t done right, and he was in the presence of God who is “all-right.”  (Not alright as in, “OK,” but as in 100% right… pure… holy).

The tax collector is not there to impress… he’s there to confess.

2.  Emphasize Relationship

The Pharisee emphasized rules (selectively).  This tax collector is emphasizing relationship:

“…he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” (Luke 18:13 NLT)

The Pharisee says, “I don’t” and “I do.”

The tax collector says, “I am… a sinner.”

And God says, “I AM.”  I am the God who is separate and holy.  I am the God who hears the cry of the broken-hearted.  I am the God who forgives and restores you.

I know there will be some who say, “It’s not just relationship!”

I agree!  But please notice I said emphasize relationship.  What we emphasize is key!

  • Emphasize rules and you’ll find duty, like a heavy yoke the Pharisees imposed on people.
    (Matt 23:1-12).
  • Emphasize relationship and you’ll find the one who makes the yoke easy and the burden light.
    (Matt 11:28-30)

If we emphasize our relationship, our rule following becomes a response of gratitude and desiring to honor God.  In fact, the Apostle Paul points out that the perfect relationship will trump the rules:

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Gal 5:22–23 NLT)

3.  Compare Yourself to God… not Others!

Outrageous you say?  A recipe to always feel miserable about yourself because you don’t measure up?

Or perhaps it’s a cure for our tendency to compare ourselves to others?

The truth is, we’re not OK on our own.  And we can’t be made right by comparing ourselves to other humans.  The only measuring stick that counts is God’s standard.  And if we’re honest, we’ll always fall short in some way.

But here’s the good news: God’s measuring stick is in the shape of a cross.

At the cross, we realize we can’t compete or compare… and we become humble.  Only then do we realize:

  • Jesus has already competed… and won!
  • He extends that victory to those humble enough to admit they need it
  • None can compare

I have no desire to be a tax collector… but I sure would like to learn how to pray like one!

“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 NLT)

What are your feelings about rules versus relationship?  How do we stay humble without feeling miserable all the time? What does “healthy humility” look like?


Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Group Discussion


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2 responses to “How to Be Wrong With God… and How to Make it Right! Part 2

  1. Taro

    May 9, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I guess it all comes down to the reason we do the things we do. In this case, the reason we do the right things… Doing the right things is not enough if we don’t do them with love. So, doing the right things is harder than we think, much harder. At the end of the day it is you and God that know the real reason we do the things we do. Here relies a life-changing step(s)…

    Thanks Bill for your blog. In this particular one, I liked the part of “God’s measuring stick is in the shape of a cross” and so that “we realize we can’t compete [with God]”. Which makes me think that it can stop being a competition, and becomes a process that is carried out one step at a time with the help of God.

    • billhogan77

      May 9, 2013 at 9:45 am

      Love it Taro! Your second paragraph is the best explanation I think I’ve heard of what Theologians call “Sanctification.” It’s a process of becoming more Christ-like, and we’re helped along the way by The Holy Spirit.
      See? That sounds a lot more boring than the way you said it! 🙂
      And I agree, motive means a lot! The Pharisees were experts at doing the right things for the wrong reasons!
      Be blessed my friend!

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