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How Long is Your List?

March 23, 2012

This Sunday, at Trinity, I will be preaching on the following passage in “adult worship.”

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)

Here’s a few things to chew on before Sunday. I have been working through them myself this week and have found freedom in being (slowly and incompletely) released from the bondage of comparison, self-sufficiency, and the Westernized human rat race.

1. This parable is written to us. “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” If you don’t think this refers to you, it probably all the more refers to you. There is a strange paradox of humility where you see your sin more as you trust in Jesus for your righteousness. Those who say, “Yes, that’s me!” get it. Those who don’t…well…don’t. I really think it is that cut and dry. Before you pounce all over that statement, remember Jeremiah 17, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” There are aspects of all our hearts that are wicked beyond our knowledge.

2. If you want to be a moral person, make your own list for what morality means…and make sure it focuses on your own strengths and other’s weaknesses. That’s what the Pharisee did. He was not unjust or an adulterer and fasted twice a week…but his list leave room for pride, anger, envy, and all sorts of immorality. Any and all lists for how to be moral will ultimately fail. You can make the list longer, but you will only decrease your need for the work of Jesus on your behalf. The more things you can control about your righteousness, the less you will need to “hope in things unseen” as Hebrews 11 tells us.

3. If you want to follow Jesus, keep a short list. In fact, keep a list of only two things. Love Jesus and love others. Anything more than that will err to legalism or license. This is what the Lord requires (Matt. 22 and Mark 12) and it is simply the most satisfying way to live. It brings the most glory to God and therefore the most satisfaction to our souls. It frees us from the bondage of comparison to others and allows us to compare ourselves only to a holy God. When the tax collector compared himself only to God, his response was one of absolute worship and submission. How freeing is that?

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