Which are we? Proud or contrite?
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon 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 every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:9-10
Our heart is our greatest adversary! It deceives us, leading us to make idols out of our “own” good works (i.e. honesty, temperance, charity, etc. like the Pharisee) So that, being filled with haughty self approval, we trust in ourselves and our works to stem the flood of God’s wrath and retribution instead of seeking refuge and resting in the One that has saved us and bought us with His own blood. Who alone can bear us safely through life and grant us repentance and conversion, bringing us at last to the heavenly shore! It (our heart) makes us think “I am righteous, therefore the Lord is blessing me. I have been given much, because I am a good person. Etc.” also “They don’t have/know as much as I do, so they must be sinners/sinning etc.”. We are self-righteous and proud, knowing nothing! We forget what manner of man we were (and are), and Who it is, that is to be praised for any good in us or blessings given to us. We proudly look down on our neighbor, claiming to be better than him. We forget that: “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” That we would be worse than the worst, apart from God’s mercy and grace.
All of this does not mean that we have no responsibility to strive after conformity to Christ or, as Paul put it, to run the race to obtain the prize. The Lord Himself said “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. But we must remember that our works, even the “good” ones, are as filthy rags before our God! We do/have not save(d) ourselves. We are not better than others because we have been given truth or are able to walk in light of that truth. We only know what we know, and can do what we can do, by the grace of God and because He did not choose us based on anything in us, but only be His mercy!! He renews His mercies to us every morning. He is longsuffering and gentle to usward! We should humbly acknowledge what we have been given, giving praise to God alone. We should not “look down our noses” at the brother who has been granted less knowledge and speak condescendingly to him, but humbly and graciously speak (giving much glory to God) the truth in love.
If we become more critical of ourselves, we will, in turn, become less ready to judge our brothers, less apt to be vainly puffed up, and/or take offense. Humility and Charity are sisters who walk hand-in-hand. If we are lifted up in pride, how can we fulfill our God ordained duties to our brothers and sisters? If we walk about in our self-righteousness, how can we “walk humbly with our God”? If we despise our brothers, how can we love God? “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” If we think that treating those who we deem as “under us”, or more sinful, less worthy, etc., in a prideful condescending way is loving them, all I can say is, God will have the last laugh when He casts us into the lake of fire.
We can rest assured that if we be lifted up in pride, the Lord will abase us. Let us humble ourselves, therefore, under the mighty Hand of God and fervently say, with a true brother, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” I want to be “as this publican here”! Humble and contrite!
“Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.” Proverbs 16:5