Jesus once told a story about two men who went to pray. One was a high standing religious man, the other was a tax collector that had extorted money from people. The religious man prayed saying, “God, I thank you I am not an extortionist, immoral or an evil person like so many, including this man next to me. And I praise you that I regularly fast and pray and give 10% of all my income to the church.”
Then the other man prayed. He stood far off by himself with his head hung low against his chest. He could not bear to lift his eyes heavenward. Instead he wept and cried out, “God, please show me mercy! I am a sinful man!”
The differences between the two men are startling. The religious man saw himself as a good person because of the good things he did. He was not like everyone else. He was better. Meanwhile, the tax collector saw himself as nothing. There was an admission of all he had done wrong. A sense that he was undeserving, so in brokenness he called out for mercy.
When I view the landscape of the American church and society, I see a nation filled with people like the religious man. Multitudes feeling generally good about themselves because of their attempts at doing good things. They admit they have done wrong, but counter with efforts that are akin to moral insurance to sooth their conscience.
They also view themselves as better than the other guy, like the religious man did. They are better than the drug dealer or corrupt politician. They see “those people” as the ones who need the help and religious saving, not themselves.
These attitudes are dangerous. They can lead to a moral and spiritual obnoxiousness that will produce a sterile church, empty of spiritual power. It can also divide a nation among the upright elites and the downright immoral.
We all are sinners with evil lurking in our hearts. All of us. Regardless of our religion, political party or standing in our community. All of us have done wrong. No exceptions. Who has never told a lie, never had a bad thought about another person or never has done something from a selfish motive? Who? We! Are! All! Sinners! God affirms this saying, “None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11,12).
We have this mysterious evil within us that surfaces in our words, actions, motives and attitudes. What are we going to do about it? Wish it away? Ignore it? Increase our efforts at being good?
Because of what we have done we face the penalty of spiritual and eternal death. Yet, it can be avoided. This was the reason Jesus came from heaven to earth. He came to go to war against the evil by dying on a cross. There He took our place. He took our penalty. He suffered and died for us. Then rose again, securing the promise of forgiveness and a new life in Him.
If you admit there is darkness inside you, an evil that dwells within, then in the humble spirit of the tax collector, call out to God for mercy. Then because of what the Lord God did through Jesus for you and your entire family, freedom is waiting.
A prayer for you to pray: Lord God, examine my heart. Point out to me the sin that lives within me. I do not want it there any longer. I place my trust in Jesus and ask for forgiveness for all I have done wrong. Cleanse my heart. Make it new. Change my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Clint Decker is President & Evangelist with Great Awakenings, Inc. Hope for Today is a syndicated column that appears online and in newspapers from North Dakota to Texas. Contact him at email@example.com or call toll free at 877-433-3220.