Jesus’ Unlikely Choice
As He often did, Jesus taught an important spiritual lesson through a very practical example. It is entitled “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18: 9-14 NIV).
Transform, Not Conform
Jesus made it very clear throughout His earthly ministry that aligning ourselves with Him would take us on an inward journey of transformation, not an outward quest for performance-based approval and self-righteousness.
“Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness!” (Luke 11:39 NLT).
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27 NIV).
“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘This people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me” (Matthew 15:7 NLT).
It’s Not About Striving
If we believe God’s will is like a straight line extended from the moment we’re born to the day we take our last breath, we will tirelessly strive to comply to a set of man-made rules, responsibilities, and risk-reducing choices, many times attributing this to “being a good Christian.” This belief seems to imply that when we stand before God one day, He will be pleased or impressed by how “righteous” we have been while on this earth. As I have studied the scriptures over many years, I have found that God’s teaches quite the opposite. Let me share two of the most poignant passages regarding the futility of our self-righteousness before God:
“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT).
“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).
We will discover true freedom only when we allow ourselves to view God’s will from the perspective that I sense He does. We will come to understand that God did not create our lives to follow a single, narrow lane that we are obligated to stay within. On the contrary, God’s wants us to put Him first as we move through the thousands of moment-by-moment choices and decisions we make in our everyday lives.
In a 2018 sermon at Southeast Christian Church, pastor Kyle Idleman shared this wonderful, practical wisdom regarding God’s will:
As people, we tend to focus on the direction, as if we’re at an intersection and we’re not sure what to do. We could go left or right, or we could go straight. So, “God, what’s your will? Just tell me what to do.” The emphasis God puts on His will is not whether you turn left or right or you continue straight. As long as each of these paths are honoring to God, He wants us to choose. His will has more to do with who you are on the path than which path you take. As long as the path is honoring to God, what He is paying attention to is who you are on the path, not which way you go.
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