The demand for political correctness is increasing. We are all expected to adapt to the ever-changing sensitivities of the culture. And one of the hot topics is how to approach God. A common belief today is that all methods and paths are legitimate because they all lead to God. But is that really true?
This is not just a theoretical issue but one that has eternal ramifications. That’s why it’s so important that we evaluate our assumptions regarding how to be accepted by God. None of us want to stand before Christ at the judgment and hear these words: “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23).
When Jesus was talking to those who trusted in themselves and their own righteousness, He used a parable that contrasted two different ways to approach God. His point was that there are only two ways—one leads to acceptance and the other to rejection. The parable was about two men who came to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). One man’s words hit the temple floor as soon as they fell from his lips, while the other’s prayer sped directly to heaven.
The first man in the story was a Pharisee, a member of a religious sect of Judaism that focused on keeping the Law and all the traditions associated with it. The Pharisees were the most respected men in the community because of their righteousness and careful obedience to the Law and traditions.
The other man was a tax collector who worked for the Roman government. The Jews thought tax collectors were traitors to the Jewish nation, and they were known as dishonest swindlers who extorted money from the people in order to enrich themselves. They were commonly classified with sinners and prostitutes and were considered unclean because of their occupation.
The Pharisee approached God with pride. Jesus described it this way: “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself” (v. 11). Although he’d come to God’s temple, he was actually praying to himself. This is the primary characteristic of the proud approach—it’s self-centered and sees no need for mercy. Instead of making a request of God, he listed the sins he avoided and the good works he did, saying, “I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (vv. 11-12). He came to pray not because he needed God’s help, but to express his confidence in God’s approval as he stood boldly looking up to heaven.
Jesus denounced such self-exalting behavior in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Matt. 6:5).
Although we may not see such public displays very often today, there are many people who still think they have no need of God. They consider themselves good in comparison to known criminals and see no reason why God would not accept them into heaven. But such self-sufficiency makes the cross of Christ useless. Why would God send His Son to die for sinful men if they were capable of earning His favor? Such pride and self-exaltation will never make us acceptable to God because His standard is sinless perfection. That’s why we all need a Savior.
Why would God send His Son to die for sinful men if they were capable of earning His favor?
The tax collector approached God with repentance. He stood at a distance shunning public attention, feeling so convicted by his sin that he wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven. He was beating his breast in distress over his sinful condition, and all he could say was, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13). His humble prayer was exactly what was required for salvation. Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other” (v. 14).
Proud, self-sufficient people don’t know they need mercy because they don’t think they’ve done anything to require it. They will never come to Christ until their pride is shattered, and they finally see their hopeless condition. No one is ever saved apart from conviction of sin because a self-righteous person doesn’t see himself as a sinner, and therefore, has no need for God or salvation.
In churches today many people are told that Jesus will forgive them and come into their life if they’ll ask Him. But you can’t simply add Jesus to your old life without turning from it. You need an entirely new life, and it begins with the Spirit’s conviction of your sin, which causes you to feel the weight of your guilt and your need for God’s mercy.
Have you come to Christ in this way? All that’s needed for salvation has been provided by Jesus’ sacrifice. He suffered the justice we deserved for our sins so God could show us mercy. If you have realized your need, I pray that you’ll call out to Him today. He always accepts those who humbly ask for mercy through His Son.
Charles F. Stanley