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The Plea of the Publican

April 23, 2014 | by: Mike Law | 0 Comments

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a writing project that addresses how to biblically view, deal with, and approach a particular set of sins. I’ve been reading various books and articles on the subject, but mostly I’ve been trying to read the Scriptures. This morning I spent some time reflecting on passages like Luke 18:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 10:13. The Luke 18 passage is Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee self-righteously “praises God” because he doesn’t struggle with a particular set of sins, and the Publican rightly calls out to God in order to confess his sin and find mercy.

As Christians, religious people, and regular church-goers we’re tempted to act like the Pharisee and distance ourselves from certain sins.  We’re tempted to say with the Pharisee, “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.”  We tend to think that we can’t relate to other people because the sins that they struggle with are just not our experience, but in reality it is precisely our experience.  Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”  There is no temptation that is not common or universal to man.  In other words, what we struggle with others struggle with too.  Conversely what others struggle with, we struggle with too.  Behind any and every particular manifestation of sin is pride.  In pride, the Pharisee thought that he wasn’t like the publican.  Imagine for a moment that the publican unjustly collected taxes – taking more for the purposes of skimming off the top for himself.  If he did, he did so because in pride he thought among other things that he was above the law and entitled to the resources he sought to acquire.  Is the Pharisee really any different, when he clearly thought that his fasting and giving of tithes entitled him to God’s mercy?

Ultimately, the struggle with sin (in whatever form it may take) is giving into the passions of the flesh and throwing off God’s good purposes and gracious designs for us because in our pride we think we know what is better than what God knows is best.  Brian Chapell put it really well in his book Holiness by Grace.  Chapell writes, “There is no temptation out there that does not find common chords of resonance in every human heart” (p.96).  When we decide to sin, in pride, we are endeavoring to throw off God’s good and gracious rule and steal his scepter.  Everyone, except Jesus, has done this.

We can relate to every sinner because we are sinners just like everyone else.  And we can give the gospel to every sinner, because the gospel has addressed the sins of the sinner who stands inside our flesh.  When we share the gospel with those who struggle with sins that are genuinely different than the sins we struggle with, we ought not join our voice with the Pharisee, but with the Publican, who said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”  We all need to be rescued from the judgment of God and the misery that we have brought upon ourselves from our miserable self-rule.  We ought to tell our friends, family members, and co-workers the good news that God is indeed merciful to every kind of sinner who comes before his throne and abandons self-righteousness for the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

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