Sin Can Ruin Every Good Thing by Turning it Into Pride

How did the great saints avoid this?

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘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.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The message of this passage is easy to understand, but it raises a challenging issue. Sin can ruin every good thing by turning it into pride. How can we keep whatever good works we do from going to our heads? What is the key to remaining humble while being a servant of Christ? Should we beat ourselves up over everything we do wrong?

The Pharisee’s prayer provides a clue. He focuses on comparing himself to other people. Also, the two things he brags about are ways that he exceeds the standards of the law. Fasting was commanded only on the Day of Atonement. Tithing was required only of earned income (e.g., crops). The Pharisee makes a point of outscoring everyone else, and bragging about it in prayer.

Whatever we have done for Christ, it pales in comparison to what He has done for us. It also pales in comparison to what the first Century Christians did, or what the Christian martyrs throughout history did, or what the persecuted church is doing right now. It’s easy to see that the things we do here in the land of plenty aren’t worth getting puffed up about, but what keeps the really great Christians from getting puffed up?

The tax collector’s prayer provides another clue. He isn’t thinking about how he compares to other people; he’s just thinking about his sin. The secret to humility is seeing our depravity. The process of sanctification exposes the horrors of what’s inside. Serving Christ actually helps humble us by clearing our vision. All the great saints were anguished about their sinful nature.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. – Romans 7:24-25 (ESV)

Not only are we spared the persecutions that some Christians around the world endure, we sometimes avert our eyes from even knowing about it.

Never stop praying for the persecuted church. The danger they face is hard for us to imagine. The enemy is everywhere and far more dangerous and creative than we know.

Ask the Lord to encourage them and to show them the value of their witness. May His face shine upon them. Also, please pray specifically for their physical protection.

Ask God to send angels to their side when danger erupts.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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