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.” —Luke 18:9-14

Do you have any empty pews where you worship? How do you explain that? When was the last time you ordered more chairs or started another service? Why are people skipping church?

Well, it’s not because of Jesus for sure, would you agree? And it’s not because of the Bible, right? It’s because of Christians and because people’s experience with Christianity is so negative. People have turned Christianity into a religion. Jesus’ parable above is about this exact condition. Read it again and compare the two prayers. Which one do you think most resembles a prayer you might hear at your church on any given weekend? Which one represents faith and which one represents religion?

I want to share with you five decisions that will free us from religion:

  1. Refuse to bind others with manmade rules. Rules beyond God’s always hurt more people than they help. Any rules pursued as a way to gain merit with God or salvation are wasted effort, sure to fail. The Pharisee was smug with his religious system; oblivious to God’s rejection.
  2. Reject externals as a spiritual yardstick. The Pharisee judged a fellow sinner to make himself look better, but he actually distanced himself from God.
  3. Review your walk or your relationship with God and beware of the dangers of form without function. We may fool others with external appearances, but God knows our hearts.
  4. Return to the basics of examination and confession. In a world that abhors personal responsibility, God welcomes those who know themselves as sinners and entrust themselves to God’s grace and mercy.
  5. Renew your pursuit of personal humility. Humility isn’t a look or appearance; it’s action. Humility chooses Christ’s way over my way. Humility says to God, “Your will, Lord, not mine.”

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable rejected each of these wise decisions; the tax-collector practiced them. What will be your condition the next time you come home from church?

Almighty Father, I am that tax collector. And yet I confess that sometimes I’ve acted like that Pharisee. Forgive me for judging others by standards I couldn’t live up to for a moment. Forgive me for thinking I could do something to make You accept me. Thank You for reminding me again and again that only when I see myself clearly as a sinner can I then receive Your mercy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

James MacDonald – Senior Pastor – Harvest Bible Chapel

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