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Summary: All of us need God’s mercy. All of us.

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CHRISTIANITY’S TOUGHEST COMPETITOR:

MORALISM

OBJECTIVES: “Churchy” people will be reminded of their need of God’s mercy and will repent of prideful attitudes.

“Nonchurchy” people will understand God’s promise to be close to the contrite in heart and will pour out their hearts to God.

INTRO: Bill Hybels tells the story about a time in his life when he was really into playing racquetball. I’ve always enjoyed playing racquetball, too, so when I heard him tell this story, I started listening immediately.

--started playing at a gym with a few buddies, increased to almost 5 times a wk.

--saw the sign advertising tournament [advanced, intermediate, recreational novice]

--enter “stubby”, 9th in recreational novice

--the decision to play, a gauge

--15-0.

--in locker room, you said you were 9th? what about if you played 1st?

--what about intermediate champion? what about advanced champion? what about professional?

Because of his limited experience in racquetball, Hybels had made a common mistake: He had vastly overestimated his own abilities. Because of his limited exposure to the wider world of racquetball players, he thought he was a much better player than in reality he was.

But if we think about it I’m sure we can all agree that this type of thinking goes on all around us. It isn’t just in athletics. It’s in the business world. It’s in the lives of people who haven’t yet met Jesus Christ. And, unfortunately, it’s found in Christians’ lives as well.

It happens when people fail to compare themselves with the perfect standard of God’s holiness and compare themselves with their peers. When this happens, moralism begins to surface in people’s lives. Now, for those of you taking notes, I am defining moralism in this way: basing your eternal security on your adherence to a moral code. In other words, moralism is the belief that, if you and I are basically decent people – and we act in moral ways, we’ll do alright in the final judgment of God. The danger in this view is that moralism is making other people our standard for comparison rather than God.

Jesus found this problem existed even in his day. And so he told a parable, which we find in Luke 18:9-14. It begins this way, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax-collector.

Luke 18:9-14

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ’God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13"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.’

14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

a. Pharisee - put aside all you’ve ever heard about Pharisees and listen with the ears of someone in Jesus’ original audience. You see, if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know that the Pharisees represent some of Jesus’ biggest opponents, and so you have probably inherited a negative impression of them. However, this is not the case for the people who originally heard this parable. Who were the Pharisees?

Pharisees were not professional clergy (like the Priests or scribes) they were laymen. But these laymen were extremely devoted to keeping the stringent interpretations of the Jewish law handed down to them by the scribes. The very name, “Pharisee”, means “separated one”, and they strove to keep themselves separated from the impurities of the secular world. Josephus, a Jewish historian in the 1st century, points out that they were very popular with the people of the day. These were good people, trying their hardest to stay pure in an impure world. Perhaps much like a good Promise Keeper today.

b. Tax-collector - whereas I asked you to rethink your perception of the Pharisee, your reaction to the mention of a tax-collector probably is not nearly as adverse as Jesus’ audience. Again, we who have read the New Testament know that Jesus spent time befriending tax-collectors, and our hearts have probably been a little softened toward them because of this. But not so those in 1st century Palestine.

Taxes such as tariffs, import duties, and customs fees were generally collected by Jews working for the Roman authorities. These tax collectors made their living by charging the citizens higher tax rates than Rome asked for, and pocketing the difference. By its very nature, this profession was rampant with dishonesty and corruption. Tax collectors were considered traitors for agreeing to work for the Romans, and they were ceremonially unclean because of their continued contact with Gentiles. In today’s world, perhaps only a pimp, making profits off of the degradation of others, can illicit the type of reaction in us that the tax-collector would have brought to Jesus’ hearers.

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