Do we believe that God is in debt to us? If not, then why are we at times angry with God and feel he has acted unfairly with us?
Do we sometimes act like the Pharisee who is praying in our text today? I don’t believe many of us would pray, at least in the presence of others, as the Pharisee did. But could it be that we entertain such thoughts of self-righteousness and infer that God owes us a lot for all the good things we do for him?
It was often a challenge to teach the basic doctrines of the Christian faith to a ninth-grade confirmation class. They came to the church from school and were tired of having to sit in class. On one particular day, the subject was humility, which does not come naturally to some red-blooded, American, fifteen-year-old kids.
To get their attention, I stood in front of the class and said, “Look at me! I trust Jesus Christ as my Savior. I serve him daily and live according to his Word. O, I am so happy that I am not like some of my friends and neighbors. I have had only one wife. One of my neighbors has been married and divorced three times! I do not drink alcohol. My friend was just arrested for drunken driving. I go to church every Sunday. My brother never goes to church. I am not profane. The man across the street cannot even open his mouth without taking God’s name in vain.”
By this time I had the students’ attention, and they wondered what kind of person I really was. But then I said, “This is fictitious up to a point. However, don’t we sometimes think, ÔI am not perfect, but I am a lot better than many people.’ It seems to be a part of our sinful nature.”
Even Israel’s great King David writes words such as these in Psalm 17:3-8:
“Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. As for the deeds of men Ð by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.
“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”
God can do little for people with a self-righteous attitude. Such people believe they are sufficient unto themselves. Until that attitude is changed, they do not need a Savior.
The second person in the parable is a tax collector. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This is a teaching parable. It shows how the Kingdom of God works. The average person does not have a clue how the Kingdom of God works. He believes he can earn his way into the good grace of God, and he may even believe that God is in debt to him.
If that is not his belief, he wonders if there really is a Kingdom of God. And if it does exist, the Creator must have included all of us, or chosen who He wants in His Kingdom and annihilated the rest. This is a predestinarian point of view.
Entrance into the Kingdom of God comes only by the mercy of God. We express this truth in the song, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.” As we come to him, God forgives our sins. However, this is a gift and not a payment for our good works. God owes us nothing.
I recall a man who was angry with God. His wife died in childbirth and left him with a daughter who had some major physical problems. He questioned why this God of love dealt him such a dirty deal. How could he care for this child? Didn’t God care? Hadn’t he been a faithful church member? His belief was that God owed him a healthy wife and child.
It helps us in our relationship with God to know that He owes us nothing. When hardships come, we can wonder where God is. This is Satan’s slick trick. Yet, just wait and we will see that, while God owes us nothing, he is generous with his love and kindness Ð not because we deserve it, but instead because he loves us.
Christians know that, while God owes them nothing, we owe him our lives. Martin Luther wrote this so well in his small catechism: (He has redeemed me) “that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, . . .”