Smug Religion

Where do you stand before god? Why do you stand there? Is it something good in you that makes you who you are?


Hear the words of Jesus.


Luke 18:9-14 – 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 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!’ 14 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.”


Jesus tells a story of two kinds of people. One man is smug. He is proud of how good he is. He is thrilled not to be like the dirty tax collector. You can imagine the sneer and the ugly tone of voice from the religious man as he looks down on the tax collector whom he sees as an unpatriotic sinner.


On the other hand, the tax collector is broken. He looks at his own life, and he sees nothing good in himself. He does not like what he sees. He does not think he has anything to make God want him.


Which one of these is pleasing to the Lord? While God probably is not at all pleased with the life of the tax collector, at the end of their prayers, it is the sinful tax collector who is forgiven. The arrogant, smug, sneering religious guy is in big trouble, because nobody can stand before God, recount his own personal righteousness, and earn God’s favor.


More important than the imaginary story, which kind of person are you? Do you believe that there is something in you that should make God want you? Friends, you and I have nothing in ourselves to impress God. It does not matter whether you are a criminal or a loving grandma, if you do not have the grace of Christ on yourself, you are in trouble before the Lord. We are sinful from our very beginnings. We cannot do enough good things to impress the Lord. We must, we absolutely must, have the forgiveness of God through Jesus. Otherwise, we are without hope before the Lord.


May we not think we are special. May we not brag on our goodness. May we not think that our giving, our turning away from sin, our commitment to our nation, or anything else makes us able to stand before God in our own strength. We must see that our only hope is to cry, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!” If we do that, in faith that the Lord Jesus died to cover our sins and lives even now, we will be saved. God has mercy on all who he brings to himself in faith and repentance. This is our hope. And this is no foundation for personal smugness in our religion.