Friday, October 10, 2008

The Elder and the Pedophile

Two men entered the First Baptist Church to worship. The first one, an elder, stood to pray and said, "God, I thank you that you have set me apart from the world, and that I am not a homosexual, a drug addict, an abortionist, or a pedophile. I attend church whenever the doors are open and I tithe every week from all my income. Then a pedophile stood to pray and said God have mercy on me for I have sinned.

Then Jesus said that the pedophile went home justified.

If that was as uncomfortable for you to read as it was for me to write then you and I have far too much in common with the unjustified Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14.

Let us beg for forgiveness for our pride and our lack of love and mercy for our fellow sinners.

Lets remember that only difference between us and any sin is the restraining hand of God, not goodness in us.


Joshua Owen said...

Do you think the Pharisee attributed his standing to the grace of God? After all, he does say "I thank YOU that I am not like other men." If the Pharisee does acknowledge God's grace for what he is, then what is the difference between him and the tax-collector?

The Pharisee might have agreed with the sentiment that says, "But for the grace of God there go I." So what is the problem with the Pharisee?

Jamie Fugate said...

I think its pretty clear from the context that the YOU thrown in their was not the ground of his trust for he immediately goes on to list his works. He is trusting in his works to distinguish himself from all those he feels superior to.

Joshua Owen said...

Jamie, I'd have to disagree with you partially. I agree that the Pharisee took great pride in his works. But he sees those works as evidence of God's grace (Pelagian concept of grace, of course). He attributes his superiority to other men to God's grace. I don't think the "I thank YOU" is just thrown in there to sound pious. Rather, as he considered his condition, he thought he was pretty good. His problem was not that he thought his goodness was a product of God's grace. His problem was that he thought he was good. Because he conformed to the standard of righteousness established by his community he thought, "I am not like other men." This is the root problem for the Pharisee, and the temptation for us as well. If I think I am not like other men then I don't need Christ.

We need to realize that we are like "other men." We should be able to say with one saint that "I am not what I will one day be, I'm not what I should be, I'm not what I want to be, but I am also not what I once was." Thank God I'm not what I once was by His redeeming grace. But I am like other men in this respect, I am utterly dependent on the righteousness of Jesus Christ for my standing before God.

John Lucas said...

Allow me to throw in my two cents for how little it is worth. I think the emphasis of the entire statement by Pharisee is not so much on the "you" as the repetitive "I's" It seems to be more a matter of spirtitual pride and self-exaltation not just above the standards of his contemporaries, but onto equal footing with the righteousness of God. I believe the issue is a misunderstanding of righteousness. To him, the righteousness of God is a righteousness he has earned and can stand proudly in the Synagogue in light. The concept of foreign righteousness imputed to him is a preposterous idea (as opposed to the tax collector I might add). I am not convinced he would have thought that it was the grace of God getting him there. To say "but for the grace of God I go" would mean he recognize a righteousness that exists foreign to his own merit and works. Also Josh, I think John Newton is the Saint you quoted.

Joshua Owen said...

Israel believed they were elect of God's grace according to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. John the Baptist challenged this belief when he said, "Don't think to say, 'We have Abraham for our father.' For I tell you that God is able to raise up sons for Abraham from these stones."

This Pharisee's concept of grace was one in which he was chosen by God's grace, and then made good on that blessing by living a blameless life. Thus, there is both a tipping of the hat toward God ("I thank YOU") and a smug self-righteousness.

The "But for the grace of God there go I" theology has a similar problem. It acknowledges God's grace, but it also smugly assumes that I'm not like that sinner. It says, "If it weren't for the grace of God, I might be a homosexual child predator as well." Instead, we should be saying, with the tax collector, "Have mercy on me the sinner." My sin may not be manifest in the same way as someone on death row, but it is just as hideous, as an act of rebellion against God.

How much different is, "I thank you God that I am not like other men," than "But for the grace of God there go I"? Both statements come across as either self-righteous or naive. I'm a justified sinner. Simultaneously just and sinful.

Jamie Fugate said...

Josh the only point I was trying to make was that we must be careful not to look down our noses at certain areas of sin that we feel we are better than, I was not trying to point in any way to my moral goodness or anyone else's, I don't think that it is naive or self-righteous to remind oursleves that all sin is atrocious in God's sight and that is in the mystery of His soveriegnty that some of us struggle with more subtle sins while others struggle with more public sins. All sin is deplorable and in need of forgiveness.

John Lucas said...

Josh, the reason i love you is you are constantly sharpening my thinking. I cannot walk away from a dialogue with you without looking at it from every possible angle. You and Jamie are gifts of God's grace indeed!

Here is my thought on your response: I do not think the two statements (but for the grace of God and God have mercy on me a sinner) are mutually exclusive in this context. Clearly there can be a smug pride in the former statement, but also in the latter in some contexts. The issue here is the Pharisee's heart toward God, not the statement he utters in the temple. He could easily utter the phrase "God have mercy on me a sinner" in his prayers, yet his heart would not fully acknowledge the reality or depth of that sin before God. At the same time, the tax collecter could walk away saying "but for the grace of God" and have no pride or pomp based on the heart's grasp of sin and grace.

This is fun stuff! we should do a counterpoints book together guys! nobody would buy it, but we would have a good time.

Joshua Owen said...

Jamie and John, I love both of you guys. Sorry for splitting hairs over this text. Jamie, you were making a good point in a profound way, and I got distracted with my own meditation on one statement.

John, I love the idea of a counterpoints book that no one will buy! Let's start with the question of whether or not Christians should watch and own volumes of the animated sitcom THE SIMPSONS.