Sin Is Serious
The tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner” (v.13).
David Head, in his book He Sent Leanness, overhauls a traditional public confession of sin found in the Book of Common Prayer and offers a satirical look at our shallow view of sin: “Benevolent and easy-going Parent: We have occasionally had some minor errors of judgment, but they’re not really our fault. Due to forces beyond our control, we have sometimes failed to act in accordance with our own best interests. Under the circumstances, we did the best we could. We are glad to say that we’re doing okay, perhaps even slightly above average. Be your own sweet Self with those who know they are not perfect.” Oh, how we trust in our own righteousness and justify our sinfulness!
This is nothing new, however. Jesus highlighted this issue when He told a story about two men—a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:10). The Pharisee, a religious man, stood up in a prominent place and prayed about himself, telling God how righteous he was—fasting twice a week (though the law required people to fast once a year) and giving a tithe on all his income (not just the required parts) (vv.11-12).
In contrast, using God as his measuring stick and not other people, the tax collector poured out his heart in a few simple but profound and transparent words— confessing his sinfulness. He realized that if he was going to experience God’s forgiveness, he would have to humbly call out for God’s mercy (v.13). God rejected the Pharisee and fully accepted the tax collector (v.14).
Sin isn’t about minor errors in judgment. It’s about a wrong relationship with God, expressed in wrong attitudes or actions toward God, others, or other parts of God’s creation. Sin is so deeply rooted in our hearts that only God is able to forgive it and break its penalty, power, and presence.
Read Psalms 51:1. How serious was David about his sin?
Who are you more like when it comes to sin— the Pharisee or the tax collector? How has your view of sin changed over the years? What prevents you from confessing known sins in your life?