The Sinner’s Prayer
The very act of prayer is a humble admission that we need God. Unless, of course, it isn’t. In Luke 18 we see two men praying. One prays the humble prayer of a sinner. The other almost seems to be boasting to God.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  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.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  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!’  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.”
Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
Before jumping too quickly to identifying with the “good guy” in the parable, we want to note the way Luke introduces Jesus’ words. “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” You and I may have never stood and prayed a prayer quite as blatantly arrogant as the Pharisee, but this heart of self righteousness inflicts us all at times. The great contrast drawn between the Pharisee and the tax collector is not just the words they spoke, but the hearts with which they approached God.
I find that my greatest battle as a Christian is the battle to remember my dependance. I almost said, “the battle to remain dependent,” but that is not really a battle is it? We are dependent on God. From the air we breath, to the inner workings of our body, to the east bound car as we drive west, we are dependent. The battle is to remember this. When we forget it, we become self righteous. In other words, we believe that we are mostly good and good will come from us. This leads to arrogance when we are successful, and it leads to total despair when we fail. Arrogance because somehow we believe that we are responsible for the good we have done. Despair because we believe we are responsible to fix our moral guilt.
Praise God that he rejoices in the humble prayer of the sinner. So, as RC Sproul says about this passage, “Let us abandon the hope of gaining access to God on the basis of our own righteousness and cling instead to the righteousness of Christ. When we come into the presence of God, let us come not with an attitude of self-justification, but with an attitude of dependence upon his mercy. For the point at issue here was not the track-record of the Pharisee or tax-collector, but the present attitude of their minds towards God.”
Before our God, every prayer is the sinners prayer. We don’t move on from it. We are constantly coming to God as sinners and asking for mercy and grace. We rejoice in Jesus’ work on the cross because it gives us confidence that we will receive the grace we need.
Daily Reading: Today’s bible reading is Luke 18.