Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner (a meditation)

One of my favorite old hymns is Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy. The last verse goes:

Let not conscience make you linger / Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requireth / Is to feel your need of Him

It reminds us of the fact that we have nothing to offer God for our salvation. We are able to come to Jesus and find forgiveness of and freedom from sin only because he has acted and given to us fully by his grace.

Sadly, some people miss this truth and their thoughts go in other directions. One of these is the direction of self-righteousness and another is the direction of a soul crushed under the weight of never being good enough. The self-righteous person believes that he is somehow better than people around him, especially those he deems to be sinners.

Jesus gave an illustration of a Pharisee who fit this self-righteous mold in Luke 18:11-12. There in a prayer, the Pharisee says, “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.”

The song above addresses those who crushed under the weight of feeling never good enough. “Fitness” is making oneself ready. If that is what we strive for, then we’ll never reach the goal. Left on our own, such thought indeed crushes.

But in Luke 18, Jesus offered a better way—the way of the person who feels their need of Him. Contrasted with the Pharisee is a tax collector standing far off, eyes to the ground, and beating his hand against his chest. This tax collector called out: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

Jesus said that this was the man who left the temple justified before God.

It is a simplicity of grace, yet one we fight against. Most of us would rather be in some way self-justified, feeling as if our goodness contributed something to our salvation. Yet, it doesn’t. And instead of this being a soul-crushing defeat, this should help us to realize the greatness of grace.

Some of us need to get over ourselves (Jesus talked about that in Luke 18:14). Some of us need to set our eyes more fully on what God has offered through Jesus. Then we will see our need for him. Then we will find true salvation in Jesus alone.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

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