Have you had a wild night on Saturday night and then stumbled into church on Sunday morning? Are you one of those guys that goes out with the boys and gets hammered on Saturday night and then stumbles into church Sunday morning still smelling like the club? Ladies, maybe you’ve been stumbling around doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing and then get up on Sunday morning thinking, I know I should go to church but I don’t feel like it.
If this describes you, there’s a person I want to introduce you to in the Bible. We don’t know his name, but I think most of us can relate to this guy. He’s found in Luke 18:13. In Jesus’ day, a tax collector was an outcast. Typically, it was someone who sold his family relationships and friendships for riches. These were some of the most hated people in the country because their greed was so public. Like getting convicted of a crime with your picture on the front page of the newspaper, everyone knew who this guy was. I have to give this guy props for even going to church to pray.
Don’t let your failures keep you out of church
Here’s the natural reaction for most of us – we tend to allow our failures to keep us out of church. We are acutely aware of our own sin. We are embarrassed of our behavior, so we allow our sin and bad behavior to keep us out of church.
This is a great mistake! Don’t allow your failures to keep you out of church. In fact, the people who failed the most, whose failures are most public, and who have the greatest need for God are the very ones who should be in church on Sunday. If you feel like you don’t belong in church with all of those “good people,” you’ve got the wrong impression of church, and you’ve got a distorted view of the type of people who go to church.
Don’t let church people prevent you from coming to Jesus
Don’t let the nice clothes and smiling faces fool you; we all struggle with temptation. Some of us give in to temptation more often than others, but all of us struggle with temptation. Therefore, if you’re in a church where people act like they don’t struggle with temptation, you’re in the wrong church.
Jesus tells us something fascinating about this public sinner – he says this guy goes away from church justified! The word justified is a legal term. It carries the imagery that God, as judge, weighs men in the balance. At its essence, justified means that the judge pronounced a sentence of not guilty on you when you deserved to be pronounced guilty. Notice Luke 18:10-11. One of the guys that went to church that day was a preacher. He started listing before God all the good things that he was doing for God. He had a pretty impressive list. The other guy was a notorious scoundrel. But Luke 18:14 is scandalous! Jesus says the scoundrel, not the preacher, went home justified! Jesus knows the only reason any of us can be justified by God is because of Jesus’ perfect life and death on the cross. In other words, if this scoundrel can be justified by God, then you can too – no matter what you were doing on Saturday night.
God is not impressed with the quantity of your prayers. He wants quality in your prayers. He wants you to be honest with him. For you to be honest with God in prayer means you must be honest with yourself first. This Pharisee was unwilling to examine his motives for doing religious things. This Pharisee was unwilling to admit his arrogance. The scoundrel, on the other hand, was all too willing to admit his failures and beg for the judge to show him mercy. In return, Jesus says, this scoundrel went home justified by God – Jesus leaves the impression that the Pharisee went home condemned by God for his arrogant attitude. Don’t let church people keep you from being brutally honest with yourself and with Jesus. Don’t let church people keep you out of church.
Don’t play games with temptations
I don’t think this tax collector went back to his tax booth. I believe he probably walked away from his profession when he walked away from the temple that day. When you’re honest with God about your sin, when you’re honest with God about your soul, you will honestly want to do something about it. You will beg God to help you turn things around from the inside out.
If you’re struggling with addictions, if you’re dealing with a bad relationship, if you know you’re not living right, don’t play games with it! Run away from the source of your temptation. When you’re tempted in an area that you can’t run from, stand in the power of God’s Holy Spirit and ask him to enable you to fight the battle. Once you have broken free from those temptations, never look back.
Here’s my challenge for you this week: get up and go to church. No matter how bad your week has been, and no matter how deep you have fallen into sin, be gut-level honest with yourself and be honest with Jesus!