Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors. His fascinating book, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” did more than merely expand my view of Jesus; it exploded it. Yancey shattered preconceptions I did not realize I had, and brought me face to face with a Savior I had never considered. The book is easily one of the most important I have ever read. Although I was already a pastor when I read it, Yancey took my view of Jesus, changed it and presented scripture showing Jesus was more inspiring than I had imagined.
The small men’s group I lead meets each Monday morning. When I shared how inspirational I found Yancey’s book, the guys in the group wanted us to study it. Each man is currently being challenged and gaining an expanded view of Jesus.
In his book, Yancey referred to a story Jesus told about a self-righteous religious leader and a Jewish tax collector. In this story the religious leader, “stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people – cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’” (Luke 18:11-12, NLT) The self-righteous religious leader’s prayer neither worshipped God nor acknowledged his need for him.
In stark contrast, Jesus described the second man, “But 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.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14, NLT)
This story offended the skeptic A. N. Wilson who thought God was being unfair. He observed, “All that matters… appears to be God’s capacity to forgive.” Yancey tackled this thorny issue when he wrote, “Can we infer from Jesus’ story that behavior does not matter, that there is no moral difference between a disciplined legalist and a robber, evildoer, and adulterer. Of course not. Behavior matters in many ways; it simply is not how to get accepted by God.” (my emphasis)
Many assume God is pleased with us if we are good enough and writes us off if we are not. Jesus’ story demonstrates how none of us can ever be good enough to please the God who never sins. Quit trying to please God by being perfect, for you cannot! Only when we acknowledge our failure and ask for his mercy will we experience his amazing grace.