“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous…” Luke 18:9
The question of whether one sin is worse than another, or whether all sins are equally bad, has arisen at times. There are various ways to measure the seriousness of sin. In one sense, sin is like the breaking of a window – whether the glass has a small crack, or whether it is shattered, either way the window is broken and needs to be replaced. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) And yet, in another sense, certain sins warrant a much more serious sentence than others. Our justice system (based somewhat on the Word of God), demands a more severe punishment for those who have committed murder than for those who have committed a small theft, for example.
Yet Scripture holds one sin out as perhaps more deadly than any other – and that is the sin of being righteous! Righteous, that is, in ourselves! The Pharisees are singled out in Scripture repeatedly for the very act of trusting in themselves. They spent much time in the Word of God, much time in prayer, much time in religious devotion, but they missed the central focus of all of Scripture – Jesus Christ!
The verse above precedes the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee going to the temple to pray. And the point of the parable is to contrast two types of people, not the good and the bad, not the religious and the irreligious, not the scoundrel and the saint – but the one who trusts in himself versus the one who casts himself only on the mercy of Jesus. Self-righteousness is a disease that slowly, almost imperceptibly can attach its ugly self to our hearts, and it tempts us to see ourselves as pretty good compared to many. But the gospel comes and cuts right through the heart of self-righteousness when it exposes the sin of our hearts, and assures us that Jesus died for vile sinners such as us! The marvel of the gospel is that Jesus would desire to save undesirables such as us for His eternal glory! And the miracle of the gospel is that none that have ever cast themselves upon the mercy of Jesus, have ever been turned away! Hallelujah! What a Saviour!