“The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’” —Luke 18:13
Standing at a distance, refusing to life his eyes, and striking his breast as he pleads for mercy, the tax collector presents a picture of acceptable behavior before our God.
I love what Matthew Henry has to say about this verse:
“Here is the tax collector’s address to God, which was the opposite of the Pharisee’s, as full of humility and humiliation as his was of pride and ostentation; as full of repentance for sin, and desire towards God, as his was of confidence in himself.”
I am reminded of King David and his prayer of repentance:
“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love! Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts! Wash away my wrongdoing! Cleanse me of my sin! For I am aware of my rebellious acts; I am forever conscious of my sin. Against you – you above all – I have sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. So you are just when you confront me; you are right when you condemn me.” —Psalm 51:1–4
“The message of this psalm is that the vilest offender among God’s people can appeal to God for forgiveness, for moral restoration, and for the resumption of a joyful life of fellowship and service, if he comes with a broken spirit and bases his appeal on God’s compassion and grace.” —Bible Knowledge Commentary
We are never to approach the throne of grace filled with personal confidence or boasting of our own merits, but as broken sinners, appealing to the mercy, graciousness, and compassion of our loving heavenly Father. Remember, God desires a humble:
“The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit—O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject.” —Psalm 51:17
As believers we are to be repentant, plain and simple. As the Holy Spirit sheds light on our behavior and convicts us of sin, we are to be ready at all times to acknowledge our failure and confess our sin to God, asking for His mercy and forgiveness:
“But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” —1 John 1:9
God hates sin. It cost Him the life of His Son. Furthermore, He knows that if we explore our own sin, it will greatly cost us too.
“Sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, and the contempt of His love.” —John Bunyan
“Come, let’s consider your options,” says the LORD. “Though your sins have stained you like the color red, you can become white like snow; though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet, you can become white like wool. If you have a willing attitude and obey, then you will again eat the good crops of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” —Isaiah 1:18-20
“The only ground on which God can forgive our sin and reinstate us to His favor is through the Cross of Christ. There is no other way! Forgiveness, which is so easy for us to accept, cost the agony at Calvary. We should never take the forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and our sanctification in simple faith, and then forget the enormous cost to God that made all of this ours. Forgiveness is the divine miracle of grace. The cost to God was the Cross of Christ. To forgive sin, while remaining a holy God, this price had to be paid. Never accept a view of the fatherhood of God if it blots out the atonement. The revealed truth of God is that without the atonement He cannot forgive—He would contradict His nature if He did. The only way we can be forgiven is by being brought back to God through the atonement of the Cross. God’s forgiveness is possible only in the supernatural realm … Once you realize all that it cost God to forgive you, you will be held as in a vise, constrained by the love of God.” —Oswald Chambers
“In the gospel we discover that we are far more wicked than we ever dared believe, yet more loved than we ever dared hope.” —Timothy Keller