14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector Jesus gives us a clear indication of how He views self-righteousness. The Pharisee praised himself before God and set out all his personal achievements and compared himself with others. The tax collector on the other hand came before God and begged for mercy. Jesus then says that it was the tax collector who was justified before God and made righteous.
The Pharisee looked at his achievements and compared himself against others; people who he saw as sinners. He did not come to God to seek God but to tell God how good he was. Instead of comparing himself with Jesus and seeing his own sinfulness; he in effect tells God that he is okay and does not need God’s forgiveness and justification.
The tax collector meanwhile sees that his life is not acceptable to God. He is embarrassed to even look up to God and asks God for mercy because he knows that he is not living as God wants him to. He knows that he does not measure up to God’s standards. He acknowledges that it is God alone on whom he must depend.
Jesus’ teaching is that we need to seek God with humility and an attitude of being poor in spirit. We don’t bring anything in and of ourselves that makes us acceptable to God. Daily we need to consider others better than ourselves and acknowledge our dependence upon God. This is not easy to do as the world tells us to do the opposite; this shows us that we need God’s help and mercy. Walking humbly before God (James 4:10) and others will be a great witness to the world around us.