Karl Marx, the father of communism, isn’t known for his favorable perspective on religion. He once famously said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” What Marx meant is that we use religion to pretend the world is something that it is not and that we are something that we are not.
Marx was right.
And I don’t think Jesus would have disagreed with him. A relationship with God should bring more truth to our life, not necessarily more confidence. Religion, in the sense Marx was describing it, makes people arrogant because we begin to believe we are better than others. A relationship in the way Jesus intended it helps us into humility, because we realize how fallen we are and how much we need God.
A real relationship with God first gives us an honest picture of who we are, then gives us an honest picture of who God is.
Jesus once discussed this idea with the followers around him
He told a story of two men who entered the temple to make right with God. This would have been common practice for most everyone hearing Jesus that day. You would be required to go offer prayer and sacrifice to cover over the wrong that you had committed against God.
Jesus tells the crowd, in Luke 18, a story of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. Pharisees were professionals at keeping the Torah, the religious rules of the day. They were also professionals at pointing out when others did not keep it. They were the Michael Jordan’s of keeping the religious rules. Tax collectors worked for the Empire, they made their riches making other’s poor. They were despised by the people.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
People probably heard that and thought, “yup, he’s right, be is better than all of us.” But then Jesus turned the story to the tax collector. The crowd probably wondered what business he had being in the temple.
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Jesus then told the crowd that one of the men went away making things right with God. Guess which one.
Both men in the story made others poor. The tax collector did so in an obvious way, by exploiting others financially. The Pharisee did so as well however, by exploiting others spiritually.
Both men were sinners but only one realized it.
One focused on how much he did for God, one, on how much God did for him.
The Pharisee, a man devoted to the Law and a man who spent his life trying to learn about and understand God, didn’t actually understand who he really was.
The tax collector, a man the crowd likely perceived to be as far from God as possible, knew where he stood, but also knew God’s grace.
Might I always remember where I stand, not to feel better about myself, but to feel God’s grace.