In Luke 18:9–14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector who were both worshiping at the temple.
The Pharisee was outwardly religious. He was well spoken and appropriately dressed. He stood near the front and prayed, arms stretched high, words flowing eloquently as he expressed his love for God and his contempt for sinners. “I am not like other people,” he boasted (v. 11).
Those present might not have noticed the man standing near the back. The tax collector’s hands were stretched out in dismay, and his whole body was wracked with sorrow. If you listened closely, you might have heard his words between sobs, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (v. 13).
Jesus explained that this parable was meant for people who trust too much in themselves. We are not to be puffed up by our own accomplishments. Jesus pointed instead to that tax collector, grieving over his sinfulness in the face of a holy God.
In verse 14 He says, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We are to have an attitude of humility. And, if we understand the gospel, we cannot help but be humbled. Scripture teaches that we are all sinners. On our own, none of us is able to please God, “not even one” (Rom. 3:10). But Scripture teaches that all of our guilt and all of our shame have been fully covered by Jesus’ work of redemption on the Cross.
The good news is that in Him, we have been justified. Because of Him, we are made worthy. While we certainly experience the shame of sin (which needs confession), we do not need to experience the shame of worthlessness. Romans 8:1 assures us that there is no condemnation for those who trust in Christ.
Will we ever feel guilt over our sinful behavior? Definitely. Like that tax collector, we should humble ourselves and confess our sin. But if we wallow in shame, we are missing the point of the gospel. While shame tells us we are worthless, as believers we can have the certainty that God has declared us worthy through Jesus.
We do not need to be ashamed, because Jesus has paid the price of our sin. Our shame has been taken away.