By Hal Lindsey
In September, USA Today reported on a mass shooter in Bakersfield, California. “Javier Cesarez had just gunned down five people at three locations,” they wrote, “but when he hijacked a car to try to make his escape, he told his victims that he ‘wasn’t a bad guy.’”
And that illustrates a massive problem.
The man killed five people in the period of about one hour. He hijacked a car with a woman and her children still inside. But he still couldn’t see the sinful state of his being. He saw himself as okay — not a bad guy. So, here’s the question. How bad does someone have to be to see himself as bad?
In Matthew 5:3, Jesus began His famous Sermon on the Mount by establishing a theme He would return to again and again. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Most people read those words with little thought. Some chalk it up to the Lord’s love for the poor. And He does love the poor. But He didn’t say, “Blessed are the poor.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
His words raise a surprising question. Does He want us to be spiritually impoverished? It’s easy to understand how material riches might harm someone, but what’s wrong with spiritual affluence? And the answer is, there’s nothing wrong with it. But we don’t start there.
Notice where Jesus put this — right at the beginning of His great sermon. We start our journey with God by recognizing our spiritual deficiency without Him. And we should never forget it! The New Century Version says, “They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty.”
John Walvoord’s Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “The poor in spirit are those who consciously depend on God, not on themselves; they are ‘poor’ inwardly, having no ability in themselves to please God.”
Luke 18:9 introduces one of the Lord’s parables by telling us who it was for. It says, “He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” That means it still applies. Billions of people in our world today are still trusting in their own righteousness for salvation. In His parable, Jesus told about two men who went to the temple to pray. One was a very religious man — a Pharisee. The other was a tax-collector. In those days, taxmen were famous for cheating people and pocketing part of the money. As a group, they were hated by almost everyone.
In verses 11 and 12, the Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.”
The self-righteous person measures himself by other people rather than by God’s standard.
In verse 13, Jesus described the other man. “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”
The tax collector did not trust in his own righteousness. He recognized his spiritual poverty. He saw himself for what he was — a sinner. Then, in verse 14, Jesus said something amazing about the taxman. “I tell you, this man went to his house justified.”
People who see themselves as “okay,” won’t turn to Jesus as Savior because they don’t see the need. But the Bible is clear. We all need Jesus because we’re all sinners.