He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Last Spring, this verse knocked me over. I thought “How simple God’s will is.” I thought, “I can do this!” And so, I thought I would write a book to share with everyone the simplicity of God’s commands to us. And write I did, churning out a manuscript called, “My Heart Sings,” completely inspired by this one verse. Here lately, I keep thinking about that book. Because I know something today that I didn’t know then. You see, at the time I wrote “My Heart Sings,” I didn’t have a clue as to what I was writing about! I thought I was wisely proclaiming to everyone else what they should be doing. I didn’t know then that through the writing, God was telling me what I should not be doing. Perhaps, “The Pharisee in Me,” would have more aptly captured the essence of the book. And today, I have to laugh about that. Because I was so incredibly blind. The perfect picture of a Pharisee in that I couldn’t see my own faults. Such a hypocrite in that I was trying to remove the speck from my brother’s eye without first taking the plank out of my own. Matthew 7:5.
Today I look on that verse and am amazed to see that I have not fulfilled one portion of it. The verse that so moved me somehow failed to move me beyond my present state. I was unable to fulfill the most basic of requirements, and today I know why. Because I am a Pharisee… the worst sort of scoundrel that Jesus gave warning to throughout the New Testament. The Pharisee lacked mercy and judged everyone. And it was to them that Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matthew 9:13. And now I realize He’s telling me the same thing: “go and learn what this means…” Because this particular verse jumped off the page at me not that long ago. And I believe it had everything to do with Micah 6:8… see, I thought myself to be somewhat of an expert at doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. I thought I had that verse down pat. But what I’m learning about myself lately is that I’m nowhere near mercy. In fact, I’m miles from mercy with so far to go. And I believe learning what Jesus told me to learn is the whole key to conquering my pharisaical nature. Mercy is the key that will unlock the bars of my prison called pharisaicalness.
I know what happened. I know how I became a Pharisee. See, I didn’t become a child of God until I was 24 years old. And I was pretty worldly by that time, accepting of pretty much everything. By that time, I had quite a past… a past better forgotten than remembered. And so, when I finally met my future husband, I somewhat settled down (so to speak). It was just me and him, and I didn’t go out and do all those things I once did. And so, by the time I realized I needed Jesus, I had forgotten much of who I really was. See, I was good by the time I came to Jesus. At least from a worldly point of view. And so, I asked Jesus to save me from my sins – but vaguely. Because my specific sins were better left behind… I never dwelt on them. And so, there I was a 24 year old baby Christian. But I never really knew how much of a sinner I truly was. Because by the time I came to Jesus, my past was buried and left behind.
Over time, I came to where I really wanted God. I needed Him. And so I began to seek Him through His word. I began to acquire the knowledge of God. Hosea 6:6 actually says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Well, there it is… knowledge. This is part of what tripped me up. Because if you add all this acquired knowledge to never really feeling bad about who you were, well, there’s the answer. Knowledge + a false sense of who you really are = Pharisee. At least this is how the equation worked in my life. And there I was, feeling good about myself to begin with and piling on all that knowledge, well, naturally I became puffed up and prideful. Naturally, I became judgmental. And naturally, I became self-righteous. Because the truth is, I never fully realized His righteousness.
Do you know what I think, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” really means? I believe that through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, God provided us with the ultimate act of mercy. He had mercy on His creation in sending us His Son. And He longs to be merciful to us today… but we need to realize what He did. Because when we don’t understand how bad of a sinner we really are, it diminishes what Jesus did on the cross. When we neglect coming to the cross all the way, we tend to start sacrificing over time. We sacrifice by way of obligatory giving, obligatory prayers and obligatory works… because deep down we still feel we have something to atone for. We begin to work for God, and offer up unacceptable sacrifices hoping to atone for something we never brought to the cross to begin with. In fact, we never fully obtained the mercy of Jesus because we never fully realized our sin. How could we know what Jesus really did for us when we never thought we were that bad? How could we fully accept His free gift of mercy and grace, when we didn’t realize we were in dire need of it in the first place?
This is what I’ve been grappling with this past year. Basically, I’m trying to learn what Jesus meant in saying “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And since I have been on this journey towards mercy for a while now, I was taken aback recently when I found myself back at “Pharisee.” Honestly, I was surprised to see how easily those old ways slipped right back in. And so I have to ask myself a tough question… today, do I know what I really am? Because until I know what I really am, there’s no way I can understand what Jesus really did. And until I fully understand what Jesus did, for me – a sinner – there’s no way I can come to understand what Jesus means when He says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Because He is mercy.
As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” I’ll find myself miles from mercy. As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” there’s no way I can fully obtain His mercy. And without receiving it, I’ll have none to offer. And as long as I’m stuck at “works,” trying to pay off a debt there’s no way I can repay, then I haven’t fully understood the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. And as long as I’m working off my debt, not comprehending that Jesus already paid it in full, then I’ll continue to expect others to do the same… working off a debt I’ve accrued in my head… a debt that they in no way can repay. And naturally, when someone falls short of my expectations, I deem them a sinner. I judge them and point my finger, holding them accountable. I want them to work for my forgiveness… like I’m working for mine… completely forgetting that Jesus already came to do just that… forgive sinners.
And so it goes, I try to remove the speck from the sinners eye without first removing the plank from my own. And thus, I find myself miles from mercy, with so far to go.