Religious clichés are common.
- “God helps those who help themselves.”
- “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
- “Money is the root of all evil.”
Many people assume these are sayings from the Bible, but they’re not. Other religious clichés are used to excuse bad behavior. “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven” we’re reminded. “We’re all sinners” offers more relief from a guilty conscience.
The use religious clichés is not new. Scripture records and corrects a number of them. For example, the Corinthians justified sexual immorality with the phrase, “food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them.” They argued that the body was not of eternal and spiritual significance, therefore, immorality was acceptable. This misguided rationalization (based on Greek mythology) occasioned a corrective response from the Apostle Paul (cf. I Corin. 6:12-20).
A more contemporary cliché that could be misleading is the statement: “God accepts us as we are.” Is this true? According to Jesus, it depends on what you think you are.
Jesus told a parable about certain people who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18). Jesus referred to two men going up to the temple to pray — the one a Pharisee, the other a tax-gatherer (a despised person in first century Judaism). The Pharisee began by thanking God that he was not like the sinners of society and then went on to recite his own notable virtues. The tax-gatherer stood at a distance with downcast eyes, pleading for God’s mercy and identifying himself as a sinner. The conclusion? The admitted sinner was accepted before God and the self-righteous Pharisee found no approval with God.
This parable reminds us that only those who see themselves as sinners in need of God’s mercy will be accepted by God. The best of human achievements cannot grant us favor with God. Only those who humbly acknowledge their unworthiness are granted acceptance with God. Put another way, “what we are” is the problem. All people have fallen short of God’s glory and are in need of His merciful salvation.
The Bible says; “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5-6). The proud person rejects God’s authority over his life and defiantly declares his independence of the Creator. This person could be self-sufficiently religious (as the Pharisee) or totally irreligious. The issue is far deeper then external activities.
The broken and contrite heart God will not despise (Ps. 51:17). Through the prophet Isaiah, God said: “To this person will I look (with favor,) to him who is humble and contrite of spirit and who trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). Does God accept us as we are? It depends on what you think you are?