At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.Titus 3:3-5a NIV
It is tempting for those of us who have been believers for a long time to forget where we came from. Having been following Jesus for over 40 years now, it seems like that is just my natural state, that I was born like this. But that is far from the case.
Before surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus, I was deceived about who he was and his expectation for me. I was never an atheist, and always acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God. But I did not really think that he had much to do with my daily life, nor do I recall, growing up in the church, that he seemed to make a lot of difference to most of the people that I was acquainted with. Jesus was more an answer to Sunday school questions than he was a living person that I needed to consider.
My early life was primarily lived for myself, with just enough conformity to social and parental expectations to keep me out of trouble. While I don't remember holding much malice towards others, or hating too many people, there is no question that my focus in life was on self. And even now I struggle with self centeredness, having to work at putting others interests ahead of my own.
But God has saved me. And it was not because I was a good person, or had done all the right things: I was not and had not. But because of his mercy, he saved me. I was unworthy, but God brought me into relationship with himself anyway. And I am eternally grateful for that.
But the challenge in this passage for me now is to recognize that I am not any better than other people around me. I cannot call myself a child of God because of my own merit; it was an act of God. And yet it is so easy to play the part of the Pharisee in Jesus parable about the two men going to the temple to pray. I want to think of myself as somehow more worthy or deserving of God's love than other people are. Maybe it makes me feel better about myself, or helps me to minimize my own failures when I can point out those of others. How much better to remember, with the tax collector in the parable, that I am a sinner, saved by God's mercy.
God has not called me to judge other people, nor to look down on them, but to love them.