In biblical times, people saw Pharisees as righteous and dutiful and saw tax collectors as greedy and dishonest. In Luke.18, Jesus teaches on the heart of God with a parable about two kinds of believers praying in a temple.
Jesus said the Pharisee prays, standing tall and proud. He compares himself to the tax collector and boasts that he fasts twice a week and gives tithes. He then thanks God that he is a better man than the tax collector (v.11-12).
The tax collector looks down as he prays. He pleads God to be merciful to him and admits he is a sinner (v.13). Jesus then says that the tax collector is more righteous than the Pharisee (v.14), completely opposite to how people saw them!
Today, we may judge someone who smokes, has a tattoo or does 'bad’ things as a greater sinner than ourselves and judge someone as righteous because they are dutiful or do good works. This is not how God judges because we judge in the flesh and lean unto our own understanding (Prov.3:5) while God looks inside, on our hearts and weighs our intentions (1Sam.16:7).
All of us are sinners who have come short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). If we think we are worthy and in good standing with God just because we go to a religious building, do good works or give tithes, then we are like the Pharisee. Jesus is not interested in those who pride themselves in being ‘good’. Jesus is interested in the humble sinner whose heart is right towards God, whose heart has been circumcised to the Lord (Jer.4:4).
When Jesus said he came for the sinners and not the righteous (Luk.5:32, Mat.9:13, Mk.2:17), He is saying that He came for those who own up to their sins, who recognise they need God, who seek His grace and mercy and are willing to change. Change comes from within when we yield and surrender our own will and transform by renewing of our minds to come into God’s perfect will for us (Rom. 12:2).
It says in Psalm.25, ‘Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will He teach sinners in the way. The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach his way’ (v.8-9). When we start to acknowledge our sins from the heart, God will show us His will and way for us.