Have you ever heard of Spanx? Although they’ve only been around since 2010, their predecessors have been around for centuries. Basically, Spanx are a 21st century girdle. Like other girdles, Spanx streamlines your love-handles and lumps making you appear much thinner and fitter than you really are.
In Luke chapter 18, Jesus tells a story of a spiritual girdle that we Christians wear far more often than we’d like to admit. This spiritual girdle, just like with Spanx, is one that we’d rather no one knew about.
Here’s Jesus’ story from Luke 18:9-14
"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A few things to notice from this passage. Notice the intended audience for his parable: ”some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” It’s important to note, that’s not two separate groups of people. Rather, it is the same damned lump. Those who trust in themselves that they are righteous will always necessarily treat others with contempt. Likewise, those who treat others with contempt can only do so because they trust that they are the source of their own righteousness. So, their natural inclination will always be to treat others contemptuously. My self-righteousness causes me to look down upon people who I don’t think “have their crap together like me.”
In this parable Christ portrays for us a man, the Pharisee, who at first glance seems very righteous. But, if you’ll notice from his religious resume, he just lists “external sins”. He doesn’t say, “God, I thank you that I am growing in my love for the outcast. I thank you I’m beginning to hate my sins more.” Rather, he lists external sins like adultery and extortion. This external righteousness that he’s so zealous to display is serving as a cloak or girdle to conceal his real besetting sin. And, that sin is the sin of self-righteousness and contempt. He’s able to stroll into the temple wearing his “spiritual Spanx” and really turn some heads. You can imagine the onlookers thinking, “Wow, he’s really pious.” But, Jesus allows us an ugly glimpse underneath the girdle and we see the unsightly disdain for his neighbor come spilling out.
The tax collector in the parable has no such pretensions with God. Rather than confessing any merit before a holy God, the tax collector simply reveals his brokenness and throws himself on the mercy of the court. Jesus tells us that it is the tax collector rather than the Pharisee that went back to his home justified or with a verdict of “not guilty”. Additionally, Jesus tells us why. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This parable cuts me to the heart. I confess that in my sin, I want to come before the Lord the way that a prisoner comes before the parole board. I want to sing my own praises and remind the Lord (and everyone else) how much I’ve been rehabilitated. In other words, I want to exalt rather than humble myself. However, there’s only been one person who has truly humbled Himself. And, He’s the only One who deserves exaltation.
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." -Philippians 2:5-11
Because of our habitual self-exaltation, Christ humbled Himself. We need to let his humility humble us. We need to remember that rather than wear the robe of righteousness that he deserved, Christ was stripped naked. May God grant that Christ’s naked sin-bearing humility will move us to remove our ugly spiritual Spanx and help us to trust not in neither our righteousness nor our imperfect humility but in Christ’s humility on our behalf.