Pride is an Indication of Low Standards
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.’ Luke 18:9-14 ESV
How is pride an indication of low standards? If I lower God's standards (perfection) down to the level of my good works, then I will have reason to boast about my good works. “I do this, this, and this, and don't do these bad things, so I'm doing pretty good. So I am righteous.” That is the attitude demonstrated by the Pharisee. But if the Pharisee was more honest with himself, he might see some things in his life that needed improvement, such as ways he didn’t love God or the people around him fully.
The tax collector, however, saw how he did not measure up to God's perfect standard. He saw how he fell short of God's perfect standard (see Romans 3:23). Because he didn't lower God's standard to the level of his performance or behavior, he saw that he needed God’s mercy. He didn't say, “I thank You, God, that I'm not as bad as this one prostitute I know about who isn't even at the temple. I'm at this temple because I actually care more than these other people who aren't seeking You. I haven't murdered anybody, I haven't molested children, and am not like those hypocritical Pharisees who think they're so religious and righteous.”
Not lowering God's standard down to his level, he saw that he was done for. He desperately needed God's mercy to cover and forgive all his shortcomings. Thus it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who went home justified (forgiven, just as if he'd never sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard of perfection).
How does one reconcile God’s standard of perfection and dealing with different people who have/are messed up?
Consider a baby, a soldier at boot camp, and a soldier traumatized by active combat. An infant will soil its diaper, but no serious, sound-minded adult will viciously condemn and criticize it for doing so. The adult knows that babies poop and that they can't help it. That doesn't mean that the infant isn't expected to eventually grow up and one day get potty-trained, but it does mean that patience, tolerance, understanding, care, and assistance is required for this stage in the child's development.
In the same way, a new follower of Jesus may still struggle with an addiction, a bad habit, same-sex attraction, lustful thoughts and behavior, etc. This doesn't mean that God will lower His standard of perfection as if He in His holy character is okay with those things, but it does mean that as a good father changes his child’s poopy diaper, God will provide loving care for his newborns wherever they may be at. Over time, those spiritual infants will (and are expected to) grow and mature. Their thoughts, desires, and behavior will improve and their ways will change to conform increasingly into God’s loving character. (Romans 8:29; 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; etc.)
One day, the infant may grow into a mature adult and enter boot camp. He will undergo strict training and be held to a much higher standard of conduct than the infant. He will be put through the wringer and be severely disciplined through a much different intense, challenging, and difficult process of physical and emotional conditioning. Such is to prepare him (or her) for the battlefield of active combat. (see Hebrews 12 and Ephesians 6)
A third case study to consider is that soldier in active combat who encounters the trauma of war. A friend’s head can be blown to bits right next to him. He may become physically wounded or paralyzed. Many will experience PTSD. How would you treat such a soldier? Would one's treatment toward them be with the same harshness, intensity, and rigor as they experienced in boot camp? Or would one use more empathy, commiseration, listening, etc. in a process of healing and recovery? (See Matthew 18; Galatians 6)
In the same way that one would treat the infant, the new soldier in boot camp, and the veteran with PTSD differently, so too will there be unique approaches in treating people based on their level of spiritual maturity and development. It requires God-guided listening, discernment, and wisdom for each unique situation. Whether a person is in the infant stage, the soldier stage, or the wounded veteran stage, it does not follow that God lowers his glorious standard of perfect conduct. But it does mean that love may manifest (be expressed) in different forms.
In one case it will mean helping someone clean up their messy life with great patience and care. Other times, love will look much more “tough,” involving stricter discipline, hard-to-hear correction, sharing hard truths, cutting off unhealthy relationships, fighting for their life and freedom, etc. Those times of tender counseling as well as strict discipline may even overlap. Such is the nature of an intervention.
Grace is not a license or excuse to lower the standard (perfection), but an empowerment to keep progressing towards perfection.
"You, therefore, will be perfect [growing into spiritual maturity both in mind and character, actively integrating godly values into your daily life], as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48 AMP
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts and passions. 13 Do not go on offering members of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness. But offer yourselves to God [in a decisive act] as those alive [raised] from the dead [to a new life], and your members [all of your abilities—sanctified, set apart] as instruments of righteousness [yielded] to God. 14 For sin will no longer be a master over you, since you are not under Law [as slaves], but under [unmerited] grace [as recipients of God’s favor and mercy].”
Romans 6:12-14 AMP
To find out more about what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I recommend my blog post “Did You Hear the News?”