FROM MY HEART TO YOURS
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat upon 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 every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14).”
What is it with people who think they are righteous? Is it that they are bad people as the world defines badness? No, rather it’s that they are good as the world defines goodness, and they think that their good works will carry them through – all the way to heaven. It’s that they don’t recognize their sin, that is, the inherent evil that Bible believing theologians define as “total depravity.” They, and we (because we must admit that at times we are guilty of a notion of self-righteousness) compare ourselves to others, as the Pharisee in the temple did, and just plain think we are better. This kind of comparison is extremely odious in the sight of God.
In contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector was cognizant of the fact of his sin. He knew that he fell far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He would not stand before God, and pray “thus with himself,” lying to God about how good he was. Rather, he prayed for mercy, and cast himself upon the grace of God.
What lesson can we learn for ourselves from this account of the Pharisee and tax collector? We can learn, first of all, that it’s not what we do, but what we are in the sight of God that counts. If the heart isn’t right with God, works don’t mean a thing. Secondly, we can learn that God’s mercy overcomes our sin. No matter what we’ve done, God is waiting to hear our prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” and to lift us out of the refuse pit (Psalm 40:1,2).
Was the Pharisee in our lesson a good man? Of course he was! How could he not be a good man? He went to the temple (church) every Lord’s day. He paid tithes; he fasted; he prayed. What then was wrong that he was not justified? I believe it was this: he thought, having been taught so by the Pharisees before him, that he could earn his way to heaven. But “It’s not by works of righteous that we have done, but according to His mercy that He saves us. But the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).” Like wise, if we follow the teaching of those who espouse salvation by works, no matter how good their intention, neither will we be saved and justified. Think of that! Salvation is by grace alone! Through faith alone! In Jesus Christ alone, as He is revealed in Holy Scripture alone! Believe in Him and give the glory to Almighty God alone. If you do; I may never meet you down here; but I’ll see you on the other side!
From a sinner saved by grace,