9 And he spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray: one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not as other men are: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his chest, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
Are you justified in God’s eyes? Does God count you just and righteous and holy in His sight? Or, are you guilty and condemned, headed for eternal damnation because of your sins? The Bible tells us in Romans 3:19-20: “Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says to those who are under the law so that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the law, no flesh shall be justified in his sight, for by the law comes the knowledge of sin.” And, in verse 23, it says, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
So, how can we be justified before God and acceptable in His sight? Look at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Who went to his house justified?
Was it the Pharisee who counted himself righteous before God because of his outward obedience to the commandments of God? Did God count him righteous because he gave alms to the poor? Was he really justified because he fasted twice a week and gave tithes of all he possessed? No, but he shall be abased, brought low, condemned, because even his best works do not measure up to God’s standards (cf. Isa. 64:6).
How about the tax collector? He collected taxes for the Roman government. And, to make a living, he had to charge even more than what the Romans demanded. He was viewed as both a traitor and a thief. Certainly, he did not deserve to be justified by God and counted righteous.
But, how did he pray? In verse 13, we read, “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his chest, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’”
And what does Jesus say? “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (v. 14).
Note that the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican was told by Jesus “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (v. 14). And, from this parable, we can learn much.
When we feel that God will accept us, hear and answer our prayers, regard our worship, or receive us into His everlasting kingdom because of who we are and what we have done — because we have been faithful Christians and are not unfaithful sinners as so many others are, we are praying in a similar fashion as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. The pharisee may have counted himself as just, but he was not counted just and righteous in the sight of God!
Rather, we should come to God as did the humble tax collector who knew of his own sinfulness and unworthiness before God. When we come before God, we should come humbly, acknowledging our sin and looking to Him for mercy and forgiveness. With the tax collector, we join in praying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Again, Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (v. 14).
We are all unworthy sinners according to God’s holy commandments. We have no grounds to view ourselves as just or righteous in God’s eyes. Thus, if we exalt ourselves and count ourselves righteous and worthy before God based on our own works or merits, we will be abased and find ourselves cast into the eternal fires of hell.
But if, on the other hand, we humble ourselves and acknowledge our utter sinfulness and look not to our own righteousness but to the perfect righteousness of Christ and to His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the sins of the world, we shall be justified before God and given the eternal joys of heaven! Cf. Romans 3:21ff.
In Psalm 34:18, we read: “The LORD is near to those who are of a broken heart and saves those who are of a contrite spirit.”
And, we have it spelled out for us in 1 John 1 and 2 (1:8-9; 2:1-2): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. … My little children, these things I write to you so that you do not sin. And if any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Since Christ died for our sins and rose again (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3ff.), we can come before God in faith and with the assurance that He will forgive our sins and hear and answer all our proper prayers (cf. 1 John 5:11-15). One might even say that we come to the LORD God in humble boldness — humble because we are unworthy sinners, but in boldness because Christ died for us and redeemed us (cf. Heb. 10:19ff.).
And, when our last hour comes, we can have the assurance that we are counted just and righteous and have eternal salvation entirely of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.
It is as we read in Ephesians 2 (1,4-10). We “were dead in trespasses and sins. … But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ (by grace you are saved), and has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. It is not by works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Before Thee, God, who knowest all, with grief and shame I prostrate fall. I see my sins against Thee, Lord, the sins of thought, of deed, and word. They press me sore; I cry to Thee: O God, be merciful to me! O Jesus, let Thy precious blood be to my soul a cleansing flood. Turn not, O Lord, Thy guest away, but grant that justified I may go to my house at peace with Thee. O God, be merciful to me! Amen. (“Before Thee, God, Who Knowest All,” The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn # 318, Verses 1,3. By Magnus B. Landstad, 1861; Tr. Carl Doving, 1909.)
[Scripture is quoted from the Revised Common Version.]