Sermon: I Tell You, the Humble Will Be Justified (Luke 18:9-14)

Luke 18.9-14 AUDIO

For I Tell You, the Humble Will Be Justified

Luke 18:9-14

Introduction:

Last week we saw a characteristic of God’s elect.  Consistent and persevering prayer marks God’s people.  Rather than being overcome by trials and tribulations God’s people actually persevere in prayer and the result is a stronger faith.  On the other side of the spectrum, neither are they put to sleep by everyday activities but continue to have a zeal for Christ even in the mundane activities of life through a vibrant and consistent practice of prayer.  So whether it’s an extreme trial or the very mundane, persevering prayer is Jesus’ answer.

Today we are going to look at two people who offer to God very different prayers.  Both prayers reveal something about the hearts of these men.  One man felt he had enough righteousness within himself to be justified before God and the other realized his utter hopelessness and placed himself on the mercy of God.

We may learn many things in this text but the main thing today is what does it take to be justified before God?  Our lives depend on the answer to this question…What does it take to be justified before God?

One other thing…because this parable has as one of its examples, a Pharisee, don’t think that it is meant only for lost legalists.  In this case, Jesus doesn’t turn to the Pharisees and tell them a parable.  It is meant for all to hear and consider.

Please hear God’s Word for us today at GCC…

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 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!’ 14 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.” [1]

1. Two Purposes (Luke 18:9)

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

Why did Jesus tell this parable?  Basically two reasons…First, there were some in His midst who trusted in their righteousness to be justified before God.  Second, these who trusted in themselves treated others with contempt or with hatred and disapproval.

What is Justification?

26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [2]

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3]

16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. [4]

It’s very plain from these passages that justification does not come through our efforts but from faith in Christ alone.

Justification- is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight[5]

To be justified before God is God declaring us righteous because He has forgiven us and credited Jesus’ righteousness to us.

In our parable this morning, Jesus is first warning us against looking to ourselves for justification… some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.

We see a man who believes he has sufficient righteousness within himself to be justified before God.

Another point our Lord makes here is that while these people were trusting in themselves, they also were making the mistake of comparing themselves to others… and treated others with contempt:

The attitude of someone who believes they are righteous in themselves is to look to others and stay one step ahead of them.  Rather than seeing Christ as the model of righteousness they often fabricate a system in their own mind that places them one step ahead of others.  They think they are acceptable before God because they are not… extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

Please understand beloved, just because you can right a few good things about yourself doesn’t make you fit for heaven.  Just because you’re not a thief and you are fair and faithful to your wife doesn’t make you fit for God’s Kingdom.  I hope this sinks into our souls this morning.  Doing good things will never make you more acceptable to God than a thief, a cheat, or an adulterer.

2. Two People (Luke 18:10)

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The common practice in the temple was prayer.  It was the House of Prayer.  Jesus pictures for us a scene to teach us about justification.

As we’ve learned before, the Pharisees were the religious elite of the day.  They had built an elaborate system by which they sought God’s approval through hard religious work.   They were society’s model of religion.  If anyone should have been justified before God, in the eyes of society, it would have been these religious Pharisees.  After all, they followed the letter of the Law.

In the minds of the religious leaders, it was a them and us scenario or those God loved and everyone else…the others.

The other man Jesus mentions is the Tax Collector.  Tax Collectors were famous for their thievery and the fact that they had sold out their homeland to Rome.  Being employed by the Roman Empire left a very bad taste in the mouths of the Jews.  They were considered sinners with a capitol S, ruthless and immoral.  You couldn’t get much worse than a Tax Collector in the minds of the people.  So, if there is anyone who should not be justified, surly it was this rotten sinful Tax Collector.

Is it possible for a deeply religious person to lost and a repentant sinner to saved?

Luke, being famous for great reversal sets up a dilemma for all of us.  Who would be a candidate for justification, a religious leader who conforms to the letter of the Law or a dirty low life publican?

To get a clue, let’s examine their prayers.  A prayer can say a lot about a person.

3. Two Prayers (Luke 18:11-13)

A. The Prayer of the Self-righteous (Luke 18:11-12)

11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

At first glance we might be tempted to think this portion doesn’t apply to us.  Or, we might show our self-righteousness by thanking God that we’re not like this Pharisee.  However, a deeper look revels that this text hits much closer to home than we may care to admit.

The Pharisee had some really good theology.  He didn’t believe that he could acquire these good god-honoring traits apart from God giving them to him.  In this regard, he was reformed in his view of God.

He was no Pelagian, thinking he could somehow accomplish on his own the things God requires.

He was no semi-pelagian, thinking that God was there to help but it’s really our efforts that secure God’s aid.[6]

He was orthodox in the sense of understanding that if there was anything good accomplished in his sinful heart it was a work of God.  We would affirm this… God, I thank you.  He thanks God for the work that had been done in his life.  He thanked God that he wasn’t a thief or that he didn’t cheat people.  He thanked God that he wasn’t an adulterer; he was faithful to his wife.  All of these are good god-honoring traits and he thanked God for them.  God had worked morality in his life.  So, what’s the problem?

God had worked religiously as well as morally.  He went over and above the one required fast a year at the Day of Atonement, this man fasted twice a week.  He was a tither of all that he got.  He was religious and he thanked God for that as well.  We have no reason to doubt any of what the Pharisee said.  So, what’s the problem?  He was doing good things and credited God with the ability to do them?

The problem was… he trusted in himself that that he was righteous.  He believed that he could trust and rely on the good character traits to get him to heaven.  He thought that God would be satisfied with a righteousness he had attained

Please don’t let this slip past you.  It would be very similar to a Christian today trusting in their sanctification.  In other words, we must never look to ourselves as the source of our righteousness and depend on that for salvation.  It is all Christ from start to finish and nothing else.  Justification comes only through Jesus Christ.  Never Christ and our efforts, even when we begin to see the work of Christ in our lives, conforming us to His image.  We must never trust in that for our justification but always, in humility see that Jesus has done it all and even though I’m more like Him today than I was when I was first saved, I still trust in Him and not in myself.  Even after someone has been a Christian for 60 years that person must still, in humility rely on Christ and the mercy of God…God be merciful to me, a sinner.

Unfortunately, I know some people like this man.  I know some people who would admit that Christ saved them but now think they are pretty holy and are depending on that rather than on Christ.

A very clear mark of one who trusts in themselves is the mark of condemning others… and treated others with contempt:

God, I thank you that I am not like other men

To think that righteousness comes through not engaging in a specific sin or that it comes as a result of doing some good things is to totally misunderstand righteousness.

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I’m not like those people.  I don’t murder or steal.  I don’t do those things and I even give God the credit for keeping me free from those things.  As crazy as this sounds, I want to show you that not sinning does not make you righteous.  A lost person can be moral.  A lost person can be honest and upright all the way to hell.

Thou shalt not steal is a great command but obeying that command will not get you to heaven, it will send you to hell… by works of the law no one will be justified. [7]

B. The Prayer of the Broken Sinner (Luke 18:13)

13 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!’

Here in this prayer, we see a humble heart.  We see one who has been broken because of sin.  Notice with me, he stands far off and looks down at the ground and he beat his breast in anguish over his sin.  He doesn’t come to the front and look up into the heavens and thank God that he’s not like others.  His posture in prayer is the posture of one who is afraid of God’s judgment because of sin.  He’s not proud and confident in himself.  If this publican is going to ever have any hope for a right standing before God it will be because God alone places him there… God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  He is not trusting in himself that he is righteous because the conviction of God has shown him he is not righteous.

The Pharisee thinks of others as sinners.  The Publican thinks of himself as a sinner.

4. Two Principles (Luke 18:14)

14 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.” [8]

I tell you is the voice of authority.  Jesus, the Son of God makes the declaration…I tell you. 

The man who saw his utter depravity was the one who Jesus declared to be right before God.  The one who saw himself as righteous and saw everyone else’s sin was the one who was not justified.  Do we all understand what it means not to be justified?  It means that the Pharisee is going to hell.  It means that this deeply religious man is headed straight to hell.

I pray that we always place ourselves in the arena of God’s mercy and grace like the Publican who was cut to the heart because of his sin.  No matter how long we’ve been Christians always remember that it is Christ alone.

Now, it is important that we foster a life that is growing in faith and growing in Christlikeness.  We must turn from sin and strive to live a holy life.  However, all the time we must rely on Christ and never think we’ve achieved enough righteousness to trust in ourselves.

The sin that our Lord warns us about is the sin of self-righteousness.  As believers, when we become more Christ like there is the danger of trusting in ourselves.

The life that Christ commends to us is a life of always realizing that we need Him for everything, from beginning to end it’s Christ, Christ, Christ.

The true cure for self-righteousness is self-knowledge. Once let the eyes of our understanding be opened by the Spirit, and we shall talk no more of our goodness. Once let us see what there is in our own hearts, and what the holy Law of God requires, and self-conceit will die.  We shall lay our hand on our mouths, and cry with the leper, ‘ Unclean, unclean’ (Lev. 13:45)[9]

In humility, live your life dependent on His mercy not dependent on your righteousness.

Let us leave this text and be encouraged at the promise Christ gives to all who see their sin and run to Christ for mercy.  Our prayers may seem weak at times, but let’s remember the Tax Collector who prayed, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!

 

Closing Verse:

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [10]

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Lk 18:9–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ro 3:26–28). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ro 5:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ga 2:16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology pg. 723

[6] John Piper, Sermon on this text.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ga 2:16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Lk 18:9–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] J C Ryle Luke Vol. 2 Banner of Truth Pg. 193

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Co 5:21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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