Let me ask you a few questions:
- How does a person get right with God, and be perfectly holy in His sight?
- What does a person need to do so that the Lord God Almighty is pleased with Him?
- How can a person get to heaven so that He can be with God forever and ever? These are the most important questions on earth, and we must get the answers to them. Well, we're looking at a parable in God's Word that gives us the answer to these questions.
Luke 18:9 We read about two people, a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both are sinners and both go to the temple to pray. But that is where the similarities end. The Pharisee considers himself to be a righteous and moral person. He is praying out loud to himself, publicly proclaiming his righteousness. He thinks that he is accepted by God, and he wants everybody else to think that too.
This Pharisee represents those people in the world who think that it's what you do that makes you right with God, that you need to do good deeds for God to be pleased with you, and that your good deeds need to outweigh your bad deeds for you to be able to go to heaven.
- He represents those people who compare themselves with others and try to make themselves look better than others and who put down others who they think aren't as good as themselves. Therefore they view themselves as righteous, and as being more righteous than others.
- This Pharisee represents those people who are trusting in themselves and in their own righteousness. He represents the self righteous person - that is, the person who thinks he is righteous because of his own efforts, his own works, by what he does himself.
But this Pharisee and people like him are deceived, and wrong and on their way to hell. Why?
1. No person can become righteous because of what he himself does. For God does not accept man's good works, man's deeds, man's standard of righteousness as a means by which his sins can be forgiven, removed and dealt with. Titus 3:5-6. God is not pleased with our good works. He rejects them. He hates them. So many people think they'll go to heaven because they do a few "good things", like going to church, being nice to their neighbor, being a good husband or father, by not swearing much, and by paying their bills. The majority of people really think their ticket to heaven is doing these outwardly moral things. Example of Paul
Isaiah 64:4-6 These so called righteous deeds of man are but filthy, dirty rags in God's sight. Man's efforts to please God are feeble and worthless. But most people don't realize their grave mistakes, their pitiful attempts to be accepted in God's sight. And God won't accept man's efforts to be right with Him? God doesn't require good deeds; He demands perfection, absolute holiness, whole hearted love, full obedience to every one of His commands.
2. No person is righteous in God's sight because he thinks he's better than others. A person needs to be perfect in every way, according to God's standards, and not just according to his own human standards, a little better than someone else. Now on a human and worldly scale a person may outwardly be better than another person. But we're to never judge our lives or the lives of others on our own fleshly way of thinking. Our way of thinking is relative, but God's standard is absolute. Our way of thinking is sinful, but God's way of thinking is absolutely holy.
3. Many people think that if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, or if their good deeds somehow make up for, or cover up their bad deeds, that God then sees them as basically a good person, as one who is basically righteous. But you can't cover up sin with so called good deeds. So what if a person does a few "good deeds." God's law still requires that man be punished for his bad deeds. A man's good deeds, if you can call them good deeds, do nothing to take away the fact that he still has to be punished for his sins. Policeman example
Man's "good deeds" then never take away the penalty, the punishment his bad deeds and sins require. God is holy and must punish every single sin, every sinful thought, word or deed. And remember, God demands absolute perfection. If you sin just one time, then you're not perfect, and you're guilty, and you need to be punished by God. James 2:10
4. Some people think going to heaven or hell depends on the kinds of sins you commit or don't commit. If you commit murder, if you're a rapist, or if you steal millions of dollars, then you deserve hell. But again that's man's imperfect way of thinking. The Catholic priest
- And we should also never compare God's infinitely holy justice to man's imperfect way of thinking. For example, we should never think man's laws and judicial system is a guide to knowing what is eternally righteous or not and who's eternally righteous or not.
- Someone might say, "I never committed any crimes," thinking of crimes against the state. But the truth is that we've all committed millions of crimes against God, all worthy of the death sentence. Every person is a sinner, and every person deserves an eternal jail sentence; every person deserves to be punished forever in hell. Psalm 51:4.
Indeed, God's ways are so much higher and holier than man's ways. To God, all sin is most serious; all sin is breaking His laws; all sin is offensive to Him; and all sin results in death, in the death penalty. Genesis 2:16-17, Romans 6:23. Mortal / venial sins.
- Most people don't see that they're terrible sinners, that they've broken God's laws over and over again; and most people somehow think that God will just let them off the hook, and that there are no serious consequences. They don't understand that since God is perfectly holy, that He then must be perfectly just, and that He must punish every sin. Ephesians 2:1-4
People fail to see that there are literal, severe and eternal consequences for breaking God's laws, that the result of sin is death - physical, spiritual and eternal death. Sin is like a deadly cancer, and it has to be dealt with or you die, forever. Romans 6:23
- Most people don't see they're enemies of God, they're objects of God's wrath, and God is opposed to them, and that He won't accept man on man's own terms. To be accepted by God, to become a Christian, to be able to go to heaven, people have to come to God on God's terms. And that means that sin, and the penalty of this sin has to be dealt with.
Now this tax collector knew he couldn't come to God on his own merits, his own deeds. And he knew that he wasn't righteous. This tax collector knew he had been living a bad and sinful life. And unlike the Pharisee, he was not deceived. The tax collector then bowed his head, and beat his breast, and in fact, called himself "the sinner", which meant that he thought he was the worst of sinners. This man then was humble, and in effect, was repenting of his sins. And he was pleading with God to somehow take away his sin and make him righteous. And so, he was asking God for mercy.
- Now mercy comes from a Greek word that means to appease, to satisfy, to be propitious; and it isn't used in the Bible with respect to any action of man whereby he can satisfy God, for man, by his own good works can never appease the holy, righteous and just God.
Now this tax collector worked for the Roman government, and his job was to collect taxes; people had to pay him taxes; and so people were in a sense in debt to him. And this tax collector wasn't satisfied or appeased until people paid him what they owed him. And so this tax collector understood what he was saying when he asked God to be appeased.
- This tax collector knew that God wasn't satisfied with Him, and that he owed a debt to God, and that there was nothing he could to do to satisfy and appease God; and He didn't want God to be angry with him, and to eternally punish him; he wanted God to be appeased. And so he asks God to be appeased, to take away his debt of sin, to show him mercy.
Here then is the answer to the questions I asked at the beginning about how we can be right with God. It's that God sent His own Son to be the propitiation, the satisfaction for our sin. Christ's work on the cross is the means whereby our unrighteousness can be dealt with and removed, and whereby than God can give us Christ's righteousness.
- And so when our sin is removed by Christ, then God no longer has a reason to punish us, but instead he can be merciful, and He can give us His righteousness. It's not then what we do for ourselves but what Christ does for us, and if we trust in Christ instead of in ourselves, then God is no longer at enmity with us, for our guilt has been removed; and so we're forgiven of our sins, and become children of God forever. Colossians 1:21-22
Luke 18:14 The wonderful and amazing conclusion is that the humble tax collector, the one who admitted his unrighteousness, was justified. He was forgiven of his sins; his unrighteousness was taken away; and he was freely given God's righteousness. But the sinful and proud Pharisee, the one who thought he was righteous, was in fact not righteous, and therefore could not be justified, but was still left in his sins, and deserving of God's judgment upon himself. Indeed, this story illustrates the condition of man. He is either unrighteous in his own sins, and is eternally condemned, or he's righteous because of what God has done for Him, and is eternally blessed. Psalm 1:4-6, Psalm 5, Psalm 11
Jesus makes a statement he had made many times before. The person who exalts himself will be humbled, and the person who humbles himself will be exalted. Now this applies to all people in all situations, but here we're talking about salvation. The one who is humble will be saved, will be justified, and will be exalted forever in heaven. But the one who is proud won't be saved, won't be justified, and will be humbled forever and ever in hell.
Luke 18:15-17 Now here's an illustration of this humility. It was a Jewish habit to bring your baby to a religious leader so as to have him blessed, and so even more so people would bring their babies to Jesus, since he was so famous, and was so godly.
- But the disciples didn't like what these parents were doing, and so they rebuked and scolded these parents. Maybe they thought Jesus was too important, or too busy, or too tired, or that these babies, these children, were really quite insignificant, and weren't that important. But for whatever reason they didn't want these parents bothering Jesus. But Jesus disagreed with His disciples, for He greatly loved these children, and so he called for these parents with their children, for He wanted to bless them. But then he used them as an illustration.
These babies, these children weren't proud in the sense that they were proclaiming their own achievements, accomplishments or righteousness; and they surely weren't going to other people and telling them, "look what I've done - look how good I am." A little baby, a little child has nothing to offer God, so too the unrighteous sinner has nothing to offer God.
- And just as a little baby or child is honest, open and free from deceit, so too is the heart of an honest & humble person coming to God & asking God to forgive him of his sins.
- And just as a baby cries out for his needs to be met, so too the sinner cries out for mercy, for his sins to be forgiven; and this is the only way a person can be justified in God's sight.
- These children were also picturing faith as the simple, helpless, trusting dependence of those who have no righteousness of their own, but were trusting in God's righteousness.
But most people don't know this or believe this. This religion we've talked about today, the religion of the Pharisees, the religion of good works, is the most common religion around the world. It is found in every church, every city, in every corner of the globe. And it's important for us to understand this - that God saves us from our own religion, our own wrong thinking, our own sin and unrighteousness; and then gives us, thru Christ, His own righteousness.
- And when we're talking to unbelievers, it's important to help them see the folly of their thinking, the sad and eternal consequences of trusting in their own good works, their own unrighteousness. "A wise man brings down the strongholds in which people trust." Proverbs 21:22
Jesus says, "Truly I say to you." And so too, with love and conviction, we need to proclaim
this life saving, sin saving truth to the lost, that a person who is completely unrighteous can be declared righteous before God instantaneously thru faith in Christ. Romans 4:1-8
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