Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Luke 18:9, “And He told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves…”

Jeremiah 17:5, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength…”

1 Peter 5:5, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Jesus’ parable speaks of two very different men offering two very different kinds of prayers having two very different kinds of results. The Pharisee was self-righteous, the tax-gatherer was not. The Pharisee prayed to himself and asked for nothing because he supposed that he needed nothing. The tax-gathered prayed to God and cried out for mercy because he was well aware of his shortcomings. The Pharisee’s prayer was unacceptable to God. The tax-gatherer’s prayer met with God’s approval: “this man went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).

It is the tendency of all false religions to measure righteousness according to a false standard. Self-made religions invent human regulations which are set before followers to achieve some degree of supposed righteousness. It is easy for any of us to get caught up in this system of thinking about things. The church in Corinth was likewise misled: “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

But God’s standard is not some set of man-made regulations or some degree of righteousness achieved by religious men—the standard is His holiness. Isaiah was a prophet of God and a righteous man--at least in human terms--but when God’s holiness was unveiled to him he cried out in despair (Isaiah 6:1-5). Peter, seeing but a glimpse of Christ’s glory (in the miraculous provision of fish) likewise cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:5). By a gracious work of the Holy Spirit “sin, and righteousness, and judgment” are revealed to a man that he might rightly comprehend his true condition before God (John 16:8). The Spirit breaks to a sinner the bad news, that he might long for the good news that is bound up in Jesus.

To be humble before God is prerequisite to any and every bestowal of grace. The thrice-repeated commendation of God’s provision is “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6). The proud Pharisee’s prayer met with God’s opposition, the tax-gatherer’s contrition—on the other hand—met with God’s approval, and the provision of His grace.

J. C. Ryle, “Let us notice, firstly, the sin against which our Lord Jesus Christ warns us in these verses. There is no difficulty in finding out this. Luke tells us expressly, that "He spoke this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." The sin which our Lord denounces is "self-righteousness." We are all naturally self-righteous. It is the family-disease of all the children of Adam. From the highest to the lowest we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to do. We secretly flatter ourselves that we are not so bad as some, and that we have something to recommend us to the favor of God. "Most men will proclaim everyone his own goodness." (Prov. 20:6.) We forget the plain testimony of Scripture, "In many things we offend all." "There is not a just man upon earth, that does good and sins not"--"What is man that he should be clean, or he that is born of a woman that he should be righteous?" (James 3:2. Eccles. 7:20. Job 15:14.) 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 own 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" (Levit. 13:45).

We were needy when we first trusted in Christ, we are needy still. But God is a great God who delights in bestowing His all-sufficient grace on his needy children (Cf. Hebrews 4:16; 2 Corinthians 13:7-10). John Newton lived to be eighty-two years old and continued to preach and have an active ministry until beset by fading health in the last two years of his life. Even then, Newton never ceased to be amazed by God's grace and told his friends:

“My memory is nearly gone;
but I remember two things;
That I am a great sinner, and
that Christ is a great Savior.”

Pastor Jerry

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