JUDGED OR JUSTIFIED?
Jesus did not only teach His disciples that they must pray, but He also had things to say about their attitudes to God when they prayed. Once again the Pharisees provided a poor model for right attitudes in prayer. How must we approach the Father?
Another parable did well to illustrate wrong and right attitudes.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (Luke 18: 9-10)
Jesus could not have chosen two more opposite characters for His story – a Pharisee and a tax collector. Who were these “some”? The same ones who prayed in public to get attention – the hypocrites – the Pharisees. They were the “Noddy-badge” types who had to pat themselves on the back in case no one else did it for them. Of what was this Pharisee proud?
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (Luke 18: 11-12)
Wait a bit! Have you forgotten something, Mr Pharisee? Thanksgiving is about who God is, not about who you are? What about your heart? Jesus hit the nail on the head:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (Matt. 23: 25)
What was the problem with this man? He was so full of his own “righteousness” that he had no sense of need. I wrote this in the margin of my Bible years ago – a truth which has come back to me again and again:
“Religion is the most difficult disease to cure because it infects with such self-righteousness that no sense of need remains.”
Self-righteous people are self-sufficient. They are self-made people who worship their creator. They need nothing from God and they receive nothing from Him but condemnation.
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18: 13)
Did you catch that? The tax collector touched the one thing that is weightiest in God – His kabot – His glory – His mercy. When he cried to God out of his deep need for mercy, he received mercy. Jesus concluded His story with the most heartening words a sinner can ever hear:
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18: 14)
Judged or justified? The Pharisee had already judged himself and, although he found himself not guilty, unfortunately for him, he used the wrong standard. He was his own measure of righteousness but it fell far short of God’s measure of perfection. He judged his life by the rules he followed, not by the heart of the Father and fell far short of God’s measure. He had no idea that the mirror of the Law into which he gazed, actually showed up the filth in his life but had no power to make him clean. He rejected the only one who could declare him not guilty because He had paid his debt. He thought he could go it alone.
Justified! What does that mean? Not guilty. No penalty for sin hanging over the tax collector’s head any longer. He never again had to feel terrified of the future because of what he had done. He had the priceless gift of peace reigning in his heart. Why? Because he came to God with the attitude of reality. “I am a sinner and I need mercy.”
It is humility, not self-congratulation that opens God’s heart to His mercy. Attitude number one is humility which acknowledges that I have no hope outside of God. When I come to Him, I must take my rightful place before Him, remembering who He is and who I am. Whatever I have become that is good – functional – is because of His grace. I can claim nothing for myself which He has not given to me.
But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. (James 4: 6-8a)
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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