***This entry is based on Luke 18:9-14, and it will be most helpful if you read the passage first.***
In this account, Jesus is addressing those who were trusting in themselves. That is, people who are trusting in their righteousness for a right standing before God. Therefore, they were judging others on the basis of their lack of righteousness.
Jesus’ solution is a parable in which two men are praying to God. One is a “Pharisee” and the other is a “Tax Collector.” Now, I am sure that my readers know that Pharisees were the religious rulers of their time and were considered very moral people who studied the Old Testament regularly. Tax collectors were notoriously known for being thieves and traitors to the people of God. They became employed by the very nation that was suppressing Israel. And they were using their job to rob God’s people. So needless to say, we have a morally upright person and a morally corrupt person in this parable.
The Pharisee boldly comes before God on account of his good deeds. He even thanks God for his moral uprightness. His praise is centered around what he has accomplished and who he is. He speaks only of God’s justice and his (the pharisees) righteousness.
The tax collector is “far off” and not even able to “lift his eyes to heaven” and is “beating his breast.” He comes brokenly and not depending on his goodness. Because he knows he is morally bankrupt, but wholly leans on God being merciful. He speaks of God as “merciful” and himself as a “sinner.” *(This is not to say that God’s mercy is at the expense of Him also being just, I have written on this topic in other entries, such as, my commentary on Romans 3:24-26)*
The Pharisee and tax collector both begin their prayer with “God.” However the Pharisee immediately goes to what he has done. While the tax collector immediately runs to God being merciful.
In a time where justification is under attack, this passage seems to speak of justification in different terms altogether than that of the New Paul’s Perspective (NPP) does. Jesus did not see faith and repentance as merely the entrance into the covenant people of God. And then, they are left to produce their own righteousness under the power of the Holy Spirit to be in the future justified. In fact, this is exactly what the Pharisee was thinking. And what Jesus was correcting!
The Pharisee thought process was: I am a part of God’s people on account of His (God’s) mercy. Now I am to keep in the covenant and be justified by my own obedience. But Jesus speaks of being justified the moment one repents and believes.
I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified,…
Today, I believe there are many people in the church who are much like this Pharisee. Not because they think they are justified by their fasting, giving, prayers, and upholding of justice. But because they are placing their faith in something else they are doing. What is this “something” they are doing? FAITH!
Please do not misunderstand me. Please read what I am going to say very carefully. I believe that sinners are justified by faith. However, sinners are not justified on the basis of faith but on the basis of Jesus Christ’s obedience and atonement. Romans 5:9 says, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood…” Our faith doesn’t save us, Jesus saves us! Our faith is merely a means of receiving that grace. If our faith saved us, then something we were doing (faith) would be saving us. Salvation is not by works (doing). What I am trying to argue here is the essence of faith.Let me say it like this, and perhaps this will clarify.
Sinners are not saved by their faith in their faith. Sinners are saved by their faith in what Jesus Christ has done! And there is a world of a difference between the two!
Let me give you an example of how we may be guilty of this. If someone ask you how you got saved. And your reply is simply ,”I believed.” Then you might be guilty of placing your faith in what you were and are doing for the basis of your salvation. But if your reply is like the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” or “Jesus Christ died for my sins.” Then you may be trusting in Christ.
The Pharisee had confidence in his faithfulness to God. We may be guilty of the same today in our confidence(faith) in “our faith.” Rather than being like the tax collector whose confidence (faith), for drawer near to the throne of God, was God being merciful to sinners.
This is why Jesus will receive all glory in heaven and on earth for salvation. Because our faith is not the object of our confidence for salvation, Jesus is!!!