Be Justified

{Luke 18:9-14; ESV}

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

Most people will do whatever they can to paint themselves in a good light. We will focus on our strengths and minimize our faults. This is understandable since we want people to think the best of us. It is not a bad thing to emphasize our strengths, but we should not diminish our faults.

If we are going grow in our relationship with God it is our weaknesses, faults, and sins that need to be addressed. When we refuse to acknowledge our sin we keep the Holy Spirit from healing our hearts.

In the parable we read that the Pharisee tried to justify himself by emphasizing all the religious activities he devoted himself to doing. He thought his religious devotion made him moral and acceptable to God.

Not only did he emphasize his good works, he also degraded those around him. His focus fell primarily on the tax collector who was also at the Temple to pray. That is because justifying ourselves requires highlighting our righteousness and pointing out our neighbor's sin.

One of the truths we discover in this parable is that it is impossible to justify ourselves, no matter how sincere our efforts might be. The Pharisee fails on two counts. His first failure is intentionally overlooking his sin. He misrepresents himself by emphasizing his religious devotion and not seeking forgiveness for his sins.

The Pharisee's second failure is his unloving attitude towards his neighbor. His religious posturing betrays the fact that he believes the tax collector should be condemned. Rather than seeking ways to help the tax collector to become more righteous, the Pharisee looks down on him as a sinner. We cannot justify ourselves because we cannot deal with the sin that lives in our heart.

That is why the tax collector received justification. He was able to confess the sin that resided in his heart. He didn't come before God with religious pretensions, rather he approached God in humility and brokenness. That is what it means to be poor in spirit. The tax collector's attitude opened his heart to receive God's mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we come to God in brokenness and humility God will declare that we are justified.

Justification is not about what we do, as much as it is a gift from God. In order receive the gift we have to have a heart of humility.

Questions to consider:

  • Why can a religious attitude become an obstacle in our relationship with God?
  • How has religion held you back from truly seeking God's mercy and forgiveness?
  • Have you experienced brokenness like the tax collector did?


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