2 Very Different Prayers

Today we’re going to study the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and learn why God accepted one and not the other. The parable is found in Luke 18:9-14:

Some Background

“Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” (Luke 18:9)

Jesus told this parable to people who were trusting in their good works to make themselves right with God. These were people who did good things, and thought that because they received praise from men, they would also receive praise from God. But Proverbs 14:12 tells us that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

The mistake they made was looking at things from man’s perspective instead of God’s perspective. Jesus had met people like this before in Luke 16:15 – “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” (Luke 18:10)

Jesus begins by holding up the best and worse society has to offer – Pharisees and tax collectors.

The Pharisees:

– Were a sect of Judaism. Their name means “separate”. They sought to live separately from the godless by strictly following the law.

– Believed in many of the same things Christians believe — the resurrection of the dead, future rewards and punishments, angels and demons, the providence of God and the books that make up the Old Testament.

– Put great emphasis on good works such as feeding the poor, visiting the sick and caring for orphans.

– Were loved and respected by the people. Mothers would pray their sons would grow up to be Pharisees.

Tax Collectors:

– Worked for Rome. The Roman government didn’t collect their own taxes. They divided the empire up into districts then sold the rights to collect taxes in each district.

– Were often Jews and were considered traitors because they served Rome.

– Made their money by overcharging people. For example if Rome said a person owed $100, a tax collector might charge $200, and pocket half.

– Were described as having a life of “unrestrained plunder, unblushing greed and shameless business”.

Now we would expect the Pharisee to be right with God and the Tax Collector to be condemned. But that’s not how the parable goes.

The Prayers

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” (Luke 18:11-12)

Notice two things about the Pharisee’s prayer:

1) The Pharisee makes no mention of his sin. People tend to have the ability to see sin in others but not in themselves.

2) The Pharisee holds up his religious deeds as the reason he feels he’s right with God

Now let’s look at the tax collector’s prayer.

“And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

1 John 1:9 tells us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And that’s what the tax collector did. He knew his sin was great, and that he had no way of paying for his sin, so he simply begged God for mercy.

Who Are We Comparing Ourselves To?

“’I tell you, this man – the tax collector – went down to his house justified rather than the other; For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

1 John 1:8 reminds us that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That’s the Pharisee. He deceived himself into thinking he was without sin. Instead of comparing himself to God’s perfection, he compared himself to man’s imperfection.

Here’s another way to look at it: Let’s say I offer you a glass of water. You look at the glass and notice that it looks dirty. You say, “You know, this glass looks dirty.”

I respond, “Oh, the glass is contaminated with deadly bacteria, but don’t worry, it’s filled with spring water.” Would you drink it? Of course not, because it doesn’t matter how clean the water is, the glass has contaminated everything within it.

Think of the glass as our hearts and our deeds as the water that fills the glass. Some people lead very bad lives — like our tax collector — they fill their glass with ditch water.

Others – like our Pharisee — lead wonderful lives. They fill their glass with spring water. They boast because their glass is filled with spring water while the tax collector’s is filled with ditch water.

But it doesn’t matter whether your glass is filled with ditch water or spring water, the glass is dirty. The good deeds you offer God to earn your salvation are contaminated through sin and He cannot accept them.

But God will give a new glass to any one who asks.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek 36:26)

Christ’s heart is pure, and His work is pure, and His sacrifice on the cross is pure. Romans 5:9 tells us that those who call on Christ to save them are now “justified by His blood” and “saved from wrath through Him.”

Our good deeds, then, are not done to earn our salvation but done out of appreciation of our salvation.

God doesn’t take good people and make them better, nor does He leave bad people without hope. God, through Jesus Christ, takes sinners and makes them a new creation, forgiven, able to stand blameless, able to be called children of God.

8 Ways God Blesses Us

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 lists eight ways God blesses us through Christ.

About 1 Corinthians

Corinth was the major commercial center in the Roman Empire. The city was famous for its wealth and also for being filled with every kind of evil. It was home to twelve pagan temples, including the Temple of Aphrodite, which housed over one thousand prostitutes. The city was so wicked that the term “Corinthianize” was coined to describe someone who practiced sexual immorality.

It was a city many would describe as God-forsaken, but God loves the unlovable and saves the unsaveable. So He sent Paul to preach the gospel and establish a church there.

Now living in this environment you can imagine that these new Christians would have trouble – and they did. There were divisions, legal problems, impurity and scandals throughout the Corinthian church. Instead of the Christians influencing the culture, the culture was influencing the Christians. So God lead Paul to write the book of 1 Corinthians to address these problems.

The book begins with nine verses laying out the believers standing before God and Paul uses this standing as the reason why they should change their ways. He basically says, “This is who you were, but this is who you are now in Christ, so live accordingly.”

1) God blesses us by adding us to His Church

Paul addresses the Corinthians in verse 2 as “the church of God which is at Corinth”. The word church means, “The called out ones”. It refers to people of every generation, every race, every nation, every walk of life, who were called out of the world and into the family of God.

1 Peter 2:9 describes the church as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people,” who are to “proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

It’s a group made up of people so flawed and so deep in sin, yet they’re called “the Church of God.” The reason this is possible is because of the second way God blesses us.

2) God blesses us by sanctifying us

In verse 2 Paul first calls the Corinthians “the church of God”, now he calls them “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.”

To be sanctified means to be set apart for God’s purpose. We’re sanctified in three ways: positionally, progressively and ultimately.

We’re sanctified “positionally” when we come to Christ. Hebrews 10:10-12 explains: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.”

In the Old Testament the priests would continually make sacrifices because they never permanently paid for sin. But Christ offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice and has paid for our sins once and for all. So we’ve sanctified, or set apart, to obtain salvation through Christ.

Then we’re sanctified “progressively” throughout our Christian lives. Progressive sanctification is the process of dying to sin and living for Christ by becoming more like Him. Galatians 5:22 explains that whereas before we did the works of the flesh we’re now to produce the fruit of the Spirit which “is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Progressive sanctification isn’t about our salvation it’s about how we live after we’ve been saved.

Then finally we’re sanctified “ultimately” when we go to heaven. Throughout our lives we wrestle with sin but when we go to be with the Lord our sinful nature is left behind. 1 John 3:2-3 explains that “now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

That brings us to the third way God blesses us.

3) God blesses us by making us saints

Paul continues his address in verse 2 by referring to the Corinthians as “called to be saints or literally “called saints”. The word “saint” means the same as sanctify – to be made separate or to be made holy. Those who are the recipients of sanctification are called saints. So we could refer to saints as “the sanctified ones”.

Notice that they’re called saints now. Saints aren’t canonized by the church. Verse 2 goes on to explain that saints are those “who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” If that describes you then you are a saint right now.

Now we move on to verse 4 and find the fourth way God blesses us.

4) God blesses us by making us recipients of His grace

In Verse 4 Paul says, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus. The reason we’re the church of God, the reason we’re sanctified, the reason we’re called saints is because of God’s grace.

To receive grace means to receive undeserved favor. Just as there are different aspects of sanctification there are also different aspects of grace that the Christian enjoys.

There’s saving grace which is described for us in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Then there’s sustaining grace which we find in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Paul is asking God to remove some hindrance. God responds by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” And that caused Paul to say, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

So God’s grace doesn’t just save us, it also strengthens us, encourages us, and enables us to have joy in all circumstances.

5) God blesses us by enriching everything by Christ

Verse 5 says “You were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge.” Or, as the NIV puts it, “you have been enriched in every way-in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.”

James 2:5 tells us that “God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.” In 1 Corinthians 2:16 we’re told we have “the mind of Christ” which enables us to think on spiritual things. God showers us with gifts of salvation, fellowship, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. We’re given everything we need to serve God and be fulfilled spiritually.

6) God blesses us by confirming us

Verse 6 says that “the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you”

When someone comes to Christ the Holy Spirit applies salvation to the believer. Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us that “In Christ you trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

We can rest secure in the knowledge that the promises of God are guaranteed to those who are in Christ.

7) God blesses us by causing us to be blameless in the day of our Lord

Verse 8 says that “you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The day will come when God will judge men according to their works. But Psalm 32:1-2 reminds us that “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.” Through Christ we stand blameless before God because all our sins were covered on the Cross.

8) God blesses us by calling us into fellowship

Finally in verse 9 we’re told we’re “called into the fellowship.” We’re called into a relationship with God and with fellow believers. 1 John 1:3 says “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. God grants us the gift of a relationship with Him and the opportunity to join others in praising Him.

Would You Drink From A Dirty Glass?

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
– Romans 3:23

Many people believe that they can work their way to heaven. But no amount of good deeds can ever save us from God’s judgment because our hearts are corrupted by sin. Unless God gives us a new heart we cannot be saved.

Think of it this way…let’s say I offer you a glass of water. You look at the glass and notice that it looks dirty.

You say: “You know, this glass looks dirty.”

I respond: “Oh, the glass is contaminated with deadly bacteria, but don’t worry, it’s filled with spring water.”

Would you drink it? Of course not, because it doesn’t matter how pure the water is, the glass has contaminated everything within it.

Think of the glass as our hearts and our deeds as the water which fills the glass. Some people lead very bad lives — they fill their glass with ditch water. Others lead average lives — they fill their glass with tap water. Still others lead, by human standards, wonderful lives — they fill their glass with spring water. But it doesn’t matter whether your glass is filled with ditch water, tap water, or spring water, the glass is dirty. In the same way, the good deeds you offer God to earn your salvation are contaminated by sin and He cannot accept them.

But God will give a new glass to any one who asks.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
– Ezek 36:26

What did our Romans 3:23 say? “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But Romans 3:24 offers us hope because God offers to “justify us freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

While our hearts are contaminated with sin, Christ’s heart is pure, and His work is pure. He has lived the life we could not. To those who call on Him, He offers to credit His life to their account. They are now “justified by His blood” and “saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom 5:9)

Our good deeds, then, are not done to earn our salvation but done out of appreciation of our salvation.

God doesn’t take good people and make them better, nor does He leave bad people without hope. God, through Jesus Christ, takes sinners and makes them a new creation, forgiven, able to stand blameless, able to be called children of God.

A Look At The Gospel (And How It Works)

The word gospel means “good news”. The best description of the gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

“I declare to you the gospel…by which you are saved, if you hold fast that which I preach to you – unless you believed in vain. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Let’s break these verses down and see what we discover.

“I declare to you the gospel…by which you are saved, if you hold fast that which I preach to you – unless you believed in vain.”

The first thing we learn about the gospel is that it’s the message by which people are saved from God’s judgment.

God has chosen to save us – not because of any work or deed we’ve done – but by His grace, through faith in Christ. Salvation is God’s gift to us. (Eph 2:8, Rom 6:23)

Now let’s take a look at how the gospel works.

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried…”

God is perfect and we aren’t. We sin and are separated from God when we fail to live up to His standard. (Rom 3:23) We do this by either by not doing what He requires of us or by doing what He has forbidden us to do. Sin can occur in thought, word, or deed.

So before we go to heaven something needs to change. Our sin needs to be paid for.

To do this God became a man – Jesus Christ – lived the perfect life you and I couldn’t, and died on the cross as a payment for our sins. We find this taught in Romans 8:1,3:

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

If we call on Christ to save us from our sins, are sins are charged to His account and He pays for them (1 John 2:2). We are then “born again” (1 Peter 1:23) and able to enter heaven (John 3:16).

“…He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

After Christ died for our sins He didn’t stay in the grave. After three days He rose again.

When Christ was raised from the grave, it showed that the sacrifice He made was sufficient and accepted by God the Father.

If we put our trust Christ to pay for our sin we too can look forward to God raising us one day.

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)

What good news that is!

Learn More: How Do We Know We’re Saved?

By Grace, Through Faith

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

God is gracious…

Because God is gracious, sinful people are forgiven, converted, purified, and saved. It’s not because of anything in them, or anything that ever can be in them, that they are saved; it’s because of the boundless love, goodness, pity, compassion, mercy, and grace of God.

It’s because “his love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:41) that we are not destroyed. It’s because “his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22) that sinners are brought to Him and forgiven.

Remember these things or you may fall into error by focusing so much on your faith that you forget that grace is the source of faith itself.

Faith is the work of God’s grace in us…

Faith is the work of God’s grace in us. No one can say that Jesus is the Christ except by the Holy Ghost. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

So faith is the result of divine drawing. Grace is the first and last cause of salvation while faith acts as an important part of the machinery which grace employs.

It’s important to remember that we’re saved “through faith,” but salvation is “by grace.”

Faith occupies the position of a channel. Grace is the fountain and the stream; faith is the along which the flood of grace flows down to refresh the thirsty.

But faith is only the channel and not the fountainhead, and we must not place it above the grace of God. Our life is found in “fixing our eyes on Jesus,” (Hebrews 12:2) not in fixing our eyes on our own faith. By faith all things become possible to us; yet the power is not in the faith, but in the God upon whom faith relies.

Encouragment for those whose faith is weak…

So you see, the weakness of your faith will not destroy you. A trembling hand may receive a golden gift. The Lord’s salvation can come to us though we have only faith as a grain of mustard seed because the power lies in the grace of God, and not in our faith.

Great messages can be sent along slender wires, and the peace-giving witness of the Holy Spirit can reach the heart by means of a thread-like faith which seems almost unable to sustain its own weight.

Think more of Him to whom you look than of the look itself. You must look away even from your own looking, and see nothing but Jesus, and the grace of God revealed in Him.

– Charles Spurgeon

One With Christ

“Because I live, you shall live also.”
– John 14:19

Jesus has made the life of believers in Him as certain as His own. As sure as the Head lives the members live also. If Jesus has not risen from the dead, then are we dead in our sins; but since He has risen, all believers are risen in Him.

His death has put away our sin and loosen the bonds which held us under the death sentence. His resurrection proves our justification: we are absolved, and mercy cries, “The Lord has put away your sin, you shall not die.”

Jesus has made the life of His people as eternal as His own. How can they die as long as He lives, seeing they are one with Him? Because He dies no more, and death has no more dominion over Him, so they shall no more return to the graves of their old sins but shall live unto the Lord in newness of life.

O believer, when, under great temptation, you fear that you shall one day fall by the hand of the enemy, let this reassure you. You will never lose your spiritual life, for it is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

You don’t doubt the immortality of your Lord; therefore, don’t think that He will let you die, since you are one with Him. Your life is His life, and of that you can be sure, so rest in your living Lord.

– Charles Surgeon

No Condemnation

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”
— Romans 8:1

Come, my soul, think of this. Believing in Jesus, you are actually and effectually cleared from guilt; you are led out of your prison. You are no more in captivity as a bond-slave; you are delivered now from the bondage of the law; you are freed from sin, and can walk at large as a free man.

The Saviour’s blood has paid for your full discharge. You now have a right to approach your Father’s throne. No flames of vengeance are there to scare you now; no fiery sword; justice cannot smite the innocent.

Your disabilities are taken away: You were once unable to see your Father’s face — you can see it now. You could not speak with Him — but now you have access with boldness. Once there was a fear of hell upon thee — but you have no fear of it now, for how can there be punishment for the guiltless?

He who believes is not condemned, and cannot be punished. And most of all, the privileges you might have enjoyed, if you had never sinned, are yours now that you are justified. All the blessings you would have had if you had kept the law, and more, are yours, because Christ has kept it for you.

All the love and the acceptance which perfect obedience could have obtained of God, belong to you, because Christ was perfectly obedient on your behalf, and has imputed all His merits to your account, so that you might be exceeding rich through Him, who for your sake became exceeding poor. Oh! how great the debt of love and gratitude you owe to your Saviour!

– Charles Sprugeon

Justice Satisfied

When I see the blood, l mill pass over you. (Exodus 12:13)

My own sight of the precious blood is for my comfort; but it is the Lord’s sight of it which secures my safety. Even when I am unable to behold it, the Lord looks at it and passes over me because of it. If I am not so much at ease as I ought to be, because my faith is dim, yet I am equally safe because the Lord’s eye is not dim, and He sees the blood of the great Sacrifice with steady gaze. What joy is this!

The Lord sees the deep inner meaning, the infinite fullness of all that is meant by the death of His dear Son. He sees it with restful memory of justice satisfied and all His matchless attributes glorified. He beheld creation in its progress and said, “It is very good”; but what does He say of redemption in its completeness?

What does He say of the obedience even unto death of His well-beloved Son? None can tell His delight in Jesus, His rest in the sweet savor which Jesus presented when He offered Himself without spot unto God.

Now we rest in calm security. We have God’s sacrifice and God’s Word to create in us a sense of perfect security. He will, He must, pass over us, because He spared not our glorious Substitute. Justice joins hands with love to provide everlasting salvation for all the blood-besprinkled.

– C.H. Spurgeon