I watched two men in politics defend their policies on the morning news. One was honest about his struggles to govern during this past year. The other spoke of his awards and successes, refusing to discuss the problems in the streets of his city. I was struck by the difference between the two.  

I think most people still recognize the power of genuine faith when it is a product of humility, but it’s equally important to recognize the power that is produced by a strong sense of “self.” 

Jesus wanted his disciples to look for the power of God in people, but that would mean they needed to look at people with a godly perspective.  

THE POWER OF HUMBLE FAITH 

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Most commentaries teach that Jesus addressed this parable to a group of Jewish leaders, probably the Pharisees themselves. 

The Pharisees were respected as leaders, and their job caused them to closely follow the rules of their faith and teach others to do the same. The tax collector worked for the Roman government and often cheated his Jewish brothers in the process of doing his job. On the surface, it would appear an easy decision about who was most pleasing to God. But, Jesus’ parable taught God’s perspective. 

Both the Pharisee and the tax collector went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer was simply a long list of his accomplishments that made him appear to be more spiritual than most. The tax collector would not even look up to heaven. With a humble heart, he prayed to God, honestly begging for mercy. The Pharisee was proud of his life, and the tax collector recognized he was a sinner. 

The parable makes it clear that the tax collector left the temple that day “justified” and the Pharisee did not. Why does that matter to us today? 

Both men entered the temple, seeking to pray and be right with God. Only one left the temple that day “justified.” The tax collector was forgiven of his sins; the Pharisee wasn’t. The Pharisee didn’t see himself as a sinner; the other man did. 

Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Humility was the reason the tax collector was justified. 

THE PHARISEES AND TAX COLLECTORS TODAY 

The parable will simply be a story Jesus directed at people in the first century if we don’t ask ourselves whom the two men represent today. But, if we begin to label those people in our own culture, we have missed the point. 

Every Christian is both a Pharisee and a tax collector. The point isn’t the position we have earned in this world; it is the position we take before God. 

Are we proud of ourselves when we address God, or are we humbled by his greatness? 

Do we think we are better than others, or do we realize that we have our own set of sins? 

The best-behaved people in the world were the Pharisees, according to their rules. But, according to God, the tax collector was justified. The tax collector left the temple with his sins forgiven. 

How did we walk out of worship this past week? 

IF YOU WANT TO BE JUSTIFIED 

All of us who have received Christ as our Savior have been justified eternally because of our salvation. Jesus provided for every sin that day on the cross. But, sometimes our salvation gives us confidence apart from humility.  

Our salvation means we are eternally justified, but we aren’t yet “purified.” We still need to pray to God like the tax collector, head bowed and humbled. We still sin. We are saved, but we aren’t perfected. We still need God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and God’s cleansing in our lives. 

Did you enter into worship last week knowing you desperately needed God’s grace—or proud that you have it? 

That’s the difference between today’s Pharisees and tax collectors.  

The humble person is justified and exalted by God. The person who thinks they are already “good enough” will be humbled. 

AN EXALTED WITNESS 

We can’t be a witness to others until we realize we aren’t any better than they are. We are still sinners because we are still breathing earth’s air. We are still tax collectors in need of God’s grace. 

It might be easy to look around and be grateful that we don’t walk in some of the world’s sins. But, we aren’t justified until we acknowledge the sins we do commit—especially the “secret sins” we don’t think anyone else even knows about. 

Our “justification” isn’t about the opinions of others. We are justified by God. 

If you are speaking with a person caught up in sin, speak to them as someone who is caught up in your own sins. We are saved, but we are not yet purified. 

Our witness will be exalted by God’s work in our lives, not our works. People need to understand that we aren’t perfected yet. They can bring their imperfections to God, just like we do. That is an exalted witness to the world because it is the humble truth of who we are before God.  

GOD LOVES A HUMBLE HEART 

James wrote, “Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). 

The prophet Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). 

If you want to please God and others today, seek humility before God and others. God has always loved a humble heart because that is the person he is able to exalt. 

When we bow our heads before God today, let’s stop and consider our thoughts. We all have Pharisee potential. Let’s make sure that when we lift our heads, we leave our time of worship justified and therefore exalted by God.  

He has told us “what is good.” 

God loves a humble heart because it belongs to a person who walks with him. 

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