In Luke 18: 9-14 Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a publican who illustrate the essential difference between the saved and the lost. In verse 9 Jesus gives the reason for telling the story; to warn of the danger of anyone even thinking he could be righteous enough to be deserving of Heaven.
There is one major difference between true Christianity and all false religions. All false religions have one thing in common. They all teach that man must do something or attain a level of righteousness to be worthy of Heaven. True Christianity teaches that all men are sinners and cannot lift a finger to do anything to save themselves; that God has in His grace, done it all by sending His Son to die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins and rise again for our justification. All we can do as guilty lost sinners is reach out by faith to Jesus and trust in His shed blood as the atonement for our sins. All false religions are based on gaining Heaven by human achievement. True Christianity is based on Divine accomplishment.
As you read the story of the Pharisee and the Publican coming into the temple to pray, you can’t help but be stuck with the stinking self-righteousness and judgmentalism of the Pharisee. Phariseeism has to be one of the ugliest and most obnoxious of sins in a church.
The Apostle Paul, who before his conversion was known as Saul of Tarsus, was an outstanding, proud Pharisee who hated Jesus and persecuted the Church after Jesus had ascended back to Heaven. In Philippians 3 Paul contrasts his life as a Christian to what it had been before he was saved. He describes his self-righteous Phariseeism before he was saved as a pile of dung.
The main excuse sinners make for not going to church is because they are disgusted with the Phariseeism they have observed, or think that they have observed in churches. Their standard excuse is “That there are too many hypocrites in the church.” That excuse will not hold water when that sinner stands before God and attempts to give his reasons for rejecting Christ. Thank God, that the publican in this story did not stay away from the temple because of the Pharisee; but came in humility and faith and was saved.
Though Phariseeism cannot be used a valid excuse for a sinner avoiding church; nevertheless, we Christians have a responsibility to avoid all traces of hypocrisy and Phariseeism in our lives.
Jesus was gentle with sinners who were aware of their sins and humbled by their failures; however, Jesus had no patience with the hypocritical Pharisees. Repeatedly He confronted them in anger. The harshest words that came from Jesus are found in Matthew 23 where He exposes the Pharisees as snakes and hypocrites and white-washed sepulchres full of dead men’s bones.
Hypocrites are attracted to churches, for they see in churches opportunities for them to gain power and prestige. Wherever God is doing a work of grace in a church, count on Pharisees to try to hinder that work. Pharisees despise others whom they feel have not achieved the level of spirituality that they have attained. At the same time, they deceive themselves into thinking that they are gaining God’s favor by their works.
My ministry for over fifty years has been, not only to preach the Gospel to sinners and build up saint in the Word, and comfort those who mourn; but also to preach the Word in such a way that Pharisees are exposed and run like rats from a burning building.
Let’s look now at this story in Luke 18 Jesus told concerning the Pharisee and the publican.
The Pharisees were a legalistic sect of Jews who arose in Israel about 200 BC. In Jesus’ day many of them were members of the Sanhedrin, the religious supreme court of the land. Jesus was brought before them to be crucified. They were sticklers for observing the details of the Old Testament Ceremonial Laws plus their own oppressive list of rules and regulations; but they knew nothing of humility nor showing love and mercy for fallen repentant sinners.
Though they claimed to know the Old Testament, they never grasped the truth of justification by faith which Old Testament saints understood to some degree. Of course, that great truth is taught in great detail in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and also in Galatians.
Examine with me some of the Old Testament references to justification, truths that the Pharisees should have understood and embraced; but totally missed.
Abraham was justified by faith when He believed God’s promise to Him of a Seed that would bless the world. That Seed, of course, was Jesus who came through the lineage of Abraham. Read Genesis 12 and 17 to learn of the promises God made to Abraham. Then read Romans 4 and 5 for Paul’s clear explanation of Justification. If you take time to read my series on Galatians which you will find under the category FREEDOM, it will give further light on the doctrine of Justification.
Here are some other Old Testament references to Justification. Psalm 143:1-2 declares that no living man can justify himself. Bildad In Job 25:4-6 concludes the same thing. Isaiah 53 prophesies that through the death of Christ, many would be justified. David in Psalm 32:1-2 writes of the blessing of being forgiven and having our sins covered and having no sin imputed to us. That’s a partial description of the truth of justification that Paul would expand and expound on in Romans 3 and 4.
So if the Pharisee’s hearts had been right with God, they would have known and understood these truths concerning justification and they would have realized that no one can justify himself through his self-efforts.
Observe now how this proud Pharisee went into the temple to pray. Like nearly all the Pharisees, this man had no time for God. He was centered in himself and note that he prayed with himself, listing all his supposed good qualities and thanking God that he was not a sinner like the publican standing off by himself.
The Publican, on the other hand, was humble and broken before God and simply cried out for God’s mercy.
The Publicans were Jews whose job it was to collect taxes from the Jewish people for the Roman Empire. They did that, but in the process collected much more than the taxes, which they pocketed for themselves. So the Publicans were among the most despised of the Jews. Zaccheus was a tax collector whom Jesus saved. His wonderful story is found in Luke 19.
In Luke 18:14 Jesus lets us know the outcome of this exchange in the temple. The publican went home exalted, forgiven and declared justified. On the other hand, the Pharisee went out as he came in: proud and self righteous and full of himself.
I urge you to take whatever time it takes to study this matter of Justification and get it settled now. Your standing before God determines your eternity in Heaven or in Hell.