Relationship Over Religion

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Series: Luke

Relationship Over Religion

March 08, 2020 | Randy Smith

Relationship Over Religion

Luke 18:9–14
Sunday, March 8, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith


When I first came to Christ some thirty years ago, it was not as if I examined all the world religions and picked the one that seemed to work best for me. I simply was convicted that I was a sinner and that I needed the salvation that is found in the Savior, Christ Jesus. I learned about Him in the Bible, felt His love in my life and witnessed (as did others) the radical work He was doing in me. Jesus said He is the only way, the only Savior and I simply believed that.

It wasn’t until after I came to Christ that I really began learning about the other religious systems. And learning about these systems did not weaken my faith; it actually strengthened my faith. I began to learn that all religious are not different means to the same one God, but rather complete contradictions of each other, presenting a different God at the end of the line.

All the religious systems were different. Yet I also learned that the religious systems, except Christianity, are all ultimately the same. Every world religion teaches what man must do to earn his salvation. Only Christianity teaches that we cannot earn our salvation, but that God in Christ must accomplish it for us. Thus, in Christianity, as compared to all other religions, it is gift versus reward and grace versus works and faith versus effort and humility versus pride and Christ versus self.

Today’s lesson, possibly better than any other section of Scripture, will make this point totally clear. In the main point today, we will see the kind of faith that God desires in a very vivid and powerful parable taught by Jesus.

The Purpose (verse 9)

As you can see in your sermon notes, we begin with “The Purpose.” Look with me at verse 9. “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.”

So, what is Jesus going to get at here by telling this parable? Look again at verse 9. This fictional story to teach a spiritual lesson is about people who “trusted in themselves.” Now, this is not about believing that you have what it takes to build a shed, ski down a black diamond or make the right automobile purchase. This is about trusting in yourself that you have what it takes to get to heaven based on the way you have been living your life. Usually the wagons circle around three topics – you are moral, you are religious, and you do good deeds. If you believe you have done what it takes, according to verse 9 to please God, you are trustingyourself that you are “righteous.”

Now, few would disagree that God is righteous, and most would concur that you need to be righteous to have a relationship with God and spend eternity with God in heaven. And many would say they can achieve that level of righteousness (again, verse 9) based on some artificial standard they set for themselves and others.

Pretend case study number 1 – Sally is 43 years old. She was brought up in the church, confirmed and tries to attend when she is able. She’s been a good mom for 20 years and serves on the school PTA and helps coach her daughter’s soccer team. She gives $300 every year to cancer research. She prays and tries to be nice to others. If Sally is asked, Sally believes she is good enough to go to heaven.

That is what Jesus is talking about. Creating a standard of we believe God expects and then seeking to achieve it and hoping that the gracious God will see the good, ignore the bad and reward genuine intentions. This is trusting in ourselves that we have the righteousness God desires.

And as the last part of verse 9 says, these people will also “view others with contempt.”

When we create our own standard and trust in ourselves, we cannot avoid comparing ourselves with others.

First, we resent those who do better. Sally’s friend Laura goes to church twice as much, goes a lot easier on the liquor and is generally a more understanding and compassionate individual. Laura’s standard makes Sally very uncomfortable that her standard is insufficient. This is the contempt Jesus spoke about in verse 9.

But Sally’s heart is relieved when she compares herself with Connie because Connie is the town gossip, the one with the foul mouth, has no religious interest and is presently going through her fifth divorce. When Sally considers Connie, it puts her at peace. And if Sally was honest with herself, she knows she looks down her nose a Connie (much like the Pharisee we’ll be introduced to shortly). More contempt.

You get the idea. When we determine the righteousness God requires we get comparing, boasting, guilt, continual uncertainty and contempt.

The People (verse 10)

Let’s go to the second point and get a brief introduction to the two characters in this parable. Verse 10, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

I mentioned to you that Jesus likes to use extremes in His parables. Here is another clear example.

A Pharisee was the epitome of a religious man in Israel. Strict observance to the law. Strict observance to spiritual traditions. Very dignified in attire and manners. They were identified by most to be the most righteous in the land. It was assumed they did what it takes to get to heaven.

A Tax Collector (a Publican) on the other hand was just the opposite. They were Jewish men that collected taxes from their own countrymen for the Romans. They were views as traitors and the lowest of the low in the land. They were dishonest scoundrels. Their companions were prostitutes and other tax collectors. They were not even allowed remotely close to God’s presence in the Temple.

So, one is revered and the other is hated. One is viewed as righteous (verse 9) and the other is viewed as a sinner. Today’s comparison would be Mother Theresa and Hugh Heffner or the Pope and Charles Manson.

In verse 10 we learn both of these men go to the temple to pray. Don’t think of prayer as a private devotional. This is speaking more in the lines of public worship. Twice a day (9 am and 3 pm) religious services were held on the temple mount. There would be the sacrifices, the incense and the priestly blessing. This is a time when your sins would be atoned for according to the Old Covenant system.

The Pharisee (verses 11–12)

So, as we move to the third point, the Pharisee first comes into clear focus. Verse 11, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself.” Stop right there.

So, standing was a traditional position to prayer. We also know the Pharisees loved to impress others with their prayers. It says he was also praying to himself. Is there perhaps some hidden sarcasm here? In other words, he was more in tune with impressing others and boasting in his accomplishments that his prayer wasn’t to God, it was ultimately directed at himself – a spiritual pat on the back.

And what did he specifically pray? Beginning with the rest of verse 11, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Lk. 18:11b-12).

So, what was good and what was bad with his prayer?

Of course, it is good to live a righteous life. He’s thankful he’s not a swindler or unjust or an adulterer. It’s wonderful that he fasts and gives 10% back to God on all he receives. We can doubt how genuine he was when Jesus says these things must ultimately come from within (and He said the Pharisees were hypocrites), but if we are living a life that pleases God, yes, we should be righteous and yes, we should be grateful to God for the ability and desire to live righteously.

But where this Pharisee ultimately got off the rails is when he made the easy comparison between himself to the tax collector in verse 11. This is exactly what Jesus condemned in verse 9.

You see, though the Pharisee appeared to be very righteous, he failed before God because he pursued his righteousness for all the wrong reasons. He did things to look better than others. He did things to earn favor with God. He did things to boast in himself. Did you notice how he referred to himself five times in these two verses (I, I, I, I, I). He was all about glorifying himself. He knew nothing about glorifying God. It was trusting himself and not trusting God (verse 9).

This is the essence of all man-made religion: Self-absorption, smug complacency, false assurance, boastful comparison, scornful disdain, desired attention, works salvation, outward appearance, spiritually deceived, absent repentance, self-righteousness, self-condemning, unloving and unmerciful, faithless and graceless.

The Publican (verse 13)

Now in the fourth point we see Jesus focus in on the Publican, the Tax Collector.

Look at verse 13, “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”

This man was fully aware of his sins, his unworthiness to stand before God, and his inability to boast of his righteousness. We see that in his location, his posture and his behavior.

As for his location, the Tax Collector was “standing some distance away.” Though not permitted, he still felt unworthy to stand by God’s people near the Temple.

As for His posture, he was “unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven.” He was ashamed to even look toward the presence God.

As for his behavior, he was “beating his breasts.” This was not in line with the customary practices. As a matter of fact, the only time we see this is in Luke 23:48 when people were “beating their breasts” immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus. Beating your breasts was a sign of extreme sorrow and anguish.

And then he speaks at the end of verse 13. “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

No boating in his so-called religious deeds. Unworthiness to stand before God. Totally humility. Acknowledging his sinfulness to the degree that he uses the definite article to identify himself as “THE sinner.” And pleading not for God’s reward as a result of his actions, but rather God’s mercy as a result of his actions. He was begging for God’s mercy. And technically, in the Greek he was pleading for God’s atonement of his sins, specifically, a sacrifice that would turn away God’s wrath – propitiation is the word used here.

Which man do you identify with?

The Principle (verse 14)

So, as we move to the conclusion in our final point, let’s emphasize what is being taught here.

Let’s be clear, God demands perfect righteousness. We can create all the standards we want, but the only standard that matters is the one that God establishes. If you want to earn God’s favor, you need to be as good as God. No one can make it!

That’s what I love about the Pharisee comparison. They were viewed as the most righteous in the land, but what did Jesus say in Matthew 5:20? “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Bottom line, we cannot earn God’s favor because, Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Therefore, the only hope we have is if God would cover our sins, if God would make the sacrifice to forgives us and make atonement by which His wrath would be removed. That is exactly what the Tax Collector prayed. And He prayed it at the Temple where the daily sacrifices were taking place. But as the New Covenant was dawning, we know the animal sacrifices in the Temple were only there to foreshadow the ultimate, once-and-for-all, final sacrifice of the Lamb of God Himself.

God would become man in Jesus Christ. He would live the perfect life God required. He would be our substitute, our sacrifice and our savior. He would receive our sins upon Himself and incur the wrath of God we deserved. And when we acknowledge our sinfulness and trust in His work by faith alone, God promises forgiveness, justification with Him. And that, in a shocking twist in this parable, is where one man failed and one man succeeded.

Verse 14, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

No one will ever get to heaven by trusting in themselves. We can never be as righteous as God. Our only hope is trusting in Jesus Christ who died for our sins.

And when we do, it results from radical humility and it results in radical humility, knowing we are totally unworthy, but stand securely in God’s presence entirely by His grace. Our righteousness is the righteousness of Christ given to us. And then as a result of grace, we are progressively conformed into the righteous image of Christ.

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