Preaching the Gospel from Luke, Part 2

Title: Preaching the Gospel from Luke, Part 2

Text: Luke 18:9-14

Date: August 5th, 2007

I’m preaching the gospel through each of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Today, I’d like to go back to the Gospel of Luke and talk about another verse found there that perfectly explains the essence of the good news or Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, to find the clearest and most detailed account of the gospel we must go to the Apostle Paul, because he was the first to explain the importance of faith apart from works. The four Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describe the gospel as lived and taught by Jesus Christ; the Apostle Paul explains the gospel in words nobody can misunderstand. What’s great is that we have two angles to come at understanding the gospel: first, we have Jesus teaching and living it in his ministry; second, we have the Apostle Paul explaining the gospel, so that if we miss one, we pick it up with the other, or if we fail to grasp the gospel in Paul, we can gather it from the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. So between these two sources there is no possible way to miss the gospel. Today, in the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14 (read), we see Jesus again stressing the importance of humble faith in receiving God’s salvation. He contrasts humble faith with prideful works. Eternal life is obtained through humble faith, not proud works. Nobody with a prideful attitude about their righteous life will enter the kingdom of God, but those who are humble — who come with faith alone in God’s mercy and grace — will find life eternal. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul explains in the Book of Romans using more words and less story telling. Some skeptical scholars today make the false claim that the gospel Paul preached is different from the gospel Jesus proclaimed. But this claim is ridiculous because as we’ll see from this passage today, salvation by grace through faith is at the heart of the gospel that both Jesus and Paul preached. Jesus constantly warned people from taking confidence in their own self-righteousness, constantly warned against personal self-pride, and constantly encouraged people to depend, trust, rely solely on the mercy and grace of God for salvation from sin. These are the very same themes the Apostle Paul picks up and explains in detail in the Book of Romans. Paul, the theologian, approached the subject through reasoned explanation, while Jesus the activist approached the subject through stories and illustrations. But the same message of salvation was taught by both Jesus and Paul. The issue is: upon what can we rely for our salvation? Can we rely on our own goodness and righteous works, or must we rely solely and fully on the mercy and grace of God? Jesus tells a story to answer this question.

First, Self-esteem isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. Luke 18:9-10, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’” Today in our society, self-esteem or feeling good about oneself, is one of the most valued possessions. People go in for counseling all the time, and practically all the time the counselor diagnosis them as having low self-esteem. The person doesn’t love him or herself enough, so says the counselor. So then the goal of the counseling sessions (there are usually many sessions required) is to help the person have a high self-esteem, or at least higher self-esteem than when they first came in for help. In the end, if everything goes according to plan, persons who suffer from low self-esteem learn to love themselves and value themselves for who they are. This diagnosis and prescription in counseling goes on over and over again thousands of times in our society each year. It’s making counselors money and making clients feel better about themselves. But the whole process is bogus because according to God’s Word, the key to a better life is not in esteeming ourselves more, it’s in esteeming God more. It’s not about putting more trust and value in ourselves, it’s putting more trust and value in God. We don’t need to believe in ourselves more, we need to believe in God more. In fact, according to Jesus, too much confidence in oneself, too much self-esteem, is a deadly spiritual disease that keeps people out of the kingdom of God. Jesus points the message of this parable specifically at those people who have lots of self-esteem in themselves and their good life. “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable,” Luke 18:9. Lots of people think that the point of religion is to learn what pleases God and then to go out and do these things in order to please God; once we’ve done things that please God we can feel good about ourselves because we know that he loves, accepts and saves us. But that is a false idea. Anybody who actually goes out and tries to please God with living the life He requires shouldn’t feel confident with themselves at all – they should feel humbled, even humiliated by the fact that they can’t live up to God’s expectations. Instead of feeling proud of their accomplishments, they should feel ashamed of their failures. So feeling good before God about our own righteousness is a self-delusion, it’s a form of insanity. The only way a person might momentarily feel good about himself or herself is if they compare themselves with other sinners. Then, maybe in contrast with other sinners, it’s possible to feel good about oneself. But what does this accomplish? God doesn’t grade on a curve; salvation isn’t a contest between sinners, it’s an issue between each sinner and God. Now this profound truth is found in both the Gospels and in the letters of the Apostle Paul, yet it is still today the most misunderstood point of the gospel. Let’s see what more Jesus has to say about it.

Second, self-confidence doesn’t save, only God-confidence. Luke 18:11-12, “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” This man had what people in our society are striving for – good self-esteem. He believed in himself, he was confident, he really felt good about himself. Notice he was in the temple praying, which means that he was probably religious. Don’t let anybody tell you that being religious is a good thing; it isn’t automatically a good thing. In fact, a certain kind of religion can be a very bad thing, self-righteous religion. Unfortunately, all forms of religion other than pure Christianity are forms of self-righteous religion because they all base one’s confidence on one’s self, in the performance of one’s religious duty. For example, Islam is a religion of self-righteousness. If you’ve noticed, the Islamic terrorists are very self-righteous people because they look down on Americans as the infidels and see themselves as the pure and holy people of God. They don’t mind destroying Americans because they are so confident that if they die in the process their righteous act of revenge will earn them a ticket to paradise. What is the basis for their confidence? Their own service to Allah, their own participation in what they call Jihad or holy war. They are self-righteous. But it isn’t just Muslims who follow self-righteous religion. Many or most so-called Christians in many or most churches whether they know it or not are followers of self-righteous religion. Here’s the test: upon what do I base my confidence before God? Upon what do I base my confidence for eternal life in heaven? If I point to myself, as in my trying hard to be good, to do good, I’m following a self-righteous path. If I point to anything in me for my confidence, then I have a self-righteous religion, not real Christianity. This Pharisee Jesus describes was self-righteous. He felt good about himself, especially when he looked at a sinner, and especially a notorious sinner like a tax collector. He said, “Thank God I’m not like that sinner.” That must have made him feel good knowing that he was better than somebody else. But he didn’t stop there, he went further: “I don’t sin like other people do – I don’t steal or commit sexual sin or commit crimes.” That must have made him feel really good by comparing himself to other sinners. But notice he didn’t compare himself to God. He could feel good when he compared himself to other people, but if he had compared himself to God he would have been humbled instead of stuffed with pride. This man’s problem is that he wasn’t measuring himself by the right standard of righteousness. Under his false standard he felt pretty confident with himself, but if he had understood the full requirements of the law of God he would not have felt very good about himself, in fact, he would have reacted like the other man. Let’s hear his story.

Third, only God-confidence saves, not self-confidence. Luke 18:13-14, “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on my, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Here was a man with true self-esteem problems. In our society today, he no doubt would have been sent to a counselor or therapist to work on “esteem issues.” It says that he wouldn’t even look up to heaven, instead he would only beat his breast in self-defeat, in humiliation towards God. Ironically, according to Jesus, this man was acceptable before God while the confident man was not acceptable to God. What is the message of this? Are we are all supposed to go around mopping with our heads down? No. But before God we are supposed to come with humility, reverence and respect. We are supposed to come to God for mercy not reward. If we really know our true spiritual state before God we will never come before him in a cocky way, but always in a humble way. Why? Because we as imperfect, unclean sinners are approaching a perfect, holy, and righteous God. In comparison with him, we are unworthy of anything. Anything we could do, anything we might consider righteous or noteworthy is totally unimpressive to God, who is perfect. So we should never presume to approach God with the aim of impressing him, instead we should always approach God in humility requesting His mercy and grace towards us. “God, have mercy on me a sinner,” was what the man prayed to God. Or in other words, “God, pardon my sins, forgive me for my transgressions, spare me from the judgment and condemnation I deserve. Extend to me your mercy and grace.” These are the proper prayers of sinners before God, not the self-righteous, pride-filled prayers of the Pharisee and people like him. How do you pray to God – for salvation, for blessings, for anything and everything? Are you humble and contrite and requesting God’s grace? Or are you prideful, arrogant and proud, demanding of God? Upon what do you base your confidence before God? Do you look to yourself — to what good you’ve done — with a feeling of self-satisfaction? Or do you properly look only to God for any confidence of blessing or reward? Salvation by grace through faith means we come to God as sinners who deserve every bit of judgment and condemnation the Bible warns awaits all lawbreakers. We come in humility, not in our own confidence but confident in the blood of Jesus to wash away our sins. We request of God to forgive us and have mercy on us based on the righteousness of Christ, not our own. We are confident in Christ, not ourselves. Is this what you base your salvation on? It’s the only way.

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