Self-Justification is No Justification
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14
It is easy to justify ourselves when we choose the standard of righteousness. How often have you heard someone (or yourself) say, “at least I’m not as bad as _____?” It is easy to find somebody whose sin is worse than ours. Jesus’ teaching differs from this and shows us that self-justification is no justification at all.
We see this illustrated in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. In this parable, a tax collector and Pharisee went into the temple to pray. In the Pharisee’s prayer, he reminded God he was, “not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers… (Luke 18:11).” He also made sure God knew that he fasted and tithed. The Pharisee was probably right; in Jesus’ day Pharisees were typically the most moral and respected members of society. In contrast, the tax collector simply asked God to, “be merciful to me, a sinner (Luke 18:13)!” We do not know what his sins were, but most tax collectors at the time were unethical and took more money than was owed like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8).
Some think God has a heavenly scale that He uses to weight our sins. If we are better than half of the people, then we are fit for heaven. The truth is that the only standard God uses is Himself. His standard is perfection, and if we have broken one commandment, then we have broken them all and cannot be in His presence (James 2:10).
If that were the end of the story, we would all be without hope. But thank God that He sent His Son Jesus and, “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).”
The tax collector probably could have found someone whose sin was worse than his, but he understood that he was guilty and that unless God justified him, he would be guilty. Due to his humility, Jesus said that he was the one who went home justified (Luke 18:14).
Prayer of the day:
Dear heavenly Father,
Please forgive us by judging ourselves by our own standard. Help us to remember that You are the one who judges and justifies. We pray that You keep us humble so that we will not rely on our own strength, but on Your grace alone. Thank You for Your grace that is available freely through faith in Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!
“The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector,” by German artist, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, published in 1890. Photo courtesy of https://stream.org/pharisees-yesterday-and-today/