Do we justify ourselves by comparing ourselves with others or do we compare ourselves with God alone?
Let’s learn that compared to God we are all pitiful and that God alone can make us justified.
Let’s discuss self-righteousness and self-justification in Luke 18:9-14.
9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Self-Righteous about Self-Righteousness (vs. 9)
Jesus addressed “some” who were confident in their own righteousness. Do we believe that we are righteous? Do we look down on others with contempt? We can still miss the whole point. Justification comes only from God’s grace and mercy. Are we self-righteous about not being self-righteous like the Pharisee, which still makes us self-righteous? We all need God’s mercy.
A Loyalist & a Collaborator (vs. 10)
Pharisees tenaciously preserved their faith under harsh foreign dominance. Tax collectors were traitors profiting from Roman occupation. Jesus challenges us to rethink conclusions that we may make about people. We don’t know whether someone is self-satisfied and judgmental or repentant and humble. A good person may not have a humble heart, and there is always hope for a bad person.
Self-Righteous Delusion (vs. 11)
When we pray “thank God I’m not like so and so” we are deceiving ourselves. Like a crazy person in a mental institution, who believes he is Napoleon, we imagine that we are something we are not because of an incomplete comparison. Self-righteousness is a fool’s paradise, defining our sense of self-worth by the faults of others, living a delusion.
Self-Righteous False Confidence (vs. 9-12)
Can we be close to God yet far away? The Pharisee had dedicated his life to holiness and became confident in his own righteousness. He felt like he was superior to others. He was a spiritual superhero in his own mind. Yet he forgot one thing. All our good deeds do not clean up a filthy act (Isaiah 64:6).
Reformed Self-Righteousness (vs. 13-14)
Reformation is good but sin taints both traditionalists and reformers. When we compare ourselves with others, we are actually seeking to justify ourselves. With God, no amount of self-justification will work, because we have all failed. Does seeing the faults of others make us more humble or more arrogant? Religion is supposed to help us to become more humble.
None of us measures up to God’s righteousness. Yet, if we confess our sins, he is willing to forgive. Are we willing to confess our sins to him?