Summary: Luther's studies reveled that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works. That thought is the heart of what the reformation. This sermon ties into the reformation with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
Opening and Introduction
Tonight, is a special day as we celebrate the reformation. Just over 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door, which changed the landscape of Europe, and the world.
Luther’s disagreement with the Catholic church was very similar to the differences we see in the two men of our text today. The Catholic church taught that good works earn the way to salvation. But Luther found that the Bible had a much simpler way to be right with God.
Tonight, we’re going to explore the idea of God’s view of righteousness by examining the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and aligning what they did with how scripture explains things to us. We’ll also look at a few ways to show what righteousness means to us and how we can better live by faith.
The Standard of Righteousness
In our text today, we heard about two men who went to the temple to pray. But they had very different approaches.
The Pharisee described that he was doing the right things. He prayed and donated a tenth of everything he earned. As a Pharisee, he studied the law intently, and probably, was very proud of how well he could follow it. He avoided those horrible sinners who flaunt the laws of God and men. He even thanked God, in an arrogant sort of way, grateful that he was so much better than others around him.
Jesus didn’t approve of this man. But why?
It might be helpful to look at what righteous means. Righteous is a legal term referring to how someone appears in the law. If a judge declares you innocent of breaking the law, you are right. So, being righteous is being right in the law.
Moses wrote about following God’s laws. He wrote:
If we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness. (Deuteronomy 6:25, NIV84)
Those who obeyed the law, all of the law, they were declared righteous.
God is the ultimate judge. If He were to judge each person according to how they lived their lives, how would he decide? If He looks at the sins committed, the outcome is clear. With every sin, the law is broken. Even breaking one sin makes a person guilty.
The Pharisee relied on his own actions to try to MAKE himself righteous. He relied on his good works to take a step closer to God, and a step away from the sinners.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he addressed people who were trying to put themselves over others. Paul wrote:
Both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:9b-10, CSB)
Righteousness was a problem for the Pharisee because he didn’t look at it the same way that God did. Good actions don’t replace the bad that we’ve done. God doesn’t look at all the good things that we did and write over the errors we made.
He has one very simple standard. God’s command is for us to obey 100% of they law, 100% of the time, without any mistakes what-so-ever. Anything less than 100% is guilty and should be punished… no matter how many times God was obeyed, no matter how many good things have been done.
God’s standard of righteousness is perfection. That’s a pretty hard standard to meet. We can meet some of the commands, some of the time. But we can’t meet a perfect standard on our own. We need help, a lot of help, to get there.
Scripture doesn’t tell a whole lot about the Tax Collector, but this is how I picture that he might have felt. He probably knew that He wasn’t perfect and had a lot of faults that he just didn’t know how to fix. As a Tax Collector, he probably made mistakes that He knew were wrong. He probably hurt people, and cheated people. Might’ve even stole from people. He probably broke a lot of laws and committed a bunch of sins. He knew that he was guilty and deserved to be punished.
The Tax Collector knew he couldn’t get it right when he said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13, CSB)
Like the Tax Collector, we need mercy too. We’re sinful by nature and can’t do anything to justify ourselves in front of God. What we do doesn’t make us righteous. What we say doesn’t make us righteous. Where we go to church, or what translation of the Bible we read, doesn’t make us righteous either.
There’s nothing that we can do by ourselves. We can’t even create faith in ourselves. We need a lot of help, and someone else needs to do the work, because we can’t do it. Lord have mercy on me.