Parable 12 Pharisee and Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14 (HCSB) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me —a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

How can we be righteous? When it comes to righteous and righteousness, that is, in fact, an attribute of God. God, the Bible says repeatedly, is righteous. This means that he is holy, that he is good, that he is right, that he is without sin. To think of it in terms of a legal metaphor, God is one who rules rightly and justly and honorably and nobly and faithfully and truthfully.

And the Bible says that we were originally created, male and female, in the image and likeness of God. That’s why Genesis 1:31 said that God made us, quote, “very good.” It’s why Ecclesiastes 7:29 declares that God made us upright, that he made us righteous. But through sin we are all unrighteous. That’s where the Bible says no one is righteous, not one person is righteous.

And this leads to a real problem. God is righteous and we are unrighteous. How could God declare us to be righteous? How do we remedy this sin problem? And the issue of God declaring us righteous, to use theological language, is “justified.” That is when God declares a sinner who is unrighteous to be righteous. That is justified. Jesus is going to use these words in this parable. He’s going to talk about sin, he’s going to talk about righteousness, and he’s going to talk about one man being justified, though sinful, declared righteous in the sight of God.

There are two ways in which the human heart and life pursues righteousness. To long for righteousness is not a bad thing. We simply need to pursue it in the right way. And in this story, Jesus is going to introduce us to two men, one man who pursues what we will call works righteousness, another man who will receive gift righteousness. And everyone in the history of the world falls into one of these two categories: pursuing works righteousness or receiving gift righteousness. So as we unpack the story, it is incumbent upon you and us to ask, “Which person do I most identify with? Who am I most like? Am I pursuing works righteousness of my own or receiving gift righteousness from God?”

The Pharisee is operating under works righteousness. He wants to be declared righteous in the sight of God, so he is going to live his life in such a way that he anticipates and expects, though wrongly, that God will be impressed with him and that God will bless him. And there are varying ways that we pursue works righteousness. Not all of them are religious. You don’t have to be necessarily religious to be one who pursues works righteousness. Some just assume, “I don’t need to exert any additional effort. I’m a good enough person. I’m sure in the end, when I stand before God and he judges me, he’ll think, ‘Pretty good person. I’m okay with you. You’re not as good as some. You’re not as bad as most.

And this is what some of us do. “I’m better than most people because I blank.” And then we get very moral and self-righteous and judgmental. “Do you do what I do? You don’t? You should. I’m going to make you feel very ashamed and I’m better than you and I’ll show you why.” And this is why people get so addicted to their little causes. And this sometimes, as well, plays itself out with what we’ll call self-esteem. Sometimes works righteousness manifests itself in self-esteem. And you’re taught since you’re a little kid, “Have a very high self-esteem.” And so you think very highly of yourself. You think, “Well, of course God loves me. Look at me. Of course God is impressed with me. I’m pretty impressive.” We have a very high self-esteem, even though sometimes we have a very low morality.

This can be truth righteousness, where I’m better than everyone because I read all the right books, I’ve memorized the verses, I can answer the questions. This can be morality righteousness. “I’m better than everyone because I don’t do bad things and I do do good things.” This could be ministry righteousness. “Of course I’m better than everyone. Look at all the things I do for the Lord. I’ve done so much.” Maybe it’s even giving or serving. And these are not necessarily bad things, but they do not cause us to be seen by the God of the Bible as acceptably righteous in his sight.

And that is this story. This man is very devoutly religious, pursuing works righteousness. We’re told that he’s a Pharisee. That was a very strictly devoted sect in that day. Today, it would be like a preacher, a pastor, an elder, a deacon, a theologian, a noteworthy Christian speaker, leader, or author. He is very devout, very serious, very committed. Everyone looked up to him and respected him. And Jesus says, “God is not pleased with him.”

The Pharisees boast about the righteousness of the Law.  They stand when they take up their position in the Temple because they want to be seen as ornaments of righteousness.  Jesus often portrays them as hypocrites.

First-century Judaism was diverse in many ways, but there were some things on which virtually every Jew was agreed. For example, tax collectors were generally regarded as traitors to Israel for their willingness to take part in the funding of the occupying Roman forces in Palestine by collecting taxes. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were almost universally respected by the Jews because of their devotion to the law of God. Jewish men and women saw them as particularly holy, because they focused so intently on the minutiae of the Mosaic law that their outward manner of life was noticeably different from that of the common person. God did not look at the Pharisee—nor does He ever look at us—and say, “Wow, that’s impressive.” God sees us for who we really are: sinners in need of forgiveness. Jesus took the punishment for our sin by dying on the cross.

The Pharisee actually believed he had done more than God required. He had kept the
law perfectly and had also fasted twice a week, and he even tithed on all he purchased,
not just what he earned. His attitude was easy to see. It was one that was common
in Pharisaism. The Pharisee’s attitude was clear, and it represented the attitude
of the people. He knew nothing of God’s perfection and holiness, or of his sinfulness.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable was in error because He did not understand God’s standard for righteousness. The Lord does not grade on a curve. Contrary to the Pharisee’s belief, it is not that God accepts one person and not another because the one has not committed as many heinous sins as the other. Neither does the Lord justify one person and not another because the former is more scrupulous in his obedience than the latter (vv. 11–12). No, if people want to be justified—declared righteous—by keeping the law, the standard is absolute perfection. It is not enough to keep just one commandment for justification—you must keep them all (Gal. 5:3). It is a deadly proposition for sinners, for no sinner can keep God’s law perfectly.

Number one, it’s man centered, not God centered. In the story, the guy prays, “Dear God,” so he says God once, “I, I, I, I, I.” He says “I” five times in one prayer. “God, I, I, I, I, I am really fantastic. You’re welcome.” That’s basically the prayer. That’s not a prayer. That’s a boast. That’s all that it is. And we have in our day even theologies, those who would claim to teach the Bible, who say, “You don’t exist to obey and glorify God. God exists to obey and glorify you so you can be all you can be, do all you can do, have all you can have. God’s in it for you to make you a winner.” Not true. We exist for God, God does not exist for us. The center of human history is not humanity, it is the creator God of the Bible. And this man sees himself as the center of his life and God exists to be impressed with him.

Number two, works righteousness compares us to someone other than Jesus. This man in the story, he says, “God, thank you, I’m not like the unjust and the adulterers and thank you that I’m not like other men and thank you, I’m not like the tax collector.” He’s comparing himself to others. And those of us who are prone toward works righteousness, and let me say this, friends, we all are. This is not a lesson you’re going to learn today, this is a lesson to learn every day, because this is something we continually gravitate toward is works righteousness. We compare ourselves to other people. “Oh, they’re horrible, they’re terrible, they’re not as good as me, they’re not as smart as me.” Friends, we are to compare ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. And as we do, we realize we’re not righteous. We realize that we’re not righteous.

Number three, in works righteousness, our performance establishes our worth. That’s exactly what this man says. “I fast twice a week,” which is a big deal because according to the Old Covenant, you were only required to fast once a year. So twice a week is a big deal. Many of you don’t even know what fasting is. You’re like, “I eat fast food, what’s the big deal?” No, fast food is different than fasting, it’s different. Fasting is where you don’t eat. Somebody’ll be like, “I didn’t eat.” That’s ‘cause you were working and you skipped lunch so you had two dinners, that’s not fasting, right? Fasting is where for a whole day, you don’t eat out of devotion to God to discipline yourself because to be a disciple is to be disciplined. That’s the root intent of fasting, among other things.

And number four, it focuses on the external and it also then subsequently ignores the internal. So Jesus literally says, “They trusted in themselves.” Friends, we all have faith. The difference is the object of our faith. I’m asking you to trust in Jesus, and if you don’t, you are trusting in yourself. And so they don’t trust God who is external from them, they trust themselves internally. They trust their gut, their opinion, their perspective, their view, their proclivity, their inclination. As a result, the only authority that they see is themselves. And so they put themselves in the position of God. “I know my heart, I know my life, I know my deeds, I render a verdict, I declare myself righteous.” Nothing external. “Is there a God? Will I give an account to him? What will his verdict of my life be?”

Additionally, number five, why works righteousness is unrighteousness. In that false system, God is not our judge, people are. That’s why he prays publicly. He wants everyone else to hear it. He wants everyone else to know it. “God, thank you that I don’t lie. Thank you that I don’t steal. Thank you that I don’t commit adultery. Thank you that I’m better than everyone else.” And he wants them all to hear it. And he wants the crowd to agree, “Yes, you are morally superior. Yes, you are fantastic. Yes, we are all impressed with you.”

Number six, it leads to pride. Inevitably, it leads to pride. Some of you don’t know this: Pride is a sin. You can call it self-esteem, it’s still pride. It’s the sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven. Augustine, the church father, says that pride is like a mother who is pregnant with all sin. All sin ultimately comes from pride. The first sin was to be like God.That’s pride.

And ultimately, it offends God. That’s the point of the story, that God is offended by this kind of behavior, right? The temple in that day (it was destroyed in 70 A.D.) contained the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God the Holy Spirit on the Earth. And this man in the story, he gets close to the presence of God and rather than crying out to God for forgiveness, he boasts of his own righteousness, his works righteousness and his performance.

You need to know this, that works righteousness, either in its secular form or in its religious form, is nonetheless an abomination, it is deplorable to the God of the Bible. When we come to God, we are to come empty-handed to receive a gift, not bearing all of our works righteousness as if God were to be impressed.

The Bible uses two images, metaphors that are particularly cringe-worthy. One is in the Old Testament, one is in the New. I’ve shared them with you before, and I’ll share them with you again today, not for shock value, but to give us the disposition of God when we bring to him works righteousness as a gift. The first is in Isaiah 64:6, I’ve used it before. He says that our righteousness is like filthy menstrual rags. The other one is in Philippians 3:8 where Paul says that our works righteousness is like a steaming pile of dung.

Isaiah 64:6(NET) We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf;our sins carry us away like the wind.

Right away Luke wants us to understand the problem Jesus is addressing. There were people around Him who thought they they could be righteous in and of themselves, and these people tended to despise anyone who didn’t measure up to their self-defined standards of righteousness. They were self-righteous people who didn’t really love others, but the real problem behind this is that they didn’t really love God. That this is the problem will become even clearer as we examine the parable itself.

Paul writes to Philippians church to watch out for those who trust in their own righteousness .

Philippians 3:2-9(NET) 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 4 —though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 


Romans 3:10-11(HCSB) 10 as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.



  1. Two Indicators of Genuine Spirituality


These indicators are the opposite of those pertaining to the false spirituality of the Pharisee, and they may be seen in Jesus’ description of the tax collector in Luke 18:13 13 The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’

The first indicator of genuine spirituality is an awareness of one’s own inability to live righteously.


Given that the tax collector is contrasted with the Pharisee, and that the Pharisee illustrates “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (vs. 9), we may assume that the tax collector represents those who do not trust in themselves that they are righteous. We see his awareness of his own inability to live righteously both in his actions and in his confession. For example, Jesus says that the man confessed his sinfulness to God, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” But He also says that he “beat his breast,” which is a sign of intense sorrow. Jesus wants us to see clearly, then, what a recognition of one’s own inability to live righteously entails. It entails a clear understanding of our own sinfulness in the sight of God and a corresponding sense of sorrow for our sins. As the Apostle Paul would later write to the Corinthian believers:

 2 Corinthians 7:9-10(HCSB) Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.

Unlike the Pharisee, who should have understood such things himself, the tax collector in the parable serves for all time as an example of such a godly sorrow for sin.


Now the tax collector, friend, in this story, he’s a monster. He’s an absolute monster. The way it worked is the Roman government took over God’s people, basically nearly enslaved them. They would hire fellow members of God’s people to collect taxes. These are extortionists and crooks and thieves. They bankrupt people, threaten them. This is horrible what they do. Today, for us categorically, we would put those who deal drugs to kids. We would put those who enslave people in sex trafficking, we’d put the abortion doctors who work overtime ‘cause they love their job into the same category that they would have placed a tax collector.

That the tax collector would even walk into the temple, that was scandalous. This man is a monster. But what does he do? He stands far back; unlike the works righteousness man, he does not draw near. Rather than, with a haughty gaze, raising his head, he hangs his head low, looking at the ground in conviction and shame, right shame, good shame. And rather than talking about everybody else’s sin, he talks about his own sin. He talks about his own sin. “God, I’m a sinner. I’m not gonna try and justify the life that I’ve lived or the way I’ve behaved.”

And he asked for a gift, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Have mercy on me.” He’s asking for gift righteousness. And Jesus said, “That guy nailed it. That guy left justified, declared righteous in the sight of God.” But he didn’t fast twice a week. But he didn’t give 10 percent. But he couldn’t answer all the theological questions. But he hadn’t read the Bible cover to cover. But he hadn’t been baptized and he didn’t speak in tongues and—but he received gift righteousness. So he was justified, declared righteous in the sight of God.

How to become righteous. Pull a few things from the story. First, friends, start by comparing yourself to Jesus and the Word of God so you could see your sin. Too often we spend too much time and energy comparing ourselves to one another. And if we look at the Word of God and we look at the Son of God, we see that we’re unrighteous. What this man didn’t do, he didn’t come to God and ask, “God, what should I do to impress you? Where is the punch list for righteousness so that I can get a high score through my performance?” Instead, he came to God and said, “I need a gift. Have mercy on me.” And I would invite you to that as well, to receive the gift of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And I’ll unpack that a bit more thoroughly in just a moment.

you can then be sanctified by the Spirit of God to do your good works. Friends, we’re not saved by our good works, we’re saved to our good works. That’s totally different. We are saved by works. The question is, whose works? Our works or Jesus’ works? Whose works save? Jesus’ works. It’s his life, not ours. His perfection, not ours. His obedience, not ours. His death in our place for all that we have failed to be and do. So yes, something was done but it’s not done by us, friends, it’s done for us by Jesus.

This is such good news. We would never understand this apart from the revelation of the Bible. We would all end up even treating the Bible as just another works righteousness document. A list of things to do and not do, we will set up a set of leaders who just sort of keep score and render verdicts and then we’ll get all smug and self-righteous and proud because we did good things, we didn’t do bad things. We’ll look down on others, have contempt, not compassion, be filled with pride, get harsh, and then start adding rules to God’s rules and enforcing them and then it goes on and on and on until you murder God because he’s not as righteous as you are.

Or you realize that you’re unrighteous. You realize that Jesus is your righteousness. And you repent not only of your sin, but also your righteousness. And you come like the tax collector. “God, I’m a sinner. Give me mercy. Don’t tell me what to do. Remind me of what Jesus has done.” And when Jesus says it is what? Finished, all the work is done. And I receive the gift.

o a couple things in closing. It’s not about you. It’s all about Jesus. Additionally, it’s not about what you do for Jesus. It’s about what Jesus does for you. That’s what justification is about. Furthermore, God is not impressed with you. God is not impressed with you, but God loves you. That’s even better. Because if God is impressed with you, you need to keep performing. But if he loves you, he loves you no matter what.

Additionally, you do not have any righteousness. Whatever you put in the box, it’s not awesome. It’s awful. You do not have any righteousness, but Jesus will gladly give you his. Right? So that when you stand before God the Father for judgment at the end, you don’t say, “Here’s my resume and all the nice, good things I did.” You look at Jesus and you say, “I’m with him. I’m with him. He has a large reservation. I’m with him.”

Additionally, regarding our motivation for change, we do not change so that God will bless us. We do not change so that God will love us. We do not change so that God would accept us. Rather, we change because in Jesus Christ, God has blessed us. In Jesus Christ, God has loved us. In Jesus Christ, God has accepted us. Christianity then is not what we have to do. It’s what we get to do. And because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, it’s ultimately what we want to do. We want to follow Jesus, we want to be like Jesus, not so that God would love us, but because he’s already loved us in Christ. The motivation is very different. It leads to joy and not duty or burden. It’s a bunch of get-tos, not a bunch of have-tos. That’s the Christian life.

Justification We are saved from the PENALTY of Sin.

Sanctification We are being saved from the Power of Sin

Glorification We will be saved from the presence of Sin

Justification begins our sanctification. We are both Justified (a one time event) and in the process of being sanctified(on going). Sanctification begins with our justification, it is a process that conforms us to Christ’s likeness. Justification is a legal declaration of a sinner being righteous before the Father, it does not make us self-righteous.

Romans 8:29(HCSB) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Someone who is a Christian for 10 years is no more justified than when the first became a believer. It is through the process of our dying to self and being obedient to the word and the Spirit. John 17:15-19 (HCSB)15 I am not praying
that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by the truth;
Your word is truth.
18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth.

We are daily changed, in God’s eyes we are completed and accepted because of our faith in Jesus’ work on the cross.

Justification is a pronouncement to clear the guilty. When one is justified, he is declared right before the Lord; he is pardoned and cleared of any violation. Romans 8:1(HCSB) Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus,To have “no condemnation” declared means to be found innocent of the accusation, to have no sentence inflicted and no guilty verdict found. By the grace of God, believers in Jesus Christ will not face the condemnation of God.

Romans 5:1 (ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:9 (ESV) Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

We are SAVED from the WRATH of GOD!!!

Our justification is by faith in the work of the Son of God on the cross, his shed blood and death for forgiveness of our sins. Justification is the work of God where the righteousness of Jesus is imparted to the sinner, so the sinner is declared by God as being righteous. This righteousness is not earned or retained by any effort of the saved.  Justification is an instantaneous occurrence with the result being eternal life.  It is based completely and solely upon Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and is received by faith alone.  No works are necessary whatsoever to obtain justification.  Otherwise, it is not a gift.

Therefore, we are justified by faith. NOT by WORKS.  It is by the Grace of God that we are saved.


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