Lesson Nine – A Justified Sinner

Justified Sinner

Lesson Aim:  To establish the doctrine of justification by faith and to reveal the proper attitude of a Christian in order to have peace with God.

Scripture:  Luke 18:9-14.

Historical analysis for reading the parable.

Place:  Probably the Jerusalem area or while Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, Luke 17:11.

Occasion:  “He told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.”  Luke 18:9.

Time:  The final days of Jesus teaching ministry before He offered Himself as the world’s only sin offering, Luke 19:1.

Audience:  Luke did not specify the audience; however, because Jesus identified two groups in His parable, the Pharisees and tax-gatherers, they were probably present along with His own disciples.  See Luke 15:1, 2; 17:20-22.

Aim:  Jesus may have had two or more aims.  One, He continued to banter with the Pharisees with little hope of converting them to the kingdom, but they did give Jesus many opportunities to publicly teach principles of life in the kingdom for His disciples and others.  This “war of words” with the Pharisees started and grew with Jesus’ popularity.  See Luke 5:21, 30; 6:2; 7:36-39; 11:37-12:1.  Note the woes Jesus pronounced on the Pharisees, 14:1-3; 15:2; 16:14; 17:20.  Fear of the Pharisees kept many Jewish leaders from publicly accepting Jesus (John 12:42).  It was the Pharisees who maneuvered the Jewish leaders to arrest Jesus and then persuade the Romans to crucify Him (John 11:47-53; Luke 23:1, 2).

Consequently, a secondary aim of Jesus for portraying the Pharisees in His parable as self-righteous bigots may have been to excite them to get Him killed in a manner that would fulfill all Scripture.

Jesus’ main aim was always to “seek and save that which was lost.”  One of His tools was preaching the kingdom.  One aim of this parable is to help us understand the law of life in the kingdom of God.  Luke 19:10; 4:43; Matt. 13:10, 11, 35.


In order to appreciate Jesus’ parable it will be necessary for the reader to understand the doctrine of justification by faith.  God gives His children a gift of righteousness to help us maintain a positive self-image.  The man under the law of works screams out “Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?  The answer; “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Rom. 7:24, 25.  Paul told the Roman Christians, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Rom. 8:1.  We might ask, “By what kind of law?  Of works?  No, but by a law of faith.”  Rom. 3:27.  Also see Gal. 2:20, 21; 3:21-26.  According to the following Scripture, a faithful Christian’s image is untarnished in God’s eyes; even though, the world may say we are hypocrites.

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.         Rom. 8:33, 34

God’s gift of righteousness gives us peace with our Father and lets Him create for us a healthy spiritual environment “in Christ.”  We have passed out of death into life and we are counted righteous while we work on changing our personality and behavioral traits from the low qualities of death to the high qualities of life (John 5:24; Rom. 5:18).

We know we have passed out of death and into life because we love all the brethren (I John 3:14).  We do not boast before God about our righteousness because of our works but neither are we laden with guilt because of our weaknesses and ignorance.  We practice righteousness and accept the full gift of grace.  We are counted righteous as Jesus is righteous and He is 100% (I John 3:7).  The difference is that He is righteous because He did everything right and we are counted righteous because we live by faith on the mercy seat of God in Christ.

What is this law of faith that lets us stand as righteous as Jesus Christ before God’s throne?  What does the Scripture mean, “Jesus was raised because of our justification?”  The Apostle Paul, by the inspiration of God, gives us very clear answers to these questions in the Roman letter, especially in chapters three through five.  To understand justification by faith we will need to think of the relationship and dynamics of three entities:  (1) The blood of Jesus and His priesthood, (2) the faith of a Christian and (3) God, our Father, as He is being appeased because of our faith in Jesus’ blood.  Please study the following Scripture in order to understand the dynamics of these three in action.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  Rom. 3:21-26

The activity described in this text is God viewing the faith of a Christian.  This Christian would be considered a sinner if it were not for the result of this doctrine.  God is appeased rather than wrathful because of the Christian’s faith, a faith which came from his or her hearing, understanding, believing and obeying the divine teachings.  The Christian learned about Jesus whom God displayed publicly on the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice.  Remember, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).  The blood of Jesus has substance because of the Christian’s faith in the message he or she heard about the cross.  The Christian is justified by God, the justifier, because of the Christian’s faith in the blood of Jesus.  This is not just a one-time happening.  The Christian is “being” justified continuously (I John 1:7).

Jesus was raised because of our justification (Rom. 4:25).  Jesus is functioning as our high priest.  His sin offering for us is His own blood in the foregoing scene where God is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Heb. 8:1-3).  Please note how the Greek word, hilasterion,  translated propitiation in Romans 3:25, is translated mercy seat in Heb. 9:5.  The mercy seat was behind the veil that split when Jesus died on the cross.  Christian’s can now come boldly to God’s throne.  However, because we are “in Adam/in Christ” we need a propitiatory sacrifice in which God is propitiated, or appeased.

We have the knowledge of good and evil in our physical body.  Since this is what got us into trouble with sin and death, then surely it will continue to give us problems even though we have been born again.  We must live our lives on the mercy seat every moment of every day so that God will count us as righteous.  Thanks be to God for this gift by grace.  “Even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Rom. 5:21).

Justification by faith is not a new doctrine with the Christian Age.  It worked for Abel, Abraham, and David.  See Heb. 11:4; Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:6.  However, for Christians the quality of the sacrificial offering has been perfected.  We can come boldly to the throne of God (Heb.10:5-10).


Now let us consider the parable in our text for this lesson.  Two men went up to the temple to pray.  One went home justified.  The other did not.  What made the difference?  It was their attitude toward God, mankind and themselves.  The Pharisee’s attitude toward himself was that he was righteous; therefore, his attitude generalized toward God and mankind.  The English word “righteous” in this text is translated from the Greek word dikaioi and it signifies “just,” without prejudice or partiality.  This definition is from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.  What Jesus is talking about is the standard we use to measure ourselves (II Cor. 5:12).  It is the righteousness of God (Rom. 6:18).  The Apostle Paul could have related to this Pharisaic paradigm at one time in his life (Phil. 3:4-6).  After his conversion he viewed himself, others and God with a different attitude (Phil. 3:7).

Since God created mankind to be His children He instilled within us a need for glory (I Cor. 2:7; Rev. 21:7).  He also gave us the endowment of self-examination (II Cor. 13:5).  It is very important for us to measure ourselves as a just person; otherwise, our guilt for being unjust will rob us of our glory.  Let us be honest for a moment. Which one of the two men in Jesus’ parable best represents most of the people you know?  Granted Jesus went to the extreme with both models.  Most of us would probably score somewhere between the two extremes – not too humble but not as proud as the Pharisee.

It is very important for Christians to come to some definite conclusion about our standard of measurement for our righteousness; that is, our behavior in relation to God and our fellowman.   The Apostle Paul worked out this problem for us in his letter to the Romans.  At the time Paul wrote this letter the church was integrated with Jew and Gentile members.  One argument that could spoil their “love feasts,” or church picnics, would be a discussion about which group had been, or was, more righteous.

Paul anticipated this type of discussion in the church.  In the first two and one half chapters of his letter, he revealed a clear picture of the condition of both Jew and Gentile.  He came to the conclusion for them that no one was right:

What then?  Are we better than they?  Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, there is none righteous, no not one.  Rom. 3:9, 10.

We understand the danger of the argument about who, or what, is right.  It has caused most, if not all wars, divorces, fist fights and heated arguments.  If someone had only said, “Well I may have been a little bit at fault,” peace might have pursued and the destruction of battle avoided.  The people in the world cannot admit their behavior is usually unrighteous because it would rob them of their glory.  Christians can and must.

We can for two reasons: one, we measure ourselves by God’s righteousness, only – not our own and not by our society.  Our motto must be, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” Rom. 3:4.  We cannot measure by man’s standard of righteousness because it is transitory (Rom. 12:2).  If there is not a standard of righteousness, there can be no judge and if there is no one who can judge there can be no glory.  We could have no blue ribbons at the county fair if there was no established standard of what is the best pumpkin.  Paul worked this out for us in Romans 3:1-6.  God is the perfect One to judge us and reward us because He is holy, wise and righteous.  We use His righteousness to measure our own behavior even though we know we will come up short of His glory (Rom. 3:23).

The second reason Christians can admit our behavior is “across the board” unjust is because of the doctrine of justification by faith.  We walk by faith in the fact that God’s righteousness is the final measurement for what is right and just and we understand we need to improve.  Christians have faith in the doctrine of justification by faith whereby God counts us as if we are righteous. He fellowships us as if we indeed do everything right.  If this sounds like cheating, remember it cost Jesus his physical life’s blood on the cross to give us this doctrine.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable left God’s standards out of his equation.  People who are familiar with God’s nature will not view our “self” as righteous without grace.  To know God is to know His standard of righteousness.  God is holy therefore His behavior is just.  The Pharisee really did not know God but since prayer was a part of his own standard of righteousness, he prayed; however, he prayed to himself.  His righteousness was based on his own standards.  He viewed those who did not measure up to his paradigm of righteousness with contempt.

Since he could not conceive of justice other than by his own standard, he was incapable of relying on “justification by faith.”  He and other people with the same view hold the remainder of people in the world with contempt.  They held Jesus Christ in contempt and crucified Him.  They were religious legalists.  The same will be true of all legalist in religion today.  They are sinners but never justified.  This class of people represented by this Pharisee has, and is, raising havoc in the world by non-peaceful means, even now.  History classifies the results as religious wars: churches going to war against other religions; churches going to war against churches; churches of Christ splitting.  This is what this parable is all about.

But the tax-gather, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.         Luke 18: 13, 14

We should not charge this tax gatherer as an evil person.  He could not have gone home justified if he had been a willful crook.  He did not go out and cheat people each day and then come by the temple on the way home to get justified.  He was self righteous.  The tax collector viewed himself as a sinner because he used God’s behavior as his standard of measurement.  This brought him to his knees.

This kind of person responds to the teachings of Jesus.  This tax gatherer would have made a very good adopted son-servant-steward for God.  He could identify with the spiritual realm.  He did not trust in the physical.  According to the standards in the spiritual realm, he knew he was a sinner.  He went home justified.  This is the only way Christians can expect to go home eternally and yet we will be judged on our works (John 5:28, 29).  Christians who enjoy peace with God because of our justification can grow spiritually and do good works that are pleasing to God (Titus 2:14; 3:1; 8, 14).

 Questions for Discussion

  1. Why did God give mankind the doctrine of justification by faith?
  2. How does the three dynamics in the doctrine of justification by faith function?
  3. What does this doctrine do for faithful Christians?
  4. Give some of the possible aims of Jesus for giving this parable.
  5. How did the attitude of the Pharisee about himself affect his relationship with God and man?
  6. Explain how this Pharisees’ philosophy has and is causing turmoil in the world?
  7. What was the standard the Pharisee refused to use as a measurement for his behavior?
  8. Why did the tax gather go home justified?
  9. What is the value of a judge outside the courtroom scene?
  10. Explain how willful sinners are excluded from the doctrine we have studied in this lesson.

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