Jesse Cowann jr.
“A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.” Proverbs 29:23
Which sin is the worst of all? Although some might suggest sins such as adultery or murder, C.S. Lewis summarized the views of many in his book, Mere Christianity: “According to Christian teachers the essential vice, the utmost evil is pride. Unchastely, anger, greed, drunkenness and all that are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through pride that the devil became the devil: pride leads to every vice: it is a complete anti-God state of mind.
Pride does not justify a person. It may exalt a person temporarily, but ultimately it leads to ruin. Some have tried to be equal with God and to attain salvation by their own strength, but none have ever succeeded. Pride is an attempt to exalt the flesh. That which is of the flesh can neither be of God nor please
Him. Paul the Apostle wrote, “That no flesh should glory in His presence” (I Corinthians 1:29). In this verse is a secret of Christian living. Christ must be our everything; He must be our all. Some people have tried to justify themselves as not being able to live for God because they think they are not strong enough. They, fail to see that every believer is helpless without God’s strength and can only live for Him as He strengthens them. To recognize the dependence on God requires humility.
Jesus told the story in Luke 18 of two men who went to the Temple to pray. One was a Publican and the other was a Pharisee. The Pharisee is an example of a man who tried to justify himself. He appeared in the sight of men to be the epitome of a respectable, religious man. He made sure that his piety was evident to all.
The word “Pharisee” is derived from a Hebrew word that means “separated.” During the inter-testament period between the Old and New Testament periods, they called themselves the “holy ones.”
The Pharisee prided himself on how closely he followed the Law of Moses along with the multitude of rules derived from them. He tried to live a strict holy life. The problem was that he exhibited his works as supposed evidence of his relationship to God, and he sought to earn the favor of God and approval of men.
God did not want to hear the Pharisee give a public recital of how wonderful he was. In fact, there is perhaps nothing that disgusts God more than listening to our self-centered rambling about our deeds of the flesh. He did not need to hear about the Pharisee’s deeds, for God already knew him better than anyone else.
The problem was not in the good things the Pharisee did but in his attitude towards them. Fasting, praying, and paying tithes are all scriptural practices. The problem lay in the fact that the Pharisee was depending on his good works for salvation. His unrighteous attitude made his prayer ineffective. Rather than
worshipping God, it seemed to be trying to impress God and everyone around him.
The Apostle Paul expressed God’s latitude in Romans 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Justification will never come through the flesh; instead, it only comes by faith.
Matthew 6 describes well the type of prayer prayed by the Pharisee. (See Matthew 6:2-5). He prayed to be seen of men – he had his earthly rewards.
Attempts at self-justification are dangerous because they come from a false sense of security in one’s own fleshly righteousness, which is to God as filthy rags (See Isaiah 64:6). Our salvation can only come from God, not from ourselves.
The Publican provided quite a contrast to the Pharisee. He was a Jew who collected taxes for the Roman government. As such the Jews despised him as a traitor. Far from being respectable (as the Pharisee was), he was a social untouchable, a pariah, hated, worse than a leper.
Yet the Publican “went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:14). He did not try to impress God with an account of his good works. Instead, God heard that which He loves to hear from a sinner, “God, be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18:13). His prayer was short and to the point. He needed God and went to Him by faith. It was on this basis alone that he was justified. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). True justification brings peace and access by faith into the presence of God. True justification will always be accompanied by obedience to the Will of God, and fellowship with God and His church.
To be justified, then, one must come to God admitting he is a sinner. One must also come believing that God will forgive sins, not on the basis that he is a helpless sinner who can do nothing for himself. Instead, a person must accept that the precious blood of Jesus was shed for his sins. In a sense, it would be as though
one had gone to court, been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death – but pardoned because someone else – Jesus Christ – took the punishment for his sin.
The Publican’s prayer was accepted because he came admitting his sin. He came in his helplessness believing God. He depended on God, not his own resources, and he received true justification.
(The above material appeared in the July 1992 issue of The Pentecostal Messenger.)
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