To Love With All Your Heart
- Fran Sciacca The Navigators
- 2007 21 Sep
The Pharisee: Understanding That I Can Never Be Good Before God
ABIDING PRINCIPLE It is my condition, not my conduct, that keeps me from being acceptable to God. I sin because I was born a sinner.
If you would know the heart of your sin, you must know the sin of your heart. An old divine says, “You say, ‘I have my faults, but at bottom I have a good heart!’ Alas! It is this that deceives you, for your heart is the worst part of you.”—Charles H. Spurgeon
SNAPSHOT Of the four Gospels, only Luke’s recorded a certain poignant parable about two men doing the same thing in the same place at the same time. Where they were and That they were doing is very important for us today. They were in the
Their prayers are paradigms of two contrasting perspectives on who man is before God. The importance of each man’s perspective is reflected in the outcome and recorded forever as a warning to those of us who follow: one was welcomed by God, while the other was rejected. And the greatest tragedy of all is that the one who stood condemned by God left the temple confident of his approved status before God! His isunderstanding
about his condition led to a mistake about his position. And in this case, it cost him his soul.
Understanding our condition before God as human beings determines our perspective on what it takes to become a Christian, and what it means to live as one. This is no small matter. It is the single most important conclusion we can have about ourselves as Christians. It is a foundation upon which we build our faith.
Getting this right is crucial in itself. Getting it wrong could be devastating—to the point of eternal death. So, what is your present understanding of your basic problem before God as a human being? Do you know? Do you think that it is what you’ve done wrong, or what you’ve failed to do right in life? Is it your sins, those words, deeds, or thoughts that are the diet of your conscience and conduct? Or could it be something more basic yet more deadly?
SCRIPTURE Luke 18:10-14; Romans 3:9-20
1. a. Carefully read over the parable of the two temple visitors in Luke 18:10-14. What had each man obviously concluded about himself before he arrived at the temple? Explain your answers below.
b. How do you think each man arrived at his conclusion about himself?
2. The NIV’s rendering of the tax collector’s self-identification in verse 13, “a sinner,” could more accurately be translated “the sinner.” How does that change your understanding of the story?
3. Sinner is a pungent word, meaning “devoted to sin.” Do you think the tax collector was ashamed of what he had done, or of who he was? Explain.
4. a. In contrast, which was the source of the Pharisee’s pride: who he was, or what he had done and not done? (Look closely!)
b. Which words stand out in his prayer?
5. a. Carefully read Job 25:4 and Romans 3:9-10, 20. According to these verses, is man’s most basic problem with God something he has done or not done, or who he is as a human being? Explain your answer.
b. Why do you think this distinction is so important?
c. Read Romans 3:5,10,20. How does God summarize our problem?
6. Consider the phrase righteous acts as the very best offering of our hearts we can give to God as human beings. What does God say about these righteous acts in Isaiah 64:6?
(Note: The Hebrew words translated “filthy rags” in this verse are used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to a used menstrual cloth. This graphic imagery revealed to Isaiah’s readers how ceremonially “unclean”—and thus offensive— their best deeds were in comparison to God’s standard of righteousness.)
7. Distill from each of the following verses a brief statement of what you understand to be God’s standard of acceptance:
8. Now look back at Luke 18:9. Based on what you’ve discovered so far, why does it make sense that Jesus was so incensed with people like this Pharisee?
9. Jesus clearly declared the tax collector to be righteous. Why is this so important, considering our condition and predicament as human beings?
We sin because we are sinners. It is natural. We perform deeds of unrighteousness because they are the fruit of our unrighteousness. We are accountable to God for what we do and don’t do, but more seriously, we are condemned before God for who we are. While it is true that we can make feeble attempts to improve our conduct, we cannot change our condition. Left to ourselves, we are hopelessly, helplessly, timelessly damned. This is very bad news for even the best of folks. However, it’s the truth. At our best, we can be only negligibly righteous. And this is as true for the urban pimp as it is for the suburban, minivan-driving mom.
If we don’t understand the “bad news” about ourselves, the good news of the gospel will be pleasant, but not life-changing and compelling. We must face the music before we can truly sing His praises!
10. a. In school, some teachers grade “on a curve” while others use “pass/fail.” Which one of these evaluations does God employ? Explain.
b. If you had these reversed, what effect would it have on your understanding of the gospel?
c. When you think about your own relationship with God, which one of the two characterizes your thoughts?
11. a. In light of the biblical truths you’ve discovered in this chapter regarding the status of all people before God, how should you view yourself?
b. How should you view other believers?
c. How should you view unbelievers?
12. In the space provided or on a separate sheet of paper, write a letter to God. Summarize, in prayer form, what you have discovered about Him, yourself, and your relationship with Him. Be sure to include misconceptions that have been uncovered.
13. Think about a person or people you may have consciously or unconsciously judged as the self-righteous Pharisee did the tax collector in Luke 18. Confess this sin to God. Beginning today, pray for this person and ask God to help you see him or her the way He does.
The failure of self-righteousness—Isaiah 64:5-6
My need of God’s righteousness—Romans 3:10-11