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Getting Right With God

February 21, 2021 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: Redemption Verse: Luke 18:9–18:14

Theme: Repentance results in forgiveness with God.

Introduction: Perhaps the most unsettling thought the human mind ponders is “How can I be sure I am right with God?” This thought drives the heart of man to pursue many avenues of religion, philosophy, worldviews, and psychologies that are designed to assure men that they are okay with God. Most people are convinced that the development of moral “goodness” will equip them to stand before God acceptably. So, they try hard to do right, be right, and shun what is not right. Nevertheless, no one can overcome their sinful indulgences and rise above a condemning practice of sin. No level of their own righteousness overcomes what they know to be the unpayable debt of sin. Human achievement is the deception of the Devil – providing an alternative to the real source of acceptability with God – the righteousness of Jesus alone. There are only two options when we stand before God – regardless of what path to righteousness one has selected: either, through one’s own efforts or through the efforts of Christ. There are two gates, two paths, two ways, two righteousnesses, and two destinations. Too many people dress themselves up self-righteousness and believe that the putridity of their sin will somehow be unnoticed. But God does not look on the outward appearance but on the heart! Jesus addresses this question of “getting right with God” by emphasizing that the only way to find the forgiveness of sin is through repentance, not through the assertion that you deserve it. Only repentance results in forgiveness with God.

I. The Corruption through Self-Righteousness – 18:9

A. The Sanctimony of Self-Righteousness – “… who trusted in themselves that they were righteous …”

  • Jesus has been addressing the issue of the Kingdom of God – a spiritual reign within the hearts of believers after the 1st Advent; and a physical reign upon the earth to avenge Himself against the godless and vindicate the righteous over whom He will reign for 1,000 to fulfill the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant.
  • Have clarified these issues for us, our next concern will naturally be: “How does a person enter the Kingdom of God right now?”
  • Understanding this inevitable concern, Jesus answers the question by first addressing what keeps a person from entering the Kingdom of God –“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.”
  • Self-righteousness is the condition that obstructs the ability of a sinner from entering the Kingdom of God – his persuasion that he is what he needs to be of himself, through his effort, his goodness, his virtue, and righteousness.
  • Those who cannot enter the kingdom are those who possess “sanctimony” – a hypocritical projection of righteousness that is externally projected, but internally absent.
  • What makes matters most tragic is that those who are self-righteous actually “trust[ed] in themselves that they are [were] righteous.”
  1. trusted” [πείθω] (perf. act. Part.) – referring to having come to a permanent point of view; to have been convinced or persuaded to such a degree that doubt was gone; to attain certainty.
  2. righteous” [δίκαιος] – to align with the high standards of rectitude; upright, just – compatible with God.
  • The assertion that a person has personally - from an innate virtue of ardent effort - scrambled out of the pit of depravity and has ascended upon the holy hill of God’s throne so as to belong … is the very lie resulting in the ouster of anyone claiming it – Isaiah 14:12-15.
  • Those who rely on their works will be judged for them; those who assert their accomplishments will be humiliated through them as the sooty “virtue” they lift up to God is contrasted with the radiant glory of the righteousness of Christ Jesus – cp. Isaiah 64:6.

B. The Standard of Self-Righteousness – “… and viewed others with contempt”

  • The reason that they have been persuaded of their own righteousness is that they have not compared themselves to God, but to other sinners – cp. Romans 10:3.
  • They elevate themselves over their peers and compare themselves among themselves – cp. 2 Corinthians 10:12.
  • Their pride causes them to “view others with contempt” [ἐξουθενέω] – to demonstrate by their attitude that others are without merit or value.
  • Self-righteous people look at themselves as being “better” than others – seeing the faults in others as glaring while failing to grasp the depth of their own iniquities.


  1. Why is self-righteousness the worst form of wickedness? 
  2. Why does a self-righteous person have the ability to “see” the faults in others?

II. The Contrast to Self-Righteousness – 18:10-13

A. The Conceit of Self-Righteousness – vv. 10-12

  • In Jesus’ parable, he tells a story that most of his audience had the ability to readily recognize – having been witness to the very events He described.
  • He told them, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
  1. “A Pharisee” – a man who in the eyes of religion was the most dedicated and conscientious adherent to the Law and its fulfillment – a truly righteous man.
  2. “A tax collector” – a man who in the eyes of the people was the most reprehensible, wicked, cheater imaginable – a truly sinful man.
  • The self-righteousness of the Pharisee is placed on display by Jesus as this man made great show of his piety – “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself …” – a reference to praying in such a way to praise himself.
  1. Distinction – “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
  2. Deprivation – “I fast twice a week”
  3. Devotion – “I pay tithes of all that I get.”
  • His conceit in his accomplishments, virtues, and piety caused him to smugly assert that he is all he needed to be.
  • Therefore, there was really nothing for God to do – he had it covered.

B. The Contrition of a Sinner – v. 13

  • On the other hand, we see the “tax collector” – “But the tax collector, 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, the sinner!’”
  • His “standing some distance away” demonstrated the fear of the Lord as he was as far away from the Holy Place as he could be within the Court of Men in the Temple.
  • There were several characteristics this man displayed that are consistent with someone who is repentant:
  1. Conviction – “… unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven”
  2. Contrition – “… but was beating his breast”
  3. Confession – “... saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”
  • In his humility, this “tax collector” appealed to God to allow his anger toward his sin to be satisfied through the substitutionary atonement that would one day come through the Messiah – “merciful” [ἱλάσκομαι] – “to appease,” “to wipe out,” “to be satisfied” based on a sacrifice – cp. 1 John 4:10.
  • He then identifies himself as “the sinner” not merely a sinner – similar to Paul’s example – cp. 1 Timothy 1:15.
  • Essentially, this man came poor in spirit – without any sense of compensating for his own sin, but depending upon God to do for him what he could not do for himself – make atonement for his sin. 


  1. Why do self-righteous people want others to know about their righteousness?
  2. Why do genuinely righteous people see themselves as “the sinner?” 

III. The Condemnation of Self-Righteousness – 18:14

A. The Pronouncement of Justification – “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other;”

  • Jesus declares clearly the effect of the repentant sinner’s confession – “justified” [δικαιόω] (perf. pass. part.) indicating that this man went home having been permanently declared righteous in the eyes of God.
  • Jesus’ authority to forgive sinners of their sin is seen in the statement “I tell you …”
  • God gifts righteousness to the sinner who repents – imputing it to their credit on the basis of faith – cp. Romans 3:21-25a; Romans 4:3-5.
  • Thus, justification is all by faith and not by any merit to which a sinner will point, save the merit of Christ Jesus – cp. Romans 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21.

B. The Promise of Judgment – “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  • However, for those who reject the righteousness received through faith in Jesus and seek to promote themselves through their own righteousness, not justification is provided – “… rather than the other.”
  • Self-righteousness only alienates a sinner more from God as it dismisses Jesus’ accomplishment as unnecessary for him.
  • The worst form of unrighteousness is self-righteousness!
  • Jesus declares this in the form of a warning – “for everyone who exalts himself (self-righteousness) will be humbled” – and in this context, it means brought low in judgment and condemnation.
  • However, those who acknowledge their sin “humbles himself will be exalted” – elevated into the kingdom of God and made fit for it – all the way to being a partaker of the divine nature -  2 Peter 1:4.


  1. Why is justification not associated with our good deeds? 
  2. In our text, what are the meanings of “exalts” and “humbles” himself? Which characterizes you in your pursuit of the forgiveness of sins?

So What?

Self-righteousness is the worst form of wickedness.

Satisfaction with self condemns while satisfaction in Christ saves.

The only person to whom we ought to compare ourselves is Christ.

If your sin is not the most profound sin you know, you don’t understand the ramifications of it.

Humbling oneself before God through repentance for sin brings God’s forgiveness and blessing … eternally!


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