In the Parable of The Pharisee and The Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus teaches us some valuable lessons regarding our attitude towards our own sins and the grace and mercy of God. We see a huge contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. It is a contrast that serves as a distinguishing difference between those who seek salvation by their own works and those who rest in the grace and mercy of the Lord. You are either arrogantly trusting in your own good works and your own perceived goodness to save you, or you are trusting in the Lord’s mercy and grace to save you. Before delving into the text, Luke 18:9-14 reads:

9 And he [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Let us examine in this passage six contrasts that are most evident.

First, we see a contrast in their Position in Society. The Pharisee was considered to be religious, well-to-do, loyal to Jewish heritage, steeped in knowledge of the Torah, and held a place in society few would ever reach. The publican or tax collector was considered a traitor as he was employed by the Roman Empire to collect taxes, he was considered to be dishonest as he overcharged what the taxes actually were and kept the rest for himself, he was considered to be unreligious as most tax collectors lived without restraint. They were polar opposites in the eyes of society.

Second, we see a contrast in their Posture in Prayer. Both entered the Temple to pray. The Pharisee proudly stands (v. 11). The word translated “stand” could be rendered “posing himself” for everyone to see. Standing with arms outstretched with palms turned upwards was the ordinary Jewish Pharisaical posture in prayer. His arms were stretched toward heaven with palms turned upward, as he proudly felt he deserved to receive something from God. He, as well, prayed by himself to avoid being “contaminated” by coming in contact with lesser people than himself. The posture of the Pharisee was one of idolatrous pride.

The tax collector, in contrast, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast (v 13). His posture was one of humility. He stood afar off, not because he was fearful he would be contaminated by others, but because he felt unworthy. He was not praying to be seen of others, but to “do business” with God. He didn’t feel worthy to lift his eyes toward heaven, his posture being that of a mourner grieving. His eyes were turned downward and he smote his breast. The posture he took was the custom of one expressing grief.

Third, we see a contrast in the Person to whom they Prayed. The Pharisee “prayed thus with himself” (v. 11). He prayed, so to speak, to himself. It was only a façade that he was praying to God, he was the object of his on idolatrous prayer. His prayer went no higher than the ceiling in the Temple.

By contrast the tax collector prayed to God. The Greek word for God is theos (θεός). He prayed not just to any god, but to the God who became a Man and came to earth as a Babe. We find in Matthew 1:23, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and give birth to a Son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which translated means “God (theos θεός) with us.” The Person to whom the tax collector prayed was the One who in Christ became “God (theos) with us.” The Pharisee’s prayer was a humanistic prayer to himself, but the prayer of the tax collector was Christocentric, it focused on One outside himself.

Fourth, we see a contrast in their Pleas. The Pharisee’s “prayer” contained no plea, but was a reciting of all his good works, “I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (v. 11-12). The Pharisee bragged on his empty ceremonialism.

The plea of the tax collector was simple and to the point, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He did not appeal to the Lord on the bases of his good works, but he appealed to the Lord on the bases of His mercy (v. 13). He didn’t approach the Living Word with a proud heart like the Pharisee. He was sorrowful for his sin, and saw no good within himself. He had nothing of which to boast; therefore, he pleads for mercy. The Greek word for mercy is hilaskomai (“be propitious to” or “merciful”), and was a word used to refer to atoning blood sprinkled on the mercy-seat in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement which mercifully appeased or satisfied the holiness of God. The same word (hilaskomai) is used in Hebrews 2:17 where the inspired writer says Jesus came to make atonement (hilaskomai) for our sins. The tax collector cried out, “Lord be propitious/merciful toward me through sacrifice, let an atonement be made for me. I am a sinner and cannot be saved in any other way than by a satisfactory sacrifice offered in my place.” Of course, that satisfactory sacrifice was Christ.

Fifth, we see a contrast in their Plight. The Pharisee didn’t see his plight, that he was a sinner. He was blinded by his pride, arrogance, haughtiness, egotism, conceit, spirit of superiority, and self-righteousness. He saw no need for forgiveness, no need for mercy, and thought he was worthy to come into the presence of God by his own good works and self-righteousness.

The tax collector recognized his plight, he saw and sensed he was a sinner. The Pharisee thought of others as sinners. The publican thought of himself alone as a sinner. The Greek word “sinner” means to miss the mark, and the tax collector knew he had missed the mark and that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and none were righteous, no not one(Romans 3: 10, 23). He recognized he had failed to comply with God’s holy law, and was unworthy to ever save himself or come into God’s holy presence by his own good works. Like the tax collector, only those who rely upon the substitutionary grace and mercy of God as found in Jesus Christ can find forgiveness. One who doesn’t recognize their plight can never receive or experience Christ’s atoning mercy and grace.

Sixth, we see a contrast in the Pronouncement by Jesus. The Master made a distinction between the two men, “I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (v. 14). We see clearly the reason why the Lord said that the tax collector went down to his house justified (forgiven) rather than the Pharisee – he sought for mercy through an atonement for sin, which was the only way in which God had from the foundation of the world purposed to save sinners (Rev. 13:8).

As the Pharisee depended on his good works and observing the ordinances of religion for his acceptance with God, his inability to comply with the holy and perfect demands of God and his blindness to his own sinfulness, he found himself rejected. Scriptures declare, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Bible is clear, no man can make an atonement for his own sins, we must take refuge in Him who God’s mercy has provided in Jesus Christ. One who trusts their own good works will find themselves excluded from the kingdom of heaven.

The tax collector knew his need for a substitutionary sacrifice was no new doctrine, it was the doctrine publicly and solemnly preached by every sacrifice offered under the Jewish law. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness, was the loud and constant cry of the whole Mosaic sacrificial system. From this we may see what it is to have a righteousness superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees. To be saved, to have our sins forgiven, to find acceptance in the presence of the holy-love of God, one must humble themselves before the God who has provided atonement in Christ. Christ invites those who, like the tax collector, recognize they are sinners and come before Him with a meek and humble heart, there finding eternal refuge in the perfect provision of the cross.

O, what a Savior!

Dr. Dan


We are living in a day when the truth is being suppressed that there is a holy God that has created the universe, has created humanity, and holds each of us accountable for our lives. Paul writes in Romans that men are without excuse when it comes to having sufficient evidence that a Supreme Being exists who has established moral order in His creation and holds us responsible for our actions. The Apostle points out that man knows there is a Creator behind all of life as evidenced through (1) creation, (2) man’s own conscience, (3) reason, (4) the moral law, and (5) by way of revelation as unfolded to us by God in the Bible and Jesus Christ (Romans 1: 20, 21, 28, 32, 2:15).

Yet in spite of sufficient evidence of a transcendent, holy Creator, men seek to distort, suppress and deny the truth of His existence, that He requires conformity to His moral order and that He holds us accountable for our lives. What happens when the truth is suppressed, what is the outcome of such suppression? There is a downward spiral that has dire consequences. Paul tells us in Romans that there are three downward steps when men suppress the truth.

First, when men reject the truth, they inevitably create their own god to replace our holy Creator. They replace His glory with a god of their own image (Rom 1:23), a god that is corruptible like unto himself that has affinity with “animals and creeping things” (1:23). Why does man gravitate toward constructing a god that has affinity with the animal kingdom? Because men seek to create a god that will allow them to live out their basest desires and passions of their lower nature like animals without restraint.

Humanity was created to worship their Creator and since man can’t live in a vacuumless existence without some kind of god; therefore, sinful men, not wanting a God who is holy and moral, creates a god in his own image that allows him to live according to his lower animal nature without moral restraint and accountability. Man creates his own moral compass that is different from the holy, moral North of His Creator. Interestingly, when men move the compass needle from God’s holy and moral North, the spiral downward in moral behavior finds humanity lost in a wilderness of confusion and decadent behavior. This is evidenced today by the culture of death that pervades society which is manifested in abortion, mayhem in the streets, lying, stealing, adultery, living together without benefit of marriage, loss of the sanctity of life, incivility, and the list goes on.

We have grown comfortable with the gods we have created. Our man-made gods don’t require us to conform to God’s holy and moral order. Our Creator is holy, which holiness is the source of all morality, yet we embrace tightly our gods that permits us to live as we please without accountability or consequences.

Second, when men reject the truth, the progressive downward spiral results in men focusing upon the creation instead of the Creator. If we can create our own god, then we can just as easily dismiss the truth that there is a God. Paul speaks of those who suppress the truth by exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). Rejecting clear evidence that an Intelligent Designer created the universe and requires conformity to His moral order, men dismiss that creation needs a Creator. That is the underlying premise of evolution, that the universe just happened and needs no Creator. Worshipping at the altar of Darwinism, those who hold this position insist creation doesn’t need a Creator, creation just came into existence on its own. Since something can’t come from nothing, no matter one’s theory of how the universe began there must be at some point a First Cause (Thomas Aquinas) or an Unmoved Mover (Aristotle) or a Designer, who like the intricate design of a watch, designed all things (William Paley).

In the skewed logic of man, if there is no Creator, then there is no moral order and man is free to determine for himself what is right and wrong. Philosophy labels such a belief as Existentialism. I am my own boss; therefore, objective truth doesn’t exist and is subjective and determined by each individual.

Then there are those who embrace pantheism and similar philosophies, contending that nature is “God” and “God” is nature and we will all one day be absorbed into energy of nature and the universe, all becoming one. But whether it be evolution, existentialism, pantheism or any other philosophy, the purpose is to hold a belief that denies there is a Divine moral order that exists and one day we must all give an account of our lives before a holy God. Reasoning that if there is a transcendent, holy God who demands we conform with His moral order, men go to great lengths to dismiss that such a God exists. If He doesn’t exist then I am off the hook and can live as I please without fear of future accountability. I have learned through the years, that the fact men don’t believe in God is not because of a problem of insufficient proof. It is a not a head problem, but a heart problem. Men don’t want to believe, because of their rebellious and sinful nature.

Third, when men reject the truth, the spiral downward finally leads to the blurring and removing of barriers in regard to sexuality. When men create their own God, then dismiss that there is no God, then there is nothing left but to declare that our identity of who we are sexually doesn’t exist and any roles that existed in regard to matters of sexuality can be removed.

Paul speaks of those who give themselves over “to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves”…who are engaged in “vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly (unnatural), and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet” (Romans 1:24-27).

We see Paul’s words are prophetic, as that is where we find ourselves today in our society, as we see the agenda to make sexual perversion normal behavior, the destruction of traditional marriage between a man and a woman, to embrace same sex unions as natural, and even declaring one’s gender is fluid, one can just be whatever gender one decides they want to be discarding their sexual identity as created by God. We have arrived at such a decadent state, as Paul says, because we did not like to retain God in our knowledge (Romans 1:28).

Sadly, when society spirals downward to a place of such moral decadence and depraved self-indulgence, Paul warns when men continue to fail to listen and abandon the truth, there comes a time when the Lord “gives them over” (Rom 1: 24, 26, 28) to the consequences of their own destructive behavior. Have we not reached that place in our culture today? Have we been given over to choke on the consequences of our own moral collapse? The worst place a society or an individual can find themselves is that God leaves them alone to experience the consequences of their machinations. One of the saddest verses in the Bible concerns the deliberate choices of Samson, “And he knew not the Lord had departed from Him” (Judges 16:20).

Because God is holy and righteous, sin must be dealt with and judged. There is a price to pay when we violate the holy and moral order which God has established. Judgement is simply holiness’ righteous reaction to sin.

But as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now the rest of the story.” The Good News is that if men and women will turn from their sin, our God of holy-love, because of the work of Christ on the cross, will forgive, restore, and put us on a path of restoration and reconciliation. In wrath he remembers mercy (Habakkuk 3:2). Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

It behooves every Christian not to compromise with the downward spiral of society, to stand unapologetically for the truth, and pray for the eyes to be opened of those who have been blinded by sin. There is hope in the Christ of the Cross. There is change that can be found in the resurrected Savior. Christ is the only answer to the reversal of the downward spiral that has and is taking place around us. He is the only answer…and again I say, “Christ is the only answer.”

Let us cry out with Habakkuk, “In wrath remember mercy.”

Dr. Dan