The Pharisee & The Publican: Which One Are You?

Luke 18:11-13
“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. I FAST twice in the week, I GIVE tithes of all that I possess.’ 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 unto me a sinner’. I tell you THIS man went down to His house justified rather than the other: for everyone that EXALTETH HIMSELF shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Notice here that the Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men. He then proceeded to boast, just as the free willer boasts in his ‘decision for Christ’, of what he did, obviously believing, in light of his attitude towards the publican, that his acts of obedience in some way contributed to his gaining God’s favor, even though he believed he was attributing all the good he did, not to himself, but to God. The publican, however, did not mention even one ‘good’ deed that he had done. He brought none of his righteousnesses with him, which is the case with every truly saved person (see Philippians 3:9), but humbly asked for God’s mercy, providing evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work upon him. He was not seeking or expecting to be justified by any of his own works, whether he attributed them to God or not. The publican, along with every truly saved man, shares the same mindset as the apostle Paul: “…God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14).

The publican did not expect his works to make the difference between heaven and hell, nor did he look to anything he did, but only to God and His Mercy. To humble oneself is not a condition a man must meet in order to come to God, but is an evidence of God coming to the man. It is not man’s free choice for God that makes the difference between heaven and hell but God’s free will choice of man. Christ said this man, the Publican, rather than the Pharisee, was justified. The word justified in this passage means ‘to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent, free, be righteous’.

Notice also that Christ referred to the Pharisee, who attributed his good deeds to God, as one who did not merely have things wrong and just needed a little correcting, but as one who exalted himself. If a man does not believe the Gospel wherein is revealed the righteousness of Christ, he shows by his ignorance that he seeks to establish a righteousness of his own (see Romans 10). So too, the man who believes that anything he has done is that which makes the difference between saved and lost, even though he praises God for it, exalts himself and not God, and remains in an unjustified state. God never overlooks the error that leavens the whole lump (see Galatians 5:9).

The truly saved man does not say, ‘Come and see what God has enabled me to do for my soul’, but “…I will declare what HE HAS DONE for my soul” (Psalm 66:16).

Be not deceived. Those who adhere to the doctrine of free will, that a man must make a free-will decision for Christ before he can be saved, condition salvation, not on God’s election of grace and Christ’s atonement for sin, but on a work or act of man. Man must make his decision for Christ before salvation can be given to him, rather than man’s receiving Christ being something that is the result or fruit of salvation by grace being granted a man by God’s love-motivated election of him.

The free willer who insists he does not take any of the glory for salvation away from Christ because he attributes his positive decision for Christ to God’s enabling power, has been taught a lie. He is exalting himself, and not God, according to the Scriptures. Notice also in our passage just how many times the Pharisee used the word ‘I’. He said it 5 times whereas the publican made no mention of himself, other than for God to be merciful to him. Notice how there is no cause to believe the publican was in any way boasting by his request, but plenty of reason to believe that the Pharisee was boasting. The free willer is in the same boat as the Pharisee.

He exalts not God but himself, for he is constantly drawing attention to what he has done rather than only seeking to draw the listener’s attention to God and what He does. ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’, is all they say:

‘I chose Him, I love Him, I accepted Him, I sought Him, I found Him, I came to Him, I, I, I….’

The true believer says ‘God has elected me, He chose me, He has visited me with His glorious grace, His Son died for me and His righteousness was imputed to me, He took away my sins, He was merciful to me, He gave me the gift of faith, He caused me to repent and approach Him, He, He, He…’

I am sure the reader can see the difference between the two. One exalts himself while the other humbles himself and is justified. The free willer’s gospel teaches a salvation by works, for it allows room for a man to boast in his salvation even though, to his mind, he denies this by attributing his obedience, in the form of his free will decision for Christ, to God. Such people are LOST.

In this we see that boasting is not excluded by a gospel which teaches that salvation is conditioned on a man’s works, or hinges on a man’s free will decision, but it is only ever excluded by THE Gospel Message which teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in the Person and Works of Christ Jesus the Lord, attributing all of salvation to Him and conditioning no part of it on man. Grace does not enable a man to believe, but provides, as a gift, the only faith which can and does believe the Gospel.

Only THIS Gospel leaves no room for a man to boast; only THIS Gospel saves. Faith in this Gospel alone humbles the believer, excluding all boasting, for it conditions all of salvation on Christ (see Romans 3:24-28).

Moreno Dal Bello

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