The 16th century saw the battle lines clearly drawn during the Protestant Reformation. And what was the battle over? The purity of the Gospel! Justification by faith alone. The Council of Trent was the Roman Catholic Church's response to the Protestant Reformation. In Canon 9 it states the following.
CANON 9: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”
Anathema is a strong word. It is used by the apostle Paul and is translated "accursed"(Galatians 1:8-9), meaning divine judgment in eternal hell. At the Council of Trent, Rome pronounced divine judgment and curse on anyone who said that justification is by faith alone with no other contribution or cooperation by the sinner.
But God had raised up a monk by the name of Martin Luther who by God's grace came to understand and see the light of the truth that justification is indeed by faith alone. And the verse that God used to open his eyes was Romans 1:17.
The apostle Paul is known for his clear and abundant teaching on the doctrine of justification in his masterpiece treatise, the book of Romans, and in its parallel, the book of Galatians. If someone were to ask me to learn about justification, that's where I would direct them. Yet, the Lord Jesus Christ taught about justification in one of the most well-known parables recorded in the gospel of Luke.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Two men are contrasted in this parable, commonly known as the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector(or publican). Though they both went to the temple for the same purpose, that is to pray, we can see four major differences between them.
First of all, their prayers were distinctly different. The Pharisee thanked God...for himself(Imagine that!) because he was not like the others, namely sinners. On the other hand, the tax-collector saw himself as "the sinner"(original Greek text) because he saw his condition before a holy God and pleaded for mercy because he understood God was just to punish him.
Secondly, their view of God was quite the opposite. The Pharisee had a low view of God, whereas the tax-collector had an exalted view of God.
Which naturally leads to the next difference, namely their view of self, because one's view of God determines one's view of self. The Pharisee had an arrogant view of self. To use the words of Luke, he trusted in himself that he was righteous and treated others with contempt(v. 14). His pride caused him to look down on others. The Pharisee compared himself to others, while the tax-collector compared himself to God. The Pharisee focused on the external conditions of his religiosity. The tax-collector focused on the internal condition of his heart. The Pharisee saw his spiritual assets, whereas the tax-collector saw his spiritual bankruptcy.
And the last but most significant difference, which is the point and major thrust of Jesus's teaching, is a different standing before God. With absolutely no hesitation and no stutter in His voice, Jesus unambiguously and unequivocally made an emphatic declaration. The tax-collector, rather than the Pharisee who justified himself before men(Luke 16:15), went that same day from the temple to his house...JUSTIFIED. He was pronounced by God the Judge in His divine courtroom 'NOT GUILTY' and 'RIGHTEOUS'. Jesus is pointing out that justification is...
...an event, not a process!
...complete, not progressive!
...instantaneous, not delayed!
...immediate, not developing!
What security! Blessed Assurance! All because of the mercy of God. All because of an act of God whereby He declares one righteous. And all without any contribution or cooperation from man.
Are you like the Pharisee, self-righteous before men and in your own eyes, looking down on the others who aren't as good as you, whose spiritual assets don't come close to measuring up to yours? Or are you like the tax-collector, humbly crying out for the Lord to have mercy on your soul simply because you realise the sinful condition of your own heart and that a just God would thus be compelled to render His divine judgment?
Hariton Deligiannides is the pastor of Mendon Communiy Church. Pastor Hariton proclaims the truth of Scripture in order to help people come to a knowledge of the truth, namely that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man, and to then get grounded and rooted in the deep truths of Scripture.