While God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, was on the earth He often instructed the people by means of parables. The following account is found in Luke 18:9-14:
“And He [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
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 to me a sinner.
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.”
The Lord’s parable presents a great contrast. The Pharisee addressed God in a confident manner and reminded God of how good he was in comparison to other men. The publican, on the other hand, was ashamed to even lift up his eyes to heaven. Rather, he freely confessed that he was a sinner and asked God for mercy. The Lord Jesus tells us that the publican did receive mercy, for He concludes the parable with the words, “I tell you, this man [the publican] 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.”
May the reader ask himself whether he is like the Pharisee or like the publican. Is the reader trusting in his own righteousness and comparing himself with others, thinking that surely he stands a good chance of reaching heaven? If so, may he be warned by the words of the Lord Jesus, for He spoke this parable “unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” His desire was that such persons should be warned of the mistake and danger of their attitude. He sought to warn them that God does not justify men on the basis of good works, but rather justifies men who realize their sinfulness and look to Him in faith for mercy.
This truth is expressed plainly in the words of Romans 4:5: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” The publican did not offer any reason to God as to why God should justify him—he simply believed “on Him that justifieth the ungodly.” Titus 3:5 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”
God can freely justify sinners because He has delivered His Son to the cross to die and has raised Him from the dead. The death of Christ satisfies God on behalf of every sinner who believes on Christ (Romans 3:24-26; Romans 4:24,25). The resurrection of Christ is the divine declaration and proof of the complete justification of the one who believes in Him. Had Christ not risen, it would mean the payment for our sins by His death was not enough to satisfy a holy God. But He is risen! It was enough! The believer now has settled peace because He who was delivered to put away our offenses now lives forevermore.