Grace illustrated – Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18 is where we find Christ’s “Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”  It provides a number of lessons, namely on prayer, humility and grace.  Luke’s one-sentence introduction to the parable gives us a clear picture of what it is like when our understanding is devoid of the concept of grace.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 

What are such people thinking?  And what corrective would Christ offer to their error?  We are now ready to understand the parable.

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 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.”

The Pharisee in the story does in fact think himself to be righteous.  He seems to be trusting in himself and, in his heart, treating the tax collector with contempt.  The man is convinced that God must be looking upon him favorably, since he is extra holy in all that he does.  No doubt the Pharisee really was more righteous than the tax collector in all of his outwardly visible behavior.

The tax collector comes to the temple with a sense of need.  We might add that there is no other way to come before God.  Neither gratitude nor worship make much sense if we are not needy at some deeply known level.  Prayers of petition express our need most directly.  A request for mercy from God is perhaps the ultimate petition, since our very lives and standing before God are hanging in the balance.  At the white throne of judgment we won’t be thinking of Aunt Betsy’s headaches.

Yet the tax collector is at least confident enough to go to the temple.  He is not so ashamed as to run and hide and refuse to pray.  He has a basic understanding of grace and his need for it.  This is the perfect place to begin.

Performance-based religion places numerous obstacles on the path to a reconciled and satisfied soul.  On our bad days, we can find ourselves striving in futility in an attempt to get right with God.  On our good days, we can feel confident, but deep down we are trusting in ourselves.  Neither end of that spectrum leads quickly to grace.

Grace reminds us that our best behavior is still somehow tainted by sin, even if only by a sliver of a wrong motive lurking in our heart.  Grace also give us confidence, when we know we have not measured up, to go into God’s presence and seek his mercy.  Like the tax collector who went down to his house justified.

Your worst days are never so bad that you’re beyond the reach of God’s grace.  And your best days are never so good that you’re beyond the need of God’s grace.*

– Jerry Bridges, author, Navigators staff member (1929 – 2016).

* from Bridges, 2008. Holiness Day by Day, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 19.  Originally in The Discipline of Grace

39 Books: Nahum – Nineveh (the sequel)

39 Bks Torah Scroll WhiteNahum – Nineveh (the sequel)

Over 100 years before this, the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah.  They are now back to their old ways.

34 Nahum.pdf               34 Nahum.mp3

Central Streaming: New Every Morning


  • Sometimes we just need to grieve.  Grief is the natural response that all of us have to loss.  The bigger the loss, the bigger our need to grieve.

Lamentation.pdf        Lamentations.mp3

The Goodness and Severity of God

The prophet Ezekiel had just run down a list of problems still visible in a nation already in the process of being destroyed and taken into captivity.  But the Lord allows him to give them one more message of hope.  If they repent, they can still be spared from what looks like certain doom.

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!” – Ezekiel 18:30-32 (NKJV)

“Turn and live.”  That’s really the message of the Gospel in its most reduced form.  We must turn from our sin and receive the life that God offers through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.   But the alternative is not living in neutrality towards God.  The alternative is not life at all, but death.  This is a harsh but merciful message.  This is the choice that each person faces.  Here we see that God is both love and light by His very nature and in His character is no darkness at all.

Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God… – Romans 11:22 (NKJV)


By definition, mercy is something that is not guaranteed.  The American Heritage Dictionary explains mercy like this:

  1. Compassionate treatment, especially of those under one’s power; clemency.
  2. A disposition to be kind and forgiving: a heart full of mercy.

So when it is clearly possible to get something else, and we get mercy instead – compassionate treatment, kindness, forgiveness – we tend to breathe a huge sigh of relief. 

Such was the relief experienced by the prophet Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem.  Babylon had conquered, the city was flattened, the nation was defeated, the captivity had begun – and, tragically, it might all have been avoided.  It was all their own fault and Jeremiah knew this better than anyone; he had been prophesying it all along.

But Jeremiah had also prophesied that the captivity would last seventy years.  As his nation had already been promised an eternal future, he apparently figured that seventy years was, well, doable.  Eternity was a lot longer.

When we consider our own difficulties and disasters, we are wise to listen to Jeremiah.  He knew disaster well.  This doesn’t decrease the reality of our grief.  It increases our appreciation of God.  When we desire Him more than anything else, His mercies will fill our hearts with hope.

This I recall to my mind,
     Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
     Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
     Great is Your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
     ‘Therefore I hope in Him!'”
                    – Lamentations 3:21-24 (NKJV)