Dear Radio listeners,
In our program last week we began the subject of personal justification. We began to look for the answer to the question: How can a man or woman, a boy or a girl, be right before God? We are looking into the biblical truth that it is only through Jesus Christ, and through His work upon the cross received by faith, that a person can be right or righteous before the living and true God.
The Scripture that we used was Jesus’ well-known parable of the Pharisee and the publican, the two men who went up to the temple to pray. Especially we looked at the publican, of whom the Lord said that he “went down to his house justified.” The publican, said Jesus, is an example of one who possessed personal justification, that is, the assurance of faith that all of his sins had been forgiven and that he was innocent before God.
Last week we looked at the publican as he possessed a threefold knowledge of himself, a knowledge that the Holy Spirit had imparted into his heart. The publican, as he stood before God, knew first of all that he had been made by God and was answerable to God. He knew, secondly, that he was a sinner before God who had violated, in the very heart, the law of God. And we saw, thirdly, that this publican understood that therefore he was liable, he was exposed to the holy wrath of God against his sin. We closed the program by asking the question whether or not you, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, knew those three things about yourself.
If you want to study that message more carefully, you may write and ask for the previous booklet which contains that message.
Let us return now to the Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the publican who came to the temple to pray as found in Luke 18:9-14. Although this is a very familiar parable, please take a moment to read it now.
Having looked now at the self-knowledge that the publican possessed of his accountability to God, his guilt before God, and his liability to the wrath of God for his sin, let us now proceed and look at the posture that he assumed before God.
The grace of God carved out for him a certain posture which he assumed before the living God. What was that posture? Two words sum everything that Christ reveals about him. Those two words are: humility and contrition.
What is humility before God? It is many things. But here it is in its heart form. Humility is the absence of self-justifying pride. Notice how the publican is described: “And the publican, standing afar off.” He was in the temple, but he came into the temple only so far as would bring him to the place where sacrifice was offered. In that place, where he could have drawn closer he yet remains at a distance. His humility caused him to draw back in lowliness and self-diffidence. He stood afar off. He went to the temple because that was the place of God’s presence, where sacrifices were offered as types and shadows of the great sacrifice of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ. But when he arrives, the consciousness of his sins and of the contrast between God in His holiness and himself in his sins is such that it keeps him at a distance. He is conscious of his unworthiness. He understands that he is without excuse. He has gotten rid of all of his self-reliance and self-justification. And the Lord says he would not so much as lift up his eyes into heaven. The Lord did not say he would not lift up his head, but he would not lift up his eyes. You can bow your head but still lift up your eyes. But this man bent over in the knowledge of his own uncleanness and would not lift up his face or his eyes unto God. All the pride, all the cockiness, all the self-excuses, all the lying and blame-pointing-all of this is gone. In humility he stands afar off in the consciousness of his unworthiness.
First of all, then, he stood in humility.
Secondly, he stood in contrition. What is contrition? Contrition is the opposite of carnal indifference to one’s sins. It is a self-slaying and sorrow after God in the confession, I have sinned. This man has no indifference before God. He says, “I am a sinner before God.” He asks for God to be merciful to him. That is contrition. He beats upon his breast. Why does he do that? He did not stand there and curse his hands because they had done bad things. He did not slap his feet because they had made him go in forbidden paths. But he beat his breast, for he saw that his sinner-hood was a matter of his heart. He was not a Pharisee who judged sin in terms of external deeds, external acts and relationships. But he saw sin as the defilement and the pollution found in his heart. And he knew that whatever his eyes looked upon, and whatever his tongue spoke, by his own nature it proceeded out of a heart which was filled with all iniquity. So his posture before God is one of humility and contrition. He is not defiant. He is not boasting. He is not shameless. He does not assume a so-what attitude before God. But by the grace of God, he has been made humble and contrite.
Now listen. This man’s humility and contrition did not form one milligram of the foundation upon which God justified him. The basis of his justification, of his being declared innocent before God, lay completely outside of himself. No sinner is made right before God because of his humility and contrition. But the path on which God leads us to know free justification in the blood of Jesus Christ is the path of humility and contrition. Every sinner who has been made right before God in the redemption of Jesus Christ is brought, by the grace of God, into union with Christ. And that union is paved in humility and contrition. What I am saying is this: Christ’s work alone is the basis of our righteousness and our acceptance with God. When God gives us to know that, He gives us the gift of faith whereby we become united to Christ and embrace that righteousness. But when He gives the gift of faith, He gives that in the way of a personal humility and contrition. All who are given to taste of the wonder of forgiveness are also given by the Holy Spirit to assume a place of humility and contrition before God.
In the beatitudes of Matthew 5 our Lord paints the picture of the sons and daughters of His kingdom. Do you know the first two beatitudes? They speak of humility and contrition: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” What is that? That is humility. That is the absence of self-justifying pride before God. That is the posture which says, “I am nothing, I have nothing, I can do nothing to commend myself before God, I am a sinner before God.” No one enters the kingdom of heaven who is not poor in spirit. Then said Jesus, “Blessed are they that mourn.” What is that? That is contrition over sin. Humility and contrition are the first two beatitudes. If you are a stranger to the graces of humility and contrition before God, then you are a stranger to the faith that gives the assurance of justification. For God has spoken in Isaiah 57:15, “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with (with whom? Does it say with him who has an outwardly orthodox life, a reasonably good standing in society? With him who comes from good stock? No!) him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” I do not dwell with him who is of a proud spirit, an indifferent spirit, a self-justifying, a self-excusing, an unbroken spirit, but with him of a humble and a contrite spirit. This man, said Jesus, this publican, went down to his house justified. For God had taught him his place. Broken, humbled to the dust. Humble and contrite before God.
This led him to utter a plea to God which rent the heavens and was heard of God who was the author of his plea. “God be merciful to me, the sinner. Oh, Lord God, hide my sins from Thy view. Cover my transgressions from Thy sight. Blot out all my sins. Cast them behind Thy back. Be merciful by removing Thy wrath in the way of a full payment, in the amazing death of the Lamb of God. Wash me wholly, completely, from my sin. Impart to me the righteousness of Christ who justifies the ungodly. Credit to me, in the name of Jesus Christ, full obedience to Thy law. Oh God, be merciful to me in the Son of Thy love, the Lord of life, Jesus Christ.”
Notice his plea. He came directly to God. As he beat upon his breast and as his eyes were cast down he does not say, “Oh, Mary, mother of Jesus.” He does not say, “Saint Paul, Peter, or any of the martyrs.” There is not one word of approaching God through a saint or a martyr. He does not close his eyes in some spiritual trance and then call upon the saints to intercede for him. Oh, no! He goes to God in his prayer. He goes to the God to whom he was accountable, the God before whom he was guilty and before whom he stood deserving the punishment. You see, help from any other quarter, from man or saint or whoever it may be, cannot avail, is of no merit, is of no power. Not any man, not any saint, not any system of learning, no philosophy of life is of any good or merit. It is God. God must justify. And if God justifies us in the death of His Son upon the cross then, the apostle says in Romans 8, Who can condemn us? Let the whole world rise up against me. None can condemn me if God hears my prayer and if God justifies me. It is with God that I have to do. He must declare me forgiven. He must declare me righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ. And if He does this, then it makes no difference how the world might view me. I am righteous before God.
He came pleading the mercy of God. He did not come to God cleaving to any works that he had done. He did not say, “Lord, yes, I realize that I have sinned, but remember I sat in church. Lord, I led devotions in my family. Lord, I did this. Lord, I did that.” He did not come to Him saying, “Lord, Lord.” But he came in faith. He came in the faith that none of his works of themselves could atone for one sin. He pleaded for God’s mercy. He came with his great need: “Remove from me Thy wrath. Forgive my sins.”
And this plea which was directed to God was based upon the one and the great sacrifice for sin which God Himself gave on Mt. Calvary when the innocent One, the Son of God, assumed the place of all of God’s children whom God had chosen from eternity; when God’s Son, assuming their place, took upon Himself the wrath which was due to them, the wrath which was due to me; when the Lamb of God whose blood covers our transgression stood before the Law of God to answer that broken Law for us and was punished with what we should have been punished with. That is the way of forgiveness.
In all earnestness and in all sincerity the publican prayed out of his heart. With his whole heart he sought God to look upon him in the merits of Jesus Christ. Out of a faith given to him of God he came to plead the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he went down to his house justified. He was given the personal assurance that he was right with God.
By faith he was given to know and to be assured that God had made him righteous through the work of Jesus Christ. He went down, literally, says Jesus, having been justified. Not justifying himself. It was God’s act, not his own. God justified him by giving him knowledge of the great and mighty work that He had performed through Jesus Christ. God gave him to know, in his own heart and soul, that upon the work of Jesus Christ, upon the merits of Christ, the sentence for his sins had been served, and that now a sentence had preceded from the court of heaven that all the claims against the sinner were met, all the demands of the law were satisfied, full credit was applied to him of righteousness, eternal, unfading righteousness. God assured him that, on the basis of the bloodletting of His Son on Calvary’s brow, his sins were hid from view and perfect righteousness was accounted to him personally. He was right with God. He was right with God then and would be right with God in the day of judgment. He was cleared in the court of heaven.
The only question that matters is this: How shall a man be right with God? The only answer is this: In the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sin in the blood of Christ, upon the basis of the cross of Calvary-there is perfect standing with God, experienced only through a God-given faith, a God-given faith which is experienced in true contrition over sin and a pleading for the mercy of God.
Let me ask you a simple question: Is all of this true of you? Are you justified in the work of Jesus Christ? By faith do you know that you are righteous before the God of heaven? If you are able, by the wonderful grace of God, to answer that question, “Yes,” then you will be left with one question. And that question is this: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
Then, justified, you will live to please Him.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word. We pray that Thou wilt seal it to our hearts and that we may embrace by faith the treasure of the gospel: the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. In His name do we pray, Amen.