Luke 18:9-17 Believing in Yourself

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.”

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Believe in Yourself

An Old Spice commercial begins with a weak man listening to a self-help cassette-tape on an old-style Walkman.  After listening to the prompts, the weak man is transformed by saying the following:

I am the best.
I have big muscles… and cool hair.
I have a sophisticated and diverse group of friends.
I own an environmentally responsible sports sedan.
I’m breaking up with Heather Graham because I need my space.
I am winning… all the sports.
I believe in mysmellf.

This is the message of the media, and it is the message of our school systems.  Waiting for Superman quotes results that show American schoolchildren who scored poorly in Mathematics, actually believed that they had done well.  The lack of wisdom is shown in the lack of reality.  Wisdom literature shows us life as it really is and wakes us up to the truth.  Parables are wisdom literature.  In the parable above, Jesus is addressing those who have amazing self-belief.  For religious reasons, they believe that they are the best.  They fast twice a week and they give to the poor.  Based on their performance, relative to the rest of the population, they believe that they are doing well.  If the measure or standard of mankind was the comparison in performance with other human beings, they would indeed be doing well.  However, the tax collector has a true evaluation of self.  It is not because he is a tax-collector that he should be beating his breast and falling face down in the dirt.  It is because he is a human.  Being a tax-collector opens his eyes to the true position of dependency that all humans have.  We do not sustain ourselves.  Without God sustaining the universe, all contingent things would cease to exist.  We are not only dependent, but we are corrupted by sin.  The Bible places us in the category of evil.  Evil pervades the system.  It is more extensive than we can grasp.  All sin is evil, says Cornelius Plantinga, but not all evil is sin.  I make choices where my transgression is obvious.  However, I sometimes ruin things just by virtue of my limited thinking or my inabilities.

We are not to judge others because we are in the same category of fallenness before God.  There is relief from the idea that a community condemns its members like Pharisees looked down in contempt on tax-collectors.  In Jesus’ parable, we see the reality of the Pharisee’s terrible condition.  He sees none of it.  He is not wise.  He does not see reality as it is.  We are accepted by God as we accept our failings.  A failed human being asks for mercy and for grace.  All humanity needs to come to God asking for mercy and grace.  However, many of us hold up a list of our achievements.  Some do so with arrogance. Many do so with fear.  I see many who hope that they will be good enough to be accepted by God.  They need to give up that dream.  We do not earn mercy, or else it would be justice.  God would be obligated to give us good things.  Grace is God giving us good things we do not deserve.  We need to admit guilt and failure, but we also need to open our hearts to receiving grace.  The feeling of receiving grace in a position of surrender is strangely comforting.  I do not feel like scum in that posture.  I want to do better things, but I feel entirely accepted, loved, and appreciated regardless of anything I do.


… Thank you for your mercy, thank you for your grace.  Bless our family and lead us on your adventure.  Amen.  (Taken from the Worrall Family Prayer).


  1. Who is Jesus targeting?
  2. What is the condition of each person’s heart in the parable?
  3. What role does behavior play in acceptance with God?
  4. Do you believe that you are accepted unconditionally by God?
  5. How does the parable affect you?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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