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God’s Word for You

Luke 18:14 justified

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 10, 2018

14 I tell you, this man went home justified rather than that other one. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

A pastor once said that Paul’s letter to the Romans is a commentary on this verse. Why? Because here Jesus uses the word “justify” in exactly the same way Paul uses it in all of his letters, and Romans in particular is about how the sinner is justified before God. We have to be careful not to use the word “justify” the way it has become used recently in America, that someone who “justifies himself” is someone who makes an excuse for what he’s done that he thinks is reasonable. This is not at all what Jesus or Paul mean when they use this word.

To be justified in the Bible’s sense is a courtroom word (we call this “forensic”). It means to be declared to be not guilty of what you were accused of. An alternate translation that’s sometimes attempted, “he was pardoned,” doesn’t make any sense here or in Paul’s letters, because the Pharisee in our parable doesn’t ask for pardon. He claimed to be righteous, and he even put his faith in his own righteousness like the men to whom Jesus told this parable (verse 9). His righteousness was apart from Christ, and no one is righteous apart from Christ. We can’t be righteous under the law. Paul declares: “Clearly no one is righteous before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Galatians 3:11). He says this again in Romans: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20).

So how do we become righteous before God? It isn’t through anything we do, nor through any choices or decisions we make. “Now,” Paul says, “a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

This isn’t the only time Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus said the same thing when he was invited to the Pharisee’s house in Capernaum (Luke 14:11), and again when he preached to the crowds of Jerusalem on Tuesday of Holy Week (Matthew 23:12). And there is something like this in Luke 16:15, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” When we are puffed up and high on ourselves, Jesus knows that we need to be brought down low. Is that because a human should never be proud? The answer is not easy to hear. We must not be proud, unless we are proud of our Savior! We have nothing in which to take pride without running a very serious risk of exalting ourselves and our achievements. Even great Christians who accomplished amazing and wonderful things simply thanked God and praised him for what they did. The world loves glory. We should love to give all glory to God. King, queen, president, minister, teacher, author, hero, victor—all must kneel before the heavenly Father and give him all glory. “To the only God be glory” (Jude 25), we “declare his glory among the nations” (1 Chronicles 16:24).

Through Jesus, we are justified, declared to be not guilty of our sins, and we will be exalted when he returns.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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