Robert Jeffress - Seven Words That Will Change Your Life
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". And while we take comfort in that promise, there is one sin that God will never forgive. Today I'm going to explain what that sin is and how we can avoid it at all cost. My message is titled "Seven Words That Will Change Your Life" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Author Mark Batterson notes that when Benjamin Franklin was a young man he wrote a number of scathing editorials. And one of the frequent targets of his editorials was a puritan preacher named Cotton Mather. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a preacher in the subject of scathing editorials, but anyway, Cotton Mather was. And frankly, he reacted a lot better than I do sometimes. Cotton Mather actually decided to try to make peace with Benjamin Franklin and he invited him to dinner in his home one evening. Knowing that Franklin was a lover of books, Cotton Mather thought that Franklin would enjoy seeing Cotton Mather's massive library of more than 4.000 volumes.
So after dinner he invited him to come to his library and the entrance way from the dining room to the library was very, very narrow and there was a long or a low hanging beam and so Cotton Mather not wanting his guests to hit his head on the low hanging beam turned around to Franklin and yelled out stoop, stoop. Oh Franklin didn't understand what he was saying, he didn't stoop and he hit his head on that low hanging beam. Well, like any good preacher Cotton Mather decided to turn that into a sermon illustration. And later on he said in a message, "Let this be a caution to you, not to always hold your head so high. Stoop young man, stoop as you go through this world and you will miss many hard bumps".
Stooping, humbling yourself is certainly important for experiencing success in this life, but humbling yourself is essential for inheriting eternal life. Did you know there's only one sin that will keep you out of heaven. Do you know what the sin is? It's not adultery, it's not murder, it's not homosexuality, the one sin that will keep you out of heaven is pride. Refusing to humble yourself and receive God's free gift of salvation. And that is the point of a parable Jesus told in Luke 18, it was the last parable he taught on the subject of salvation and perhaps the clearest parable at all.
Today if you have your Bibles as we continue our study of Luke's Gospel, I want you to turn to Luke 18 as we discover seven words that will change your life and your eternity. Luke 18. Now the purpose of this parable is already given to us on the front end by Luke, look at verse 9. "And he," that is Jesus, "Also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and they viewed others with contempt". This parable was directed to a certain group of people, most probably the pharisees and notice what he says about the pharisees, they were ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.
That word righteous simply means to be in a right standing with God. What were they trusting in? That all was right between God and themselves, it was their own righteousness, they trusted in themselves. Literally in the Greek text it says they based on themselves. Based on themselves they thought that they were righteous. They were trusting in their inherent goodness, rather than the grace of God. That was the group to whom Jesus was directing this parable. And notice what it says they based their righteousness on themselves and they looked down on others with contempt. I mean, what good is it to feel superior about yourself if you can't look down on people? Ain't that one of the benefits of feeling superior? That's always by the way corollary of pride is looking down at other people. If you have an inflated view of self you'll automatically have a deflated view of other people.
You know, some people actually pride themselves on their humility. A lot of people are proud of their humility, that's not the point of this parable. This is a parable about salvation and Jesus is trying to tell us there are two ways to try to approach God. There are two ways to try to be in a right relationship with God. One way is based on your own inherent goodness, the other is based on God's grace.
Now let's look at the story itself. Notice the two players in the parable verse 10, "Two men went up into the temple to pray. One a pharisee and the other a tax gatherer". You know in the Jewish mindset, on the Jewish holiness spectrum, you couldn't find two more opposite people. At the top of that ladder, the Jewish holiness ladder was the pharisee, on the bottom rung was the tax collector. If Jesus were telling the story today he would probably tell it this way. Two people went into the church to pray, a preacher and a prostitute. That's how these people would think of these two people, a pharisee and a tax collector.
Let's look at the pharisee first of all, let's talk about his character for a moment. Now, 2000 years later, when we talk about pharisees we see them as villains. In fact, when I mentioned the word pharisee I could hear some of you almost hissing. Here comes the pharisee. That's how we think of them, we think of them as the bad guys. That's not how the first century Jews saw the pharisees. They were the good guys, they were the holy people, they were only about 3000 of them and they were noted because of their devotion to God and his law. They meticulously tried to keep the law the best that they could and notice his prayer. The pharisee's prayer, he comes to the temple verse 11, "The pharisee stood and was praying".
Now some people try to make a big deal out of that. See how proud he is, he was standing. There was nothing wrong with standing. In fact, that's the way you prayed if you went to the temple. Many of us went to the wailing wall a few months ago, the western wall, you stand there and you pray. This pharisee was praying, but he was praying out loud so that everybody could hear him and I love this next phrase. "He was praying thus to himself". His prayer was really to himself, he thought it was to God, but it was to himself. Notice what he said, "God I thank thee that I'm not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax gatherer over here. By contrast to him, I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I get".
You know, true worship is always God-centered, it is not man-centered. This pharisee was praying to himself and notice what was lacking in the prayer. No confession of sin, no adoration of God's name, no thanksgiving for what God has already done, no petition to God, it was all about self. And then he goes into this recitation of all the reasons God has should be honored to have such a holy man in his presence. He said, Lord, notice what I've done, I have fasted twice a week.
Now the Old Testament law said you only had to fast once a year, this guy did it twice a week. Not only that he said I pay tithes of all that I get. The Old Testament law said you only had to tithe your income, the pharisee went beyond that, he tithed all of his capital gains. If he sold something, he paid a title on it. And not only that he said he wasn't like everyone else. He wasn't a swindler, unjust, adulterer and the fact is he wasn't, not at least outwardly. What this man is saying about himself is true at least about his outward appearance but what he failed to realize was God is as interested or more interested in what is in our heart than simply our external appearances. He couldn't comprehend that by God's standard he was just as much of a vile sinner as this guy standing some distance away, the tax collector.
So let's look at him for a moment, the second character in this story, the tax collector. Now I said, according to the Jewish holiness ladder, the pharisee was at top, but on the bottom rung was the tax collector. He was right down there along with the televangelist and the used chariot salesman. I mean, that's how people thought about tax collectors, they hated the tax collectors. You know, we read the story and we think, well maybe though, just maybe this tax collector was different and that's why he's going to end up being the hero of the story. We think maybe there is something inherently good in this tax collector that makes him different and even more righteous than the pharisee. No, that would betray the whole point of the parable. What Jesus is saying is this tax collector was just as guilty, just as vile of a sinner as the pharisee was.
What's the difference? We'll notice the difference in their prayers. Verse 13, "But the tax gatherer standing some distance away even was unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying God be merciful to me the sinner". This is one of the shortest prayers in the Bible. Six words in the Greek text, seven words in the English text. That's why I call them seven words that can change your life and your eternity: God be merciful to me the sinner. I want you to notice in this short prayer that this man expresses two crucial elements to inherit eternal life.
First of all, he expresses sorrow for his sin. God, he cries out be merciful to me the sinner. In the original text that word sinner is not anartheris that is it's not without an article. It's not, God be merciful to me a sinner. God I'm just like every sinner who needs your forgiveness. No, it's articular, there's an article, God be merciful to me the sinner. Like Paul, he was saying, I am the chief among sinners and I need your forgiveness. We don't know what brought him to this point, we don't know what motivated him to come to the temple to pray. Perhaps he had just committed a sin that was so heinous that even himself, he himself didn't think himself capable of committing this sin. Or maybe his life had slowly unraveled and he was at the end and he had no place to turn, but he realized he was in a desperate position before God.
By the way, speaking of position, notice where he stood in Jesus story. The Bible says, Jesus said he stood some distance away. Does that mean he stood some distance away from the pharisee or someplace else? Perhaps the holy of holies where God dwelled. I think both. I think this pharisee confident in his own righteousness came as close to the presence of God in the holy of holies as he could get without being struck dead. After all, he was a holy man, holy of holies, that must be for me. Although he wouldn't go into the holy of holies himself, he would get as close to the holy place as he could. The sinner, no. He didn't want to stay in close to God, he felt unworthy to be in God's presence. So he stood far away from the presence of God and therefore he was standing far away from the pharisees as well. But here's the ironic point, by standing further away from God, he was actually showing that he was closer to God than the pharisee.
You see the closer you get to God's presence, the more aware you are of your own unworthiness. Remember Isaiah, he saw the vision of God on the throne, the angels swirling around singing, holy, holy, holy. When he saw that vision, what was his response? Remember in Isaiah 6:5 he said, "Woe to me for I am ruined for I'm a man of unclean lips". Remember when the apostle Peter after one of Jesus' miracles, when it dawned on Peter who Jesus really was, he knelt down before the Lord and said, "Depart from me, Lord for, I am a sinful man".
Remember in Revelation 1 when John was on the island of Patmos exiled there and he saw the vision of the glorified Christ, the Bible says he fell down before Jesus like a dead man. That's what happens when we realize the holiness of God and our own sinfulness. He cried out for mercy, for repentance, he expressed sorrow for his sin. Well, listen to me today. You can be sorry for your sin without ever being saved from your sin. Repentance is crucial, but it's only the first element of a prayer that leads to eternal life because in addition of expressing sorrow for his sin, notice secondly, he requested God's mercy to cover his sin. He said, God be merciful to me the sinner.
Now folks stay with me on this, this is so important. When he cried out, when he requested God's mercy, the word he used for mercy was not just some general term, it was a very specific term. In fact this word is only used twice in the New Testament here and in Hebrews 2, when he said, Lord, be merciful to me the sinner, he's saying, Lord cover my sin. Just as the mercy seat was covered, cover my sin I can't cover it, only you can cover it. James Montgomery Boice notes that in this simple prayer, notice the pattern, it starts with God, it ends with man and in the middle is the mercy of God. God be merciful to me the sinner. The only thing that can bridge a holy God with sinful man is the mercy, the covering that Jesus Christ offers for our sin.
Now had Jesus stopped right here and said, okay pop quiz which of these two men left the temple forgiven by God? Oh, the crowd would have answered unanimously, well the pharisee of course. Man didn't you just hear him talk about what a righteous person he was and that vile tax collector does he thinks saying the little simple prayer is going to make him right with God? No, no, no, it was the pharisee who was righteous in a right standing with God. In fact, if you'd ask each of these men, who do you think was in a right relationship with God? I think both the tax collector and the pharisee probably felt like it's the pharisee.
You see I a feeling that when that pharisee finished his prayer and started walking down the mountain he thought to himself, man, that's like a little good and prayer time, fellowship time with the Lord, I feel great. Imagine that tax collectors still felt shame over his life. But you see it doesn't matter how they felt, look at verse 14, chapter 18. "I tell you this man the tax collector went down to his house justified rather than the other, rather than the pharisee".
You see ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't matter how you feel about your relationship with God. Did you know your feelings don't matter? People always talk about well I feel I have a good relationship with God and I feel this and that, look it doesn't matter how you feel about your relationship with God. What matters is how does God feel about his relationship with you? And what Jesus is saying is there's one man who left that Temple Mount justified, declared not guilty and it was the tax collector because he called on the mercy of God.
Ladies and gentlemen the most important question is, have you been justified? That's a legal term to declare not guilty. Have you been declared not guilty? There's only one way to be declared not guilty and that's by appealing to the mercy, the covering, the atonement of Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore having been justified," by works no, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ". Notice how Jesus closes this parable. It's this idiom we've heard and quoted often verse 14, "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted". The proud person who refuses to bow his knee before Jesus Christ and beg for the covering his covering for his own sin, one day that person will be humbled.
The Bible says one day, "Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God". If you wait till that day, you've waited too long. But secondly, the person who's willing to humble himself in this life, to not only express sorrow for his sin, but to trust completely in God's covering of his sin through Christ, that person will be exalted one day, will sit at the right hand of God the Father. Two approaches to God, one based on works, one based on grace.
All week I have been thinking about how different these two men were, but did you know they were also very much alike. That's what I missed all week, how alike they were. They were both Jews, they both had gone to the temple, they were regular worshipers in the temple, they both believed in the authority of God's word, the Old Testament, they both were believers in the one true God, the God of Israel, they both wanted to please God. There was only one tiny difference between these two men and that's how they went about trying to please God. One tried to please God on the basis of his own works, one tried to please God on the basis of Christ's sacrifice.
You see in today's world, people think that's a tiny theological difference. As long as you believe in the right God, as long as you want to try to please God, as long as you're doing the best you can, you know what you believe about this minor point of salvation and how you approach God, whether it's faith or works, that's a minor theological difference. Not according to Jesus. Two men who were very much alike, left that mountain. As they left the Temple Mount, one left on the road to eternal life, the other left on the road to eternal death. Job asked the question, how can a person be made right with God? Is it by faith or is it by works? How you answer that question spells the difference between heaven and hell.