The Only Sinners Prayer that Saves Souls – Luke 16:14-17

Maybe you’re wondering what this title is all about? What do I mean, “the only sinners prayer that saves souls”. Is that suggesting that there is a type of sinners prayer that does not save? It should be common sense that repeating a set of words at an altar call could no more save a soul than chanting “I’m warm, I’m warm, I’m warm” over and over after being dropped off buck-naked in the Arctic in 90 below temperatures could keep you from freezing.

I grew up in the church and quite frankly it can be one of the most dangerous places to grow up. If the Gospel doesn’t take genuine roots at an appropriate age (and I don’t mean repeating a prayer when you’re 3 with your mom) but genuine repentance and faith in Christ, then you can grow up with the idea that you are safe and sound, a shoe in with God, kind of like a family pass simply because your parents pray a lot and they make everyone go to church on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday’s for youth. That type of spiritual blindness by far can be the most dangerous and damning of all types. The Matthew 7:21-23 type, where a false sense of salvation can take someone all the way to the Great White Throne only to find out they weren’t actually part of the family. God doesn’t have any grand-kids (e.g. your parents are His children and know Him well so therefore you fall into the category of grandchild). It just doesn’t work that way.

The Pharisees are easy to pick on examples:
This was the issue with the Pharisees, they were Abraham’s descendants so they felt like they were the elect of God. Because of their false sense of security in misunderstanding election they presumed upon salvation by God because of who they were. They assumed that God was somehow pleased with them and therefore they needed no repentance (God’s elect are not those who need no repentance, but rather His elect will always produce genuine repentance leading to authentic faith in Christ and salvation). They thought that giving a little extra in the offering plate (more than was required), and not collecting taxes on behalf of the heathen Gentile government, somehow made them extra special.

They prayed publicly and loved hearing the echo of their own words, to them it meant that they were more spiritual and closer to God than anyone else. They tooted their own horn, thanking God that they had never done the nasty things that other people had. They wore long robes and prayer boxes between their eyes and on their arms wherever there went, even into the public market places so that people would recognize them as spiritual and “honor them”. They spent more time in the scriptures than anyone else, they prayed more than all others in Israel, yet none of their prayers were heard and their foolish hearts were darkened to the truth even more. With all their religious activities and their rich heritage they could get no further away from saving faith even if they tried.

In this text we pick up were Jesus is speaking with a crowd of people and Pharisees   He had just finished dealing with the “Love of Money” and is now addressing the false fronted religious zealots who loved money, position and recognition. Let’s Read..

Luke 16:14-17 ESV .. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Human Nature is to Self Justify:
As humans we are bent towards self-justification. Let’s say you were in a room with some people right now and a church leader who maybe you weren’t even all that close with, but just happens to have some insight into your personal life, started to speak to you about things that you needed to get right, areas that you needed to repent about and people you should go and apologize to.
I know my first reaction isn’t always to bow my humble knees and cry out for mercy from the Lord, instead I think too often our response is much the same as the Pharisees. We tend to think of ways to justify why we do things, why we are upset with so and so, why we can’t read our Bibles, and more. At the core of every human being is the sin of self righteousness, we really, really love ourselves and we want what’s best for ME. We resent those who resent us based on the premise that they have wronged us. We raise one hand against our neighbor while the other is raised to our Maker!

The Pharisees were so blind to their own sin that they ridiculed the only one who ever had the guts to blow the whistle on them, that person was the God-man, Jesus Christ. In Luke 16:17 Jesus goes on to tell them that the law was most important and all that was preached up to John the Baptist, and that since then the kingdom of God has been preached and many have been pressing into it, almost forcefully. Yet because sin and hard hearts are still all around us the Law is still of utmost importance. In fact Jesus makes sure that He is not accused of removing the law from it’s proper place (see also 1 Timothy 1:8-11)

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

Jesus was assuring the Pharisees that they had not moved onto grace, that they were in fact still under the law, and guilty of breaking it. It’s not dangerous to break God’s law, it’s dangerous to refuse or neglect to see that you have broken it. The law is an essential tool for man kind to reveal the true nature of our sin. It’s like a mirror that we look into, and the reflection we see should be “exceedingly sinful”, if we’re honest with ourselves.

What Christ offers for guilty sinners is nothing but the BEST NEWS of all time! That’s why it’s called GOOD NEWS. I can tell you right now that I am most thankful for grace. I have sinned and continue to sin on a daily basis, repentance is a daily occurrence for the true believer. As we move onto maturity God reveals deeper layers of sin in our lives, in fact sin we didn’t even know existed. The importance of self examination through scripture meditation and prayer could not be emphasized enough. We are sinful beings and God is a Holy and Just God. The only righteousness we have has been imputed to us by Christ Himself, our own righteousness is like filthy rags.

Comparing Ourselves:
The final text I want to look at directly relates to our main text in Luke 16. The Pharisees failed to see themselves as wretches, always seeing someone who was far worse than themselves to compare with. This is a common problem when we compare our righteousness against another human being. A semi-clean pig is only clean looking when compared to a very muddy pig, but when compared to a blanket of snow every pig is dirty.

Luke 18:9-14 ESV .. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ 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 Shake of the Head, the Roll of the Eyes, The Sigh of Judgment:
I tread on thin ice when I write this. It’s with shaky hands that I continue even writing beyond this point, only because I know how guilty I am and what I deserve in light of this story. I believe the Pharisee in this story genuinely thought of himself as a decent living, moral, honest human being who studied scripture, was zealous for God and hated evil. These shoes are a little to close too fitting for my comfort, what about you? He prayed and thanked God for all the graces on his life, that He was not like the rest of the scum bags out there and even the tax collector who was praying really close to him.

Maybe this is too tough to relate too, let’s paint a better picture. You’re driving down the road and someone out of nowhere cuts you off, they were not paying attention and decided to switch lanes without looking. You instantly slam on your breaks sending your coffee through the air and watch as it pours out all over your dash. You have a few choice words, along the lines of, “I can’t believe this idiot did that, what a jerk! A driver like that should be pulled off the road and have the book thrown at him!” What you have done is placed yourself in a position of judge and jury, your response either has to mean that you have never once in your life done anything remotely similar in other words you have been a perfect driver, or that due to the logs hanging out of your eyes you are so blind that you cannot see your driving failures. I know when this happens with me it’s usually the latter. We have all fallen drastically short, our own failures are so inconceivably condemnable through human eyes that the sin of thinking well of ourselves is almost worse than the the sin itself. A sobbing criminal is easier to have compassion on than one that tries to justify himself by comparing himself to another criminal notably worse than he. The most righteous person on earth is the most wretched person when compared to the citizens of heaven. God did not spare the self-exulting angels who lifted themselves up in praise, how much less will He spare those of us who exalt ourselves and compare ourselves to against others. God is not pleased with you or me, He never has been and never will be and that’s a fact. He was only ever pleased with one MAN, and that was the God-Man Jesus Christ, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. God can only be pleased with us when we beat our chest in despair and plead for His mercy. When we thrust ourselves at the mercy of Jesus and our wretchedness is replaced with His righteousness, that is how we please God.
This what the “Only Sinners Prayer That Saves Souls” looks like, “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!’” I promise you that if you pray that prayer in that way from a heart that has been humbled by the God of the universe, He will answer you and save you. Grace & Peace

Shane Martin
Preparing The Way.