“Spiritual Pride”

Pt. 4 of the Series- “What Jesus Would Undo?”

March 15, 2020


Luke 18-9-14

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed 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 stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


A few weeks ago, we did this series called, “Things Jesus Didn’t Say” and one of the things Jesus didn’t say is, God helps those who help themselves.  God helps those who help themselves, that depends on whether you are a Democratic Socialist or a Capitalist.  No, I won’t go there.  In some ways this is true.  The Bible says things like, if you won’t work, you won’t eat.  It says that you reap what you sow.  Don’t we say that if you do the crime, you will do the time? So, in those instances, it is true that God helps those who help themselves.  However, that is not the case when it comes to our spiritual lives. When it comes to our spiritual lives, God has a different economy.  It isn’t that God helps those who help themselves.  Rather, it is God helps the helpless.  God helps the helpless. 


This is the last week in our series, “What Would Jesus Undo,” and today we will see that what Jesus would undo is spiritual pride.  Jesus would undo spiritual pride.  Spiritual pride is God helps those who help themselves.  Spiritual pride is I can handle all of my needs all by myself. Spiritual pride is I can handle my sins, I can handle my eternity all by myself, by what I do.  Spiritual pride has no room for mercy, no need for forgiveness. In the end, spiritual pride says that I don’t need God.  And, that is what Jesus would undo.  So, the last thing we will cover in this series, “What Would Jesus Undo,” Jesus would undo, “Spiritual Pride.”  In our lesson for today         


  1. Jesus Defines Spiritual Pride from the Get-Go


  1.  They trusted in themselves


“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable…” Luke 18:9


Did you hear the term?  Jesus is addressing those who were 


“… confident of their own righteousness.” 


Another way to translate the Greek is that they “trusted in themselves.” They trusted in themselves. That is spiritual pride.  Jesus was addressing the Jews and all of those who think they are right with God based upon their ancestry, their attitudes, and their actions.  The Jews of Jesus’ time trusted in their 


  1. Ancestry


I used to play basketball with a guy who came to me one day because he heard my last name.  He asked me what I thought was a strange question.  He asked me if I was a member of the tribe.  How do you answer a question like that?  Do you say; I am about as Native American as Elizabeth Warren? That’s not what he was asking.  He thought maybe my strange name might be Jewish and he wanted to know if I was Jewish.  He didn’t care if I was a believer.  From further conversations with him, I don’t think he believed in any god. He was asking about my lineage, my ancestry.  The people Jesus was addressing were confident in their own righteousness because they figured if they were Jewish by blood, that was enough.  The Jews of Jesus’ time trusted in their ancestry and they trusted in their 


  1. Attitudes


They were confident in their own righteousness because they figured they followed the laws of the Jews, but not just the 10 Commandments.  No, they also followed the laws that the rabbis made up.  They were in lockstep with the religious leaders and because of that, they trusted in themselves.  The Jews of Jesus’ time trusted in their ancestry and their attitudes and they trusted in their 


  1. Actions


Here’s where the rubber meets the road.  These Jews trusted in themselves because they kept the three pillars of Judaism; prayer, giving alms and fasting.  They would pray, give alms or donations, and fast because the law said to and because by doing those things they were confident in their own righteousness, they trusted in themselves.  “Look, God, look at all I am doing.  God, that’s got to count for something.  Because of all of that, you’ve got to love me.  You’ve got to accept me.  I paid my dues.  You owe me.” What they were missing was a relationship with God because they could do these things and not believe in God. They could have the right ancestry, follow the right laws, and have the right actions and not even have faith in God. That’s who Jesus was addressing and the result of their trusting in themselves was, as our Scripture says, 


  1. They looked down on everybody else


When I think I am a member of the chosen race then that means you are not.  You are not as good as I.  I am better than you.  I am a member of the tribe.  Talk about spiritual pride.  Look at me! I am better than all those others. Spiritual pride!  Look at me.  I’ve got all the credentials.  Even God--if there is a God—even God has to look up at me.  You owe me, God.  I expect compensation for my righteous acts.  I am confident in my righteousness.  I trust in myself.  Jesus was addressing spiritual pride.  To drill down on this, Jesus gives;


  1.  Two Examples


He says, did you hear the one about the two men who went up to the temple to pray?  Stop me if you have.  The first man was a


  1.  The Pharisee


Right about then, the Pharisees listening to Jesus were high fiving. They are figuring that in the story, they were the good guys, the ones who wore the white hats, the heroes of the story.  When the common people heard the term, Pharisee, they were supposed to go, “Yea!” The Pharisees were living, breathing examples of the ones who trusted in themselves.  The term, Pharisee, comes from the Persian, to separate.  The Pharisees saw themselves as separate from all other people.  They had the right pedigree, the right attitude--they carefully read the first 5 books of the Old Testament, observed all of the laws but also the Mishnah which explained the laws and the Talmud which was a commentary on the Mishnah—and they had the right actions.   This Pharisee stood up in front of the people—he stood up so that others could see him, so that others could heap praise on him and—listen carefully to how Jesus put it in the parable--  


“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people …”  Luke 18:11


This is so telling.  It wasn’t that he was praying silently, to himself, like, he was p[raying silently to himself.  No, he was praying to himself.  He was directing his prayer to himself.  In this brief prayer, there are 5 references to himself and only one to God.  God receives no honor in his prayer.  God is only a passing reference.  He is really saying, “I thank ME, that I am not like other people.  I can trust in myself.  I can do it on my own.  I don’t need God.  I have no place for God.  Here it comes—I am God.  That’s what spiritual pride does.  Those with spiritual pride do not need God.  They are their own god.


And, just as Jesus said at the beginning—spiritual pride had him look down on everybody else.  This Pharisee lists all the people he is better than.  He is better than the robbers and the evil doers and the adulterers and he certainly is better than that tax collector over there.  He goes on.  He is saying, let me tell you why I am so prideful. 


  • I fast twice a week.  The Jews were required to fast just once a year, on the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees upped their game and they fasted twice per week, on Mondays and Thursdays.  It was thought that Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments on a Monday and came down from the mountain 40 days later on a Thursday.  Mondays and Thursdays were also the big market days.  So these Pharisees would go to the market when the most number of people were there so that the most number of people would go, “Look at how holy those Pharisees are.”
  • This Pharisee said that he gives a tenth of all that he gets.  The Pharisees pushed that to the max, too.  Last week, we saw how they gave a tenth of even their spices.

As I said, this Pharisee was a living, breathing example of the people Jesus was addressing, those who had confidence in their own righteousness, those who trusted in themselves. 


  1.  The Pharisee within


Let me stop a moment and ask if there is a little bit of that Pharisee in you? The question I am asking is if there is such a thing as Christians having spiritual pride.  Are there Christians who claim they have the right ancestry?  “Hey look, I am a Southern Baptist, I am a Methodist, and because I’ve got my name on the rolls, I am confident of my own righteousness.  Or, I am a card carrying member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. For those of you who might be wondering, that is what we are here at Risen Christ.  We are the conservative branch of Lutheranism.  We belong to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  Are there Christians who say that because they are members of this or that denomination or this or that church, that they are in good spiritual standing.  “I am a member of 2nd Lutheran Church.”  Who wants to be a member of 2nd Lutheran Church.  Why not be a member of 1st Lutheran Church.  At 2nd Lutheran Church the motto is, “We aren’t as good, but we try harder.”  Or, are there Christians who say that they’ve been a member of such and such church for 30 years and their parents were members and their grandparents were members and they gave a stained glass window and they have their names on that window to prove it or they gave a ceiling fan and even though now the church has air conditioning, you’d better not take that fan down.  I’ve got the right pedigree, I’ve got the right ancestry. That’s got to count for something with you, God.  At least I am better than those heathen over there who have no church.  Confidence in their own righteousness.  Trusting in themselves.  Spiritual pride!


Or, they have the right Christian attitudes.  I know all of the doctrines of the church, I’ve memorized the catechism, I can quote chapter and verse in the Bible.  Pretty good, huh, God.  You don’t see many people doing that, do you?  Confidence in their own righteousness.  Trusting in themselves.  Spiritual pride!


Or, they are pretty good at Christian actions.  They pray daily and they give a tenth to the church, of course they want to know if they have to give 10% before or after taxes and they are right on top of some spiritual disciples.  Like, they gave up something for Lent—that is a form of fasting—but they want others to know what they gave up.  These are people who think they can do things to earn their way to God.  I go to church.  I give my money.  That gives me a leg up, God.  There are those who don’t do anything.  Confidence in their own righteousness.  Trusting in themselves.  Spiritual pride!


  • These are people who, instead of praying, “God, I thank you that I can be a part of the church where I get to see you at work in the lives of the people, I get to be encouraged by the music and the sermon, when the sermon isn’t too stinky,  and the way the people live out their faith,” no, instead their prayer goes something like this, “God, you’re welcome that I showed up today, you’re welcome that I graced the church with my presence.”  Or, God, you’re welcome that I took the time to watch this service live, sitting in my pajamas at home.  One of our members wrote that they could do church in their pajamas.  What they don’t know is, with our technology, we can see you. Three people just threw a blanket over their heads.  I’m kidding. We can’t see you.
  • These are people who, instead of praying, “God, thank you for the amazing gift that you’ve given me of these amazing children that you have entrusted to me to raise.” No, their prayer is more like, “You’re welcome, God, that I bring these kids to Sunday School once in a while, whenever I can, whenever I don’t have anything else to do.”
  • These are the people who, instead of praying, “God, your love is amazing, your grace, Jesus dying on the cross, my salvation is so important that I want to give to the church and I wish I could give more,” no, their prayer goes something like this, “God, I had a few bucks left over this week so I will give you $2 rather than $1.”  Confidence in their own righteousness.  Trusting in themselves.  Spiritual pride!
  • There are people who say, “Look, God, at all I am doing, you’ve got to love me now, I’ve paid my way to heaven, you owe me God. YOU OWE ME!”


And, truth be told, those people are just a short hop, skip and a jump away from, “I am so good.  I trust in myself.  I have confidence in my own righteousness.  Do I really need you, God?  Or, should I, like the Pharisee, should I just pray to myself?” 


The Pharisee was confident in his own righteousness.  He trusted in himself.  He prayed to himself.  He was full of himself and—listen carefully, write this down--when you are full of yourself, there is no room for God.  Let me say that again; when you are full of yourself, there is no room for God.  C. S. Lewis said, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” 


Maybe you don’t hold up your ancestry or your attitude or your actions, your good works before God as payment for Him to love you.  Maybe you don’t have spiritual pride in that way. But, there may be another way for spiritual pride in your life that I want to drill down on for just a moment. If the end result of spiritual pride is that you don’t need God, can I just ask, are there times in your life when you lived as though you didn’t need God. 


Maybe there was a time when your finances were a mess.  You accumulated a good bit of credit card debt.  You hunkered down and worked at getting rid of that debt and that is a good thing, a very good thing.  But, did you ever think about letting God into your finances, of asking for His help?  Spiritual pride.     


Maybe there was a time you had problems in your marriage and you decided you can fix it all by yourself.  Let’s be truthful, you thought you could fix, not your marriage and certainly not yourself, you thought you could fix your spouse—after all the whole problem was their fault, right?  You thought you could fix them, your marriage all by yourself.  You didn’t need God.  Spiritual pride.   


Maybe your kids were on a war path.  You just got out the latest parenting book, when I was growing up, my parents used Dr. Spock, and you figured you could do it all on your own, that you didn’t need Jesus to help you.  Spiritual pride.     


Pastors sometimes think they can fix their church all by themselves.  They devise plans and strategies to fix the church, to make it grow and sometimes they didn’t commend everything to Jesus. I have to confess that sometimes I am guilty of that, myself.  Spiritual pride.     


Some people think they can take care of their sin all by themselves. Maybe they have that secret sin, that chronic sin and they think they can control that just through some behavior modification.  They think they don’t need God to help them.  Spiritual pride.     


Or, when it comes to this coronavirus thing, some people think that all they have to do is follow what the government says and they will be just fine. Please understand, the steps our government is instituting will go a long way to protecting our citizens, but do they allay all of our fears?  Do we not still have fear about this thing?  If you think not, try going to Wegman’s and buy toilet paper.  People are afraid they won’t have toilet paper. Why, in our household, we had to change brands which is just not right.  But listen, do you think you can deal with these fears without letting Jesus in? Spiritual pride.      


Or, one last one, what about if you are stricken with cancer or another life threatening disease.  Modern medicine has so many things that can be done, and sometimes doctors and patients put all of their marbles in that bag called medicine, and sometimes they leave God right out of it.  Spiritual pride.  I would have to ask, when that day comes—and it will come—when modern medicine has no other answer, when all of the medical bags of tricks are exhausted, where is the spiritual pride then? 


Spiritual pride says I can do it by myself.  Spirit pride says, God helps those who help themselves.  Spiritual pride is when you are full of yourself. Listen again; when you are full of yourself, there is no room for God.  When you are full of yourself, there is no room for God.  But, there is a second part to that.  When you are full of yourself, there is no room for God. But, when you are empty, it is then that you are open for God’s grace to act.  Which brings us to the second character in Jesus’ parable,        


  1. The Tax Collector


  1. Who were they?


Tax collectors were considered the lowest of the low in that society. They were agents of Rome, the country enslaving the Jews.  They collected taxes that went to continuing to enslave the Jews.  On top of that, they were allowed to draw their salary over and above the taxes.  They would knock on the door and say, “You owe the government $1000.  Now you also owe me $1000.”  They were hated by the people.  They were not allowed to testify in court because their word was considered worthless.  If a religious man came across a tax collector they were to do 3 things; they were to spit in disgust, go home and burn their clothes and take a bath in scalding water to purify themselves.  Tax collectors were hated and this tax collector knew that.   


  1. What the tax collector did


This tax collector would not even look to heaven.  He was unwilling to lift his eyes because he was filled with guilt and shame.  He beat his breast as an outward sign of the pain in his soul.  His prayer was of utter depravity.  “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”  The original has a definite article; “God, be merciful to me THE sinner,” meaning he considered himself the worst of sinners.  His prayer was like David’s;


“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love…Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” Psalm 51:1,4 


Pastor Jonathan Meyer says it so well;


It’s as if this man wakes up every day with a weight of guilt on his mind. God, be merciful to me, the sinner. It’s as if he looks in the mirror every day and hates the person he sees looking back at him. God, be merciful to me, the sinner. It’s as if he feels he cannot stop himself from engaging in his sinful lifestyle—he’s been doing it for so long. God, be merciful to me, the sinner. It’s as if time and time again he catches himself going through with these sinful acts and is immediately overwhelmed with a sense of guilt; a feeling of hopelessness, because “There I go again”; a feeling of doubt that God could ever love someone who so often, so willingly breaks His Law. God, be merciful to me, the sinner. And then, he goes to worship that day and sees all around him, all of these good people; hears the prayer of that good, good Pharisee, and he beats his chest—the seat of all sin and guilt—and he tries his best to hide in the back pew and says, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner. The only one here, apparently. The only one in need of mercy. The only one who doesn’t measure up to these people around me. The only one who just cannot get it right. So, God, be merciful to me, THE sinner.” [1]


He knew he needed grace.  He knew he needed God.  He knew he needed Jesus.  He was empty. 

When you are full of yourself, you have no room for God.  But, when you are empty, you are open for His grace because it is then that we have nothing to offer.  It is then that you are totally dependent on God.  It is then that grace can come through.


  1.  The Surprising Justification


Jesus finishes up;


“I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Luke 18:14


Can you not hear the Pharisee in the story?  What!!??  Can you hear him cry out, “You have got to be kidding!”  Can you hear every self-righteous arrogant Christian saying, “What are you saying?”  But, that is what Jesus said.  It was the tax collector who went home justified.  He was justified not just because he humbled himself, not just because he had no spiritual pride.  No, this tax collector was justified because he was in the proper stance before God. He knew he was a sinner.  He needed God to do something for him.  He knew he needed grace.  He needed Jesus to die for him.  The Pharisee was so full of himself that he had no room for God.  The tax collector was so empty that he knew he could not do it without Jesus.  As a sinner, he could not look down on anyone else because he felt he was far worse. When we are full of ourselves, we have no room for God but when we are empty, we are in the perfect position to be filled with God’s grace.  So, before I stop, let me just ask


  1.  Which are you?


Are you the Pharisee?  Is there a part of you that says you can say you are not as bad as others out there or that you can hold up to God your good works and expect to be put right with God? Is there a part of you that thinks, God owes me?  Are you filled with spiritual pride?  Or, are you the tax collector?  Do you stand before God empty, with nothing to offer, dependent on Him, dependent on His amazing grace.  Which are you?  When you are full of yourself, there is no room for God but when you are empty, you are in the perfect position to be filled with God’s grace.  For indeed, what Jesus would undo is spiritual pride.


In Jesus’ name.




[1] From the sermon, “The Good, The Bad and The Suggly” by Jonathan Meyer found at www.sermoncentral.com