Luke 18:9-14 Righteous enough?

What does it take to be good enough to go to heaven? 

What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 18:18)  The question has been around a long, long, time.  Is there an entrance exam one must pass in this life before entering heaven or the fires of hell if one fails?

Is it saying the right prayers or helping enough people that are not as well off as you? Perhaps it’s a sliding scale that God uses and you just have to get past a certain point?  After all there are 10 commandments maybe keeping 6 out of 10 will be good enough to be admitted to heaven? 

Maybe if you are better than those terrorists that we are constantly hearing about … would that give you a passing grade?  That doesn’t seem too high to reach.  Better than a blood thirsty terrorist?  Although, come to think of it, the suicide bombers actually believe their ultimate sacrifice will usher them into paradise.  

slide2Could they possibly be right?  After all Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  And clearly they believe what they are doing is right….don’t they?  They believe it makes them righteous enough to merit a spot in paradise.  Is that what it takes to pass heaven’s entrance exam?  I sure don’t think so but does it actually disqualify them from entering?

Maybe you need to sell all your possessions and give to the poor?   Isn’t that what Jesus said to one rich young man?   He was lacking just one thing having kept the law all his life (cf. Luke 18:21-22). Just one thing! Ouch! 

When talking with people, who clearly don’t know Jesus, I often hear stories of the good works they have been doing.  I don’t elicit the stories they just seem to feel the need to volunteer that information.  It can be very uplifting at times.  Some have given much time, talent and treasure to help others in need.  Often they are very nice and what you and I would likely call good people.  Some have even traveled to foreign countries to help the poor.  Their stories are often fascinating but sometimes I wonder why they have done what they’ve done.   What was their motivation? 

I know Christians are supposed to be doing such things but as I said it was clear from our conversation that these were not yet believers.  So what compels them to do such good works?

slide4Sometimes they would throw in the karma key.  They wanted good karma in their lives so they did good things and they hoped they would receive good karma in return according to the Buddhist teachings that have even crept into Christian circles.

This picture is of a prayer mantra wheel.  “According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.” (   Much the same effect!  And just what effect would that be?

Could it be the effect Jesus spoke about when He said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Mat. 6:7).  

I think Jesus ran into a lot of good folks who had no idea what righteousness is nor where it comes from nor how critical it is to entering the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Take for example today’s passage in HIStory Luke 18:9-14 (NIV).  Jesus took time to explain to people the difference between righteous prayer and arrogance before God.  He taught how some prayers receive righteousness from God and that other prayers receive about the same effect as a Buddhist Mantra wheel.  So let’s look at the truth about what makes us good enough to get to heaven. 

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

slide6 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else…” (Luke 18:9).   Wow! Luke, our author of record, wasn’t pulling any punches with that opening sentence was he? Some who were confident of their own righteousness!  And just in case the reader wasn’t sure who Luke was writing about the Lord Himself made it perfectly clear.  It was those Pharisees once again that had sparked this teachable moment. This was yet another verbal scrimmage between our LORD and those who thought that because of their training and lifestyle they were in the right. 

To their credit the Pharisees did know the word of God and the laws very well.  Extremely well! There was no denying that.  If knowing can be equated to righteousness than they should have reached the passing grade with ease.   And this particular Pharisee here that Jesus talked about seemed like a pretty good guy if only in his own eyes.   

I don’t think he was speaking falsely when he said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector” (11).   

I believe his self-examination there was pretty bang on.  Nor do I think Jesus is saying this guy is lying or delusional as he speaks out to God.  Clearly he wasn’t like the aforementioned people.  God was likely nodding in agreement with him as he heard this come out of the Pharisee’s mouth.  He certainly was nothing like that tax collector!  But did that make him more righteous?  Should it have given him “confidence in his own righteousness”? 

Beyond knowing the word of God this Pharisee didn’t just talk a good game he even practiced what he believed the Law required of him and went beyond.   “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  (11-12).     

The Law actually only required one fast on the Day of Atonement but hey this guy was super spiritual. Admirable quality don’t you agree?  Not only did he fast and pray he put his money where his mouth was. And he was more generous than many of his brethren. 

A tenth of everything if you can believe it! God certainly loves a cheerful giver! (cf.2 Cor. 9:7)   But somehow according to Jesus even with this sort of spiritual commitment the Pharisee still had missed the mark and not just a little.

Hearing of his zeal for the law and his righteous acts, and the fact that he missed the mark according to Jesus are you still “confident of your own righteousness?” 

How many of you are “righteous enough” in God’s sight? 

I should actually see all hands go up here.  Well maybe not all hands.  All those who have put their trust in Christ that is.  But why do I say that?  More importantly how can I prove such an audacious statement?  Well just what does the bible say about us being “righteous enough”?  Let’s look at just a few verses..there are more than 80 according to this site: but let’s just look at a few of them.

John wrote, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One(1 John 2:1 (NIV).  Apparently there was one that stood righteous before God, Jesus Christ.

 John goes on to say, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” 1 John 2:29 (NIV) 

Peter wrote, “Jesus committed no sin, (Part of what it takes to be righteous and to inherit the kingdom of God. )  and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 1 Peter 2:22 (The other part of what it takes to be righteous.  If you ever told a lie, no matter how small it was, you failed.  This alone proves you are not righteous enough ! But  Peter says, Jesus passed on both accounts with flying colours!  He was righteous enough!  ) (NIV) And Peter goes on to say, “…Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…” (1 Peter 3:18 (NIV).  He was THE righteous not just a righteous man.  He is the standard that God has set for righteousness.  Unless your righteousness measures up to his you will be found wanting when the day comes to enter the kingdom of God. In fact Jesus said, For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:20 (NIV).  And the only one to surpass their righteousness was the one who set that standard.
But wait Peter also said there that the life Christ lived and died can bring you to inherit the kingdom of heaven. 

So does your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees?   How do you measure up to Jesus?  Are you still confident in your own righteousness?

Isaiah wrote about the rest of us when he penned, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6 (NIV).  Our best righteousness, the very best we can do, which is still a good thing to strive for, according to Isaiah is still not good enough!  It doesn’t measure up to God’s standard.

That’s why, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption(1 Corinthians 1:28-30 (NIV).

 “For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19 (NIV).  Made righteous!  And not just a little, righteous enough!  

“Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4 (NIV).   That’s what another Pharisee wrote!  His name was Paul.  He was a Pharisee of Pharisees according to the Bible (cf. Phil. 3:5).  He also wrote, “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV).

This is the Gospel!  The good news that the tax collector was praying for as he repented and beat his chest in humility before God.  He didn’t need some self righteous Pharisee harping on him about how bad he was.   He already knew that!  He needed someone to show him where to find forgiveness and true righteousness.   

And sometimes you and I are too much like that Pharisee when non-believers are in our midst aren’t we?  Let’s bash them over the head with the law rather than helping them to find the same grace that brought us righteousness. 

Jesus said, “I tell you that this tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 (NIV). 

Paul wrote:  “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, …” (Romans 12:3).   Don’t just look at the good things but everything you’ve done.   That’s sober judgment!  We need to take stock accurately before we approach the throne of grace.  Don’t embellish because God keeps very accurate records and you would only be fooling yourself. 

slide15And secondly this passage of Scripture teaches us not to think we actually know about those to whom we choose to compare ourselves.  The truth is you hardly know what evil hides within you never mind your neighbor.  Who knows it may be far worse than that of a tax collector!   

I guess that’s why Jesus said “first remove the log in your own eye”(cf. Matt. 7:3) and then you will likely be in a position to think soberly.    Perhaps you’ll even see the grace that God gave you in your sinful state and be less likely to harshly judge your neighbor.   The log Jesus was talking about is pride.  And trust me it ain’t no sliver!  And it surely was blocking the Pharisee from seeing his own sorry state never mind the tax collector’s.   Even if his prayers had been honest and truthful clearly his attitude sucked!

The Pharisee wasn’t talking with God he was showing off for man.  And that sort of pride and arrogance is something that God’s detests and therefore He doesn’t listen to those sort of prayers.    God has made it clear in this passage and throughout the Bible what sort of person gets heard on high. 

The Bible says, “… to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word (Isaiah 66:2).  

 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17). 

“… rend your heart and not your garments ” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil” (Joel 2:13).slide18

 Isaiah 58:9-10 (NIV) says, “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,  and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday”. 

God assures us that, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV).  

Jesus said, the tax collector went home justified that day.  As for the Pharisee, he was confident in his own righteousness.  He likely didn’t think he needed the LORD’s. 

And so again I ask you are you good enough to merit heavenAre you righteous enough to pass God’s standard for getting in? 

If you have Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour than you can have confidence in His righteousness not your own. 

And as the writer to Hebrews put is:

“…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV).


Dig deeper into this Passage:  Luke 18:9-14


  1. How do you feel when you are around people who are very knowledgeable about the Bible?
  2. How do you feel when you are around people who constantly brag about their accomplishments?
  3. Have you been good enough to get to Heaven? What does it take?
  4. Read Luke 18:9-14 in several versions if possible.
  5. Who are the three main characters in this passage?
  6. What does Luke tell us is at issue in verse 9?
  7. Is the confidence expressed here a good thing or a bad thing? (Luke 18:9)
  8. What is righteousness?
  9. Who are the two men described in this passage? What do we know about such people?  (P- Mat 9:14; Mat 23:15; Luke 11:39; Luke 18:12, Acts 23:6-8; Acts 26:4, 5). (TC- Mark 2:15-17; Matthew 9:7-11; 11:18-20; Matthew 18:17; Luke 3:12-14; Luke 7:28-31; Luke 15:1-7)
  10. How would the first hearers of this parable have understood the Pharisee and the Tax collector?
  11. What has Luke observed already about Pharisees: (Luke 5:17; 6:2, 7; 7:39; 11:37-54; 15:2; 16:14). Were Pharisees righteous?
  12. How righteous do we need to be to inherit the Kingdom of God or go to heaven? (Matthew 5:20) 
  13. What does Jesus say about both prayers that were spoken that day? (Luke 18:14). Why?
  14. Who are the equivalent to Pharisees and Tax Collectors today?  
  15. How can you become righteous enough to go to Heaven? (Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 56:1; Romans 1:17; Isaiah 54:17; Romans 4:13; Romans 9:30; Romans 10:6; Romans 3:21-22;  1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Romans 10:4; Romans 5:17; Romans 4:5; Philippians 3:9)
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