November 19, 2020

Luke’s Gospel of Reversal … and our posture.

associate pastor

associate pastor

Ken Rathburn

I have a tendency to slouch. I sometimes stand with my shoulders slumped and I routinely sit somewhat reclined, not quite upright in a chair. I am not sure when I developed this habit, but I am told it will lead to lower back and other problems. My wife tells me not to sit like that, my mother said it before her and my grandmother—well, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that I know better, but I do it without even thinking about it. In fact, I’m doing it right now while writing this and across the room my son is doing the same. Apparently this problem spans generations. Yes, bad physical posture is an issue, but its importance pales in comparison to that of our spiritual posture. Did you even know you have a spiritual posture? We all do, and understanding it really matters.

The Bible is full of teachings on our posture and appropriateness before God. No, I don’t mean if you slouch or whether you can wear ripped jeans on Sunday—I’m not touching that controversial quagmire—I mean that the Bible addresses having a proper attitude as we approach God. And, maybe the clearest teaching on our approach to and position before God, comes from Jesus himself.

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is recorded in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 18:9-14). It is short and artfully constructed. Two men come to the Temple to pray but that is where their similarities end. The first man is a Pharisee, a stalwart keeper of the minutiae of the Law, while the other is a tax collector, a no-doubt cheater of the people and a stooge of the Roman occupiers. The Pharisee essentially reads his resume aloud. He says he’s grateful not to be “like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (v.11), and provides a list of the good things he’s done, such as “fast twice a week … give tithes of all [he gets]” (v.12). The Greek wording is tough to decipher just before his prayer, which may read “standing by himself, prayed” or it could be “standing, to himself prayed.” Either way, he at minimum is confident in his own worthiness and approaches God on equal footing. He doesn’t thank God for making him, he thanks God for what he believes to have made out of himself. He takes the credit for his supposed righteousness. The tax collector is opposite in every way. He “stands far off” from others, uncomfortably stares at the ground, and beats his chest. He gives no resume, but begs “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (v.13). The Greek wording here gives a different story, where a literal translation would be calling himself “the sinner”—implying he’s the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). And Jesus tells us that by this great reversal of fortunes, the tax collector ends up justified before God and not the Pharisee.

This ending would have shocked Jesus’ listeners, and if we’re honest, it still does today. The world fits people into neat categories: those who have performed and can stand proudly, and those who have failed and should be ashamed. The Bible, however, teaches that all of us really fall into the second category—having failed to meet the standards of holiness set by a perfect and holy God. This leaves us with only one hope. That our righteousness would come from God and to us, not the other way around. And this is exactly what is freely offered by faith in the perfect life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This leaves us with only one hope. That our righteousness would come from God and to us, not the other way around.

What does this mean for us who claim the name of Christ? It means our posture before God should be one of perpetual humility, confession, and joy. This posture should inform all that we do. Here are a few examples:

  • Worship — In right posture before God, we will see worship as a joyful privilege. We are blessed with the ability to corporately and individually worship the God who made us, to sing his praises. Only because our holy and sovereign God has put away our sins can we take any posture in his presence at all. This should bring us to worship early, often and attentive. What a privilege and a joy!
  • Prayer — In our JAM! Children’s ministry, our kids learn the P-R-A-Y acronym for prayer (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield). Praying this way helps reinforce a right posture before God. We begin by praising who God is and what he has done in Christ, then move to repenting of our sins and trusting the Lord to forgive. It is only after this that we ask for the things we want. Why? Because first focusing on God’s glory and our sin will reinforce a right posture, which will ultimately change our requests! Then, we are ready to yield to his will and heed his commands.
  • Mission — A right posture of humility changes how we share the Gospel with others. Because it is God’s grace alone that saves, there is no one too far gone to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. God can and does use our meager and humble efforts to bring new people into his heavenly family! This posture frees us to humbly share with all—we get to participate and God gets the glory.

So, do we think of ourselves like the Pharisee? Or, do we trust in God for our righteousness like the tax collector? No matter what your answer may be, each day represents a new opportunity to remind ourselves what it means to have a right spiritual posture before our God. This carries enormous consequences, but also brings countless eternal blessing.

Blessed to come before our Lord with you,
Pastor Ken