Does Scripture offer insight about the kind of person who receives salvation from God? Yes. And it might surprise some people – maybe even church going people.
The answer is found in a story Jesus gave in Luke 18:9-14 (see below). When you read it, look closely at the contrast between two types of people. It has eternal implications.
One man has a heart set in prideful self-righteousness; the other, a heart overwhelmed with unworthiness and desperate need for mercy.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone 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 by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—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 all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
The self-righteous person sees no need for God’s mercy. Rescue? Salvation? No. These things are for sinners. The self-righteous person is doing quite well in his own estimation.
But to make matters worse, the self-righteous person uses others to leverage his delusional sense of superiority. He boasts about his deeds and shows contempt toward those whom he considers unworthy.
By contrast, Jesus pictured a chest-beating, mercy-pleading, self-confessed sinner. Here is a man who is not even sure he should be in a place where God dwells. He stays at a distance and feels the weight of his wretchedness.
He knows his need for divine intervention. He finds nothing about himself of which to to boast and only appeals to God’s mercy. While the first man builds a case for self-justification before God, the second pleads with God to withhold a judgment he knows he deserves.
Did it shock Jesus’ audience to learn that the second man, rather than the first, receives God’s approval? The chest-beating, mercy-pleading self-confessed sinner goes home justified before God. Where do you see yourself fitting into the story?
- Psalm 51:17 – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”.
- Isaiah 57:15 – “For this is what the high and lofty One says, He who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit'”.
- Isaiah 66:1-2 – “This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the Lord. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”
- Psalm 18:27- You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
- Psalm 25:9- He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.
- Psalm 147:6- The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.
- Psalm 149:4- For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.
- Proverbs 3:34- He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.
- Isaiah 29:19- The humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
- John 12:24-26 – “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me”.
“Unless people sense their guilt and helplessness to save themselves…, the wonder and availability of God’s grace will not move them” (D. A. Carson).