(Article for publication week of 8-7- AD 2014)
"And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon 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 every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:13-14).
Here we have another notable example of saving faith. You will remember that we wrote several articles on the principle acts of faith (receiving Christ, coming to Christ, feeding on Christ, resting in Christ, and looking to Christ). Now we are considering some notable accounts of saving faith. The first one we considered was the woman in Luke 7:36-52. Now we come to the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.
The first thing we notice about this parable is that we find faith in an unlikely character, a publican, that is a tax collector, generally a very scurvy lot. The publicans were the Roman Empire's equivalent of the IRS. (Christians are obliged to pay tribute to whom it is due, and often to those to whom it is not due because they bear the sword, that is force of arms, as we read in Romans 13, but we do not defend the collectors of unjust taxes and we continue to lawfully petition for redress of these grievances.) Our Lord takes a repentant publican as an example of a saved sinner. Faith is often found in very surprising characters. Be sure if a wretched tax collector can find mercy with the Lord, there is no sinner too sinful for Him to save.
Secondly, this is a good place to point out that justification was the same under the Old Testament as under the New Testament. Our parable takes place under the Old Dispensation as two sinners go up to the temple to pray. God has never had but one way of saving sinners, and that is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Alone (see also Hebrews 11 and Romans 4).
Thirdly, we note well that saving faith is always accompanied by a humble spirit and a broken heart. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (Psalm 51:17). The proud Pharisee boasted of his self righteousness (Luke 18: 11-12), but the poor publican would not even so much as look to heaven, but only smote upon his breast and cried to God for mercy. He knew he was a great sinner, but he prayed to the great Saviour Who delighteth in mercy (Micah 7:18), and is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4). Dear reader, are you like the Pharisee, or like the publican? Be honest now; you can't fool the Lord.
Finally, I tell you again that there is no prescribed prayer for a sinner to pray to get saved. This is one of the main reasons we are doing this short series on notable examples of saving faith. I want you to see that as we read the scriptures we find no two sinners who said the same thing, or did the same thing. All conversions have in common repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but never suppose that you can be saved by repeating a prayer after the preacher, Sunday School teacher, or church worker. Preacher, if you have to coach your supposed converts that is all they will ever be is your converts, but they are not the Lord's.
Poor seeking sinner, if you don't know how to pray, just cry to God for mercy and it may be found in Him Who delights in mercy, and is rich in mercy.