September 6, 2023

September 6, 2023

Author: Pastor Gordon Cook
September 06, 2023

The question that we should always be asking ourselves when we think of ourselves as individuals is, “What is a Christian?” But when we think of ourselves as a corporate entity, “What is a church?” And here's the question that I'm sure you've heard before, “What are the marks of a true church?” And if you have studied historical theology or Reformed theology they say three things mark a true church. 1) Preaching, 2) Discipline, 3) Sacraments, the Lord's Supper and baptism. Pastor Mark Dever has a book titled The Nine Marks of a Church, and he expands upon those three marks and gives a number of other categories, but he adds church membership, evangelism, Biblical theology, conversion. A true church should only be bringing converted people into membership. But here is a question when I read this and then when I think of the reformed perspective over the years I've asked the question, why don't they have prayer as a distinguishing mark? And Dr. Dever puts it under the subject of membership, but I would argue that it should belong in a separate category. Prayer is a distinguishing mark of a true church. Go through the book of Acts starting in chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 6, chapter 9, the church continually prays. So that's a distinguishing mark of a true church. What is the true mark of a true believer? He prays. And the true mark of a true church is a church prays.

Luke’s gospel has sometimes been called the gospel of prayer. You have Jesus’ prayers recorded at least nine times and I think you find most of those only in Luke's Gospel and then Luke also brings in two parables on prayer and both of them are found here in Luke 18. The first one is the persevering widow and the second one is the prayer of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Luke 18:9-14, He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes to all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing afar off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

If I asked you the question, “What is our greatest problem?” If you were to ask that question to a man like Dr. John Stott, here's what he would say, “Here's our greatest problem, as Christians at every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is our greatest enemy.” Pride can follow us anywhere, even into our prayer closets. You have here in Luke 18, two men go up to the temple to pray and one man prays proudly, the other man prays humbly. The one man is thinking of himself and really only of himself. There's nothing here of adoration; there's nothing here of true petition; there's nothing here of honest confession of sin. The Pharisee goes into the temple to pray more of self-exaltation then God exaltation. And you would expect it, he leaves empty handed. Like the Pharisee, we can fall into that trap as well when we pray. Remember what James says in James 4, “You ask and do not receive because you asked wrongly and to spend it on your passions.” So there's a problem that we can all struggle, we can go into the prayer closet and we can be praying in a very selfish, proud kind of way.

But look at the other guy here. He goes into the temple, he's a publican. You know publicans were not considered to be the good guys, they were considered to be the worst of the worst. And look what he does, the guy knows it, he doesn't deny it, the very first word out of his mouth he focuses upon God, His mercy, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He prays a humble prayer, he prays as a beggar and he leaves the temple blessed, he goes home justified.

As we come to prayer as Christians we don't pray to be justified because we have been justified. We never have to pray that, we are already justified, but we do have to pray for mercy, we always have to be praying for mercy because we're always sinners, we never ever stop being a sinner. I would think that one of the most humbling doctrines in the Bible is the doctrine of justification. God justifies the ungodly. Why did he justify you? Not because you were good; not because of any of your religious works, but only because of his grace. We’re justified by grace; we're justified by the blood of Christ; we’re justified because of his righteousness and not our own. Romans 4:5, “God justifies the ungodly.” So that is really one of the most humbling doctrines in the Christian faith. When we come to prayer we have to remember that we are justified. We are justified by grace and that should also encourage us, shouldn't it? We're not coming to a throne of merit, we're not coming to earn anything. Christ has done everything for us. We are justified because of him, but we can go to the throne of grace with boldness because we are justified.

Listen to what Thomas Brooks, the Puritan, says when it comes to praying as justified sinners, “This is my comfort, the imputed righteousness of Christ. This answers to all my fears, doubts and objections. How should I look to you? In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I have communion with you, a holy God? In the righteousness of Christ. How should I find acceptance with you? In the righteousness of Christ. And so enable me, I pray, to fix my eyes on the mediatory righteousness of Christ under all temptations, fears, conflicts, doubts. I am accepted in him.”

That's the great truth of our justification. We are accepted in Jesus Christ. We come as justified sinners. I trust we come as humble beggars.