Being a Genuine, Not a False Sinner

Pentecost 23 Saturday

Luke 18:13-14

And the tax collector stood far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and said: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I tell you: This tax collector went down into his house justified instead of the Pharisee. For he who exalts himself will be humbled; and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

See to it that you too follow this tax collector rightly and become like him. First, you should be a genuine, not a false sinner. That is, you should not only with words but also from the bottom of your heart confess that you are guilty of God’s wrath and of eternal damnation and bring this word, to me, a poor sinner, before God with this mindset. Yet you should at the same time grasp the other word, “be merciful to me,” thereby dulling the law’s point and edge, that is, turning away from you the sentence of condemnation the Ten Commandments want to force on you. Based on the distinction between the two types of sinners, you can arrive at this correct judgment: To be sure, God is an ungracious enemy of sinners, especially of those who do not want to be sinners, that is, those who do not fear God’s wrath but lead their lives securely and want to avoid rebuke. Contrariwise, God wants to be gracious toward poor sinners who feel their sin and accuse themselves before God’s judgment and confess that they are condemned. Thus, things switch here, also according to God’s Word and judgment, depending on how the persons are: The Ten Commandments will win this argument and bring their judgment upon those who want to be holy or at least do not want to be rebuked as sinners. Yet the gospel and the judgment of grace and comfort pertain to those who lie in terror and fear of wrath. Second, you must also be like the tax collector in that you from now on abstain from sin. For we are not told that he remained the way
he was before, but that he went forth and brought home the grace of having been justified by God, as the text says:
This one went down into his house justified. These words do not imply that he remained in sins. This is also not why he entered the temple to pray. For those who want to remain as they were cannot pray for grace and forgiveness. Rather, those who pray in this way wish and desire to be rid of sin completely. You must know this as well lest you deceive yourself. For there are many who only consider that the tax collector receives grace and forgiveness as a sinner, but they do not think that God wants them to forget sins and wants grace to be strong in them. They want to understand this as if God wanted to declare sinners righteous and saved while they nonetheless remain in sin and unrighteousness.

St. Louis ed., 11:1514-1515.

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