Justified means "to be declared righteous." The apostle Paul teaches that human beings are not justified by their works but by God's mercy—by grace (Titus 3:4-8). Our responsibilities in being justified are to humble ourselves in faith before God, repent of sin, and plead for His mercy and forgiveness. The Pharisee may not have been an extortioner, unjust, or an adulterer; he may not have overtly sinned as the tax collector did; and he may have fasted and tithed with greater dedication than most—but none of his good works could justify him (Romans 3:27-28; 4:1-3).
It is much less humiliating to humble ourselves than it is to be humbled by others. The tax collector humbles himself before God, pleading for mercy, and in the end, he receives exaltation. In Proverbs 27:2, Solomon expresses the principle of this parable: "Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." This principle works in all facets of life, but most people cannot see it at work because they see no reward for humbly working behind the scenes. Godly principles at first seem contradictory to success, but they always work for the ultimate benefit of all. If we would be as concerned about our character as we are about being recognized for our achievements, we would be far more impressive to our Creator, whose gifts and rewards are unimaginable.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector