Gospel mathematics

“10Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 18:10-14)

Two men – a Pharisee and a tax collector – went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee approached God based on what he had done, while the tax collector, who was regarded as a traitor and the worst of sinners by the Jews, only dared to trust in God’s grace. Jesus said that only one of them went home righteous – the tax collector.

Think about the Pharisee. (The Pharisees were the holiness movement of the Jewish society.) He neither stole nor committed adultery. He fasted twice a week and even gave tithes of everything he possessed. Doesn’t this sound like a dream member for any pastor and church today? But still, he had to go home from the temple empty-handed.

What can we learn from this? We can only come before God based on His grace. There is nothing worse in God’s eyes than self-righteousness, which is a form of pride. The core of self-righteousness is that we trust in our own works and performance before God, instead of trusting in God’s unconditional love and grace – proven to us by God by sending His own son Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners (Rm. 5:8).

If we come before God with our own self-righteousness, the result always becomes the same. We have to leave empty-handed. This can be summed up in a mathematical formula, called gospel mathematics. The formula is:

Jesus + anything = 0

Jesus, plus our own works or performance, equals cero. If we come to God based on Jesus plus anything we have done, we must leave emptyhanded, just like the self-righteous Pharisee.

But this mathematical formula is not yet complete. Here comes the second, and good, part:

Jesus + 0 = EVERYTHING

As we come to God based only on who Jesus is and what He has done, we receive everything. Every promise of God has become “yes and amen” through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). This means that Jesus on our behalf already has fulfilled all conditions for us to walk in His blessing. Our part is simply to trust in that Jesus and His finished work is enough.


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