• Tony Birkhead

Messy Grace Week - 7

The Worst Mess can lead to the Greatest Victory!


What do you think the qualifications of a church member should be?

Should people living in open sin be allowed to be part of the church? Why or why not?


Luke 18:9-17

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”


As you look at Luke 18:10–14, what are some ways that you can identify with both the tax collector and the Pharisee?

In what ways is the gospel of Jesus Christ messy? What does that mean?

Think about your church. Is there an atmosphere that would allow messy people to attend?

Why do you think some churches aren’t willing to create an environment that attracts less-than-perfect people?


Look at the list of statements Pastor Tony made at the end of the message. Start thinking through some of them.

  • We will be a safe place for people to struggle!

  • We will lead out of our brokenness and weakness!

  • We will be a place where people can belong before they believe!

  • We will live in the tension of grace and truth!

  • We will allow ourselves to get uncomfortable!

  • We will run towards the mess and the messy!

  • We will be a church of Holy messiness!

Be honest: Thinking through the scenarios these could present, which would you have the toughest time with? Why?


If we have a church filled with people who are honest and vulnerable about their shortcomings, then the Gospel will know no boundaries. -Kaleb Kaltenbach

God make us a church of honest and vulnerable people who unleash the power of the Gospel.


Luke 18:9-14

18:9. The character of the two people in this parable is more important than their identity. Jesus described the Pharisees and scribes without naming them. They were religious. They kept the law. They told everyone else the requirements for being religious. They saw themselves as the perfect example of God’s righteousness. They saw everyone else as ignorant sinners to be scorned and sneered at.

18:10. Two personalities take center stage in this parable. The first is a Pharisee. Hearing the word “Pharisee,” the crowd would have had two reactions. This was a religious man who kept all the rules. This was also a man who opposed Jesus and constantly heard Jesus’ condemnation and ridicule. The second character was a tax collector. Hearing this word, the audience would have felt disgust and betrayal. Here was a person working for the foreign government that dominated them. This one takes our money and gives it to Rome, they probably thought. This one is probably a cheat and a thief, taking far more money than Rome authorizes him to take. One might wonder what a tax collector was doing in the temple. How could such a person become ritually clean enough to be allowed inside the temple?

18:11–12. The Pharisee prayed. That would be expected. Pharisees legalistically followed every rule. Prayer was expected several times a day. His prayer was unexpected: He prayed about himself. He did not praise God. He thanked God for making him better than other people—especially better than the tax collector. The tax collector was grouped with robbers, unrighteous people, greedy individuals, and adulterers. The Pharisee confidently asserted his superiority before God over all these people. He described all his religious acts. He praised himself in the face of God. This was not persistent prayer, depending on God for one’s needs. This was self-adulation, giving all the credit to self and none to God.

18:13. An entirely different kind of prayer came from the tax collector’s lips. It was a prayer of humility, dependence, and desperation. The Pharisee prayed to God; the tax collector looked to the floor but raised his voice to heaven. The Pharisee was proud and confident; the tax collector grieved over his own condition as a sinner. The Pharisee described his righteousness; the tax collector begged for mercy to escape the judgment his sin deserved. Which one of them truly prayed?

18:14. Jesus had no doubts. The sinful tax collector was justified before God. He was righteous. He was clean. He was prepared for temple worship. His sins were forgiven. The Pharisee left the temple confident he had fulfilled his religious duty but still bearing his own guilt and sins. He had not prayed, because he never addressed God. He was not forgiven, since he never confessed his sins. He was not clean and qualified for worship, because he remained separated from God by his unconfessed sin. Jesus put it succinctly: praise yourself, God will humble you; humble yourself, and God will praise and honor you.



The QT Guide is designed to help you MOVE with God through Bible Reading, reflection and prayer. It can be completed in about 9 minutes.

UPWARD: 1⁄2 Minute Preparing Your Heart:Invest the first 30 seconds preparing your heart. You might pray, “Lord, cleanse my heart so You can speak to me through the Scriptures. Make my mind alert, my soul active, and my heart responsive. Surround me with Your presence during this time.

FORWARD: 4 Minutes Listening To God:Take the next four minutes to read the Bible. Your greatest need is to hear a word from God. Allow the Word to strike fire in your heart. Meet the Author!

INWARD: 2 1/2 Minutes Talking To God (Prayer):After God has spoken through His Book, then speak to Him in prayer.

OUTWARD: 2 Minutes Preparing your Action:Ask yourself this question: How can I take today’s Quiet Time and put it into action throughout my day?


For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Romans 2:13

Hearing and agreeing with Biblical truth has become an evangelical hobby. This is a dangerous place to live. When “truth” and “being right” become a hobby a natural pride will begin, much like a weed, to sprout, grow, and multiply around our skill at each of these. The pride one feels in being good at something will inevitably crop up in our spirituality. But this pride becomes more insidious because of its context: its exclusivity. Jesus Christ is indeed “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), the only path to the Father.

Tragically, this beautiful truth can be used perversely in our minds! It can become as much about the ability to win an argument as about an eternal soul being saved. Or about the “puffing up” of ever increasing knowledge, and the superiority that allows one to feel. It can foster an “us versus them” mentality, where we begin to look at all the evil “out there” and forget about our own shortcomings.

In short, it can create in us a false righteousness. When we become mere “hearers” of the gospel, we act as those Jews did, who were nothing but “hearers of the law”. We simply are substituting the atoning work of Jesus as our justification before a holy God for our knowledge of and agreement with the “truth”. “Amen”, isn’t the password into heaven, but let us “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving [ourselves]” (James 1:22).

Remember Jesus’ instruction, You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:13-17)

Adapted From: http://shortdailydevotions.com


But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed his house and carried away the people to Babylonia.

Ezra 5:12

The Israelites had been back in Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity for about twenty years. They had returned to rebuild the temple and God’s great city, Jerusalem. As they continued their work, they were questioned by Persian officials as to the authorization of the building project. The Israelites’ response was that it was originally validated by king Cyrus (Ezra 1) and that they were exiled because of their fathers’ sins.

They were acknowledging the sins committed, not as a way to criticize, but to recognize what the cause of the captivity had been. We can learn a lot from our fathers’ sin when we aren’t afraid to admit or confess that sin.

However, if there is not an admission of previous sins, we cannot learn from them, and we will often repeat them. Are we afraid to admit past generations’ sins because they bare a striking resemblance to our own? If we humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and understand those who came before us weren’t, we can learn from their mistakes.

Adapted From: http://shortdailydevotions.com


Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

We often forget that during His stay on earth, Jesus experienced need just as we do. Although Christ was fully God, He was at the same time completely human, with all of humanity’s weaknesses and shortcomings. Though He didn’t sin, He identified with our suffering.

When Jesus had finished a 40-day fast in the wilderness, He experienced physical hunger and an onslaught of temptation from the devil (Matt. 4:1-2). Later, after an exhausting day of healing people and feeding a crowd of more than 5,000, the Son of God required time alone with His Father for spiritual strength and refreshment (Matt. 14:23). And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ was under tremendous spiritual and emotional pressure as He faced the daunting task of paying for the sins of mankind through His death on a cross (Matt. 26:38-39).

In each weakness, Jesus turned to His Father. The Word of God was His defense in temptation, prayer was His source of strength for ministry, and submission to the Father’s will was His pathway to victory over sin and death. By passing through every difficult situation without sin, He became our Great High Priest, who intercedes for us and invites us to draw near to God’s throne for help in time of need.

Whatever your needs may be, you can follow Christ’s example and experience the Father’s provision. The Word of God is your protection, prayer is your strength, and submission to the Father is the way to victory over sin. Draw near with confidence, and let the Lord shower you with His grace.

Adapted From: http://intouch.org


When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:11-13

There is a common misconception that believers should be perfect. Pretending to have our life in order, many of us wear a happy face and speak words that sound acceptable. At times we’re ashamed to admit our shortcomings, as if they should not exist. Salvation through Jesus, however, doesn’t change the fact that sin is present in our life. When we’re born again, God forgives us and sees us as righteous. Yet our battle with sin continues till we arrive in heaven.

In fact, striving for perfection actually can be a trap that pulls us away from living a godly life. Functioning in this way is a form of relying on our own abilities. Jesus said that He came to heal the spiritually sick because they recognized their weakness. With an awareness of our inadequacy comes the realization of our need for Him.

The world sees successful individuals as powerful and self-sufficient, but Jesus doesn’t care about these qualities. Instead, He wants people to be aware of their own brokenness. This is the foundation for godliness.

We should accept our neediness and seek God passionately. Doing so allows the following attributes to develop: a hunger for God’s Word, faithful service, deepening trust, and decision-making based upon principle rather than preference. Patiently and mercifully, God matures us.

Be careful not to cover up your sins in order to look like a “good Christian.” Without recognition and confession of our sin, we are unable to rely fully on God. It is only with this awareness that we can passionately seek Him, obey in His strength, and repent when we miss the mark.

Adapted From: http://intouch.org


And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What's more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.

1 Peter 2:5

As I travel around the world, I’m amazed at the special bond I find with other followers of Jesus Christ that transcends all others, even nationalities. We might see the world a little bit differently, and we might not agree on every fine political point, but we can agree on the fact that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and that He has changed our lives. We are part of the body of Christ, the church.

The secret of the first-century church, the church that changed the world, the church that turned the world upside down, is the simple fact that every Christian believed they were called to do their part.

The Bible says that as believers, we are “living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5). It is easy for us to stand on the sidelines and be critical of the church. It is easy for us to say they are not doing this right or that right. But it is another thing when we are in the arena fighting, when we realize that we’re part of the church.

President Theodore Roosevelt made this statement: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out where the strong stumbled or how the doer could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena, his face marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and falls short again and again: There is no effort without error.”

Yes, we have our shortcomings in the church, but we are in the arena attempting to do the work of God. And I encourage every Christian to enter the arena, be a part of the body of Christ, and do what they can do.

Adapted From: http://harvest.org


One of the best ways to fight temptation and grow in your daily walk with Jesus is to memorize His Word. Begin to commit His words to your memory this week.

Memorizing may be as simple as repeating the passage aloud 10 times each day or writing it 5 times each day. It may be that you place a 3x5 card on your mirror to remind you each day. Whatever it takes you won’t be let down with His Word in your mind and heart. Consider this…

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke 18:14

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