Justification controversy: do you believe the tax collector was repentant (Luke 18)?

I was listening to a justification debate between Robert Sungenis and Matt Slick. Matt Slick took the position that the tax collector in Luke 18 did not repent, despite the words in verse 13 :

*But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ *

The entire passage is below and one can listen to the debate here. Skip to minute mark 44:00 through 46:00 to hear the discussion on this topic.**
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”**
The tax collector sure sounds and acts as if he is repenting to me, and his justification was due to both his faith and repentance - and not “faith alone”.

Do you agree or disagree with Matt Slick?

Say’s Slick: “he [tax collector] doesn’t offer anything…he doesn’t offer his repentance…nothing”.


the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse.
“each person who turns to God in genuine repentance and faith will be saved”
synonyms: remorse, contrition, contriteness, penitence, regret, ruefulness, remorsefulness, shame, guilt
“her lack of repentance angered them”

If someone sees themselves as a sinner w.r.t. God, where he or she never did before, it would seem normal to assume that they had sincere regrets of their sinful behavior and probably would desire to change.

But hey, what do I now?


How does Slick know that the tax collector offers nothing?

And since it was a parable give by Our Lord, what does Slick see as the reason for Our Lord giving this parable in the first place.

What does Slick see as the Lord’s reason for declaring this parable?

Absolutely. The repentant heart of the tax collector is the whole point.

Matt Slick is dead wrong. It speaks to the level of dedication that Matt Slick has to his particular tradition when he can’t recognize the fact that beating upon one’s breast and uttering ‘Have mercy upon me’ are acts (or “works”, whatever you want to call them). It’s not unlike “astaghfirullah”, which we muslims say when we repent. It means “Forgive me, God”.

Jesus [peace be upon him] then summarizes the point of the parable, which is to highlight the fact that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. The tax collector humbled himself, therefore he was justified.

Repentance is “turning around”, turning back, coming back.

The tax collector is not off in his own world of sin, feeling bad that he is sinning (sometimes we may feel like we are wrong in what we are doing, and continue doing it).

No, the tax collector had come away from his wrong doing and was in the Temple, far off, as if prostrate at the feet of God. He “returned”, turned aside from his sin and came in front of the God who hates sin. And he asked for mercy. He was no longer absorbed in his own activities (of sin), but departed from his own activities.

The other man was still dwelling in his own activities, finding his value in his own activities, and telling God to find value in his activities also. He was in a courtyard (which happened to be the Temple), but he was not away from his self-justification, not turning aside to be with God. He was still with himself alone.

Two things to consider IF he is not repenting.

1.) Why is he in the synagogue then?

2.) Why is he beating his breast saying: have mercy on me a sinner?

It seems this gentleman in his ignorance specifically insults our Orthodox brethren.

The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”


Repentance in the Greek is a mind change, one has to have a mind change to trust God where once they did not… how else would someone explain the tax collector’s sorrow, words, and actions? The tax collector still didn’t perform a work to be forgiven, but rather humbled himself, recognizing his state, and asking for mercy. What was Slick actually arguing against? Works based salvation?

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