Do you trust God enough to obey him? You might well think that you do.
And yet, sometimes, you come across a command in the Bible that sounds ‘hard’ to you.
- Why does it sound hard? Because it asks a lot of you.
- Why is that a problem? Because your faith in God’s goodness, power, and wisdom isn’t 100%.
In these verses, Jesus gives his disciples a command that’s incredibly tough when you think it through. When they ask for more faith, so that they can trust God enough to obey him, Jesus’ teaches them about faith. So you’re going to have to come to terms with Jesus’ command. And you’re going to learn how to trust God enough to obey him. Then (beautifully) you’ll remember that to come to Christ is joy!
Forgive Christians who sin against you (1-4)
The Bible has three words for our offences against God:
- Iniquity – a natural twistedness away from him.
- Transgression – actively breaking a command of God.
- Sin – falling short of the target of goodness and love.
We tend to lump all three together and speak of “sin”. You, me, everyone sins in everything. And we’ve seen some heavy-duty implications of sin over the past few weeks:
- Your sin naturally excludes you from the kingdom of God; your only hope is to repent of your sin and come to Jesus.
- He will forgive you your sin when you repent of it and ask him. He delights to do so.
- Exclusion from the kingdom is no small matter.
- Last time we saw the rich man who lived for himself.
- His sin put him in hell; yours would too.
So sin is serious; as is causing someone else to sin.
Read Luke 17:1-2. Like drug dealers are worse than users, people who lead others into sin are more wicked than those they lead. Being drowned with a big millstone is a kinder, shorter fate than an eternity of torment in hell.
And any of us can do just this:
- I was in a car recently where someone encouraged the driver to put their foot down – even though we were already at the speed limit.
- To encourage someone to break the law is sin.
- To teach someone it’s ok to go against conscience is sin (it teaches you how to break God’s laws).
- If an older Christian is unwelcoming, bitter, or unwilling to witness, they pass such sins on to younger Christians who will emulate them.
No matter how mature you are in Christ: Put sin to death.
Don’t be an example of sin; put sin to death in your life.
When Christians sin against you
So: Put sin to death in your life; but what if a Christian sins against you?
- Because they will. You can depend on that.
- None of us is perfect. So how will you respond?
Read Luke 17:3-4.
Sin is serious offence to God. So if you see another Christian sinning, rebuke them. Call them out on their sin. If they repent, forgive them. In fact, the whole point of your rebuking them is that they might repent, you might forgive, and the whole relationship is restored.
After all, isn’t that how God deals with us?
- Certainly, sin demands punishment, and that punishment is death – eternal separation from God.
- But as you repent of your sin, God forgives you.
- He forgives you by absorbing the cost of your offence – he took the punishment of your sin on himself.
- The eternal Son of God died a human death in your place.
- That’s how much he loves you; and he calls you to repent.
But this is what makes the command from Jesus to you so hard. When a Christian sins against you and repents of it, you must absorb the cost of the offence. It’s no good just saying, “No, it’s fine” – when it’s really not. The onus is on you to absorb the cost, to love again, even to be exposed to being sinned against again.
How many times? As many as it takes. And again: The onus is on you to forgive. You’re not to hold back your forgiveness, waiting for evidence of change. If someone says, “I repent”, you must forgive him.
Let’s notice a few things, lest we take this too broadly:
- Jesus is speaking about Christian-to-Christian relationships, where you can hope that repentance is true.
- He’s also speaking about normal day-to-day things. If you find yourself in an abusive situation where you’re in danger, get out.
But still, Christ calls on you to have a generous, forgiving heart that reflects how God has called and forgiven you.
Do you need more faith? (5-10)
The twelve apostles are overwhelmed by Jesus’ teaching. He demands so much! Read Luke 17:5.
You might feel the same; you need some extra faith if you’re going to live how God wants you to live. So we get two sayings that teach us about the nature of faith. First, read Luke 17:6.
What does he mean, exactly? If you try really, really hard and have lots and lots of faith you can somehow do impossible things? No: Faith isn’t a superpower injected into you.
You have faith in someone or something, and that faith causes you to act in some way. You have faith that a chair will support your weight, so you sit on it. If you knew that it was God’s will to uproot a tree and for it to be thrown into the sea, you could command it and it would happen.
- There’s no power in you whatsoever.
- You take no glory, get no credit. It would be God’s work.
- All it takes from you is to know God’s will and to act accordingly – to do something as an act of faith.
The apostles found Jesus’ commands to forgive really hard and asked for more faith. But Jesus says it’s not the amount of faith that matters, but how true your faith is. Faith isn’t a superpower strength in you. Faith is trusting the Lord to do what he has said. It’s learning to trust God enough to obey him. If you know what God wants, you can’t fail to succeed in it.
But there’s a danger that you can big yourself up. You might step out in faith and do something for God and then steal some of his glory!
- E.g. you know he wants you to tell people about Jesus.
- So you do, and someone comes to church.
- Wonderfully, they stick around and get saved.
- Is that a feather in your cap? Grounds for a bit of pride?
- Read Luke 17:7-10.
Faith isn’t a superpower in you. It’s trusting God to work. Equally, God isn’t your genie in a bottle.
Obedience is faith in action. It’s expected of you. If, by faith, you trust God, then do what he says. The New Testament hints at rewards in heaven for Christians who have lived good and godly lives, full of holy fruit. But God isn’t obliged; he isn’t in your debt. He gives graciously, freely, as he pleases and delights.
So know God’s will and do it. You don’t need more faith because it’s not about you. A tiny amount of faith unleashes the tremendous power of God as you step out in obedience to him.
That’s not to say it’s easy.
- Forgiving people who’ve hurt you can be hard and costly.
- But it’s God’s will, and he will enable you.
- Putting sin to death in your life means painful change.
- But it’s God’s will, and he will enable you.
We can build from here really positively too. We know that God wants all people everywhere to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2).
- So we can pray big prayers for this area at least.
- And we should be set up for visitors and growth, in expectation.
- You can’t pray for rain and not take an umbrella because that’s a clear lack of faith.
- You can’t pray for workers and visitors and not put enough seats out.
And if all this sounds hard, Luke gives us another reminder of how joyful your faith is too.
Remember joy in Christ (11-19)
We come to a little account of ten men with leprosy. Read Luke 17:11.
- Another reminder that Christ is on his way to Jerusalem to die for you.
- Another prompt, perhaps, as we think of what we’re prepared to attempt in his name.
Read Luke 17:12-13.
They had to stand at a distance. Remember all those passages in Leviticus about skin diseases, and how they made a person ‘unclean’? Leprosy meant you were ceremonially unclean. So you’d be excluded from society, from worship, from work. They’d have to be together because no-one else would come near anyway.
Their healing is lovely: Read Luke 17:14.
If a skin disease left you, you’d present yourself to the priest and he’d declare you ‘clean’. But when they spoke to Jesus, they had leprosy. When he sent them away, they still had it. So look: Their going away was an act of obedience and an act of faith. Faith is when you trust God enough to obey him.
They were healed by Christ because they had faith in him enough to obey him. The picture of their healing and delight as they walked along is fun and beautiful. They must have been over the moon!
But only one came back to Jesus. Read Luke 17:15-19.
The lack of joy among the Jewish lepers who’d been cleansed highlights how the kingdom of God is to be extended to Gentiles – a key theme for Luke when he wrote Acts.
But look at what we read about the man. He knew he’d been healed by God, and in a loud voice he gave glory to God. His joy and wonder were obvious. But he doesn’t claim any credit. Something else to notice is his response to Jesus:
- The man fell down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.
- The word for ‘thanking’ there is usually used for when we thank and praise God.
- And by giving praise and thanks and glory to God, it’s clear the man has faith in Christ to do anything!
- The gracious response from Jesus is, “Your faith has saved you.”
The other nine were healed and that was wonderful. But this man was saved; his sins were forgiven in response to his faith in God.
This is the place faith brings you.
- Joyful and thankful at the feet of Jesus, Son of God.
- He who has faith in Christ is saved from sin, safe with God in Christ forever.
- The sin that excluded you from God is washed away more thoroughly than that leper’s disease.
- And you can fall at Jesus’ feet in thankfulness and praise.
And here’s the point: You’re saved by faith, and then you live and obey God by faith.
He will see you home; so obey his commands – however hard they may seem – by ongoing faith in him.
Obedience and faith
So what have we seen?
That life in the kingdom of God, as a child of God, is
- Characterised by putting sin to death in yourself, and by rebuke, repentance, and forgiveness dealing with other Christians;
- Is obedient to Jesus, confident that he will do all he commands us to do;
- obedience is faith worked out; faith is demonstrated by obedience
- Is joyful and thankful, happy to be at Christ’s feet in delight at being saved and restored by his mercy.
Obedience without faith in Christ is impossible and meaningless.
But in him, you can do everything he commands you to do.