Dependent on Grace
Well, good morning. The last few weeks Ryan has been preaching on who Jesus is. He used this one sentence to clarify that Jesus is the Son of God who came in power and authority to empower his people through the cross.
Today we're going to see what it means to be a follower of this man, to follow the Son of God. We are going to see, as followers of Jesus, we are dependent on grace. To be followers of Jesus, we are dependent on grace.
We're going to see that as followers, we aren't the ones who give the marching orders. He does. Jesus came in power and authority. When you come in power and authority, you get to set the rules. We follow them.
But we are going to need help. If we're going to follow this call, we're going to need help. We will see that as we get the help through Jesus, we are empowered through the cross. Or said another way, we are dependent on grace.
So let's turn to the text.
Jesus begins by focusing on a specific part of following him. We could talk about a dozen different ways Jesus commanded his followers, but this morning it zeros in on how we treat others.
The first focus is a call for us not to cause others to stumble. Here's what Jesus says in verse 1–2:
“And he said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.’” (Luke 17:1–2)
Already, we can begin to feel our need for grace. We are talking about anything we would do to cause others to sin. Big and small. From being harsh to your wife and therefore causing her to get angry to some careless Facebook post that offends a bunch of people unnecessarily.
He is not talking to Pharisees here or high school kids who are pressuring their buddies to look at porn. He is talking to the twelve disciples. So this command definitely includes things you or I teach and do in the church that hurts people.
This is not a joke or an optional aside or even a “try not to cause people to sin most of the time, but it is okay if this happens every now and again” command. This is a “never do this” command.
And now you start to feel the demand Jesus laid on us here. Upholding this command on our own is about as likely as a sunrise tomorrow at 2 am.
And the judgement for this sin is clear—a millstone death.
Jesus has every right to demand this, even if it feels impossible. The Son of God came in authority and power. The authority and power of Jesus means that he is King, and he can make demands and judge accordingly. We don't get to tell this writer how to write this story. We don't get to go to this captain and tell him which way to turn the ship. We don't get to go to this lawmaker and say what laws we think he should enact.
We have only made it through half of the paragraph, and we are already feeling like we need to jump into the sea. Next Jesus calls us to confront sin in others and then forgive anyone when they repent.
If we are going to stand a chance, we are going to need help. And I think that is why this passage starts here. To be a follower of Jesus you need to be dependent on grace. We are going to need grace for when we fall short, but even more pressing is that we are going to need grace to live it out.
Moving Mulberry Trees
Here’s the next part.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3–4)
Again this is not optional: “you must forgive him.” You friend slaps you in the face, but a minute later he repents, genuine repentance, your response, “I forgive you.” That’s sin one. Sin two you met up with some other friends and you overhear your buddy say, “I don’t even like Don. I hang out with him because he doesn’t have any other friends.” Your friend turns to you later, confesses, repents. Your response—forgiveness. Sin three, four, five, on and on. You get the point. And now we see why the apostles respond:
“Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)
They realize very quickly that they are unqualified, and they need help. But as we saw throughout the rest of Luke, Jesus didn’t just come in power and authority, he shares his power. Look at verses 5–6:
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’” (Luke 17:5–6)
Jesus’s answer to the request for increased faith in Luke 17:6 is shocking. When they asked for increased faith, he actually talks about a small amount of faith. He puts the emphasis on the power of our God, not the size of our faith.
What he says is that if you had a mustard seed of faith, you could move mulberry trees. Mulberry trees are huge trees with roots the size of large pillars. They have deep roots as well. You don't just walk by and pick up a mulberry tree. But with a mustard seed of faith, you could move those mulberry trees from where they're at into the sea.
The reason you can do this is not because you have a great quantity of faith, but because you have even the smallest bit of faith in a God who is great.
We don't need a certain quantity of faith but a quality of faith. We need a faith that is genuine, a faith rooted in God. When that happens, all of a sudden we'll do wondrous things.
Think of who he's talking to. In the next sermon series, we are going to study the books of Acts. There we are going to see the apostles do incredible, mulberry moving, actions. There are times when it says in the Scriptures that 3,000 were added to their number. They heal people. They do incredible wonders. And it's not because they had a huge quantity of faith. It's because of the God who their faith was in.
How to Forgive
Now back to the command that kicked this off. You really are supposed to forgive everyone who repents and not cause anyone to stumble. But if you’re going to do it, you need to remember that we are dependent on grace. Jesus promises that the God behind your faith will be enough to make it so you forgive generously and that you avoid causing others to stumble.
Now, don’t jump too quickly to the fact that we won’t be able to do this perfectly. That is correct. You will fail at this sometimes. But here is what we need to hear this morning—it is actually possible to do this. And the ability to do it will not come from your own strength. It will come from the God who moves mulberries into the sea.
I don’t know if you have ever had another Christian just look at you and say, “You can overcome this sin. You really can.” God has given you what you need. Here me telling you that. Today’s example is about forgiving other people. But put any call of God in that bucket. You will never be able to do it on your own. But you aren’t on your own. God can help you overcome it. The Bible is full of promises that God gives you the power to kill sin:
“And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:27)
“If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
That’s what I’m trying to say this morning. You can kill sin. You really can forgive those who repent, and you can not cause others to sin. When Ryan had in his sentence that Jesus empowers his people, he really meant it. This is Jesus explaining exactly that.
But now as we are empowered by God’s grace, we might begin to think, I can do things. I might be able to do some good things to earn a good standing. So the next story grounds us once again. Don't you go thinking that now that you understand what you can do with a mustard seed of faith that you can achieve right standing with God. The Christian life, once again, is dependent on grace.
We were once unqualified, and we are forever unqualify. Here's what it says in verses 7–9:
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7–10)
Jesus is not trying to give a parable about never thanking anyone for doing what they were asked to do. The point of the parable is that no matter what we do, no matter what good we've done, we will never have earned enough for us to be able to say, “God, you're in my debt. You owe me.”
We will never be able to say to God, “You owe grace to me. I've done enough that I should actually be sitting at the table with you.”
In the same way, we cannot ever go to God with our trophies we earned, the resumes we created, the good deeds we have stored up and think that gives us any right to be a part of the household of God. All our good works will fail.
We never do enough to be able to say that. Let me help by bringing this parable to you with a modern example I heard from a pastor.
To sit at the table in Jesus’s day, meant you have the rights and privileges of the household. As if you are part of the family. Imagine a realtor who sold you your house and when you finished moving in, the realtor pulls up and starts moving in. You would say to them, “What are you doing?” Imagine they said to you, “Well, I helped you buy this house so I have earned the right to be a part of it.” You would say back to them, “No you didn’t. You were just doing your job.”
So God will look at all we have done, and he will never say, “I owe you this.”
The most immediate application is final salvation. We can never take the good deeds we have done and think that earns us a right to be in God’s presence for eternity. All our good deeds could never earn that.
But this is also true in our day–to–day lives. We can never bargain with God using the works we have performed. We can’t say, “I did such and such and now you owe me this.”
For example, we might be tempted to use our good deeds to explain why God should allow Table Rock to grow: “Look at all we did (Carols at the Depot, preaching every Sunday, lessons for Sunday school)”. We cannot ever think those deeds obligate God to do anything for us.
Or “I studied hard in school, you should be helping me be good at this job.” Or “I work hard, you should be helping my bosses see my hard work.”
Or “I am not desperate for a boyfriend. I have waited patiently, you should give it to me.”
We don’t get to bring our works to God and say, “I did all these things. I mean I get a seat at the final banquet, right. Right there, right?” He would say, “No, you were just doing what you were told.”
God's never going to owe you. God will never be in debt to us.
Jesus knew this would be a real danger. We really might be able to think we can earn a right standing with God. None of us are born wired to be dependent on grace. We are born thinking we can earn our way. Look at Luke 18:9 to see what I mean:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 18:9–14)
This Pharisee had quite the case before God. He presented all the things he hadn’t done and all the things he had done. But that does not win favor with God. God is not impressed with duty. He is impressed with delight, with dependence on him. He responds to the tax collector who cries, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
This is what I mean by being dependent on grace. We are always unqualified to be in his presence. I admit it is not popular to walk around thinking, “I'm unqualified. Yes, I'm not good enough.” Right? People write books and songs and articles about you being worthy, you are good enough, you are the man, etc.
No one walks around saying, “I've got no confidence in me.” But that's what you do if you're going to be a follower of the Son of God. Here's Paul in Philippians 3 starting in verse 3:
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.
That's the point. When you look at who Jesus is, the Son of God who came in power and authority to save, you realize that no matter what we did, we needed rescued. We needed to be saved. There's nothing we could do.
We were unqualified, and we, like Paul, could take our greatest resume and our best trophies, and we could present it before God. But we would say they are rubbish. All these things are lost because I've gained Christ.
We then are those who need help. We need grace. God never owes us praise or owes us grace.
So we are going to see in this last story what it looks like to respond to grace. So let’s look at the last story. It's kind of like a live parable almost. We will clearly see what it looks like to be dependent on grace. Here's what it says, verses 11 through 19:
“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:11–19)
This story shows the proper response of an unqualified follower who is granted undeserved life by the Son of God—gratefulness. Here we are seeing these ten lepers. They are definitely unqualified. They can do nothing to help themselves. They are entirely dependent.
Lepers in that society were ostracized. They were the lowest of the low, and they knew it. But they cried out to Jesus for help. Jesus answered the call for help and healed them.
Then, we see that they do their duty. They go to the priest as Jesus had asked. That's what you would do in that society when you were cleansed of a disease. You'd go and get cleared by the doctor, if you will.
The leper did what he was asked, but notice that he didn’t go back to Jesus and say, “I've done what you asked. I think I can be your disciple. I can walk beside you now and be one of your followers. I've kind of earned my spot in there.”
No, he came back thinking, “I'm just as unqualified, and I am grateful. I am grateful that the Son of God looked upon me, and he helped. I just want to praise him for the rest of my life”. Jesus responds, “Your faith has saved you.”
It was his faith, his leaning on the grace of God that saved him, not his list of things he did right. He was just like Paul and said “all I've done is rubbish. I count it all as lost if I can just praise Christ, if I can gain Christ.”
Always Needing Grace
So let me close by summarizing this way. Ryan spent the last few weeks unpacking who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God come in authority and power to empower his people through the cross.
What we saw today is that we are followers of the Son of God, followers who are dependent on grace. Jesus is the one who tells us what it looks like to follow him. But Jesus has also left us with the ability to follow him. He has left his own Spirit in us to empower us to serve him. And when we start producing the fruit of the Spirit, we will be no less dependent on grace than when we started.
We will always take our accomplishments and present them to God saying, “We are unworthy servants.” But God did not leave us as servants. He sent his Son to take us from being servants of the King to being sons and daughters. He has constantly treated us better than we deserve. And our response to that should be gratitude. The response of those who think they can earn their way to God is not gratitude but the thought that God has finally paid what he owed. But God has always treated us with grace, so we respond with gratitude.