Friday, July 22, 2016

Don't ask for bigger faith, just a willingness to obey

In a recent quiet time with God, I looked at Luke 17. Verse 6 got my attention:
“You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it."
These words of Jesus are preceded by daunting commands to: (1) not be the cause of others falling into sin; (2) be ever ready to forgive a repentant friend even if the friend's weakness drives them back to sinning against you and repenting for their sin repeatedly.

The disciples understood how hard both commands are. They thought they would need more faith to be able to fulfill them.

"You don't need more faith," Jesus tells the disciples. He then goes on to talk about the servant of a rich man. The servant goes to extraordinary lengths to serve in the ways his master commands. At the end of this mini-parable, Jesus says, "When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’” (v. 10) (The last two lines remind me of Jesus' words from the cross in John's gospel, "It is finished.")

In this passage, I believe that Jesus is telling us (telling me), Don't wait for a monster faith that will make it easy to do the things I command you to do. Nothing I command you to do--love God, love neighbor, make disciples, give to the poor, don't push yourself ahead of others, forgive your enemies--is easy to do.

The question isn't how big our faith, it's how ready our obedience.

It's been my observation that for we recovering sinners--we intrinsically selfish, if recovering, control freaks--the more we obey the God revealed in Christ, obedience doesn't become easier. It doesn't.* But the more we obey Christ, the more we want to obey Him.

To have faith in Christ is to trust in Him alone. But faith is an abstraction until we commit ourselves--day-in and day-out--to seeking to obey Him, however imperfectly.

We are only saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures teach. And there's nothing we can do to be saved. Salvation for a life of peace with God, forgiven sin, and eternity with God is a gift we can do nothing to earn. But until we seek to obey Christ, our faith will remain an abstraction.

Don't look for more faith, Jesus seems to be saying here. Looking for more faith is a delaying tactic. Instead, Jesus tells me to do what He commands of me with whatever faith we have. He will fill in the blanks in my courage, my deficient faith, my authenticity.

Later in the chapter, verse 33, Jesus says: "If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms."

Wanting more faith, as pious a request as it seems to be, is still grasping for life on my terms. "Fine things to do, Jesus, your commands," we effectively say. "But You're going to have to give me more faith before I can do them." The disciples, in making their request, and I myself whenever I think it or say it to God, are in essence, laying down conditions for obedience. "I couldn't possibly do any of that, Jesus," I say, "without bigger faith. You'll need to get back with me on that."

This excuse is perennial. I've been guilty of it many times myself, I confess.

But it's simple, really. If I trust Jesus even a little bit, I'm called to obey. No matter the size of my faith, it's sill a fact that He died and rose, so the power to do what He's called me to do exists, no matter the size of my faith.

Besides, the One commanding me is the King to Whom my whole life (and the life of the whole human race) is accountable.

So, the call is clear: I need to do what the King Who saves me by grace tells me to do. I am to do what He commands with little faith and quaking hands, with low competence, little stomach for it, and giant fears. I am to obey because it's not about the quantity or quality of my faith; it's about the greatness of my King and what my King does through obedient people.

Today, Lord, help me to obey You, no matter the size of my faith. In Jesus' Name.

*In fact, obedience might grow harder as we grow in our faith, because as we obediently accept the smallest charges of Jesus, He gives us more difficult charges. Jesus says in Luke 16:10: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." I believe that Jesus amps the difficulty of following Him as we grow and to promote our further growth as His disciples. God is more interested in our characters than in our comfort. With each new "impossible" challenge to which we seek to respond obediently, we learn the truth of two other things that Jesus said:

  • "...with God, all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)
  • "...apart from Me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
When we seek obedience in doing the impossible things Jesus commands of us, we learn to rely even more on Him. That's faith.

[All Bible quotes in this post are from The Message translation.]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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