Developing Faith and Gratitude (Luke 17:5-19)
Big Idea: For a spiritual reset, cultivate simple faith and gratitude.
According to Precision Nutrition, a nutrition coaching company in Toronto, there are some simple steps we can take to fix a broken diet. The first one is simple and obvious: Identify and remove nutritional deficiencies. Before making extreme changes in your diet, make sure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Studies show that most of us are deficient in key nutrients, like iodine, vitamin D, zinc, vitamin E, and calcium. “When our bodies don’t have the nutrients they need to do their work, we all suffer. But as soon as we get these nutrients, we thrive.”
I know you didn’t come here today for a nutrition talk. You came to hear from God’s Word today. But I want to tell you that the same thing applies to our spiritual lives. There are some simple steps that we can take to fix a broken spiritual life, and it’s to make sure that we’re covering the basics. Today I want to cover two of them.
If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Luke 17. We’re going to discover two basics that are absolutely essential to the Christian life. When we don’t have these basics in place, we all suffer. When we get these basics in place, we will thrive spiritually.
So let’s look at Luke 17. Let me give you some background. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and knows that he’s facing death. On the way he is teaching his disciples about what it means to follow him.
As we read this passage, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, but there are some others listening. Jesus knows that there are some listening who appear to have faith, but lack the basic qualities of what it means to be a disciple. And so he begins to teach his disciples, warning them against being fakes, and calling for radical change in their lives.
In the middle of teaching what it means to be a genuine follower, the disciples say, “Lord, increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). Do I ever understand where they’re coming from! Once in a while I take a look at myself and have the exact same thought. I often feel like I need a complete spiritual overhaul. It’s like when I take my car in for an oil change. I go in there thinking it’s going to cost $40, and then they come over and tell me that I need new air filters, wiper blades, light bulbs, fuses, and some liquids that I didn’t even know belonged in my car. That’s what it feels like so often when I open the Word of God and see my true condition. I realize how desperately I need to change.
If you feel that way too, I want to talk to you. Because in this passage Jesus gives us two basics that we need to get back on track. I’m so grateful that Jesus doesn’t recommend a complete overhaul of our spiritual lives. He’s doesn’t call us to a spiritual crash diet. He calls us back to the basics.
Do you want to fix a broken spiritual life? There are two basic qualities of a disciple. Here they are.
Qualities of a Disciple
Little faith (5-6)
The first thing we need is little faith.
Don’t miss this. The disciples have just said, “Increase our faith!” But Jesus responds differently than we’d think. Look at what he says in verse 6:
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 17:6)
Here’s what I want to tell you this morning: if you want to fix your spiritual life, then it begins by refocusing on the basics. And it doesn’t get any simpler than this. You need faith — even little faith — in Jesus Christ. You don’t even need a lot of faith. According to Jesus, a little faith does wonders.
I have to go back to our health as an example. I know that some people spend a lot of time working out in the gym. For instance, some Hollywood studios hire personal trainers and nutritionists for their actors. When the actors are preparing for a role, the actors can spend 6 to 8 hours a day in strength and cardio training. I know some professional athletes who spend hours of time each day training to stay in shape for their career.
It’s easy for us to think that this is what it takes to get in shape. It certainly is if we’re going to play Captain America in the movies, or to try out for the Leafs. But it turns out that for the average person, the ideal amount of time to exercise is around five hours a week on average. We don’t need to become professional athletes and hire full-time professional trainers and nutritionists. We just need to cover the basics.
It’s easy to think we need gobs of additional faith. We think that if we had the faith of Billy Graham or John Piper that we could really do something. But Jesus says a little faith is enough. We only need faith the size of a mustard seed — a little seed, one or two millimeters in diameter — to work wonders.
So let me ask you today if you have faith in Jesus. It’s an essential quality of a disciple. Faith, by the way, isn’t wishful thinking. It’s not a leap of faith or anything like that. Faith is relying on Jesus and what he has done for us. It’s believing that Jesus is God in the flesh, who lived a sinless life, and died as a substitute in our place, and rose again to give us new life. It’s not only believing in this, but relying on it.
I’m planting a church in Liberty Village, and I have to be honest: this truth keeps me going. Faith the size of a mustard seed can change someone’s life. It’s why we’re planting in downtown Toronto in a community like ours. A small amount of faith in the living Jesus Christ is all that it takes to begin to completely change someone’s life.
It’s one of the two basic qualities of a disciple that Jesus gives us in this passage. Don’t underestimate what this simple, small faith will do. Trust me. It will upend your life and completely change you from the inside-out. In the same way that the energy contained in a paperclip could, in theory, be converted to 18 kilotons of TNT, a little faith in Jesus is powerful enough to change your life forever. Even a little faith in Jesus is enough to work wonders.
But there’s another essential quality of a disciple that Jesus tells us that we need:
Gratitude (7-10); the opposite of entitlement
As you read this one, I want you to feel the force of what Jesus says. Look at what Jesus says in verses 7 to 10:
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)
This is stark. This is hard teaching. We’re going to find really hard to accept. I talked to a friend this week who tried to give one of his employees a compliment by calling him a real servant. “You can’t say that!” said someone else. “It’s offensive to call someone a servant!” We read this teaching, and the language of servanthood, and the lack of thanks for a job well done, make it hard for us to stomach.
But I’ve learned that whenever I’m offended by a teaching, it’s time for me to lean into it rather than away from it. And what Jesus says here is a basic requirement for spiritual health. Here is what we need: to realize that God owes us nothing. We owe him everything. We are servants who obey God in everything, and it’s just our duty. We’re entitled to nothing.
Do you know what will kill your spiritual life? Entitlement. Entitlement is the belief that we’re owed something. John Ortberg says, “The bigger our sense of entitlement, the smaller our sense of gratitude.” This is going to be deadly for your spiritual life.
A.W. Tozer, the great preacher who pastored in Toronto, got it when he prayed, “I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier.” That’s the heart of someone who understands that God owes us nothing, and we owe him everything.
A woman began attending church. For the first time she heard the difference between the gospel and religion. She had always thought that God accepts us only if we’re good enough. For the first time she heard that we are accepted not because we’re good, but simply because of grace freely given by God to people who don’t deserve it.
She said that she found this scary. Her pastor asked her what was so scary about it, and she said: If she was saved by her good works, then she could put limits on what God could ask of her. She would be like a taxpayer with rights. She keeps her end of the bargain, and God keeps his. But she said that when we understand that we are sinners saved by grace, there’s nothing that God can’t ask of her.
This woman got it. She realized that in the Christian life there is no sense of entitlement. We owe God everything. We deserve nothing. We don’t really understand Christianity until we understand that God owes us nothing.
By the way, it’s not that God gives us nothing. He treats us extravagantly. He has showered grace upon grace. Jesus isn’t saying that God will treat us as this master does. He is saying that we must never develop a mindset of entitlement.
The opposite of entitlement is gratitude. When you realize that God owes you nothing, but you’ve been given blessing after blessing, you will bow your knees in worship and thanks, amazed that he has given you anything.
What are the essential qualities of a disciple? Jesus breaks it down for us very clearly. The essential qualities of a disciple are little faith, and gratitude, which is the opposite of entitlement.
The Qualities Illustrated
All of this is good, but let’s get real and talk about what it looks like in real life. In Luke 17, we’re given a real life illustration of what it looks like to have faith and gratitude.
A desperate need (11-13)
In verses 11 to 13, we meet some people with a desperate need:
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.” (Luke 17:11-13)
Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, is a bacterial infection that attacks the nerves and the skin. It can result in a lack of ability to feel pain in the extremities. This can lead to repeated injuries and infections because they’re not even aware that they’ve hurt themselves. The condition can lead to really bad odors from the damaged flesh. Even worse, it’s easily transmitted. These ten lepers would have been socially isolated: no family, no friends, no worship, no hope.
We should understand. This is our position before Jesus too. We’re all desperately sick. There’s something wrong with us. As someone’s said:
Leprosy is a perfect metaphor for sin. It starts as an invisible infection and then slowly dominates one’s life. It is invisible to start with, but eventually the person becomes deformed and ugly. Furthermore, the body becomes numb. Sin makes us numb to the abundance of life and we become dull and unfeeling. Sin also isolates us from others. Selfishness cuts us off from others and we end up alone with our addiction, alone with our sin, alone with our poor selves.
Obedient faith (14)
I love the way Jesus responds:
When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14)
The Old Testament commanded lepers to present themselves to the priests once they were healed so that the priest could verify their recovery. Jesus’ command to these lepers presumed that they would be healed on the way.
It just took obedient faith, simple faith. There was nothing fancy: no healing touch, no prayer of intercession, no special instructions. They were just told to rely on Jesus and cast themselves on his mercy and go. And as they did this, they were healed.
Never underestimate the power of simple, small, obedient faith.
But here’s the surprising part. Of the ten that were healed, only one returned to give thanks.
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 17:15-19)
Nine felt entitled; one felt grateful. The one who expressed gratitude was the most surprising person of all: a Samaritan, someone who would have been despised by the Jewish population back then. He was the last person they would have expected.
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said this:
If you search the world around, among all choice spices you shall scarcely meet with the frankincense of gratitude. It ought to be as common as the dewdrops that hang upon the hedges in the morning; but alas, the world is dry of thankfulness to God!
We must develop simple faith and gratitude. These are the essential qualities of a disciple. But, sadly, gratitude is rare. A lack of gratitude is one of the greatest threats in a disciple’s life. Two basic qualities of a disciple are faith and gratitude.
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” (G. K. Chesterton)
I began today by talking about how to fix a broken diet. The first step to take is to address nutritional deficiencies. How do we fix a broken spiritual life? Jesus says to develop faith — even a small amount of faith — and gratitude. Whenever I’m struggling in my spiritual life, it’s usually because I’m missing one of these two basics.
I want to be like the Samaritan. I want to recognize how much I need his mercy. I want a simple, obedient faith that does what he says. And then I want to spend the rest of my life realizing that I deserve nothing, and then I want to fall down at his feet and give him thanks. I hope you’ll join me too.