Not Faith, but Faith in Jesus!

The 14th Sunday after Trinity–5 September 2021

Luke 17:11–19

11 On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.  15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.  17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (ESV)

Introduction: Your faith has made you well!

To the Samaritan leper who returned to give Jesus praise, Jesus says: Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. But really it is not the leper’s faith but his faith in Jesus that makes him well. You see, the leper’s faith is not the source of his healing; what heals the leper is not his act of faith but rather the object of his faith. The object of the leper’s faith and the true source of his healing is, of course, Jesus, just as Jesus is the object of our faith and the true source of our salvation. The leper’s action of returning to fall down at the feet of Jesus and to give Jesus praise shows that this one cleansed leper is trusting Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. Jesus is the true object of his faith.

Saving faith looks to Christ alone!

Saving faith is always faith in Jesus, God’s Son, God-in-the-flesh, the Saviour of the world. Do not boast of your faith, for your faith does not save you. Your faith merely directs you to trust in Jesus as your Saviour. And when you die and stand before God, do not look to your faith; look only to Jesus. Do not say to God, “God, look what great faith I have!“ or “God, see how much I have grown in holiness.“ Now, in this life, God has certainly enabled you to to have faith and to grow in Christ, but when you come before the judgment throne, you must plead only the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus. Yes, in seeking entry into heaven, you must look only to Christ. That is saving faith, faith that looks to Christ alone for the gift of salvation.

In life and in death, by God’s grace, you and I plead God’s promise in the shed blood of Jesus. We receive salvation the same way the leper received healing—by placing our faith in Jesus alone. Here is how St. Paul puts it: [we] are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:24-25).  Justification—God’s act of declaring us “not guilty”. Grace—God bestowing His undeserved favour upon us. Redemption—Jesus setting us free from the Law’s condemnation. Propitiation—Jesus covering our sins so that we are reconciled to God. All this is wrapped up in the gift of salvation. And how do we receive this wonderful gift? Only by faith.

Do you see how faith works? Faith does not justify sinners; God does. Faith does not bestow grace; God does. Faith does not redeem sinners; Jesus does.  Faith does not cover our sins and reconcile us to God; only Jesus can do that.  Do you see? Faith does not save, but faith is how we receive the salvation which Jesus won for us by shedding His blood on the cross!

Faith is a gift from God, a gift by which we receive all that God has already accomplished in Jesus. Yes, faith is a gift given you by God, by which you receive salvation apart from any human work or merit. Your faith is a gift for which you can take no credit. All the glory belongs to God!

Faith—the tool by which we receive Jesus!

Christ crucified for sinners is the sole cause of salvation. Faith is merely a tool by which we receive salvation in Jesus. Let me give an example of what I mean by faith as a tool. Imagine that the Governor General has invited you to a banquet at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. This will be a feast you will remember for the rest of your life. The food and wine will be rich and extravagant. And the host and the other guests are sure to provide stimulating conversation. Yes, what a feast this will be!  

Now, people usually are invited to such a feast because they have done something admirable, but for the sake of illustration, let us imagine that the guests have done nothing to deserve this invitation and have even done things of which they are ashamed. And yet, in spite of themselves, the guests have been invited. Finally, the hour has arrived. There you are, being escorted to your seat. You see your name engraved on a fancy placard and you cannot believe you are there. And then, the courses come: the appetizers, the salad, the main entree, and finally the dessert. The wine flows freely. And the truth is, you have done nothing to deserve this. You have only received the invitation.  And once there, you received a set of cutlery so that you actually could enjoy the meal!

Do you see how faith is a tool? Faith is like a set of cutlery by which you receive and enjoy the feast of God’s gift of salvation in Jesus. Back at Rideau Hall, the forks, knives, and spoons are the tools which enable you to enjoy the feast. But notice, the cutlery are not the main thing. You do not spend the evening gawking over the cutlery. Rather, you are spellbound by the food and wine and you savour every bite and sip. At a banquet, the forks and knives and spoons are never the main thing; they are simply the tools that help you enjoy the feast! And that is how it is with faith. When it comes to your salvation, faith is never the main thing; Jesus is. Faith is merely the tool by which you receive Jesus and all His gifts.

Satan’s two big lies!

Every day of your life, your loving heavenly Father is calling you to believe in the Lord Jesus, to trust that He forgives you and that He will keep you safe, even in the midst of life’s storms and disasters! Yes, everyday, we are called to joyfully embrace God’s call to believe—to repent of our sins and to trust God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake and to confess that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world.

Of course, Satan wants to discourage you from believing in Christ. In fact, Satan is ever seeking to persuade you to take your faith off of Jesus. You see, everyone has faith in something. But Jesus is the only true Object of saving faith. Only those who believe that Jesus is God-in-the-flesh and who trust that His crucifixion covers all sins can be saved. Of course, Satan does not want to see you saved. And so he uses two lies to try to persuade you to take your faith off of Jesus.

Satan’s first lie is that with enough effort, you can do the Law. If you try really hard, you can keep the Ten Commandments well enough to impress even God. But, if you can do the Law, if you can keep the Commandments, then what need do you have for Jesus? 

And then Satan’s second lie is that with enough sin, you can undo the Gospel. If you mess up bad enough, if you sin one too many times, then you will reach the point where the Gospel of Jesus can no longer help you. But if you can undo the Gospel by your sins, then what kind of Saviour is Jesus, after all?

There you have it: two of the biggest lies of Satan: that you can do the Law and that you can undo the Gospel. And if you can do the Law, there is no need to trust Jesus. And if you can undo the Gospel, then there is no hope in trusting Jesus. Do you see? Through these lies, Satan tries to persuade you to take your faith off of Jesus.   

Return to Jesus and give Him praise!

But thanks be to God, God keeps you in the faith He first gave you in Holy Baptism. To trust in Jesus Christ crucified for salvation is the very heart of your existence. Each day, by God’s grace, you resist the lie that with enough effort, you can keep the Law without Jesus. And by God’s grace, you reject the lie that with enough sin, you can undo the Gospel. By God’s grace, you know that only Jesus can keep the Law perfectly. And by God’s grace, you know that the Gospel of salvation in Jesus can never be undone. You know that Jesus saves, and Jesus alone. Your faith does not save you; rather, through faith, you receive Jesus, who saves you from your sins, who saves you for heaven. And in Christ, you live in the joy of knowing that your sins, as great as they are, can never undo the Gospel. 

The Gospel of Jesus endures forever, to save sinners. That is why you follow the example of the Samaritan leper. As you receive each day the Lord’s cleansing of your sins, you return to Jesus to give Him praise. When you fall headlong into a grievous sin, do not remain down, wallowing in your sin; rather, return to Jesus, confessing your sins and trusting Him to forgive you.  When you are crushed and overwhelmed by life’s trials and sorrows, you could just mope about in a deep and dark depression; but your calling is to return to Jesus and give Him praise, even in the midst of your suffering, just as Paul and Silas sang out hymns of praise at midnight as they laid bound in a cold, dark dungeon in Philippi.  As one baptized into Christ, your calling is to return to Jesus every day of your life, believing that He is indeed your good and gracious Saviour, who died and rose to save you and who loves you and cares for you.

Our Saviour Jesus comes to us in our brokenness!

Now, you are just like me. You are not always good about returning to Jesus and giving Him praise. At times, just like me, you have become quite resentful of God and how He seems to not always come through for you. If God is so good, then why do you have so many struggles? It is easy to become bitter. But if anyone deserved to become bitter, it was Jesus. Like the two thieves on the cross, you and I deserve to suffer, even for all eternity.  But Jesus did nothing to deserve being nailed to that middle cross. He did it, though, for you and for me and for a whole world of lost sinners. Jesus willingly laid down His life and then three days later rose from the dead in order to heal us all of the leprosy of sin.  

And now our Saviour Jesus comes to us in our brokenness; He comes to heal us of all the times we have resented God and resisted His call to confess our sins and to trust in Him, to believe that He is good and gracious. Yes, right now, smack in the midst of all your sins, sorrows, and failures, Jesus comes to you to give you the Gospel that cannot be undone; Jesus comes to heal you with His Word of forgiveness and with the holy feast of His Holy, precious Body and Blood. And through this healing, Jesus gives you the strength to return to Him and to give Him praise. And, of course, it is not your faith that heals you. Remember, it is the object of your faith, Jesus, who heals and forgives you and who gives you strength for each new day. Every morning, your loving Saviour Jesus says to you “rise and go your way; your faith in Me makes you well!” And because Jesus is the object of your faith, you receive God’s grace—even in the midst of your trials—to return to Jesus and to give Him praise, today, tomorrow, and all your days to life everlasting!  Praise be to Jesus!  Amen.