Faith, Forgiveness & Difficult Commands

This past week, I was engaged in a lively Twitter discussion that revolved around the importance of, effect of, and motivation for obedience – specifically, obedience to the commands of Christ.

Obedience is not optional, but neither is it the end in itself. Jesus never said, “Obey me, and here’s the outcome of that,” but rather “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).

Loving Jesus is the end, and obedience to him is the outpouring, or result of that love.

At times, Jesus laid down difficult commands, callings against which our inner drives tend to bristle. Not the least of these commands is the call Jesus makes of us regarding the nature and extent of our call to forgiveness – seventy times seven.

When Jesus presents us with a difficult command, what is the required response to that command? Intuitively, we want to answer, “Well, it’s obedience, of course!”

I challenge that response. I am asserting, rather, that faith is the proper response to difficult commands. I know how odd that sounds, but let’s look at a specific instance wherein Jesus laid down a terribly difficult commandment, and see what we can learn from that event.

In Luke chapter 17, Jesus presented a challenging call regarding forgiveness.

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 17:3b-4, ESV

Yowza! That’s one tough nugget of instruction. And on the heels of that difficult teaching, look at the response of the apostles.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” – Luke 17:5, ESV

Whoa! Ya’ think?

From the worldly standpoint, this unlimited forgiveness charge from Jesus is laughably absurd. So much so that the apostles scratch their heads and say, essentially, “Well, Jesus, in order for me to live up to that one, I’m going to have to have a whopping lot more faith than I have right now.”

Recognizing their severe faith deficit in the face of this overwhelming directive from Jesus, what did the disciples propose as a remedy? They looked directly to Jesus as a source of faith and asked Him to increase their faith.

They did not turn to prayer or study. They did not look at anything we might refer to today as spiritual disciplines. They looked at Jesus and made a very bold, blunt request: “Increase our faith.”

We are not told how Jesus responded to this unexpected request, but the request does seem to agree with Paul’s statement in Romans 12:3 (NASB): “God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Earlier in the same letter, Paul says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

It seems, from these verses, that we have defined both a source and a means of increased faith, and it is that faith which allows us to radiate an endless flow of forgiveness. The source of this empowering faith, at least in the minds of Paul and the disciples, is Jesus himself. Indeed, Hebrews 12:2 calls Jesus the author and perfecter of faith.

The means is the word or message of Christ. When the evidence around me says my faith is not what it should be, or when I am tempted to cry out with the disciples, “Lord, increase my faith,” there is a good chance that what I really need is to spend more time reading and hearing the message of Christ, particularly the words from His own lips.

Remember what Jesus said in John 15:7 (NASB), “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” To the unbelieving Jews in John 5:38a (NASB), Jesus used the same line of reasoning to rebuke them, saying, “You do not have His word abiding in you.” Yet these people were meticulous in their study and memorization of Scripture. How then could Jesus say such a thing?

There is something to God’s Word abiding in us that goes far beyond study and memorization. A word that abides is a word that has found a home. I abide in my home. You abide in yours. God’s Word must make its home in us.

When Jesus commands us in ways that are difficult for us, we need an increasingly robust faith. Faith comes by hearing the message of Christ, and we find that message in the pages of scripture, particularly in the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

When Jesus calls us to forgive without measure, seventy times seven, and it feels like a gut-punch, pull out your Bible, curl up with a cup of hot chocolate, and immerse yourself in the message of Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon

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Damon Gray

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