Turn in your Bible to Luke 17:1-6. I want to remind you that throughout Luke 16 Jesus has been dealing with both the Pharisees’ lives and their teaching. Their sin is leading the people of God astray, so here Jesus is concerned to say to His disciples, “Do not live and teach like the Pharisees.” In many ways it's a contrast; it's a positive exhortation in light of His negative criticism of the Pharisees in Luke 16.

You will also see teaching that goes a long way toward helping us understand how to live the Christian life. We know we’re saved by grace, through faith, not by works lest any should boast. But how do we live the Christian life? Is it a matter of dependence on the Lord, just like we depended on Him to forgive us when we first came to Him? Is it a matter of grace, or is it a matter of obedience? The answer, of course, is both, but how you put those things together is very important, and this passage helps us put them together rightly. Before we get there, we need to understand specifically what Jesus is doing, so walk with me through three parts of this passage.



I. The Negative Command

First, look at verses 1 and 2. Jesus gives His disciples a direct imperative: “Don't lead My sheep into temptation by your teaching and behavior.” Look at what He says. “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 was hung around his neck and he was cast into the sea than that he should cause one of the least of these to sin.” Jesus clearly has the Pharisees in mind. They claim to love God while in fact they love money more than anything else. That leads people astray because people instinctively sniff out their hypocrisy. Jesus is turning to His disciples here and saying, “Don't be like them. Your life and teaching can lead people astray, and it would be better for you to drown than to lead one of My little ones astray, for God will judge.” Paul echoes this idea in the Pastoral Epistles, saying to Timothy, “Timothy, watch your life; watch your doctrine.” James, Jesus’s half-brother, says in his little book, “Let not many of you become teachers because you will incur stricter judgment.” Every teacher with ears to hear trembles at these things.

Christian, I want you to pull back and realize that this is not just about teachers; this is about all of us. Have you ever thought that what you choose to do and say could actually lead someone astray? This is especially a terrifying thought to parents. Jesus warns his disciples against this.



II. The Positive Command

Next, look at verses 3 and 4. Now the exhortation is a positive exhortation to mutual soul care. “Pay attention to yourselves.” This command is corporate. The disciples are to look out for one another's souls. Then Jesus says, “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.” He picks the issue of forgiveness and says, “Here's one way that you need to look out for one another's souls: are you repenting and forgiving?” That's a hard area. Maybe you have experienced hurts that are so deep that you have really struggled with forgiving the ones who have administered those wounds. Jesus is saying to His disciples, “No matter how deep that wound is, if that brother or sister repents, you must forgive.” Are there things that you just can't forgive? Jesus’s words here are, “You must forgive him.”



III. The Power to Obey

It's no wonder that the apostles’ response in the verse 5 is, “Lord, increase our faith!” They know they need the Lord’s help to care for each other’s souls and consistently forgive and repent. Jesus’s word to them in verse 6 is, “By trusting God, you can do these things, and He can do these things in you.” Do you see how He explains it here? “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and then be planted in the sea.’” Jesus’s point, I think, is not to rebuke the disciples. They've given the right answer. They know that with regard to these kinds of commands you've got to live by faith, so they know they need faith. But Jesus says, “I don't want you to be focused on the size of that faith or the quantity of that faith.” I think Jesus is pointing them to the reality of faith. It is faith that you need in order to receive God's grace and power to do these things.

But in so doing, notice how He points to both dependence and devotion. He wants them to be utterly dependent upon God in order to do these things, but He expects them to be disciplined in their devotion. He is talking about grace-enabled discipleship, God’s working in you so that you express the devotion that God's work in you is designed to create. There's no better passage in the Bible to explain this than Ephesians 2:8-10. Paul emphasizes that salvation is not at all by works, but then he says in verse 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Good works play a role in the Christian life; they just don't make us right with God. We are not saved by our good works, but we are saved for works which God prepared beforehand.

The disciples ask Jesus, “How can we do this?” Jesus here is saying, “Do you trust Me? Do you trust that God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure? Do you really want that? Ask and it will be given to you.” You may be thinking right now, “I just don't think I can forgive in the situation that I'm in.” Jesus is saying to you, “Do you really want to do and be what God has called you to do and be? Ask Me. Ask and it will be given to you. Trust Me.”

Augustine had a prayer that went something like this: “Lord, command what You will, and give what You command.” What Augustine meant by that is, “Lord, You can command me to do anything You want me to do as long as You’ll enable me to do it.” Sometimes in our hearts we don't really believe the promises that God has given us, and we don't really want to do what He's commanded us to do. And in the face of that we pray, “Lord, command what You will, but give what You command.”