Four Questions for Vital Discipleship
Forgiveness, Faith, Love, Consistency
There are a number of important and basic questions in life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? What happens after we die? I believe when a person seriously addresses these questions in their lives they will be drawn to the message of Christianity because it alone gives adequate answers to these questions.
It is good to ask yourself questions in life. We need to ask things like: Why do I feel the way I do? What is it I really want? What do I really believe? Am I telling myself the truth? Do I really need this? Such questions help us to know where we are which is the first step to be able to get to where you want to go.
A Pilot usually has a checklist they go through before they fly. In other words they ask themselves questions to make sure they have done what they need to do to fly safely. Many of you do the same thing in your job. You have a series of questions you ask to make sure you are prepared.
In the first ten verses of Luke 17 Jesus exhorts us to do four different things. I am grateful to Alistair Begg who turned these things into questions we should ask ourselves.
1. Am I Leading Someone Astray?
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 So watch yourselves.
It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable or strong you are, there will be temptations that come into your life that invite and urge you to sin. Satan and his army are a crafty bunch. They send temptations our way that are most likely to trip us up. What may be a temptation for you may not be a temptation for me and visa versa. Consequently we need to keep some things in mind:
- We are never as strong as we think we are. When we say “I can handle it” we have already taken a step in the wrong direction.
- Satan is much more resourceful than we think he is…be your guard up.
- Our only hope in the time of testing is to hold fast to Christ.
Jesus points however to a related danger:
woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
Notice the strong words Jesus uses. He says it would be better to be thrown into the sea wearing “cement” shoes than to face the judgment that will come to those who lead others astray.
This leads us to our first important question: Am I Leading Other People Astray? We can do this in a number of ways,
- Through false teaching. When we deny the god-ness of Jesus, when we diminish the authority of the Bible, when we water down God’s definition of sin we are guilty of false teaching. When we twist the truth to suit our preferences we are leading others astray. When we try to blend into our “faith” the beliefs of many different religions we are changing the truth of God into a lie!
- By living in a way that leads others astray. When people see another Christian who gossips, who gets drunk, who is unfaithful in their marriage, who is lazy in their job, who uses the system, who forwards pornography, they tend to conclude that such things are OK in God’s eyes. We lead people to conclude that we believe the Bible does not mean what it says! We have pointed out that this is magnified most clearly in our own households. When our children hear us say, “We are followers of Christ” but then see that we consider many other things as more important than he is we should not be surprised when our children show no evidence of faith. They learned it from us!
- We can lead people astray when we justify sin. When we tell people that what is wrong is right, we lead them astray. When we respond to their sin with “I’m sure God understands”, in a tone of acceptance, we lead them astray. God certainly does understand! He understands that our disobedience is a rebellion against His authority!
- We can lead people astray by our silence. When we have the opportunity to point people in the right direction and do nothing we are accessories to their destruction. A builder who knows there is a structural problem with something they are building but does nothing to fix the problem is liable. A Christian who sees someone heading to destruction but says nothing will have to give an account before God.
2. Am I Learning to Forgive?
The second thing for us to do is this,
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
There are two parts to the command. First, we are to rebuke someone if they sin. The point here is that we need to take responsibility to guard each other’s souls. If we see someone doing something wrong we should confront them. If someone hurts us we should let them know they have done so. Instead of telling everyone how horrible this person is, we should go to that person and let them know about the offence. The truth is, many times we can see someone heading for trouble before they see it themselves.
This of course implies that we must be open to correction from others. That’s a lot more difficult isn’t it? We don’t mind pointing out the sins of others . . . we aren’t too happy when others point out our sin. We must keep our eye on the goal: holiness in life and teaching.
A key of course is attitude. None of us responds well to a person who is in your face and abusive. We don’t want to hear from someone who seems to be rejoicing that they have caught us in some sin. We need those who love us and are concerned for us. The person who lovingly says, “Can I talk to your privately about something . . . “ is a person we will cherish rather than a person who blasts away.
Those who dare to rebuke must do so with these considerations,
- You might not have all the information
- You may have misread the situation
- We should always come humbly with the Word of God rather than our opinions or preferences.
Once we have confronted someone with their sin we are to forgive the person who says “I repent”. When someone faces up to the wrong they have done and asks for our forgiveness we are to grant forgiveness. I think this is an important point. The person must acknowledge their offense. We all know that this is easier to proclaim than it is to do.
Forgiveness means absorbing the hurt that has been caused and making that hurt a “non-issue” in the relationship. When we forgive someone it means we do not hold the issue against someone, we do not bring it up again, we move on as if it never happened. When we truly forgive we act most like Jesus.
Forgiveness is not easy and sometimes it takes a good deal of time. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves over and over that we have to forgive something. We may have to do this for months or years before we actually “forget”.
The alternative to forgiveness is great. If we do not forgive we become bitter, filled with resentment and we begin to develop a sour outlook on life. When we forgive we act most like Jesus. When we forgive we show that we understand and appreciate what we have been forgiven. Forgiveness not only sets the offender free, it sets us free as well.
It is not our job to determine whether or not a person has repented “enough”. That is God’s responsibility. There are certainly times when we need to be cautious (such as if a person continues to put you in a dangerous situation). We need to take a person’s weakness into account (you don’t put a thief back in charge of the money immediately), but for the most part we are to welcome them and move on. The burden of responsibility falls on the forgiver. We show our faith in God when we choose to forgive.
If you are the offender you job is to repent. That means you must recognize what you have done and confess to the offended party the hurt you have caused. You must truly desire to go in a different direction (in some cases you may fall again but you need to be trying to change). You must ask for the person to forgive you. That’s harder than it sounds.
3. Am I Living at All by Faith?
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
The apostles recognized that Jesus was asking them to do something that is hard. They know this must be done by faith. So, they ask for more.
Jesus says you don’t need a lot of faith to be used by God or to see God work in great ways. Faith at its core is “believing God”. Think about how a skydiver puts his/her faith in a parachute. They jump out of a plane and trust that the chute will open and enable them to float to the ground. Every time we get into an airplane we are evidencing faith in the engineers that designed the plane. God wants us to trust Him at least this much.
Jesus isn’t saying, “Hey if you have enough faith you can do really cool tricks like commanding a deeply rooted tree to cast itself into the sea. It’s not that we should be trying to move mountains” . . . the idea is that if we trust God we would see mountains moved if that is what needed to happen. We see this again and again in the Bible. The point is that these great miracles were not just for that time . . . we can see them today if we will truly trust God.
Paul tells us that God will do “exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask or imagine.” We don’t see great works of God because we don’t really think God can do those things. This raises the question: Am I Living at All By Faith?
Most of us tend to live “safe”. We want to control the outcome of circumstances. We don’t like having to put our full confidence in what God alone can do. And that is the problem. We will never know the power of God in our lives until we dare to let God work.
The Bible does not promise that if you have enough faith every situation will work out the way you want it to work or that you will get everything that you desire. If we have faith we will have the confidence that God knows what He is doing and we can trust Him even when things don’t seem to be going well. We don’t get discouraged by circumstances because in our faith we know that God controls the circumstances. He has promised good to those who belong to Him. We may not understand that term “good” right now but we can trust Him.
Are you facing some mountain in your life or ministry right now? It may be a physical need, a financial need, a friend who is resistant to the gospel, a ministry that just won’t take hold, a challenge you don’t feel you can meet. We must remind ourselves to trust God. He can meet the need. Put your confidence in His ability rather than your own. Once you do this, hang on because you may be surprised at what God can do.
It takes Faith
- To trust God’s character and wisdom even in the trials
- It takes faith to trust God to give you the right words when you are put on the spot about your faith or to keep you quiet when that’s what is needed.
- It take faith to trust that God will provide for our needs
- It takes faith to stand before the freshly dug grave of someone we love.
- It takes faith to wait for God to bring that “someone” into your life
- It takes faith to confront addictive or deep-seated behaviors rather than simply throwing up your hands and saying, “That’s just the way I am”.
- It takes faith to be willing to serve God in an area that is outside of your “comfort zone.”
Faith is active trust. Jesus reminds us that our job is to walk by faith and not by sight. We are to trust God’s Word and His proven character even when the mountain before us seems overwhelming.
4. Am I Serving the Lord Out of Love or To Get Something?
7 “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”
The last question is this: Am I Serving the Lord out of love or out of a desire to get something?
You’ve probably met people who say they are your friend but they won’t do anything for you unless they are “paid”. It may be a payment of money or a favor that they will negotiate in return. These are not friends, they are business associates!
The problem is that too often I find myself relating to God this way. I say, “Lord, I was nice to so-and-so today (and you know how hard that is) so now I hope you will reward me for my good deed.” Or we might say, “Lord, I gave you my tithe as you require, now I ask you to bless me greatly and let me do such-and-such.” At times I even find myself saying, “Lord, you owe me!”
God NEVER owes us. We must not serve God for the blessing we hope to receive, we serve God because He is worthy of our service. We serve God out of gratitude for His love and forgiveness. If God never gave us another thing, He would still never be in our debt.
Job lost everything. He lost his business, his children, and his health. His response was: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” I don’t think I am that faithful. Why? Because deep down I think I believe I deserve better!
The apostles rejoiced when they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ. That’s not what most of us signed up for. We are looking for blessing, not trial.
Jesus tells us to ask why we are serving the Lord. Are we serving Him because we love Him and trust Him or do we serve Him conditionally? Are we willing to give Him our best because He deserves our best or will we give our best only if God does what we want Him to do.One is an act of faith, the other is a negotiation. It is a serious mistake to try to keep score with God because we will ALWAYS lose.
This morning we have drawn attention to four questions that can help us move toward a vibrant faith.
- Am I leading anyone astray in any way by the way I live my life?
- Am I learning to Forgive?
- Am I living at all by Faith?
- Am I seeking to serve the Lord as His servant?
One more thing: Having a checklist doesn’t help the pilot if he doesn’t actually address the issues raised in the questions. It is the same for us. Merely knowing the questions isn’t going to help us. We need to ask the questions and make the necessary changes. If we do we will be better able to stay on track in our efforts to serve and honor the King.