“Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?”
Luke 17:17-18 NASB1995
Of the ten lepers Jesus cleansed, only one gave glory to God — the one who returned and fell at Jesus’ feet. It surprised me to see what the nine, who failed to glorify the Lord, were doing: they were technically doing what Jesus had told them to do!
After all, it says, “Jesus said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.”
Luke 17:14-16 NASB1995
All ten lepers were cleansed “as they were going” to the priests — they were still on their way. And the one who Jesus said gave glory God is the one who “turned back” from going to the priests! The other nine, having been cleansed on the way, blindly and dutifully continued on their mission. But in so doing, they failed to give glory to God.
This is quite surprising!!
This story illustrates one of the greatest dangers in the Christian life: being fastidious about technical obedience. Once we become aware of God’s standards, it is easy to get fixated on the letter of the law, and to neglect the “weightier matters,” just like the Pharisees did.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness...”
Matthew 23:23a NASB1995
A Danger to All Inclined to Religion
This wasn’t just the Pharisees’ problem, though. It seems many who are fastidiously focused on keeping the commands do it without much of a heart for God. Consider the rich young ruler:
He could say, “All these things I have kept from my youth...” And yet he still turned away from the call of Jesus: “But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”
Luke 18:21-23 NASB1995
One of the most dangerous traps we can fall into is legalism, where we adhere to the letter of the law very carefully, but without a heart overflowing with love. Legalism gets us fixated on the outward to the neglect of the inner life. Legalism gets us proud of our own track record, and mindful of how much we have done for the Lord, instead of how much He has done for us.
Every sincere disciple will be careful to obey God’s commands; but not all who fastidiously obey are sincere disciples. Technical obedience is a religion all its own, and so we have to be very watchful, lest our Christianity be reduced to mere keeping the commands, without reverence for and devotion to the Lord Who gives the commands!
Remember Lot’s Wife
When Jesus spoke of the last days, He warned us that folks who look the same on the outside will be treated very differently due to what’s inside:
“I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”]” (Luke 17:34-36 NASB1995).
In the middle of these warnings about the last days, Jesus gave what seems to be an odd command:
“Remember Lot’s wife.”
Luke 17:32 NASB1995
What stood out to me as I considered His word is, Lot’s wife technically left Sodom! Outwardly, she left her old life behind, but she didn’t crucify that inward love for the things of the world.
And that spoke to me of the danger of outwardly obeying — technically doing what Jesus says — yet having no real love for the Lord underneath it all.
Deliverance from Outward Obedience
What do we do?
I was blessed to see the passage on prayer we have treasured at NCCF (Luke 18, and the parable of the persistent widow) is spoken in this context. In fact, it says, “Now He was telling them…” that is, at the very moment they hear of the dangers of technical obedience not being sufficient entrance into God’s kingdom.
“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart… ‘Now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?”
Luke 18:1, 7 NASB1995
For the disciple who sees the dangers of technical obedience, and who appreciates how high a call it is to abandon all other loves in response to Jesus’ call, the command is: “Keep crying out for deliverance! Persist in prayer for justice against that wicked enemy, the flesh.”
And the blessed promise of the Lord to such a one is, “I tell you that God will bring about justice for them quickly…”
Luke 18:8a NASB1995
God will certainly rescue the one who isn’t satisfied with mere outward obedience, with technically obeying God without having a heart for Him. If we cry out to Him, He will fill us with the Holy Spirit, Who pours God’s love into our hearts — the love which is the fuel for the obedience of devotion, that all our obedience might overflow with love back to Him.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.”
Luke 12:32 NASB1995