"Rise, and go your way; your faith has saved you." Jesus tells the man cured of his leprosy that his faith saved him. This is fantastic news and a comfort that we Lutherans hold dear. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by our own works! (Eph. 2:8-9) This means that our works cannot condemn us! If our salvation depended on what we did and how well we did it, we would never have certainty that we are saved. "Have I done enough?", would haunt each one of our consciences until our last breath. But since we are saved by faith and not by works, our failings and our past sins cannot condemn us.
Now, it is not because faith is some tremendously good work that it saves. Rather, faith saves, because it holds onto Jesus. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Whoever believes in Him, that is, in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, who became man and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, who suffered and died for our sins, who rose for our justification, who ascended into heaven and currently sits at the right hand of God's power. If you believe in Him you will have eternal life; not if you believe in Allah, or yourself, or money, or the government, or power, or any other false god. Faith is only as good as what it holds onto. If your faith is in Jesus then your faith saves. If your faith is not in Jesus then your faith does not save no matter how strong it might be.
"Your faith has saved you" is such a simple statement, yet it is so grossly misunderstood. Many treat faith in Christ as frivolously as knowing the score of a football game. "Who won the game last Sunday? The Packers? Hey, cool. Now I'll continue to live my life just as I would if they had lost." "What's that you say? Jesus died on the cross for my sins and if I believe in him I'll be saved? Hey great; thanks for the info. Now I'll continue to live my life just as I did before I had this 'faith.'"
But the man healed in our text didn't continue on like that. Rather his faith compelled him to return to Jesus and give thanks. As soon as he saw that he had been cleansed the man ran to Jesus. This is what faith does. Faith isn't simply knowledge. Faith is trust. Faith wants to be with the one it has faith in. The man wanted to be with Jesus. The Psalmist expresses this faithful sentiment perfectly in our Introit from Psalm 84,
How lovely is Your tabernacle, O | LORD of hosts!*
My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts | of the LORD;
Blessed are those who dwell | in Your house;*
They will still be | praising You
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house | of my God*
than dwell in the tents of | wickedness.
The man praised and gave thanks to God at Jesus' feet. He recognized God in Jesus, so he went to Jesus to give thanks. He recognized where God promised to be. And so, it is with us, who have faith in Christ. We want to be with him, so that we can receive his forgiveness and blessing and so that we can thank him and sing his praises. That great Lutheran hymn describes it perfectly when it says that heaven itself would be void and bare if our Lord Jesus Christ were not there (LSB 708).
So, we as Christians go to where God promises to be, where our Savior Jesus promises to be. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age", Jesus promises. Well, where is he? Jesus is where his word is taught. Where his Sacraments are given. Where you have God's promise of forgiveness, there you have Jesus. Where two or three are gathered in Christ's name, there you have our Lord. And that is where Christians gather, like that healed leper, to give thanks and praise.
You'll notice that Lutheran pastors emphasize the wonderful benefits of coming to church to receive forgiveness from Christ. And we'll even criticize other forms of worship that focus almost exclusively on praising God and giving thanks. While it is true that God doesn't need your praise or thanksgiving and you need his forgiveness and word a lot more, your faith will compel you to sing praises to God. Faith wants to thank him who has given you all things. That is why our worship focuses both on us receiving God's grace and on us responding with thanks and praise.
Faith is simple. And you don't need to understand the whole Bible to be saved. Yet, faith is never done learning. Isn't it amazing, that the Book that teaches salvation by faith alone still has a whole lot of instruction? King Solomon wrote in our Old Testament Lesson, "Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not walk in the way of evil." (Proverbs 4:12-14)
These words of wisdom were written for Christians, those who trust in the God of Israel. These words were written for those who have saving faith. Well, if they have saving faith, why do they still need instruction? Because instruction produces more faith. It brings you closer to Jesus! It teaches you to fight against Satan and your own sinful flesh. Because saving faith does not stop at being saved, but continues to learn more and more out of love and trust in Christ.
Faith saves you without your works and despite your sins. But this does not mean that you can continue in sin without repentance. St. Paul wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal. 5:19-21) Now when Paul wrote this, did he then deny that you are saved by faith alone? Certainly not! But if you have faith in Christ then you have the Holy Spirit. The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit. This means that if you have saving faith you are constantly at war with your sinful desires.
You will continue to struggle with sin. But you will struggle. One who does not struggle, but goes headlong into sin, without repenting cannot at the same time have saving faith. Saving faith constantly turns the sinner from his sin to Christ for needed forgiveness. When St. Paul writes, "Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God," he means it. He is not saying that those who sin will not inherit the kingdom of God. He is saying those who devote themselves to these things without repenting do not have saving faith, so they cannot inherit the kingdom of God. This is why faith constantly drives you to Christ, because you will sin. You need Jesus every day. Jesus receives sinners, no matter their sin.
The ten lepers cried for mercy. A couple weeks ago we learned about the tax collector, who in the temple prayed, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." And we learned how the word he used for mercy was a special word: propitiate. The tax collector prayed that God would be propitiated to him, meaning that God would accept the sacrifice for his sins and not be angry with him. The word the ten lepers used for mercy is not the same word. It is a much more common word. It's the same word we use when we sing, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, after the Introit. This word for mercy is much broader. It doesn't only mean, "Lord, forgive me." It means, "have pity on me."
You can pray that God have mercy on you for an array of problems. "Lord, have mercy on me! I can't pay my bills." "Lord, have mercy on me! I have cancer." "Lord, have mercy on me! A hurricane is going to destroy my parent's home and they are trapped inside." "Lord, have mercy on me! My husband is leaving me. My child is sick. I have a drinking problem." And of course, "Lord, have mercy on me! I am a sinner."
Saving faith cries, "Lord, have mercy on me!" But not only to ask for salvation. Saving faith asks God for all things. Often we might think that God will take care of our spiritual problems, but the "real world" problems, well, we need to figure those out for ourselves. But God wants you to ask him for all things. Great and small! God wants you to expect every good thing from him. He wants you to believe that just as he has provided you a Savior and eternal life, that he will also take care of you from day to day. This trust in the Lord is a fruit of saving faith.
The man, who returned to give thanks to God was a foreigner. Worse, he was a Samaritan; a most hated foreigner. Yet, he had faith. Salvation comes by faith. It does not matter what nation you are from or what color your skin is. Jesus died for all people. God promised Abraham that through his offspring all families of the earth will be blessed. Everyone is blessed through faith.
Faith saves, because it grasps onto Jesus. Is your faith strong? Well, of course it can always be stronger. But the better question is, is your faith in Jesus. Jesus can save you even if you have a weak faith. But your faith must be in Christ. You must trust in him alone for your salvation. Because only Jesus has the power to save. Only Jesus died for your sins and rose to give you new life. Is your faith in Jesus? Then your faith has saved you. Amen.