Life of Christ 134
Jesus has just left Bethany, the scene of the resurrection of Lazarus. He could not stay in Judea, for not only did He risk mob violence from the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin was now conspiring His assassination. Galilee was not much better, for the people there were hostile now also, and Herod Antipas wanted to kill Him (Luke 13.31). On the other hand, he could not travel very far away for He had to return to Jerusalem in just a couple of weeks for Passover, and His appointment with destiny. He settled for traveling in the remote, sparsely settled area between Samaria and Galilee, and He just kept moving until it was time to join the Galilean pilgrims streaming down the east bank of the Jordan River on their journey to Passover.
Our story today (Luke 17.11-19) is a familiar one. Jesus, on this short trip, meets ten lepers in an unnamed village. Knowing His reputation, they beg Him for mercy, from a distance. As the Old Testament demands, He sends them to the priest, for only the priest can certify the absence of leprosy. Believing Him, they leave to find a priest, and are cleansed along the way. One of them, overcome with gratitude, returns to find Jesus and to thank Him. Jesus, of course, was glad that one had come back to express his thankfulness and to praise God, yet He could not help but verbalize a wonder about where the other nine were. 'Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?' (Luke 17.17).
If I had a dime for every time I have heard this story used to attack soul winning I think I just might be a millionaire. The attack usually goes something like this: 'All this soul winning does is produce a bunch of false converts. Why, look at the story of the ten lepers. Only one was genuinely saved. The other nine proved they were lost because they never lived it. All these 1-2-3 repeat after me soul winning presentations are producing is false assurance. After all, if those people really got saved they would come to church and show it. Soul winning is nothing more than a system for producing false converts, and a church is wasting its time and putting itself in serious jeopardy if it continues to emphasize it. Such churches ought to be, at the least, ashamed of themselves.' Or, something like that; you get the idea, I'm sure.
What such attacks completely fail to grasp is that though only one of the ten lepers came back to Jesus to praise Him all ten of the lepers in our story actually did get saved.
Leprosy is a type or symbol of sin in the Bible. Every word in the Scripture is there on purpose, and the Word of God is careful to say that those lepers whom Jesus healed were not just healed, but cleansed. 'As they went, they were cleansed' (Luke 17.14). The nine who did not return were just as cleansed as the one who did. What cleansed the one who returned? I will wait while those of you who like to attack soul winning on the basis of this story scream in frustration… Yes, you are correct; faith in Christ is what cleansed the one who returned. 'And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole' (Luke 17.19). But – they – all – had – faith. How do I know? Because they were all made whole. They all obeyed, and went to the priest. 'He said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed' (Luke 17.14). Their faith was evidenced by their work of obedience to the command to go to the priest. Yes, the one who returned had gratitude, but gratitude does not make any man whole or saved. That man was made whole by faith. All ten were made whole. All ten had faith. All ten were saved.
To assert that only one was genuinely saved not only ignores this, but it also ignores plain Bible teaching that some people only get saved. In other words, they get saved, but that is all. They never make any further progress in the Christian life. 'Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire' (I Corinthians 3.13-15). If you are a lousy Christian you will get zero rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but you will be just as saved as the guy standing next to you who gets a great big pile of rewards.
Remember, Paul in I Corinthians 3 is talking to carnal Christians. And, no, do not even go there with me. Yes, there are carnal Christians, and to reject that concept you must twist the Scripture torturously. 'And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal' (I Corinthians 3.1-3). Carnal means fleshly. These 'brethren' were saved, but only saved. They were still babies in Christ, even though they had been saved for some time, and should have matured.
The simple fact is it is not unusual at all to help people get saved, and then find that very few of them make spiritual progress. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that is right, or good. I am saying that it is quite common. Spiritual maturity is rare; spiritual immaturity is universal.
Did you ever stop to ask yourself just how many people believed on Jesus during His public ministry? I do not know the answer, but after spending approximately 1000 hours studying the life of Christ in the last few years I would hazard an educated guess that it is in the tens of thousands. Five times alone in John the Scripture says that 'many' believed on Him. Yet if we measure from the low point, at the cross, only a handful were there. If we measure, more charitably instead, in the Acts 1 prayer meeting after Christ's ascension we still only find 120. How many was five times 'many'? I do not know, but these were not all. He had traveled and preached and healed and cleansed His way from one of Israel to the other, along the borders surrounding it, through Samaria, and all over again. He had visited the big cities repeatedly, and many of the smaller towns and villages. No, the Jewish nation of four million people certainly did not accept Christ, but it is not a stretch at all to say that thousands and thousands of people did in the course of His ministry.
Why then do we only find 120 assembled in Acts 1? Ah, yes, it was because Jesus was such a sloppy soul winner, eh? He should not have wasted His time traveling, preaching, ministering, and confronting people with the gospel. He should have befriended them for three years first, waited for them to realize how joyful He was, and then watched as a Calvinistic God to hit them over the head with unlimited grace. Strike that, He should have conducted a series of seventeen Bible studies with them over six months. And under no circumstances should He push them to make a decision, no, anything but that...
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not in favor of sloppy soul winning. I am emphatically against salesmanship in sharing the Gospel. I am for clear, thorough witnessing. I am for a discipleship which carefully follows up on those who make professions of faith. I am for preaching messages that urge those who have professed faith in Christ to examine themselves to ensure that they actually are in the faith. But what I am not for, and what Scripture is not for, is attacking confrontational soul winning on the basis of this event in the life of Christ.
Do you remember the parable of the sower and the seeds in Matthew 13? A whole bunch of seeds sprang to life, but never grew mature enough to bring forth fruit on their own. But they still were brought to life. I say again, it is not right nor is it good that so many just get saved and that is all, but it is common. It was true in Jesus' day, and it is true in our own day.
Where are the nine lepers? In Heaven playing tag with the angels, that is where. Where are the nine of your ministry and of mine? I do not know, but many of the ones who profess faith in Christ and yet never make any progress at all will find you in Heaven, fall on your neck, and weep the tears of gratitude they never had the spiritual maturity to show on Earth.