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Monday
Nov262018

Faith in the Lord Jesus for Life

Romans 1:16-19; Habakkuk 2:4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 25, 2018.

Over 500 years ago a young, Roman-Catholic worried about how he could be truly right with God.  When lightning struck dangerously close to him, it scared him badly.  He then became a monk and spent his time in prayer and fasting, attempting to settle things with God.  Lacking peace throughout this whole time, the young man then heard the Lord speak to him one day.  “The just shall live by faith.”  As he contemplated Romans 1:17, young Martin Luther began to understand the truly wonderful truth of the Gospel for the first time.  He wrote later, “I felt born again like a new man.  I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God.”  Until that day Luther lacked peace and rest in his spirit, but afterwards he had sweet relief.

Today we are going to transition from talking about how faith is necessary for salvation to the point that faith is necessary for living our lives on this earth.  Technically our lives on this earth are a part of our salvation, but it is a whole new phase of the work of God in our lives.  Let’s look at this passage in Romans.

The righteousness that we need is from God

In this passage, Paul clearly has salvation in mind, but for him salvation is not just a thing that happened at a point in the past.  It is also something that is lived out each and every day.  So before we get into how he uses the truth, the just shall live by faith, we will take some time to look at where this truth was first revealed in Scripture.

In the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, the prophet is questioning God about some difficult things that he sees.  It seems to him that God is not doing anything about it.  Anyone who begins to follow Jesus will quickly discover that we often have questions and do not understand the wisdom behind how God runs things.  God does not always protect the righteous from the deeds of wicked people.  As Habakkuk wrestled with that question, God tells him in Hab. 2:4, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright within him, but the just shall live by faith.”  So we have two parallel statements that contrast each other.  The subject of the first is the proud.  The statement is that they are not upright within themselves.  Since this is a contrast we might expect the second statement to have “the humble” as its subject, but instead we have “the just,” another way of saying the righteous.  God could have said for Habakkuk to look at the humble and how their spirit is upright within them, but He doesn’t.  Think about the many other verses in the Old Testament that speak about the inner life of mankind (both proud and humble).  Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  The proud, whether religious or not, think that they are right or just.  They exercise all manner of faith in their own righteousness.   However, God sees through them.  On the other hand the just, i.e. those who are truly righteous from God’s perspective, will live by faith in God rather than themselves.  They are not even perfectly upright inside themselves and they know this.  The righteous are those who reject the arrogant tendency to trust our own mind and heart over the top of the revelation of God.

Thus the righteous see their failings and look to God in faith for their salvation.  They are declared righteous by God because of their faith in Him.  Of course now we are directed particularly to Jesus.  The Father has sent His Son and all who put their trust in Him are declared righteous.  In case you are not completely convinced, think about the first 3 chapters of the book of Romans.  In chapter one he shows how the gentile nations were lost and depraved in their thinking and living.  However, he then goes on to show how even the “righteous” Israelites had fallen short of God’s glory.  Romans 3:22b-23 compares the Gentiles with the Jews and states, “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  There is not a single righteous person throughout this whole earth who is righteous in and of themselves.  If they are righteous it is because of their faith in God.  In Romans 1:17 Paul speaks of the “righteousness of God.”  Jesus is the righteousness of God and He offers this righteousness freely to those who will lay aside their own false righteousness.  He alone is truly right within Himself.

Thus Paul answers the question, “Who are the just?”  His answer is this.  It is those who have received the righteousness of God instead of clinging to their own.  Martin Luther and other early reformers actually called this “alien righteousness.”  This was to emphasize that the righteousness a true believer has is not their own.  It belongs to another, Jesus.  None of us has it in ourselves.  We must receive it from God Himself and God only gives it to those who lay down their righteousness and embrace Jesus in faith.

Paul states that it is in the Gospel that we are told these things.  In other words these things are what God has revealed in His Word.  We must not skip over this point lightly.  The Law of Moses does reveal a kind of righteousness, but it is a righteousness that none of us have (nor did any in the days of Moses).  Think on it.  Anywhere you have a set of laws, you will find no one who perfectly keeps them all, especially if you take in account what Jesus said about our inner thought life in Matthew 5:18.  What we actually find there are many people who are proud in their ability to look like they are in compliance.  That is why we always find law makers who don’t pay their taxes, etc.  The prophets pointed to the need for a man to be made righteous by God because they saw our inability to perform the law of God.  The Gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ reveals to us this righteousness that none of us has in ourselves, but can obtain from God Himself by putting our confidence in Jesus and following Him.

The world today challenges believers to separate themselves from God’s Word, whether completely or only partially.  However, if we run from the Bible to any degree, we are only destroying ourselves.  Don’t run from the Bible because it is the only hope that we and this world have.  It points us away from ourselves and towards Jesus, who is the righteousness of God.

This enables us to live by faith

It is our own righteousness that tends to trip us up in this life.  When we jettison it and look to Christ we are suddenly enabled to actually please God and do the righteous things as He desires.  Verse 17 uses an interesting phrase to describe this faith.  In the NKJV it reads, “by faith from first to last.”  Literally the passage says, “out of faith into faith.”  I am not quibbling with the translation.  Notice though how it describes a person moving from a position of faith into another position of faith.  This is what it means to walk with God.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, God has given us some knowledge, but we still have huge gaps and struggles with where things are headed.  Like Habakkuk we don’t understand why we are seeing what we are seeing.  If we are going to follow God it will only be by taking one step of faith after another.  No matter how confident a saint may appear, or how long they have walked with Jesus, they never get to a place where they no longer have to walk by faith.  They too must trust God all along the way, often at the expense of what they see, feel, or think.  Our flesh does not like walking by faith and will always find things to complain about.  Faith is not a one-time step into salvation, but a continual step after step from that very first step of faith in Jesus Christ to that last step of faith as we leave this world.  For the righteous it is always a walk of faith in the Lord Jesus.

Faith in Jesus is the only solid ground that can hold up a righteous life.  Habakkuk knew these things to some degree, but we still see him struggling with them.  He struggles with why God has let so many wicked people in Israel rise to leadership.  When God tells him that the Babylonians will come and conquer Israel, then Habakkuk questions how God could use those who were more wicked than Israel to judge them.  You see if we fixate on the things of this world and how they are going, we will be robbed of our faith.  You too will have to struggle with your fears and thoughts in order to keep your faith in Jesus.   There is nothing in this world that will keep you strong, except putting your trust in Jesus completely.  Jesus Himself is the solid ground upon which we stand.  We feel like it is less solid, but it is the only thing that will hold when God begins to shake things up.  Your righteous works won’t hold.  The greatness and goodness of the United States of America won’t hold.  The promise and hope of a representative republic won’t hold.  Your favorite philosopher or biblical teacher won’t hold.  Only Jesus will hold because He alone is the righteousness of God.  When you have Him, you have a solid foundation for taking that next step and then the next and then the next.  He will hold us up until we reach our place in heaven beside Him.

Let me close by recognizing verses 18 and 19.  Paul transitions here to the wrath of God.  The proud will go on in their self righteousness and experience the wrath of God, but those who live by faith in Jesus will not be exposed to this wrath.  Oh, we do have a healthy fear of God.  However, we understand His offer of grace, and His offer of righteousness.  Thus we walk in confidence in Him.

What is faith?  Faith is a complete confidence in Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  Without Jesus I can’t be a good father, husband, pastor, or insert any part of your life here, but with Him I can become the righteousness of God.  When we humble ourselves to this very low place, we find salvation and God enables us to rise up and walk with Him day by day.   Yes, we have questions and we have days when our faith meter may not be so strong.  However, in those moments may we all understand that God is only teaching us to trust in Him rather than those things that are making us waver.  Let’s walk with Jesus and not worry about what the world may say.  Amen.

Faith for Life audio