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Weekly Word

Tuesday
Dec182018

Exercising your Faith

Luke 8:22-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 16, 2018.

Today we are going to talk about the nature of faith.  Faith is such that it can be strengthened through its use.  Much like a muscle that is not used, our faith can atrophy to a point of spiritual danger.

This is not an attempt to inflate our egos with images of a spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Some people too easily think far more of themselves than they should and others too easily think far less of themselves than they should.  We must not err in either direction. 

No, this is recognition that God does want believers to become stronger in trusting Him.  He uses the difficulties of this life to strengthen our faith and accomplish the good work that He has for us to do.  In today’s story we are going to see a day in the life of The Twelve disciples, and how Jesus used it to strengthen their faith.

We must learn to trust the leading of Jesus

By the time we get to Luke 8:22, the disciples have followed Jesus for a while.  In verses 1-2 of the same passage we are told that they had already passed through every city and village “preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God.  And The Twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities.”  I say this because it shows us that they had a certain level of faith already.  They had come to see Jesus as a wise teacher with the knowledge of God, and a powerful healer who could set people free from the worst of diseases and even evil spirits.  However, they did not yet understand completely who Jesus was.  Even when we know the stories of the Bible and what God can do, we did not walk through those times.  Thus we have to learn to trust God for ourselves in the things that we experience.

In this passage the disciples will be tested with a new set of circumstances.  Jesus tells them to get in boats and go across the Sea of Galilee towards the eastern side.  Now, several of them were experienced fisherman, but not all of them were.  Even then, this storm that they would encounter was the worst that they had ever encountered while in a boat.  

This highlights an issue in the area of faith.  We must resist the temptation to believe that if we are following God the way will be easy and without difficulty.  The devil can undermine your faith by getting you first to believe that you are not where God wants you to be and second that God has abandoned you there.  Even if the first part is true, God will not abandon the repentant.  Remember the prodigal son.  Jesus is always as close as the mention of His name.  So our faith is going to be tested whether we like it or not.  It is the only way to strengthen our faith and accomplish what God wants to accomplish in our lives.

However remember 1 Corinthians 10:12-13.  “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”  Notice that in verse 12 we are warned to watch out lest we fall.  God does not want us to become proud and arrogant in our abilities.  We can fall at any time, period.  However, verse 13 is the encouragement.  We can trust God’s leading.  He is faithful and it is His help that will enable us to deal with the trial.

Though this verse speaks of an escape, it also speaks of being able to bear our trials.  There is always a way through every test when Jesus is with us, but we should never see avoiding the test as God’s way of escape.  His way always leads right through the trial and out the other side.  The temptation is to treat Jesus like training wheels for the disciples.  Later the wheels will come off and they will be just like Jesus.  In truth, they would only do what they did later by continuing to follow Jesus by faith, and allowing Him to do what He wanted to do through them.  It was still God’s power that enabled them to do anything and the same will be true for us.  There will never be a time in this life that we do not need Jesus.  However, the key is that Jesus is with us, just as real as He was with those disciples that day on the boat when the storm threatened to destroy them.

He picks the best way for us

So let’s follow up on the idea that God has a way through our trial.  The idea to boat across the sea came from Jesus and He was not ignorant to what was going to happen.  He could have had them walk around.  God always has options, and yet he chose this one that lead to this difficult place.

It was imperative for the disciples that they come to the knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, that in Him the fullness of the Godhead dwelt completely.  They needed to know that He was much more than a wise teacher, and powerful healer.  He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Though the situation looks like they are going to die, God is always watchful to the end that our faith is not overwhelmed.  Much like Israel pinned in against the Red Sea by Pharaoh’s army, they had nowhere to go.  Let me remind us of a verse in Exodus 13:17-18.  It says, “Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.”  God is always aware of what would be too much, what would overwhelm us.  Just as He was watching out for Israel, so He was watching out for The Twelve, and so He is watching out for you and me.

The truth is not that we can’t go through what is in front of us, but that we don’t want to do it.  We are capable of going through far greater things than we want to do and to be tested at levels far above our comfort zones.  It is not that we can’t follow the Lord, but that our flesh doesn’t want us to do so.  So the question is not can you follow the Lord, but will you?

Notice that God picked the easier way, but not an easy way.  We always think we have the toughest road, but the truth is that it could have been tougher.  The tests that Israel went through in the wilderness were tough, but they were also preparing them.  God taught them that they could trust Him for provision, healing, leading, and defense.  All these things were preparing them for the day when they would enter the Promised Land and have to fight giants.  It was all God’s preparation for Israel and in our story today, God’s preparation for the disciples.  They would face far greater storms than the one they faced on the Sea of Galilee that day.  Israel left Egypt unready for war against Egyptians, much less giants.  In the beginning God completely fought for them.  Moses told them, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord!”  In the wilderness God had them assist in the miracles of the desert by going out and gathering the manna and the birds, but in obedience to God’s commands about how much.  He had them break camp and make camp, marching dutifully along, at the direction of the cloud that led them.  When they reach the Promised Land, they are ready to go to war against giants, not by themselves, but with the Lord working with them.  This is the careful preparation of God in all of our lives, helping us to grow in our ability to exercise our faith in Him.

If there is an impossible situation in your path, know this.  God has led you to this day.  If you haven’t been living for Him then repent and ask Him to help you.  If you have been living for Him, then reach out to Him to teach you how to come through even this impossible situation.  It may be, “stand still and watch me.”  It may be “Go up and fight and I will be with you.”  Regardless, we can know that He has picked the best way for us to become stronger in Him, to become more like Him.

Jesus is powerful enough for my situation

This brings us full circle to the story in Luke 8.  The Twelve are faced with a situation that is beyond them in the natural, but it is also beyond their faith.  Yet, in their time of need they turn to Jesus and this is always the right answer.  Satan can use fear and doubt to get you to question God’s love.  He does so to get you to walk away from Jesus instead of exercising your faith in Him by calling out to Him.  We may not have Jesus physically beside us, but He is just as close by the presence of the Holy Spirit and just as powerful.

How we turn to Jesus is important.  When we turn to Jesus, we do need to turn to Him in faith rather than in fear and accusation.  In the story the disciples are fearful and their statement to Jesus has a tinge of accusation to it.  Perhaps they waited longer than they should have to turn to Jesus, while bailing water and trying to keep the boat together.  Perhaps they resented the serene look on the face of Jesus as He slept.  Doesn’t He know that we are perishing?  Yet, Jesus was only asleep as long as they did not wake Him.  Why do we delay turning to Christ in our trials?  Don’t do that.  We don’t always get an answer right away, but the answer doesn’t start until we turn to Him. 

The good news is that we don’t have to be perfect to have God’s help.  However, we should learn and do better next time.  Learn to turn to Christ in expectant hope.  Lord, what would you have me/us do?  Is there anything?  I trust in You, Lord!  Clearly this is easier said than done, and none of us do it without error.  Yet, we can learn to become stronger in this area as we walk with the Lord Jesus.

Let us end with the obvious lesson of this story.  Jesus can handle the material world and the supernatural world in our lives.  In this situation the disciples recognize that Jesus is more than a man.  “He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him!”  When they hit the shore only one event happens before they get in their boats and go back, and that is meeting the Gadarene demoniac.  This guy was not just possessed with an evil spirit.  He had a legion of spirits within him.  He represents a satanic stronghold that only God could break down.  Christ demonstrates to His disciples (and us by the way) in back to back situations that He can handle both the natural creation and the supernatural creation.  He truly is Lord over all things. 

May God help us all to exercise our faith in Him by following Him today.  Whatever situation you are in, and whether you arrived there by following Jesus or running your own way, turn to Him today and let Him lead you into a place of stronger faith and victorious living.

Exercising Faith Audio

Tuesday
Dec112018

A Faith Anchored in the Word

Romans 10:13-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 9, 2018.

Today we will look at the importance that the Word of God has for the faith of a believer.  Although Jesus is the object of our faith, that is the one upon whom we are putting our faith, we would not even know who Jesus was and what he said without the writings of the apostles and the prophets.  Thus the Bible is a critical part of our faith.

It doesn’t take the place of Jesus, but rather represents the accumulated revelation that God has given to mankind.  We could not know Jesus without the light of truth that it shines upon us.  Thus, the Bible is God’s gift to mankind to act as a kind of spiritual litmus test for whether or not our faith is truly anchored upon God Himself and not something else.

Throughout history the false prophets and false teachers always claimed to have heard from the Lord, and to be exercising faith in Him.  However, the Word of God enables us to determine what is true and what is false.  Without its light we would be at the mercy of our own imaginations and the manipulations of others.

Let’s look at our passage today and hear the truth of the God.

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved

Paul makes the statement in verse 13 that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  It is a summary statement regarding what God was trying to teach us throughout the Old Testament.  God wants all who will come to Him by faith to be saved, whether Jew or Gentile.  This is the testimony of Scripture.  In fact back in verse 11 Paul states, “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’”

In some ways we might get stuck on passages and places in the Bible that seem to say that only certain people can come near God (priests, the Holy of Holies, etc.).  Yet, a more careful reading will help us to see that the emphasis is on the fact that no one can just approach God in any old way they choose.  We must come to Him on His terms.  Those terms require a sacrifice for our sins, which was accomplished by Jesus.  So the point is not that God doesn’t want us near Him, but rather that He does.

We can now approach God, regardless of who we are, because of what Jesus has done, that is if we approach God through faith in Jesus.  There is no other way.

It is still just as dangerous today to try and approach God in any other way, than through faith in Jesus, as it was back in the days of Moses.  Our generation shouts out, “Surely there can’t be just one way.  Surely God will accept a good Buddhist and a good Muslim, and a good… (Fill in alternate way here).”  Yet, such statements do not represent trusting God, but rather, trusting our own minds, and we do so over the top of His proven Word.

How can I truly know that I am safe from Judgment before God?  I can know because God Himself has told us in His Word.  Some may mock this as circular reasoning.  “The Bible says it is the Word of God, but I can only know that by the Bible.”  In truth the generations that lived through these things have testified to us that these writings have proven themselves through prophecy, miraculous signs, and their life experience.  So it is not a circular reasoning, but a testimony given to us by many generations of what God said and did in their day.  Through it God is reasoning with you and with me.

In verses 14-15 Paul sort of reverse engineers the above statement.  Starting with the truth that people need to call upon the Lord in order to be saved, he then asks questions to reveal what it is that a person needs in order to get to that place of calling on the Lord.  To call on the Lord a person needs to have faith, that is belief in God.  In order to have faith in God they need to hear what God has said and done.  To hear what God has said and done they need someone to proclaim it to them.  And lastly, in order to have someone proclaim it to them, someone will have to send them.  Thus we have a cycle where Christians are sent to proclaim the Word of God, which is the Gospel, to people so that they will hear and believe.  If they believe in God then they can call on Him and be saved.  This brings us to the conclusion that people need to hear the Word of God and it is necessary for Christians to proclaim it.

God is faithful in every generation to send those who have already believed to go to those who have not heard.  He does His part, but it also takes believers who are willing to partner with Him and help in this necessary endeavor.  Now we must remember that the word “preach” simply means to proclaim the gospel.  It is not talking about having a pulpit in a church, although that is proclamation as well.  We are all called to proclaim the Gospel to those around us who have not heard the Gospel.  We also support in finances and prayer those who go into other cultures and share the Gospel, especially where there has been no witness of the Gospel.  Do we believe that those who have not heard the Gospel need to hear it if they are to be saved?

In our world today, the media castigate John Chau of Washington State who was recently martyred trying to take the Gospel to the Sentinelese on an island in the Bay of Bengal.  They paint him as a selfish person who endangered the inhabitants of the remote island with disease for which they have no immunities.  However, what does it profit a people to be safe from physical disease that attacks only the body, and yet still be at the mercy of sin, which destroys both body and soul?  Those people need the Gospel and the God of heaven cares about them.  If John Chau was selfish, he was selfish for a better resurrection.  He was selfish for pleasing the God who was calling him, rather than the world who would praise him if he balked and “came to his senses.”

Christians should be in their hearts a “going people.”  We must sense the call of the Holy Spirit to step outside of our comfort zone and proclaim the word of God to others.  Without it they cannot save themselves. Thus Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7, how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel!

In verse 16, Paul recognizes that not all Israel, who had clearly heard the Gospel, obeyed it.  Yes, the Gospel must be obeyed.  It tells us to turn from sin and follow Jesus into eternal life.  Jesus does not lead us into sin, but away from it.  Hearing God’s Word must be mixed with faith and trust.  Thus when we believe in our hearts, we will act upon that belief.

Paul then emphasizes that faith requires hearing something to believe in, vs. 17.  The thing we need to hear and believe is God’s Word.  The Bible is God’s report on man (we are basically sinners in need of salvation) and a report on God (He is willing to save us if we will repent and turn to Him in faith).  It tells us how we can be right with Him.

There are many ideas and philosophies of this world that we are hearing today, but none of them can save your soul.  They may put a cell phone in your hand that enables you to surf the Web and interact with all manner of sin, delighting your flesh.  They may put a false sense of security within your heart and mind, but in the end they will fail.  Only Jesus can save you.

Let me close by recognizing that God was faithful to Israel, to make sure that they heard His Word.  Yet, many of them, even most of them, did not believe it.  Lest we focus on the sins of others, can we not see that America and every other nation on God’s green earth is guilty of the same sin?  We have heard the Word of God until it is coming out of our noses.  Yet, we do not believe.  The answer is not in giving up, but in becoming even more courageous and fearless in sharing the Gospel with the lost.  Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes.”  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Hear the Word of the Lord today and believe in the only God who came down to this planet and died in your place.  Let Him take your sins off of your shoulders and replace it with a burden that is light and easier to carry, the burden of sharing the good news with others!

Anchored in the Word Audio

Tuesday
Dec042018

What is the Object of Your Faith?

Numbers 14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 02, 2018.

We are continuing to talk about the importance of faith in our lives this morning.  It is impossible to belong to God or to walk with Him each day without it.

Today we are going to focus on the mechanics of faith.  There are two aspects to faith that are often confused in the thinking of people.  First, there is the thing for which we trust or hope.  We will call this the subject of our faith.  Second, there is the thing in which or upon which we trust.  We will call this the object of our faith. 

The subject of our faith is in the future in some way.  It may only be throughout the rest of today as I have faith that God will help me today etc., but it can be something that is tomorrow, or farther in the future.  There are many things that are the subject of our faith.  Although the subjects of our faith are important, the object of our faith is even more critical. 

The object of our faith is presently with us in some way.  The object also has a past that we have become aware of to some degree.  The Christian is a person who has come to trust in Jesus Christ as the object of their faith.  The subjects of such a faith should come out of the object upon which we trust.  Because I am trusting Jesus, there are certain things for which I have faith.  One of those is to trust that He will be with us and never forsake us throughout each and every tick of the clock into our future.  Some of the subjects for which we have faith are in the future.  There is nothing of them here in the present.  Thus we trust God that though we die, yet shall we live at the Resurrection of the Righteous.

When you think about a person who first puts their faith in Jesus, you will see that they generally did not really know Christ before that event.  However, they hear the testimony of those who have had a relationship with Christ in the past and in the present.  They believe because the testimonies help to convince them.  Yet, there is also a spiritual component where the Holy Spirit is drawing people to Christ.

The most important thing you can do in the area of faith is to quit worrying about the subjects for which you trust, and focus on the object in which you trust.  If that object is not really Christ then it will not be able to hold up all that you expect from it.  If that object is Christ then you will learn that your expectations and desires are less important than your relationship with Him.  He should be the object of our faith and anything beyond spending eternity with Him really doesn’t matter.

The strength of our faith can be weak.

In Numbers 14:1-10, the people of Israel had been delivered from slavery in Egypt through amazing miracles.  There were the 10 plagues that God brought upon Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea to help Israel escape, the collapse of the Red Sea to destroy Pharaoh’s army, and the supernatural provision of water, bread and meat in the desert.  At this point they have reached the land that God had promised them.  They have followed Him through all that had transpired in the past, but now they balk at His command.  It is important to recognize that the land was everything God had promised them.  It was often described as “flowing with milk and honey.”  The testimony of the spies in Numbers 13 was that the land was very fruitful and indeed a clump of grapes was so large that two men carried them.

It is here that we see that our desire for a particular subject is not enough to keep our faith strong.  No matter how strongly I want something, the power of that desire will not sustain my faith very long.  It is easy to let the desirability of the subject also serve as the object of our faith.  Of course this is somewhat irrational and cannot last.  Just because something is extremely desirable does not mean there is any hope of attaining it.  That is to say, there is no correlation between the desirability of the subject and the likelihood of reaching it.

In fact, God was supposed to be the object of Israel’s hope for the Promised Land, which is the subject.  In this passage it is revealed that their faith was not really on God because He hadn’t changed.  He was the same God who had delivered them from Egypt and the desert.  So what was the object of their faith?

No matter how badly they wanted the Promised Land and no matter how wonderful it was, the circumstances that surrounded them looked bad.  The true object of their faith was circumstances.  If they could see how something could happen then they would “believe.”  Of course, by definition this is actually a lack of faith.  At each miraculous point in their past, they typically failed to believe that God would help them and grumbled and complained.  Yet, God blessed them anyways with liberation, protection, and provision.  They only reason they made it this far with God was because He was being merciful with them.  In truth they had exercised precious little faith in Him.  There is a certain amount of power and momentum in the desire that we have for something, but do not be deceived.  That power will not be enough to sustain you through what lies ahead.  Trying to live by the power of our desires and how favorable the circumstances are is a road that leads to spiritual destruction and more.

In truth the strength of faith depends upon our trust in God and Him alone.  All along the path from Egypt to Canaan, God had been showing Israel that He could be trusted and that He had the power to do all that He promised them.  At each step of the way, at each new circumstance, and each new fact that their minds recognized, they were being tested.  Do you trust Me now?  Have you ever thought that the difficulties you run into in life and the adverse circumstances that seem to get in your way are simply God asking you to trust Him again and again?  Do you trust Me now?  Weak faith has nothing to do with the subject, but it has everything to do with the object.  If you are having trouble trusting God it is not because He hasn’t proven Himself.  It is because you do not really trust Him in the first place.  You are trusting something else.

Our faith can be made weak by circumstances and interference.

In this passage we have on display a common event.  We appear to believe God for something and then circumstances change.  We then lose faith.  For Israel this is when they saw that the land was filled with giants.  Similar to Peter seeing the waves and beginning to fear, or us looking at the world around us and beginning to doubt, the Israelites saw that they would have to fight giants to take the land and they lost any faith they had.  When you have that, “Oh no!” moment in which some circumstance seems to be too much, and you say, “I can’t do this,” you are revealing that you were trusting in yourself and the circumstances more than you were trusting in God.  Yes, the land was everything that they were promised, but it is inhabited by giants.  That which appeared to be great conquering faith melted like wax over a flame, or butter on the stove.

In contrast to the 10 spies and most of Israel, we that Joshua and Caleb still believe in God regardless of the circumstances.  These guys are not stupid.  They see the same things that everyone else can see.  However, their faith is not in what they can see.  They know that the Creator of the universe is not intimidated by giant humans on earth.  If the circumstances make it likely that you will win, then it really isn’t faith to believe that you will win.  Think about it.  They don’t know how God will give them victory over the giants, but they know it must happen for God to keep His word to them.

In verse 9, Joshua and Caleb remind the people that the Lord is still with them.  God hasn’t left us, and He is the one who led us to this place today.  So, why not trust Him?  In fact, Joshua and Caleb declare that not having faith in God is itself a rebellion against Him that is instigated by fear of people.  Do you believe that God is present in your life?  Has He led you to this place, and does He have a plan to take you through whatever you face?  This is what He is asking you to do.  Trust Him.  Now let’s look at the rest of this story.

We need trust in God more than we need the things it can get us.

In Numbers 14:34-45 we see that God disciplines Israel.  He is not going back on His word.  However, He tells Moses that they will have to go back into the desert for 40 years and then He will bring them back again to the Promised Land.  Of course, the people of Israel did not like that response and so they decide that they would rather die fighting giants than go back into the desert.  Thus they double-down on their rebellion against God.  They refuse to fight when He tells them to do so, and then when He says to leave, they try to fight.

In biblical terminology the Promised Land had become an idol in their heart.  Instead of God being seated on the throne of their heart, they had put the subject of their faith on the throne of their heart.  This is a human tendency.  We tend to put the ability of man and favorable circumstances as a kind of ruler that dictates to us whether to do something or not, and to believe for something or not.  This is rebellion against God and it is idolatry.

God in His love disciplines us so that we will see that we do not fully trust Him.  Even God’s discipline will lead to good things if we trust Him.  Yes, that generation would not live in the Promised Land.  However, they could infuse in their children the lesson that they had learned, so that the next generation would not repeat this error.  When God disciplines you, don’t double-down on rebellion.  Rather, embrace it and learn the lessons that He has for you to learn.  It is more important to have God than all the food of Egypt, or all the comforts of the Promised Land.  If we don’t have faith in Him then we really have nothing at all.

God will not bless our idolatry, or our rebellion against Him.  We can’t force it or make it happen.  When Israel went to battle against the giants in rebellion to God’s discipline, they ended up being defeated.  God refused to help them.  Many Christians today do not realize that they have put the subjects of their faith on the throne of their heart.  They follow a theology that tries to force God to give us what we want.  If I only do this enough or that enough then He must do what I pray.  Yet, such things are folly.  God told the Apostle Paul, “No” when he asked God to heal a physical problem that he had.  Why?  Surely God doesn’t want us sick, but rather healthy, wealthy, and wise.  God said, “No” because He knew what was best for Paul.  The thorn in Paul’s flesh would serve to keep him humble.  Besides, God’s grace is enough for us.  I don’t have to have the things I want.  Having God and being in relationship with Him in this life is enough for me and for you.

Final Thoughts

In 1 Samuel 17 we have the story of David and Goliath.  At this point in time, we have a new generation that had to learn to conquer giants themselves.  No matter how many giants that Joshua and their ancestors had taken out, none of it could replace David’s generation stepping up to the plate.  Yet, they did have an example in front of them that could help them believe.  Take time to hear the examples of the Bible and those elderly believers who talk to us today.  You need to learn to trust God for yourself and discover by faith those things that He has for you.

Have you ever thought that perhaps God likes impossible odds?  Why do we balk at this?  It makes sense that an all-powerful being would enjoy helping us through impossible situations.  Perhaps the more impossible it looks the more likely it is God who is bringing us to it.

We look to many things in this world to be the answer:  money, people, equipment, technology, skills, knowledge, etc.  However, our answer is not in those things.  Our answer is in putting complete faith in God.  Yes, we have those things, but it is God who blesses them and provides what they cannot.  So, why would I put my trust in them?  With God you can be in a desert and be filled with food, but without Him you can sit in the midst of abundance and be empty.

Lastly, faith is not about obtaining things, but rather about remaining in a place of absolute trust in the Lord Jesus.  Is your faith completely in Jesus?  If so, then you will not be derailed when the things you want seem impossible, or God tells you, “No.”

Object of Your Faith Audio

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