The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

Posted by on April 27, 1997 under Sermons


The standard for identifying the kind of faith that God wants people to have is the faith that is seen in Abraham. Rare is the person who equals the faith that Abraham developed. No one surpasses the faith that Abraham developed.

That fact is incredible for two reasons. First, Abraham had none of the advantages of Israel in the Old Testament or Christians in the New Testament. Abraham had no scripture. Not one book of the Bible had been written at the time that Abraham lived. He could not develop faith by reading or studying what God had said.

Abraham had no history of God’s activity. Israel could look back at the plagues in Egypt, the Passover, the Red Sea crossing, the wilderness experiences, and the conquest of Canaan. Abraham had no such history to look at. Christians can look back at the birth of Jesus, the ministry of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the early church. Abraham had nothing to look back upon. God spoke to Abraham, and he placed his trust and confidence in God and His promises.

Second, from our perspective, Abraham would make an incredible example of obedience. He left his home and homeland. He wandered as a nomad in a dangerous land. He had the willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his son the God promised him, on an altar. Yet, only the book of James uses Abraham as an example of obedience, and even James uses Abraham’s obedience to help his readers properly understand faith.

In Romans chapter four, Paul used Abraham as the basic proof that God makes a person righteous through the person’s faith.

Last week we examined two of the four statements that declare the righteous shall live by faith: Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:16,17. Tonight we want to look at the two additional statements that affirm the righteous shall live by faith: Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38.

  1. Consider with the context and point of that statement in Galatians 3:11.
    1. First, consider the situation that moved Paul to write this letter to these congregations.
      1. Shortly after Paul left the area, Jewish Christians visited these non-Jewish congregations and told these non-Jewish converts that they were not God’s children.
        1. It was easy for Jewish Christians to make these converts to question their salvation.
        2. Many of the converts knew nothing about the scriptures that we call the Old Testament, knew little about the living God prior to conversion, and did not have the Jews’ rich religious heritage.
        3. Their Jewish teachers had seemingly everything–knowledge of scripture, knowledge of God, and religious heritage.
        4. The Jewish Christians could easily overwhelm and intimidate these new converts.
      2. As a result, the new converts left the message of Christ for the law of Moses.
        1. They were told that the law of Moses was the starting point for salvation.
        2. And they believed these teachers–their credentials and backgrounds were impressive.
    2. Please follow the flow of Paul’s thoughts in the letter; his argument is very easy to follow.
      1. (1:6-10) I am astounded that you were so easily moved away from the message about Christ to a different, counterfeit message.
      2. (1:11-24) What I taught you came to me directly from Jesus, and these facts are the proof (he then gives them factual information).
      3. (2:1-10) In Jerusalem, the apostles themselves acknowledged that God sent us to the non-Jews just like He sent Peter to the Jews.
        1. At that time, the apostles gave us the right hand of fellowship (full approval) regarding our work among the non-Jews.
        2. They did not ask us to change a single thing that we were teaching.
      4. (2:11-21) Later, the apostle Peter visited the non-Jewish congregation in Antioch of Syria.
        1. As long as he was by himself, he treated those Christians who are also non-Jews as equals.
        2. But when other Jews from Jerusalem came, he treated those Christians as though they were second-class Christians.
        3. I confronted him to his face and told him that he was wrong.
        4. I told him that he had no right to expect non-Jewish Christians to follow Jewish ordinances that he himself had rejected.
        5. The law does not justify any person; faith in Jesus Christ justifies every Christian.
        6. I have been crucified with Christ.
        7. He lives in me.
        8. I live by faith in him.
      5. (3:1-14) Who cast a spell on you and blinded you to the crucified Jesus?
        1. You need to consider the answers to some questions.
        2. Did you receive the Spirit from the law or by faith?
        3. Are you foolish enough to believe that your spiritual existence begins in the Spirit and achieves maturity by the deeds of your fleshly body?
        4. We taught you a great personal sacrifice; did we make our sacrifices for nothing?
        5. Give serious consideration to the presence of the Spirit and the miraculous works that are occurring among you–have they happened because of the law or because of faith in Christ?
        6. Don’t you understand that God regarded Abraham to be a righteous because of his faith?
          1. Please understand that the person who has faith in Christ is the true descendant of Abraham.
          2. God has always intended to justify non-Jews through faith in Christ.
          3. Faith is the avenue to blessings.
          4. The law is the avenue to the curse.
        7. This fact is clearly evident: no one can be justified by the law.
          1. The righteous shall live by faith.
          2. Living by the law places a person under the curse.
          3. Christ redeems us from the curse when we live by faith in him.
          4. When the non-Jew has faith in Christ, all the blessings God promised Abraham come to the non-Jew.
        8. Then Paul made these points in 3:23-29:
          1. The law has served the purpose God intended and is no longer needed.
          2. We don’t need the law because we have Christ.
          3. Faith in Christ produces children of God.
          4. Baptism into Christ destroys all distinctions.
          5. Belonging to Christ makes any person a descendant of Abraham.
  2. Now consider the use of, “The righteous shall live by faith,” in Hebrews 10:38.
    1. The situation that prompted the message of Hebrews:
      1. Long term suffering as a Christians caused these Christians to consider forsaking Christianity and returning to Judaism.
        1. They were considering leaving Jesus Christ but remaining with God.
        2. They would belong to the same God, but they would serve Him through Judaism.
      2. The declaration of this writing:
        1. You can’t do that–if you leave Christ you leave God.
        2. The first nine chapters to verify that Jesus was superior to Judaism, the Levitical priesthood, and the law, and that Jesus was essential.
    2. Consider the thought flow in chapter ten.
      1. The chapter begins with the shadow illustration (10:1-9).
        1. A shadow is not the object, not the reality.
        2. The shadow only tells you that the object, the reality exists–even if you cannot see it.
        3. The law was the shadow.
        4. Christ was the reality.
      2. Then the author contrasted the sacrifices commanded by the law on the Jewish day of atonement (Leviticus 16) with the sacrificial death of Jesus.
        1. The sacrifices on the day of atonement, again, were the shadow.
          1. They had to be offered without fail every year on the same day.
          2. They could not permanently solve the problem of sin in the lives of the people.
          3. They could not produce permanent forgiveness.
        2. Jesus sacrifice of his life and blood on the cross was the reality.
          1. He offered it once and sat down by the King, God.
          2. With the one sacrifice of himself he made holy, permanently, all those who accept his sacrifice.
          3. God promised before Jesus came:
            1. That God would put His laws in people’s hearts and minds.
            2. That God would not remember those people’s sins.
          4. Since this perfect forgiveness exists, there is no need for another sacrifice.
      3. When Christians understand this, they will make closeness to God their first priority (10:19-25).
        1. Because of Jesus’ blood, we can enter God’s personal holy place with confidence.
        2. Jesus himself opened the way into God’s holy place.
        3. Jesus himself is our high priest in that holy place.
        4. Because this is true:
          1. Let us draw near God in the full assurance of faith because we have been cleansed.
          2. Let us refuse to turn loose of the confession of our hope.
          3. Let us stimulate each other to love and to good works.
          4. Let us not withdraw from Christians–let us assemble with Christians.
      4. Apostasy, the decision to reject and forsake Christ, was unthinkable (10:26-31).
        1. If we reject Jesus and return to our pre-Christian life, we forfeit Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.
        2. If we do that, the only thing we can expect from God is fiery vengeance.
        3. Under the law of Moses a person was executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses (that seemed harsh).
        4. How much worse will the punishment be for a Christian who rejects Christ? By the act of rejecting Jesus:
          1. He treats Jesus dead body with contempt.
          2. He treats Jesus’ blood with contempt.
          3. He insults God’s goodness, His Spirit of grace.
          4. This person’s punishment will be too severe to imagine!
          5. He will fall into God’s hands and suffer God’s vengeance.
      5. Please remember your Christian past (10:32-39).
        1. Remember your willingness to suffer when you became a Christian.
        2. It was okay:
          1. To be laughed at and ridiculed in public.
          2. To be insulted and abused.
          3. To stand with those who were treated with contempt.
        3. You were not ashamed of fellow Christians who were sent to prison.
        4. You rejoiced when your property was confiscated.
        5. You knew that you had something better, something eternal.
        6. Don’t throw away your confidence (your faith in Christ)–that is the path to your reward.
          1. You just need to endure.
          2. When you have done God’s will, you will receive the reward that He promised.
        7. Remember: the righteous shall live by faith.
          1. They don’t shrink back.
          2. We are not shrinkers.
          3. We are people of faith.
      6. They needed to remember that the real issue was not finding a painless way to be religious; the real issue was faith in Christ.
  3. Someone asks, “Does James in James 2:14-26 contradict what Habakkuk, Paul, and the book of Hebrews said?”
    1. No, James does not contradict the fact that the righteous shall live by faith.
    2. In some ways, people have not changed.
      1. There always have been religious people who wanted to place their confidence and trust in themselves and their works.
        1. The majority of the people of Israel in the Old Testament and New Testament fit that category.
        2. These people placed their faith in what they did as they obeyed the commandments of the law.
        3. Paul and the book of Hebrews was speaking to them: their faith must be in Christ, not in themselves.
      2. There are always those who accept the statement that the righteous shall live by faith, but draw the wrong conclusion from that fact.
        1. They conclude, since righteousness comes by faith, that a person has no responsibility to serve and be obedient.
        2. Their concept of faith is just as much in error as the first group.
        3. James spoke to these people to inform them that the faith that makes one righteous is also the faith that reveals its existence and life by working.

The faith that makes a person righteous is the faith that places its trust and confidence in God, not in oneself, not in what one does.

But the faith that makes a person righteous is also living, active, serving, obedient, expressive. Because I trust God, I serve God. Because I trust Christ, I serve Christ.

The most obedient Christian is the person who understands that he or she is righteous through faith. The hardest working Christian, the dedicated servant, the most committed believer, the most sacrificial child of God is the person who understands that he is righteous through faith.

The Perfect Solution

Posted by on under Sermons

This morning I have some good news and some bad news. And I will start with the bad news. You and I have a problem. You and I have a big problem. In fact, it is the largest, most significant problem we have in our lives.

“What’s the problem?” We cannot completely rid our lives of evil. No matter how much we learn and understand from the Bible, no matter how much we grow spiritually, no matter how much we mature in Christ, no matter how strong we become ethically or morally, we cannot completely stop sinning. Evil is always present in our lives.

It is a vicious struggle. We can work on our evil habits, but we still need to work on our greed. We can work on our greed, and we still need to work on our honesty. We work on our honesty, and we still need to work on our words. We work on what we talk about, and we still need to work on our attitudes. We work on our attitudes, and we still need to work on our motives. We work on our motives, and we still need to work on our emotions. Then we learn something from Christ and the teachings of the Bible, and we gain a deeper understanding of good and evil, of right and wrong, of wise and unwise, and we start all over.

Paul surely put his finger on the core truth about evil in our lives when in Romans 7 he declared that the harder he fought evil in his life the more evil he uncovered.

But I also have some good news. And it is wonderful news. This is the good news: God has solved our problem. He solved it perfectly, totally, and completely.

After Paul stated in Romans 7 that the harder he fought evil in his life the more evil he uncovered, he acknowledged God’s perfect solution in this statement: There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

This morning I want us to examine God’s perfect solution for evil in the lives of the men and women who are in Christ Jesus.

  1. First, I ask you to turn in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 5.
    1. Let’s begin by looking at the flow of Paul’s thoughts in this chapter.
      1. Verse 1: This earthly body we live in is just a tent.
        1. When we die, we exchange this tent for a house, a permanent structure which was constructed by God.
        2. While this tent is temporary lasting for only a few years, the permanent house we receive after death is eternal–unlike this physical body, it lasts without end.
      2. Verses 7-10: So we live our daily lives by faith.
        1. We do not live our daily lives in the fear of death.
        2. We live in the certain knowledge of the judgment when everyone comes before God, but we still live by faith and not by the fear of death.
      3. How can we know the certainty of the judgment and still live by faith and not by fear?
        1. Verse 11: Reason one: Because we are filled with profound respect, the respect that comes from complete awe.
          1. We live in respect and awe of the Lord.
          2. In the knowledge that our lives are completely open to God’s eyes, we persuade people.
        2. Verse 14: Reason two: Because our lives are literally controlled by Christ’s love for us.
          1. Verse 15: Christ died and was resurrected on behalf of every person or all people.
          2. Verse 17: By being in Christ, each person is re-created into a new person.
          3. Verse 17: By being in Christ, each person’s past is destroyed, and the person is given a brand new beginning.
          4. Verse 18: God intentionally makes all this happen because God reconciled all of us who are in Christ to Himself through Christ.
            1. Verse 19: What we must understand is this: God did not send Christ to sum up the total of each person’s sins and charge the person for his sins.
            2. God sent Christ to create the means and opportunity to reconcile all people on earth to Himself.
            3. God succeeded in doing what He intended to do: anyone can accept reconciliation to God.
          5. This news about reconciliation is both the ministry and the message God has commissioned Paul and his company to share with everyone.
            1. God wants to be at peace with you.
            2. Accept the peace.
    2. Now please pay close attention to verses 20 and 21.
      1. We are begging you, we are urging you, we are pleading with you as spokesmen for Jesus Christ, accept the reconciliation.
      2. God took Jesus who had never sinned, who had no sin, and God made Jesus to be sin on our behalf.
      3. It is because God made Jesus to be sin for us that we can become the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.
    3. To me that is one of the most incredible statements in the Bible, if not the most incredible statement.
      1. God took the pure, holy, sinless Jesus who never committed any evil of any kind, and God made Jesus to be sin.
      2. When did God do that?
        1. When Jesus died on the cross.
        2. In my understanding, it actually happened just before Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46).
        3. God allowed the collective sin of humanity–from the first sin of Adam and Eve to the last sin that will be committed before the end of the world–to be placed on the sinless body of Jesus.
        4. When the sin was placed on Jesus’ body, God withdrew His presence from Jesus.
      3. Consider the incredible Savior we have.
        1. Though he never sinned, he experienced what it is like to die separated from the presence of God.
        2. That is the ultimate experience of human weakness and defeat–to die separated from the presence of God.
        3. Jesus endured that experience so that you will not have to.
        4. Because God covered the body of Jesus with our sins as he died, God can take the perfect righteousness of the sinless Jesus and cover us with his righteousness.
          1. When God looked at Jesus on the cross, He saw our sins–Jesus had the appearance of a sinner to God because Jesus was wearing our sins.
          2. When God looks at the man or woman in Christ, God sees Jesus’ perfect righteousness because we are wearing the righteousness of Jesus.
    4. So you say to me, “David, I think your imagination is going overboard. That is just too far out. That sounds like speculation to me.” Decide for yourself if it is my speculation.
      1. In I Peter 2:18 Peter talks to slaves who had become Christians.
        1. He told them that it was not unjust for them to suffer because they are Christians.
        2. In verses 21 through 24 he told them that Jesus himself was their example in the matter of suffering.
        3. Jesus went through the ordeal of his trials and death without sinning–he suffered silently using no form of retaliation.
        4. He just placed all the injustice that occurred in God’s hands knowing that God will judge righteously.
        5. Look at what Peter specifically said about Jesus as he died:
          He himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (I Peter 2:24).
        6. The Christians in Galatia had been told by Jewish Christians that their baptism was invalid because they had not obeyed the rituals of the Jewish law before being baptized.
          1. In Galatians 3 Paul said that was completely false; they were as much children of God as were the Jews who had been baptized.
          2. Verse 26: “For you all are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
          3. Verse 27: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ.”
        7. When we enter Christ, our sins are atoned for because they were placed on the body of Christ, and we are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.
  2. “That is wonderful! But sin continues to be a problem in our lives after baptism as long as we live.” Absolutely correct–but God’s perfect solution solved that problem also.
    1. John in I John 1:5-10 revealed God’s solution to that problem.
      1. I John 1:1-5 reveals that John is writing to Christians.
        1. He wants the readers to share fellowship with him (verse 3).
        2. He wants them all to share fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ.
        3. He is writing so that his joy can be made complete.
      2. Look carefully at verses 5-10:
        1. Verse 5: God is light and there is no darkness in God.
          1. God is sinless existing in a sinless environment.
          2. God and evil are as totally opposite as pure light and total darkness.
        2. Verse 6: If we claim that we have fellowship with God while we live the life of an unconverted evil person, we are deceiving ourselves and we are not practicing the truth.
        3. Verse 7: If we live our lives in the light that comes from God, two things happen:
          1. We have fellowship with each other.
          2. The blood of Jesus cleanses (present, continuing) us of all sin.
        4. Verse 8: If we want to make the claim that we don’t need that cleansing, we are self-deceived and the truth is not in us–because all of us Christians have sin in us.
        5. Verse 9: If we confess our sins (to God), God is faithful and righteous (He will honor His promise) and do two things.
          1. He will forgive us our sins (those we know and confess).
          2. He will cleanse us (continuing) of all unrighteousness (of all the sins we are guilty of but do not know).
        6. Verse 10: If Christians say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar and God’s word is not in us.
      3. After I am baptized into Christ, if I will be honest with God and myself, if I will confess my sins as I realize that I do evil, then God will keep me in a continual state of forgiveness, and continual state of cleansing.
      4. If I will acknowledge my sin as I seek to walk in God’s light, God through His forgiveness will keep me in a state of purity.
      5. I cannot be perfect, but I can be honest with God and accept responsibility for my mistakes as I realize them.

God’s solution is perfect. He placed your sins on the body of Christ. When you are baptized into Christ, not only are your sins forgiven, but you are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. As you continue to learn to live in God’s light, if you will accept responsibility for your mistakes and confess them to God, He will forgive you of all the sin that occurs in your life.

That is our incredible God. That is our incredible Savior. That is our incredible salvation.

There are some experiences that you have when you preach and teach that after years and years and years have caused you so much grief. I grieve so much at all the people that believe that God can’t forgive them. I grieve for all my brothers and sisters who live their lives convinced that, at best, it’s a chance that they’ll go to Heaven; probability is they’re going to Hell, they think.

I grieve for all of my brothers and sisters who feel like God has not forgiven them. I grieve for my brothers and sisters who feel like God won’t listen to their prayers. I grieve for my brothers and sisters who are scared to death to die. Scared to DEATH to die because with all that God has already done they feel like they’re dying alone. And they’re afraid, oh they’re afraid to meet God because they don’t feel forgiven.

The number one priority my God had when He gave His Son on the cross of Calvary was forgiveness. If we don’t feel forgiveness, we don’t understand why Jesus died for us. God said, “You can never be perfect and you can never solve the problem on your own. But I, God, have you covered in Jesus Christ.”

I grieve for all of those who aren’t Christians who feel like there’s no need then for them to even consider being a Christian because, their life had been so bad, God would laugh if they decided to be baptized. And I wonder how can we read the gospels; how can we read the Book of Acts and ever believe that?

And I grieve and I weep because there is no joy in our salvation. I grieve because there’s no happiness in those who have been redeemed. They are so afraid of the sins that have been forgiven they never know how to rejoice in their forgiveness. Change that in your life. Change it — look, read, study these passages; search them; see that’s what it says!

And it doesn’t relieve you of any responsibility. You’ve got the greatest responsibility in life — of walking in the light, being honest about your life, being honest with God, being honest to yourself, repenting. Oh, we’ve got big responsibility. Accept the responsibility.

Believe the promise.

If we can pray for you as a Christian man or woman and encourage you and help you, we want to do it. If we can help you be clothed in Jesus Christ and take those sins–by the power of God and the blood of Jesus–and put them on the cross through an act of God, we want to do it. If we can help you in any way draw close to God and be freed from the fear of death, then we want to do it.

Me Looking At Me

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Paul told Galatian Christians that concern for fellow believers is to be deep and genuine. When we see a spiritual family member who has been defeated by evil, our first thought is “rescue” (Galatians 6:1). The spiritual seek to restore the fallen.

The rescuer accepts two personal responsibilities in a conscientious attempt to rescue. First, he or she accepts the responsibility to act in the spirit of gentleness. Second, he or she will consider thyself {yourself} (KJV, NKJV), look at yourself (RSV, NEB, NASV), watch yourself (NIV), keep an eye on yourself (TEV), or not forget that it could happen to you (JB).

As I function in Christ’s behalf, I always keep an eye on me. The “eye” does not examine me to verify my “rightness” and his or her “wrongness.” My “eye” examines my spirit. Gentleness is a genuine, natural expression of spirituality. The spirits of censor, judgment, condemnation, criticism, or indignation are not expressions of spirituality in rescue attempts.

Even in rescuing the fallen, the spiritual are concerned about their own hearts and attitudes. Effective rescue attempts extend kindness in compassion. They do not throw rocks at the defeated.

Unity: Oneness in Christ

Posted by on April 23, 1997 under Sermons

The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

Posted by on April 20, 1997 under Sermons


I love the church. The older I become the more I love the people who have been called out of evil and called into Jesus Christ. God is constantly leading me into a greater love for His people.

I rejoice in my restoration heritage. The goal and principles of restoration have been and are a powerful source of rich spiritual blessings. The purpose of my life is to help the concepts and principles of Christianity exist in my world today as they existed in the world of the first century.

But there are moments when I grieve for myself and God’s people. I am growing past the stage when I look at my brothers and sisters in Christ and exclaim, “How could they think that? How could they believe that?” Before I examine other Christians and grieve, I examine myself and grieve.

Faith has been and is a powerful force in churches of Christ. I have seen and continue to see many evidences of great faith, and I rejoice in them all. But fear also has been and is a powerful force in churches of Christ. In the past several decades, our fears have had a powerful influence on our theology.

That is definitely true in our study and understanding of faith. In some instances we embrace faith, and in other instances we are afraid of faith. Because of our fear, we tend to stress what faith is not instead of stressing what faith is. We have failed to realize that we can know what faith is not but still not know what faith is.

This evening I want us to carefully study two of the places in the Bible that make this statement: “The righteous shall live by faith.” Because there is so much information to consider, we will examine the other two next week. This week and next, I want us to allow those four contexts to help us advance and mature our understanding of faith.

  1. First, I want us to examine this statement in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk.
    1. This book was written before the Israelite kingdom called Judah was conquered by the Babylonian army.
    2. Habakkuk was God’s prophet, and, as God’s prophet, God opened his eyes and his mind so that he can see and understand what was happening in Judah.
      1. Habakkuk talked about this in 1:1-4: it was not a pleasant experience.
        1. “God, why haven’t you done anything?”
          1. “I see what is happening, and I try to get everyone else to see what is happening, but nobody is listening to me.”
          2. “I have pleaded with You to help me, but You are not listening to me.”
          3. “if You are not going to do anything about this horrible situation, why did You open my eyes?”
          4. “I see all the evil and wickedness, all the destruction and violence, all the strife and contention.”
        2. “No one pays any attention to Your laws–Your laws are totally ineffective.”
        3. “Justice is nonexistent–the wicked are always successful in perverting justice.”
      2. God answers Habakkuk in 1:5-11.
        1. “I am in the process of taking action right now.”
          1. “Just keep watching, and what you see will blow your mind.”
          2. “I am going to take action against all this evil and wickedness–I am sending the unstoppable Babylonian army to capture Judah.”
        2. “You know the power and the earned reputation of this army.”
          1. “No one can stop them.”
          2. “Everyone fears them.”
          3. “They are violent; they take too many captives to count; and they destroy everything that stands in their way.”
      3. Now Habakkuk has an even bigger problem: “God, how can You possibly use these idolatrous Babylonians to punish Your own people–even if Judah is wicked?”
        1. At first, Habakkuk complained because God was not doing anything.
          1. Then when God revealed what He was going to do, Habakkuk complained because God was planning to do something unacceptable.
          2. Habakkuk was confused, and he knew that he was confused–he just did not understand.
        2. “How can the holy, eternal God do this?”
          1. “You are too pure to give Your approval to those evil Babylonians.”
          2. “How can you look with favor on such vicious people?”
          3. “Judah is wicked, but it is not as wicked as these Babylonians who do not even acknowledge that You exist.”
          4. “Will You stand by in silence and allow a horribly wicked people to swallow a people who are more righteous than they?”
          5. “If You do, the Babylonians will be like idolatrous men netting fish.”
            1. “They net a big catch of fish and are elated.”
            2. “Then they declare their fishing net is their god and worship it.”
          6. Judah is not that wicked.
      4. Habakkuk knew that he had not correctly understood the situation, and he knew that he needed God’s explanation.
        1. In 2:1 he went up in his watch tower to wait for God to send him an explanation.
        2. He was not comfortable asking God those questions, but God’s plan confused him.
      5. God began His answer in 2:2-4:
        1. “Write down what I am telling you; it will happen soon; it cannot be stopped.”
        2. “Regarding the question of my using a more wicked people to punish a less wicked people, you need to understand this basic truth:”
          1. “The pride of the Babylonians will become the source of their own destruction”.
          2. “The righteous will survive because they are faithful.”
    3. If my understanding of the point is correct, Habakkuk revealed this truth from God:
      1. The righteous in Judah would survive.
      2. They would not survive because:
        1. They are the descendants of Abraham; those who did not survive were also descendants of Abraham.
        2. They were given the promised land of Canaan; those who did not survive were also given the land of Canaan.
        3. They have the holy city and have God’s temple; those who did not survive also had the holy city and God’s temple.
        4. They have a history of worshipping God; those who did not survive also had a history of “technically” worshipping God.
        5. Or all the many other things you could say about the past things that had been done in the name of God.
      3. The righteous would survive because they would not forsake God; they placed their confidence in God.
        1. It was their faithfulness that made them righteous.
        2. They were faithful because they placed their confidence in God, not in their lineage, not in their heritage, not in their deeds, not in their holy city, not in their temple, not in their acts of sacrificial worship.
  2. The New Testament writer, Paul, took Habakkuk’s statement, developed it, and made it the theme of the book of Romans.
    1. After his statements of introduction and expressions of personal desire in 1:1-15, Paul stated the theme of this teaching letter in 1:16, 17:
      For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
      1. From this statement forward through chapter 11, Paul does two things:
        1. He verified from the Old Testament that God actually makes people righteous through faith, and that God always has made people righteous through faith.
        2. He explained why God must work through the faith of a person to save the person.
      2. From chapter 12 through 16 he specifically addressed the way a person saved by faith lived and acted as he surrendered to the will and purposes of God.
    2. In Paul’s theme, “The righteous man shall live by faith,” consider these thoughts.
      1. When Paul said that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, he was stressing the fact that righteousness is totally a product of faith.
        1. A righteous person’s life will be filled with obedience and doing good–Paul stressed that fact in chapters 12-16.
        2. But being obedient and doing good things does not make that person righteous.
        3. His faith in God is “reckoned for righteousness” in exactly the same way that God reckoned Abraham’s faith as righteousness (Romans 4).
      2. This statement reminds me of the same point Paul made when he wrote the Philippian Christians.
        1. In Philippians chapter 3, he said that if he wanted to place his religious confidence in himself as did many other Jews, he certainly could do that because he had impressive Jewish credentials (3:4-6).
        2. But he had trashed all his Jewish credentials and achievements; he threw them all in the garbage (3:7,8).
        3. In verses 9-11, he explains this decision and action; I call your attention to two of those reasons.
          1. He no longer wanted “a righteousness of my own derived from the law.”
          2. He wanted “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith, that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.”
          3. When you understand the contrast between the righteousness that comes from the law and the righteousness that come from faith in Christ, you understand why the righteous shall live by faith.
      3. I am not righteous because:
        1. I obey commandments.
        2. I do good things.
      4. Because I am righteous:
        1. I will obey anything and everything God commands.
        2. I will fill my life with doing good things, just as Jesus went about doing good.
      5. But, I am righteous because I place my confidence and trust in God and Christ.
    3. Consider this distinction between two people who do good things.
      1. One does good things because he places his complete trust in God and Jesus.
      2. The other does good things because he chooses to be a philanthropist.
      3. The unbelieving philanthropist may do greater good things than the person of faith because the philanthropist has more money and greater position.
        1. The philanthropist may even live by the same basic standards–no drunkenness, no sexual immorality, no dishonesty, no stealing, no deceit, etc.
        2. The philanthropist may be a diligent husband who rejects divorce and a committed family man.
      4. Is there a difference between these two persons? Yes!
        1. The difference of salvation!
        2. One person is righteous because he has faith, and does good on the basis of faith.
        3. The other person does not function because of faith; his reasons for doing good are based in himself.
    4. Paul is not making an anti-obedience statement–look at all that he says to these very same people in this very same letter in chapters 12-16.
      1. The fact that we are made righteous by faith is not a commentary on the role or the importance of obedience–it in no sense diminishes obedience.
      2. When we reduce the point that Paul made to a faith versus obedience discussion, we miss Paul’s point.
      3. Paul said we are righteous because we place our absolute, total, complete confidence in God, not in ourselves–we trust God, not ourselves, not our deeds.
      4. Paul’s statement is an anti-faith-in-myself-and-my-deeds statement.
        1. Salvation is not a matter of compensation.
        2. Righteousness is not a earnings arrangement produced through a union contract with God.
      5. Remember that Paul was writing to people who had centuries of heritage in being works focused and procedure conscious.
        1. Throughout their religious history, their ancestors had wrongly measured their faith by the things they did as they kept the law.
        2. Israel’s perpetual problem was not the absence of faith, but misplaced faith.
        3. They placed their confidence in the wrong things.
        4. For example:
          1. They were sure that they could not be destroyed as a nation because they had the temple.
          2. The Pharisees were sure that God accepted them above all other Jews because they meticulously obeyed the law.
          3. Israelites in every generation placed their confidence in their ancestry and heritage.
    5. Paul said only through faith can a person be righteous before God.
      1. Because that is true, Jesus can be the universal Savior.
      2. Any person–Israelite or non-Israelite, a graduate of a prestigious university in Europe or an aborigine in Australia, the wealthiest person in America or the poorest person in India–can be saved, can be righteous.
      3. The person who places his faith in God and Christ is righteous.
      4. It is a matter of faith.
      5. Obedience without faith will not make a person righteous.

Thursday I heard a song that beautifully makes the same point. I do not know the title of the song. All I know is that it is not a new song. [The song is “That’s What Faith Must Be.”] Listen to the words in the chorus:

To hear with my heart,
To see with my soul,
To be guided by a hand that I cannot hold,
To trust in a way that I cannot see,
That’s what faith must be.

I grieve and am afraid when I realize that we work much harder to get everyone to obey God than we do to get anyone to believe in God.

Owning Our Past

Posted by on under Sermons

This week will be a very difficult week for many people in this area. The first anniversary of a tragedy is commonly an emotional, grief filled occasion. A year ago today, everything was normal, opportune, and progressing well. Things were stable and routine within the community. People’s lives were following their usual course.

Then, a year ago tomorrow, in a matter of minutes, things radically, abruptly changed. The tornado struck, and nothing was normal. What had been an opportune life for many was literally blown away. It would take months for life to return to normal for some. For some, life has still not returned to normal. For many, life will never be the same.

There were many good things that happened after that disaster. There was an outpouring of love and concern. Many whose property was unharmed altered their lives and schedules to assist those who were devastated. Without effort or difficulty, those of you who lived in this area a year ago tomorrow can remember where you were and what you were doing when the tornado stuck. You have vivid memories of what happened in the days that immediately followed.

As you or your family or your friends experience the grief of remembering these next few days, I hope that you will remember with honesty and with gratitude. Be honest about all the things you experienced and felt. Be grateful for the help and support that was given. Be grateful for the life lessons that you learned.

When it comes to remembering the past, we prefer selective memories. We like to remember the good and to forget the bad. We don’t care to be reminded of events or situations that revealed our mortality, that declared that we really are not in control, or that proved life can change completely in the flick of an eyelid.

The past gives all of us problems. When we want to live in the past, we have problems. When we hate the past, we have problems. When the past controls our present, we have problems. When the past destroys our future, we have problems. In many people’s lives, the past has greater potential to create problems than it has to provide blessings.

So, individually, personally, what should each of us do with our past? We should own our past. It is ours. Whatever happened actually happen. Each of us can reduce the power of the past to create problems in our lives by owning the past.

  1. We live in the age of denial.
    1. The most common way to deal with our pasts in today’s society is to deny our pasts.
      1. There are many ways to practice denial, but there are two very common methods.
      2. The first is to declare that the past did not happen.
        1. That did not happen to me.
        2. That did not happen in my family.
        3. I never did anything wrong.
        4. I never did anything ungodly.
        5. I never had a problem with X.
        6. My family was perfect.
        7. My world was perfect.
        8. My life was trouble free.
        9. All the influences in my life were wonderful.
        10. Nothing bad ever happened in my life.
      3. The second is to declare that the past is completely responsible for everything bad in my life.
        1. I had a terrible family.
        2. I had terrible experiences as a child.
        3. I had a terrible life in school.
        4. I had terrible experiences with my peers.
        5. I had a terrible marriage.
        6. The past totally destroyed all opportunity for me.
        7. Therefore, I am not responsible for who I am, and I have no responsibility for my life.
    2. Let’s take a moment to put things in perspective.
      1. There are some people who have been so blessed that they really have not had any bad experiences in their past.
      2. There are some people whose primary experiences in the past have been horrible.
      3. But, for most people, the past was a mixed bag of experiences.
        1. They were blessed by some excellent situations and experiences.
        2. They also suffered from some traumatic experiences.
      4. Very few people have no traumatic experiences in their past.
    3. So what do we do with the bad experiences, the traumatic situations or events?
      1. Some people live in what is called denial.
        1. In reality their bad experiences actually happened, but in their minds those experiences never occurred.
        2. Though they struggle in life on a daily basis because the problems of their past were never resolved, in their minds those problems never occurred.
      2. Some people refuse to accept any responsibility for their present life because of what happened in their past.
        1. They live in what I refer to as the victim mentality.
        2. Because they were victimized in their past, they still think and act like a victim–they must be who they are because of what happened to them in their past.
        3. Since they must be who they are because of their past experiences, they accept no responsibility for anything occurring in their lives, and they accept no responsibility to change themselves or their lives.
      3. Some people own their past.
        1. Their past is their past–it actually happened.
        2. It serves no purpose to deny what actually happened.
        3. So they accept it; it is their past; it was their experience.
        4. In the act of owning their past, they also accept responsibility for their present.
        5. They can make choices, they can grow, and both their present and their future can change.
    4. God wants us to own our past.
      1. God knows that the first step in being freed from our past is owning our past.
      2. God knows that for repentance to fully occur in our hearts and minds, we must own our past.
  2. Many of us are impressed with Paul’s dramatic redirection of life.
    1. Prior to conversion to Christ, Paul was an aggressive, hostile man who brought harm and death to other people.
      1. He played a small but visible role in the execution of the Christian Stephen (Acts 7:58 and 8:1).
      2. He directed a house to house search for Christians in the city of Jerusalem intent on destroying the existence of the church (Acts 8:3).
      3. He dragged men and women who were Christians from their homes and had them placed in prison (Acts 8:3).
      4. If he found a Christian attending the synagogue assembly, he used force in an attempt to make him denounce Jesus Christ (Acts 26:11).
      5. When he had opportunity, he voted for the execution of Christians (Acts 26:10).
    2. After conversion, Paul was a self-sacrificing, non-violent man who used his mind and words to teach, encourage, and persuade people.
    3. This change occurred for two basic reasons.
      1. First, this man who believed that Jesus was an impostor became the man who placed total faith and confidence in Jesus as the Christ.
      2. Second, Paul owned his past.
        1. For example, He owned his past in a Roman court before an elite group of government officials, “In the past I did many things that were hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9-11).
          1. “I arrested them and put them in prison.”
          2. “I voted for their executions.”
          3. “I physically abused them in synagogues.”
        2. He owned his past in writing to fellow Christians (1 Timothy 1:13).
          1. He told Timothy that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor.
          2. He then explained the importance of knowing and accepting his past.
        3. Paul did not deny his past.
          1. He never said that it didn’t happen–no attempt at cover-up.
          2. Paul accepted responsibility for what he had done–he did not attempt to blame others for his actions.
      3. Because Paul knew that he was forgiven, because he confidently trusted God’s forgiveness, he did not retain the guilt of what he had done; but he retained the memory of what he had done.
  3. Why is it so important to me for me to own my past? Let me share with you six reasons for owning your past.
    1. First, if I am to be transformed (Romans 12:1,2), I must own my past.
      1. God’s objective in me, as a Christian, is to bring into existence a person and life that has not existed before.
      2. I doubt that change can occur unless I own who and what I was before I entered Christ.
    2. Second, owning my past will not permit me to enter denial or reject responsibility for my life.
    3. Third, owning my past is essential in the process of repentance.
      1. Repentance requires recognition of evil and the decision to redirect life.
      2. I cannot redirect my life until I recognize my evil.
      3. To recognize the evil life that I am rejecting, I must own my past.
    4. Fourth, owning my past enables me to value my forgiveness and my salvation.
      1. If I do not recognize and feel my need for forgiveness, I cannot properly value or appreciate my forgiveness.
      2. If I never felt lost, I cannot value or appreciate my salvation.
      3. Forgiveness and salvation will never mean what God intended them to mean unless I own my past.
    5. Fifth, owning my past provides me my most powerful motivation for commitment.
      1. When I value God’s forgiveness, commitment becomes the heartbeat of my salvation.
      2. I am not committed because I have to be; I am committed because I want to be.
      3. I realize that it is impossible to do enough to express my appreciation for the grace and mercy that saved me and sustains me.
    6. Sixth, owning my past results in a living, growing love for God that literally consumes my life.
      1. That love is the basis of my service.
      2. I serve God willingly, freely, and completely because I love God.
      3. Owning my past deepens and matures my love.
  4. Please understand that owning our past cannot change God’s opinion of us.
    1. God sees us in the clear, full knowledge of who we are and what we are.
      1. God’s view of us is not limited, obscured, or distorted.
      2. He does not see us as we choose for Him to see us, or as we decide to reveal ourselves to Him.
      3. We only keep people from knowing us by wearing masks; masks cannot hide us from God.
      4. God knows everything we feel, we think, and we do–all our emotions, attitudes, and motives.
      5. Owning our past creates no problems for God–when we own our past we are only admitting to ourselves what God has always known.
    2. Owning our past cannot separate us from God, but denying our past can drive a wedge between us and God.
      1. The two most common reasons for denying the past are fear and selfishness.
      2. That kind of fear always drives a wedge between us and God.
        1. That kind of fear is never a blessing.
        2. That kind of fear is never a source of spiritual blessing.
      3. Selfishness makes us our own god.
        1. When we are selfish, we are always in competition with God.
        2. We see God’s teachings, God’s principles, God’s values as robbing us.
        3. In that selfishness:
          1. Loving God with all our being means we lose.
          2. Loving our fellowman as we love ourselves means we lose.
          3. Generosity, kindness, showing mercy, commitment, service, etc. mean that we lose.
      4. Fear and selfishness are denial’s twin children.
    3. When we work hard to deny our past, we only resurrect our past.
      1. By denying the past we empower the past by breathing new life into it.
      2. We breathe new life into it by giving control of our present to our past.

Do you own your past? Or does your past own you? Everyday of your life, give your past, your present, and yourself to God.

Bible Study: A Formidable Challenge!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

I never have known the words that were adequate to reveal my appreciation for the Bible. It opens my window to God’s mind. The words of human language are woefully inadequate to reveal the whole of God. Yet, God’s revelation of Himself through human language exceeds our intellectual power to comprehend.

Just as Solomon realized that the universe was inadequate to contain God (1 Kings 8:27), I am in awe of the fact that human language is incapable of revealing all of God. This is the marvel: God used human language to reveal His existence, His love for us, and His will and purposes for us. He made our relationship with Him possible.

As a much younger Bible student, I thought that the essence of Bible study was discovering facts. The Bible was a factual document, and sound Bible study discovered and assimilated the facts. I felt confident–facts are simple to master.

I grew and matured. I now thought that the essence of Bible study was answering questions. The Bible answered questions. Properly focused Bible study searched for the right questions and their right answers. I felt confident–every question has a simple, obvious answer (I thought).

I grew and matured. I next thought that the essence of Bible study was solving problems. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible addressed people problems. In good Bible study, you defined the problem, understood the problem, and allowed the Bible to address the problem. I felt confident. Facts and questions are simpler than problems, but (I was certain) any problem can be understood and addressed.

I grew and matured. I began understanding that the essence of Bible study is to learn how to live. God was and is concerned about the way we use life. I began seeing that God wants us to use life in particular ways. If our personal world is tragic, unjust, filled with suffering, defined by hardship, burdened with struggle, or provided advantage and opportunity, God wants us to use life His way. Regardless of the circumstances in our personal worlds, life has the same basic objectives.

Good Bible study constantly leads the person to new levels of understanding and insight about how to live. Bible study is the endless quest of learning how to use life. Learning how to use life is not simple. In fact, it is extremely complex. It involves using your understanding each day in every situation. Constant requirements are faith and an open mind. And the more I understand, the less I know. God’s mind continually awakens me to my spiritual immaturity.

Identifying Faith

Posted by on April 13, 1997 under Sermons

If there is a single theological concept, a single Christian principle that the majority of Christians think they understand, it would be faith. Ask any Christian, “Do you know what faith is?” Rarely will you find a Christian who says, “No.” We might not know the answers to many questions about faith, but we are confident that we understand faith.

Consider this conversation. An acquaintance knows that you are a Christian, so he approaches you with a religious question.

“I need some religious help. I am trying to understand a basic Christian concept, and I am confused. Will you help me? Can you guide me get past this confusion?”

“Well, that depends on your question. There are some things that I can explain, but there are some things that I can’t explain. With the things I can’t explain, either I know too little, or I don’t understand, or I don’t know how to explain what I know. What do you need help with?”

“I don’t understand faith. The concept of faith confuses me. I need someone to help me understand the concept.”

“Oh…faith…well, I think I can help you. I understand faith. How can I help you? What confuses you?”

“I hear Christians talk about ‘having faith.’ What do you have when you have faith? How do you know that you have it?”

“When you have faith, you believe. And you know that you believe because you obey God.”

“Where do you find this faith? Can you explain to me why a person has it?”

“You acquire faith by reading the Bible. You have it because you study.”

“That is one of the things that confuses me. Does that mean that a person who can’t read or reads very poorly can’t have faith? Can only educated persons have faith? If that is true, why do many uneducated people seem to have more faith? Can people who do not have Bibles have faith? If you don’t have a Bible or you cannot read the Bible, does that mean it will never be possible for you to have faith? And when you have faith, do you just have the amount of faith you have? Or can faith grow? Can a little bit of faith grow to a whole lot of faith? Will a little bit of faith always grow to a whole lot of faith? These are the things that confuse me.”

Will there be a moment in that conversation that you become so uncomfortable with the questions that you change the conversation?

  1. Faith is an essential in Christianity.
    1. Literally, Christianity cannot exist without faith, and, literally, a person cannot be a Christian without faith.
      1. To me, the clearest statement of this truth is declared with simplicity and clarity in Hebrews 11:6.
        Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
      2. Carefully note what this statement affirms.
        1. #1: A person cannot please God without faith.
          1. Christians too frequently fall victim to the deceitful notion that God can be pleased in many ways.
          2. You can please God with generosity, or sacrifice, or unusual forms of obedience, or unusual commitment in service.
          3. It is true that when those things are done because of faith, God is pleased.
          4. He is pleased because those things express faith.
          5. However, if those things are done for their own merit, and on their merit the person seeks to please God, God finds no pleasure in them.
          6. No matter what a person does, if he does it meritoriously, not to express faith, it gives God no pleasure.
        2. #2: To come to God, a person must place confidence in that fact that God exists.
          1. To be certain, there are different levels of confidence.
          2. No person is in position to pass judgment on another person’s level of confidence in God’s existence.
          3. But a person cannot come to God without a measure of confidence in the fact that God is there.
        3. #3: To come to God, a person must place confidence in the fact that God rewards seekers.
          1. God will not reject the person who seeks Him in the confidence that He exists and that He rewards the seeker.
          2. God is interactive in the process of the seeker coming to God.
          3. God will respond to the seeker–He will not ignore the seeker; He will not spurn the seeker.
          4. God, the promise keeper, will honor His promises.
        4. The critical element that the individual supplies in the process of seeking and coming to God is faith–it cannot happen without faith.
    2. Faith is the basis on which God chooses to interact with people.
      1. Incredible blessings exist right this moment; these blessings are “right now” realities.
      2. These blessing have been “right now” realities since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
      3. These incredible blessing are:
        1. Propitiation (1 John 2:2)–God accepts Jesus’ death in place of our eternal death as payment for the evil that we have done.
        2. Redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30)–God frees us from our slavery under Satan by buying us back from evil, by paying the price in full through Jesus’ sacrifice.
        3. Atonement (Romans 3:24,25)–God uses the Jesus’ blood offered in his death to satisfy justice in paying for the evil we commit.
        4. Forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7)–God actually destroys the sin, the evil we have committed and thereby removes and destroys our guilt.
        5. Sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30)–God enables us to stand before Him as holy individuals because we are the forgiven.
        6. Purification (Titus 2:13,14)–God enables us to stand before Him as the pure through the cleansing of the blood of Jesus.
      4. All of these blessings exist this very moment as “right now” blessings available to me, to you, and to every person on earth.
      5. However, none of these blessings can exist in my life, or your life, or anyone’s life without faith.
      6. Though these blessings exist, they cannot exist in a person’s life who does not have faith.
    3. God’s mercy and compassion exist; they are reality; they have always existed.
      1. God’s mercy and compassion are free to express themselves perfectly, and they have been free to do so since the resurrection of Jesus.
      2. God’s mercy and compassion can respond perfectly to every person, to every evil situation, to every evil circumstance–without restriction, they can address every evil that exists.
      3. But God’s mercy and compassion can express themselves without restriction only when the person has faith.
      4. Even though mercy and compassion exist, they can be received and function only if the person has faith.
    4. Faith in whom or what? That is not only a good question, it is an essential question.
      1. We must be very careful when we answer that question.
        1. It is very easy for Christians to answer that question by affirming what they consider to be important.
        2. It is very easy to affirm what we our decision about what is important and fail to affirm what the Bible stresses.
      2. In my understanding, the Bible stresses four essentials in which we must have faith.
        1. There are many other things in which we place conviction and confidence as we spiritually grow and mature.
        2. But without these four, we cannot even begin spiritual existence–these four are the absolute basics.
      3. In my understanding, these are the four.
        1. I must place faith in God.
          1. I place confidence in His existence.
          2. I place confidence in the fact that He sent Jesus to enable seekers to come to God and receive God’s rewards.
          3. I place confidence in the fact that He will keep every promise He has made–and that He will do that through Jesus Christ.
        2. I must place faith in Jesus.
          1. I place confidence in the fact that He is God’s Son.
          2. I place confidence in His ministry and His teaching.
          3. I place confidence in the fact and the meaning of His sacrificial death.
          4. I place confidence in the fact and the meaning of His resurrection.
        3. I place faith in the Jesus’ crucifixion.
          1. I place confidence in the fact that his crucifixion is my propitiation, and I place confidence in the benefits of that propitiation.
          2. I place confidence in the fact that his crucifixion created my atonement, and confidence in the benefits of that atonement.
          3. I place confidence in the in the fact that his crucifixion is the price of my redemption, and confidence in the benefits of that redemption.
          4. I place confidence in the fact that his crucifixion produced my forgiveness, and confidence in the benefits of that forgiveness.
        4. I place faith in the resurrection of Jesus.
          1. I place confidence in the power of the resurrection, understanding that God has the power to keep every promise through the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
          2. I place confidence in the power of the resurrection to continually forgive me of my mistakes and failures.
          3. I place confidence in the power of the resurrection to sanctify me.
          4. I place confidence in the power of the resurrection to purify me.
          5. I place confidence in the power of the resurrection to keep me alive in Jesus Christ.
          6. I place confidence in the power of the resurrection to resurrect me to eternal life with God.
        5. I must have faith in God, Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection to begin spiritual existence.
        6. Faith in those four things will increase and mature as I spiritually grow and mature.
  2. One of the key concepts of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is this: the righteous shall live by faith.
    1. Simply for the purpose of focusing you, of challenging you to develop a deeper understanding, I want to contrast what that statement does not say with what it does say.
      1. What it does not say is obvious–and I am not trying to insult your intelligence by pointing it out.
      2. I just want you to think about it.
    2. “The righteous shall live by faith” does not say:
      1. The righteous shall live by obedience.
      2. The righteous shall live by worship.
      3. The righteous shall live by sacrificial generosity.
      4. The righteous shall live by commitment.
    3. The statement does say that the righteous shall live by faith.
      1. The righteous person is obedient, but he lives by faith–faith in God, not faith in his obedience.
      2. The righteous person does worship, but he lives by faith–faith in God, not faith in the fact that he worships.
      3. The righteous person is sacrificial in his generosity, but he lives by faith–faith in God, not faith in his acts of generosity.
      4. The righteous person is committed, but he lives by faith–faith in God, not faith in his commitment.

When I, as a Christian, place my confidence, my sense of security, my sense of salvation in my obedience, or in my worship, or in my sacrificial generosity, or in my commitment, at that very moment I place my faith in me, not in God. My confidence is in the what I am or what I am doing; it is not in the God who gave me Jesus.

Next week we will carefully examine the scriptures that declare, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The God Who Gets His Hands Dirty

Posted by on under Sermons

I attended the Tulsa workshop for a day a couple of weeks ago. Among the speakers I heard was Terry Rush who preaches at the Memorial Park congregation in Tulsa. The title of his lesson was, “I want to be where you are.” In his lesson, he made this true, powerful statement that immediately stuck in my mind: “When you work where God is, things get messy.”

That statement struck me because I have found it so very true. Too many of us picture God as the chief inspection officer of the universe. Those of you in the military are vividly aware of the necessity of passing inspection. The officer in charge is not there to compliment you. He is there to uncover all the flaws and mistakes.

Inspections are not confined to the military. Government agencies are notorious for their inspections. So are bank examiners. So are those who audit income tax accounts. The situation is always the same. The inspector has to find something wrong. He has to discover corrections that need to be made. That is his or her job.

Too often we picture God as this always right inspector who is never wrong. His job is to make endless inspections–he inspects everything all the time. As He inspects he wears a bright white suit with bright white gloves. He is constantly searching for dirt.

In this picture, God hates messes. He convulses when he sees a mess. He refuses to touch a mess. His job is to expose the mess, not to deliver from the mess. He will only associate with people who are neat, orderly, proper, and mess free.

I am almost 57 years old. I have spent over 40 years of my life working in God’s behalf as best I know how. From the earliest years of my work until now I have consistently witnessed this fact. God’s work is always messy work. I often have watched as God makes His presence and work obvious in lives that were too messy to describe.

I am not certain how the image of the inspector God who wears white gloves evolved, but that is not a biblical picture of God. The Bible certainly declares that God’s eyes are open to everything happening, that He is totally pure, that He is absolute holiness, and that He despises all evil. At the same time, He is the God who is so concerned, so involved, so merciful that He is always at work helping, always getting His hands dirty.

  1. Why should it surprise us that God is not afraid to get His hands dirty as He works with the messes of this world?
    1. God always has involved Himself in messy situations.
      1. Do you recall the very first thing the Bible tells us about God?
        In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was a formless void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:1, 2).
        1. Think about that a moment.
          1. What were conditions? Chaos!
          2. Chaos is the mess of all messes–the ultimate form of mess.
          3. No orderliness, no form, no tidiness, nothing but darkness and useless, meaningless waste.
        2. And God, of His own initiative and choice involved Himself, and brought good, order, purpose, usefulness, light, and life into existence.
        3. God got involved where there was chaos; God got His hands dirty.
      2. And then we read about Adam and Eve (Genesis 2,3).
        1. And they took the good creation that God made out of chaos and created an even worse mess.
        2. They created a worse mess by spiritually polluting the good God created with evil.
        3. Genesis said it only took six days to transform chaos into order and life.
        4. But it took all the time from Old Testament Genesis chapter one to New Testament Acts chapter two for God to create order and life in the chaos produced by evil.
        5. I don’t know how long that was because the Bible does not say how long it was; but it is at least several thousands years by human time.
        6. This is what I want you to note: people created the mess, and God involved Himself in creating a solution for the mess–He got His hands dirty.
    2. That is one of the continuing themes throughout the history of the Old Testament: God involved Himself in the messes people made.
      1. The descendants of Abraham were in Egypt in a hopeless situation as they lived in slavery with no chance of being free.
        1. When you read the early chapters of Exodus, the situation was a horrendous mess.
        2. But God got involved, and God did what they could never do for themselves–He freed them.
      2. When you read the rest of Exodus and the book of Numbers, you learn that these delivered slaves became a nation in the Sinai desert.
        1. And the whole situation sounds like an impossible mess!
        2. The problems these people created and perpetuated cannot be exaggerated.
        3. But God stayed involved until enough people of faith would allow Him to lead them into what would become their own land.
      3. In the book of Judges you read about the second generation of this new nation in their new home.
        1. What a mess!
        2. Conditions were at least as bad as they were when they were slaves.
        3. All their evil and all their godless conduct created incredible chaos.
        4. But God remained involved.
      4. If you read about this nation in the time that they were one nation, in the time that they were two nations, and in the time that they were exiled, you see a mess that gets worse and worse.
        1. If you look objectively and honestly at all that happens in each period, the only appropriate comment is, “What an incredible, unbelievable mess!”
        2. But God stayed involved and refused to surrender to the chaos that Israel made.
    3. Then you begin reading the New Testament.
      1. The first four books, the gospels, tell us that God sent a part of Himself as a person named Jesus to be born in, to grow up in, and to minister in the chaos of Israel and the chaos of mankind.
      2. This Jesus was literally God in human flesh.
      3. He so perfectly revealed what God would be in human form that he even told his disciple Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the only access to God the Father. If you know me, you know the Father. When you know me, you know God the Father, and when you see me, you see God the Father” (John 14:6,7).
      4. And in the most personal, direct manner ever, God through Jesus went to work in individual’s lives.
        1. Jesus got involved, and he got his hands dirty.
        2. He did not target the people who belonged to God, the people who in faith, dependence, and surrender belonged to God.
        3. He did not target the religious people who were so filled with their own sense of self-righteousness that they were certain that they had no problems and needed no help.
        4. He targeted and powerfully ministered to those whose lives were in chaos–people who knew that their lives were in chaos, people who felt their worthlessness.
          1. The hopeless.
          2. The demon possessed.
          3. The men and women that the public knew were “the sinners.”
          4. The adulteresses.
          5. The incurables.
          6. The outcasts.
          7. Those who were dishonest thieves.
        5. If you will read the gospels and make a list of all the people whom Jesus helped, many on that diverse list will be those whose lives were in chaos.
        6. And to those who knew their chaos and with faith and trust honestly accepted his help, he brought forgiveness, life, hope, and a new existence.
      5. As always, there were the devoutly religious who deeply resented Jesus working with people in chaos and pointedly criticized him for doing so. And he replied to their criticisms.
        1. Once he replied, “The sick need the doctor, not the healthy. You folks need to learn what God meant when He said this: I desire compassion, not sacrifice. I did not come into this world to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13).
        2. Listen to what he said on another occasion:
          1. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
          2. “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10)
    4. God introduced Himself by telling us that this universe, and earth, and life began because He destroyed chaos and created order and life.
      1. He sent us Jesus to address the chaos in our personal lives, in our marriages, in our families, in our friendships, in our involvement, and to destroy that chaos by giving us forgiveness and life.
      2. He sent Jesus to sustain us after we receive life by continuing to strengthen and forgive us as we learn surrender, commitment, and service.
      3. He is a God who works with us in the chaos of our messes.
      4. He gave us a Savior who works with us in the chaos of our messes.
      5. All God and Jesus ask is for us, with faith, to work with them in the chaos of our messes and allow God’s spirit to live in our lives.
  2. Many of us, as Christians, respond by saying, “God, I love what You are doing! I rejoice when I understand that You are a God who willingly gets His hands dirty. I want to help. I want to help You work in people who are in chaos.”
    1. That is wonderful!
      1. That is exactly what God wants to happen.
      2. He wants you to let Him, Jesus, and His spirit work in your life as you, in faith, address the chaos in your life.
      3. Then He wants you to share the good news of what God through Jesus can do to help anyone who is in chaos.
    2. So we make a request: “God, I want you to work with my chaos, and I want you to use me to help other people in chaos.”
      1. And God says, “The greatest victory I had in my war with chaos was when I created the eternal Savior.”
        1. “Because of that Savior:”
          1. “I can forgive any sin.”
          2. “I can give hope to any life.”
          3. “I can liberate any person from evil through redemption.”
          4. “I can give spiritual life to any person.”
          5. “No person is too bad or too hopeless if he or she in faith enters Jesus.”
        2. “Just like I use that Savior, I can use your life to help others in chaos.”
      2. So we respond, “Great! That is just the kind of thing I had in mind.”
      3. God replies: “First, you need to understand how I created the Savior.”
        1. “He understood how much I love people, and he loved people just like I love them.” “Okay!”
        2. “His mind, his heart, and his life were ruled by my compassion and mercy–and he understood what kind of people needed compassion and mercy.” “Okay.”
        3. “He was a servant; he did dirty work; he did not come to be over anybody but to work with everybody–he was never Mr. Big Dog, Mr. Top Dog, or Mr. Prestige.” ” . . . Okay.”
        4. “Because my work is so unusual, nobody understood him–the common religious folks thought he had a demon, and at times his own family thought he was crazy.” Silence.
        5. “Then I took Satan’s work in a betrayal, an arrest, injustice, and execution, and I made Jesus eternal Savior.” After a long pause, we say, “Well, God, that is not exactly what I had in mind.”

There are three things I want you to think about.

#1: God has always specialized in creating life where there was chaos.

#2: Through your faith and the power of Jesus, God can take your chaos where ever it is–in your marriage, in your family, or in your heart and mind–and create life. He can bring light to your darkness.

#3: When God works in chaos, He gets His hands dirty. Helping God is not easy. Many times the process is not even fun. If you surrender your life to help God work in chaos, you will have to get your hands dirty, too.

God’s Concern Is Not One Dimensional

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Viewing our typical spiritual concerns, someone could conclude that we serve a God who is one dimensional in His concern. Someone could conclude that He has one primary concern. That concern alone is essential. While He regards many things as important, only this concern is the consuming concern.

Intellectually, we realize that God has many concerns. Emotionally, we feel that God has a “most important” concern. Therefore we conclude that if we identify and yield to that concern, God is pleased and we are secure.

To view divine concern as one dimensional is to view relationship as one dimensional. “I will be an exceptional husband if I make a lot of money. Making money is the most important concern in a successful marriage.” “I will be an exceptional wife if I prepare good meals. Excellent home cooking is the most important concern in a successful marriage.” “I will be an exceptional friend to ‘x’ if I will spend time with him (her). Time together is the most important concern in a successful friendship.”

Intellectually, we disagree with those views. Building a successful relationship is not a “one dimension” venture. Emotionally, we may agree. We may attempt to use money, or meal presentation, or scheduled time to create a successful relationship.

Talk to a wife married to a husband who thinks money is the key to relationship. Ask about the relationship. Talk to a husband married to a wife who thinks food is the key to relationship. Ask about the relationship. Ask a friend who has a friend that thinks habitual visits are the key to relationship. Ask about the relationship.

Ask God about His relationship with His child who has determined God’s “most important” concern. No relationship, certainly not a divine-human relationship, is successful because “one essential concern” is rigorously addressed. When commitment to the “essential concern” results in blind neglect of all other relationship concerns, the consequence is perfunctory association.

Jonah was convinced that if God loved Israel that God should not be concerned about a nation that was Israel’s enemy. God should hate what Jonah hated. God should reject what Jonah rejected. God was not one dimensional in His concerns. Jonah was. Neither is God one dimensional in His concerns today. Are we?