Part One


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.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 20 April 1997
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