Romans 3 v 9 – 18
Please turn with me in your Bibles again to Romans chapter 3. We were in Romans chapter 3 this morning. As you turn they let me remind you of that. We looked this morning from that text that Reformation: its power its principles and its progression. How strong it is, what makes it move and how does it move. Reformation its power its principles and its progression and we considered chapter 3 verses 21 to 26 this morning. I want to link up with that and speak to you about the central scripture to the Reformation. We find it in four places in Scripture. Habakkuk chapter 2:4 is the first: “Behold his soul is puffed-up. It is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” The Apostle Paul repeats it in Romans chapter 1 verse 17 where he says: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” That means it’s from beginning to end its faith. As it is written the righteous shall live by faith. Paul repeats again in Galatians chapter 3:11 as he says: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law. For the righteous shall live by faith.” The writer to the Hebrews says the same in verse 38 of his 10th chapter: “But My righteous one shall live by faith and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” Now, this whole thing about how to be righteous before God – how to be justified by God as sinners is of course central to the Gospel – it’s the very heart of the Gospel. It’s the one question that you need an answer to understand the Gospel and we need good news, because the bad news really is very bad and it wasn’t as bad back then as it is bad now. Turn on CNN. Turn on any other – I nearly said fake news – network. I shouldn’t say things like that, but turn on any news network and you see that it’s as bad now as it was back then. It has always been that bad and Paul describes for us just how bad it is and what it is that needs to be justified. He describes for us in Chapter 3 of Romans from verse 9 and on.
“9What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15“Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Does that describe what you see on your news channels? Let’s get closer to home. Does that describe what we see in our communities? I know it’s all nicely dressed up with nowhere to go. But that’s what we see. I saw it very clearly when I worked for many years as a detective in the police services. I saw what was going on in these neighbourhoods that are so beautiful; so tree-lined and so well hedged and the lawn so well groomed and the swimming pools at the back and all the cars parked in the driveway. That’s what people saw every day when they drove past. When you got that call if you were the detective on duty and you had to step past that into the house and see exactly what is going on it left us in utter shock and it’s what made me to become a Christian, because I wasn’t a Christian back then – I was an aggressive unbeliever. I became a believer by seeing those things and asking myself: ‘Why do people do this to people? Why, what is the reason?’ One of my detective friends who was a Christian said to me ‘we’re just animals.’ I said no, animals don’t do this. Animals do not kill each other for the sheer pleasure of it. They’ll kill to defend their territory. They will kill to eat, but they won’t kill for the sheer pleasure of it. Only humans do that. Why? My Christian friend said: ‘You and I need to sit down and talk a little.’ And he explained it to me. I wasn’t saved immediately – it was only a while after that, but this is one of the things he shared with me. He said ‘Do You See Willem, this is who we are. This is what we are.’ I saw it daily in my work – the truth of this. Some of the things I had to see plague me to this day. I wish I had never seen them. This is how horrible it gets and it gets even worse, because we’re that way before a holy God who can do no wrong – who is all righteous and holy in Himself and made all the beauty that we see around about us every day – made us capable to play Mozart and Bach and Rachmaninoff – read Goethe, Wordsworth, Shakespeare – made us capable of dancing, but at the same time we made ourselves capable of such horror by wanting to be gods and not letting Him be God. And that’s the problem that Paul addresses here. And now we need to ask the question: How can we be righteous then, because if you have that desire in your heart, only God could have put it there. We’re not that way by nature and if it is there – if you are asking yourself: How can I be a good man? How can I be a good woman? We cannot be like the stoics – like Marcus Aurelius who said to us: ‘Stop arguing about what a good man is and just be one’. Marcus Aurelius, we can’t just be good men because we want to. You don’t understand the problem, with all respect – and I do respect him. How then can we be righteous before God?
You remember we did the book of Habakkuk a while back and I want to take you down memory lane a little bit. We did a whole series in Habakkuk. I’m sure you have forgotten about that – many of you – and I’m optimistic that many of you remember. You remember Habakkuk faced that imminent invasion of the Southern Kingdom of Judah by the Chaldeans who were the Babylonians and that happened at the end of the sixth century BC when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar. The Lord revealed to Habakkuk beforehand that Judah was going to be punished for her sin by the Chaldeans. Now Habakkuk was different to Joel and to Zephaniah and to Amos in this way: He does not even hold up to the people the possibility of their repenting and God relenting. The other prophets did – Joel, Zephaniah and Amos, but not Habakkuk. Habakkuk said it’s done – it’s too late to repent. You can’t even turn back. God’s going to do this. You’ve crossed the line and nothing can avert from you this destruction that is coming. And so he doesn’t even call them to national repentance like the other prophets did. You remember that? It’s too late. He just predicts the destruction of Judah and beyond that the doom of the Chaldeans whom God is going to use to destroy Judah. God was going to destroy them too. And He promises that the only way to preserve your life through that Judgment that God is bringing on Judah and on Chaldea; the only way to preserve your life is through faith. It’s only by faith. The judgment is coming. Nothing can stop it. Repentance; national repentance is too great for individuals that find themselves in national and global judgment. There is only one hope for you, Habakkuk says: You must live by faith; that’s Habakkuk’s message. And so even though destruction is decreed for the whole nation, there is hope for individuals who hold fast their confidence and their faith in God. And we don’t see the fully opened up doctrine of Justification by faith as Paul taught it in Romans and Galatians, here in Habakkuk. We don’t; it’s not there yet. But you know what is there? The seed is there – this beautiful seed is there and so with our recent series still fresh in our memories, let me just run you through it in a brief survey – its contents – and you’ll see the reason for that later on. We will survey the book briefly. We’ll identify its main point and then I’ll show you how that main point unfolds throughout the entire New Testament. Should we do that and see how we could be just before God? And so back to Habakkuk.
After he introduced the book as a burden to him, which is what it was; which he received from God. What Habakkuk does is he cries out in chapter 1:2-4 that Judah is full of violence and has perverted justice. So in verse 4, he says: “So the law is slack and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” It’s like today; that describes today. Amos had warned the Northern kingdom that injustice would bring judgment upon them. And in 722 BC Assyria swept the Northern kingdom away. And now here’s the Southern Kingdom of Judah 130 years later, guilty of the same things; the very same things! They had not learnt a single thing! And so in Habakkuk 1:5-11 God tells what He intends to do. In verse 6, He says: “Look, I’m rousing the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation who marched through the breadth of the earth to seize habitations not their own.” Do we live in times like that? We live in times like that. But God is in control of the nations. God moves them and He swings them like a saw to chastise His people, and then He destroys them. The Chaldeans will come against Judah as God’s correction and punishment, but verse 12 gives the confidence to Habakkuk; that tells us about the confidence Habakkuk had that God would not utterly destroy His people and he says to God: “Are you not from Everlasting O Lord, my God my Holy One, we won’t die. Oh Lord, you’ve ordained them as a judgment, and You, O Rock have established them for chastisement” He’s pleading: ‘You’re chastising, but You won’t utterly destroy them.’ God is raising up the Chaldeans against these people – not to wipe them out, but to correct them and to chastise them. And then in chapter 1:13-17, Habakkuk shows that he’s not satisfied that God is using the proud Chaldeans; the violent Chaldeans; the idolatrous Chaldeans against his people, however bad they may be. They should themselves not escape the Judgment of God. They’re no more righteous than Judah and even if God is using them to do His work of judgment, so Habakkuk protests in verse 17: ‘Is he then (the Chaldean nation) to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly slaying nations forever?’ But you see there’s hope for those who will hold firm their trust in God as calamity comes. For you and I who live in days when we see very real – and I’m sure some of us have nightmares about other possible calamities to come. In days like that we find consolation from Habakkuk and from his main idea.
So we see in chapter 1 he protests against the violence and injustice of his own countrymen in Judah and then against the violence and injustice of the Chaldeans whom God is sending to punish Judah, because they’re like these people that Paul describes. Now in Chapter 2 Habakkuk takes his stand and he waits for God to respond to his protests. And the Lord answered him in a vision. We’re not told what he saw in the vision. I see people these days are very keen to tell what they saw in visions on YouTube, but Habakkuk didn’t even tell us what the vision was that he saw. But we can see by the rest of what Habakkuk says about the future of Judah and the Chaldeans that what he says there is based on the assurance that he received in the vision and it is this: “Behold his soul (that’s the soul of the Chaldeans) is puffed up. It’s not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Look what God is saying: “I know Habakkuk; I know how these people are. Their souls are puffed up and they’re not upright, but they’re coming upon Judah and there’s only one way people can survive in Judah and that is ‘the Righteous shall live by faith’. I’m not changing the circumstances – I’m making them worse. If you want to live through them, you need to do so by faith. That was the message then; it is the message now. It is the message always; it’s the Christian World and Life view. There is hope for those who will hold firm their trust in God as calamity comes, but the word regarding the Chaldeans that the Lord was unleashing upon Judah is a five-fold woe:
(i) Woe, to him who heaps up what is not his own.
(ii) Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house to set his nest on high.
(iii) Woe to him who builds a town with blood.
(iv) Woe to him who makes his neighbours drink up the cup of his wrath.
(v) Woe to him who says to a wooden thing: Awake! And to a dumb stone: Arise!
In other words the great power of the Chaldeans will in the end, come to nothing. He says to Habakkuk: ‘The nations weary themselves in vain to fill the earth with their fame and their power.’ And some of them flaunt them on TV. Why? Because as Habakkuk 2:14 says: ‘The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ That’s why the nations weary themselves in vain to fill the earth with their fame and power, because the glory of the Lord will fill it. Habakkuk need not fear that the rebellious nation will have the last say. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and it’s filled with His glory. And then Habakkuk closes that chapter with these awesome words in verse 20: “The Lord is in His Holy Temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. Let all the nations be still and know that He is God.” His glory will fill the earth – not the glory of the Chaldeans, brothers and sisters. So in answer to Habakkuk’s protest, God tells him that the pride of the Chaldeans will come to a terrible end and that any in Judah, who humbly trust in God, will gain their lives. “The just shall live by his faith” (chapter 2 verse 4). And then he ends with a song of praise. It’s the last chapter of the book and it’s a response to what he has heard. But it’s more than just a personal prayer that Habakkuk is praying. You must notice that when you read the text. It’s intended as a Psalm to be used in worship by the Lord’s people when it says in verse 1: “A prayer of Habakkuk the Prophet according to Shigionoth.” It means that the prayer is to be used to musical accompaniment with a spirit of excitement and joy and triumph. And it’s important that we see that and here’s why: Habakkuk wants us to be able to sing this prayer with him even in these days in which we live; to sing this prayer with him. It’s not there to merely inform us how holy Habakkuk was. It’s to tell us how to pray. It’s here to show us how you and I should face the Judgment of God. Chaldeans are coming against Judah for sure and how should the Godly among them prepare for that and for that calamity? You and I should ask the same question this evening. Travail and tribulation is coming upon the world, as Jesus said in Matthew24:21. How must we prepare for it? How will we endure it? How will we get through it? You, your wife, your father, your mother, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your family – how will they get through it? We need to know, don’t we? The world needs to know how to get through it, because it is coming and they don’t know how to get through it!
It’s a wonderful response. First of all in Habakkuk 3:2 he says: ‘O Lord; I’ve heard the report of You and Your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years renew it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.’ He has a sober and a healthy fear of the Judgment of God. So he prays that in the midst of the wrath of God, God will have mercy on him. And then in verses 3 to 15 of the third chapter he sings the greatness of God’s power and especially God’s power to save. He says for example in verse 13: ’You went forth for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.’ You see, he knew God’s power from His work in the past. And so he counted on His ultimate victory in the future. And so verse 16 says that even though his body trembles at the thought of the invasion, he waits quietly for what must be. Do you want that spirit within you?
Then finally in chapter 3:17-19, Habakkuk breaks out in a wonderful song of faith, and I want to read it to you. Verse 17 and on: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God the Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread in high places.’ And then he says for who it is: It’s to the choirmaster with stringed instruments. In other words, no matter how severe this tribulation when these Babylonians come, he’ll never stop trusting God, he says. Even though God Himself has roused this bitter and hasty nation, he is confident that in wrath, God will remember mercy to those who trust Him and rejoice in Him alone when everything else fails.
So that’s an overview. Now, what’s the main point of Habakkuk? Well, we need to state it negatively first and then positively. The main point negatively is this – and you can look it up in Habakkuk 1 verses 11 and 16, chapter 2 verses 14 and 19: Proud people whose strength or ingenuity is their god. If you’re a narcissistic, hedonistic materialist – a puff me, please me, pay me, person, then you will come to a woeful end even though you may enjoy prosperity for a season – either as God’s chosen ones in Judah or as the victors over Judah. All the proud (whether Jew, whether gentile) will perish in the Judgment; that’s what he says in the negative – that’s his point in the negative. You cannot save yourself. But his point in the positive is then how can I be saved? He stresses the positive side of his main point and he says the Just shall live by faith – that’s his positive point. He states it as a principle in chapter 2:4 and then he celebrates it in a song in chapter 3:16 and on. You know when Habakkuk says even when all the fruit and the produce and the flocks and the herds are destroyed and my very life is threatened, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. When Habakkuk says that he shows us what he means by faith in chapter 2:4: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ He means this: he means putting your hope on and your trust in God all the time, no matter what. That’s what he means. Do you want to know what to do about your problem in your family at the moment? Do you want to know what to do about your retrenchment? Do you want to know what to do about the affliction that God in His Providence has brought your way? Do you want to know what to do with your broken relationships? You need to live by faith! There is no other way. I’ve learned that the hard way. Put your trust and your hope in God, no matter what.
So we remember that Habakkuk’s prophecy began with his attack on Judah’s violence and strife over their perverted justice. And you might expect when he comes to tell the people how to be saved in the judgment, he would say: ‘Cease being violent. Stop it now. Don’t do violence. Don’t do that; do justice. Put away strife!’ That’s what Amos said, but Habakkuk doesn’t. When the judgment is sure and the question is: How can I gain my life before the wrath of a holy God that’s surely coming, Habakkuk has one answer: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ He has no other answer. Amos said to Israel: ‘Seek good and don’t do evil so you may live. Remember justice in the gate, and it may be that the Lord of hosts will be gracious.’ So Habakkuk could have said to Judah: ‘The just shall live by his goodness; the just shall live if he executes justice at the gate.’ And he wouldn’t have been wrong if he said that to them, because we know the Bible teaches that people whose everyday lives are not changed by the Holy Spirit, will not inherit eternal life – we know that. So if Habakkuk had said that like Amos did, he would have been right. So in a sense we do gain our lives by becoming better people in God’s power and doing justice and loving mercy – we do. We’re not negating that truth, but that’s not the heart of the Gospel. And unless we have the heart, that part of God’s message will become a dreadful – and it has in so many instances done that – some of our brothers in this church are fighting that to this day – it becomes a dreadful legalism and a horrid burden to the conscience! Habakkuk’s message comes close to the heart of the Gospel when he says the just, or the righteous shall live by faith, he means two things: One is that all those who are righteous are also ones who have faith in God. Having the right standing before man and God always includes faith in God. And the other thing that he implies is that faith is what saves from God’s wrath. The just shall live by his faith. That means just people are people of Faith – or people of Faith are just. And faith is what secures their life and keeps them for Eternity – safe in God’s bosom. And that’s close to the heart of the Gospel. And the reason why Habakkuk’s message comes close to the heart of the Gospel, but doesn’t open up his heart for us is that he does not tell us explicitly how righteousness and faith are related. He stops short of that. He simply says righteous people have faith and this Faith saves them. The relationship between trusting God and standing righteous before Him, is that God looks at our faith and counts us righteous. And the reason why God can do that for us as sinners is that Christ took the punishment for our iniquities on Himself. He told us already in Isaiah 53:11 – and that is plain: “by His knowledge shall the righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous and He shall bear their iniquities.” When God reckons a person righteous because Christ died for Him – because he puts his trust in Christ – that is what we call justification by faith. Let me say it again: When God reckons a person righteous because Christ died for him and because he puts his trust in Christ – that is what we call justification by faith. It is that – it is nothing more, it’s nothing less, and it’s nothing else. And that’s the heart of the Gospel – the best news in the world to people who know they are sinners and God is Holy and He’s on his way to execute judgment and somehow they need to live. They are told: ‘you will live by faith alone.’ But we don’t need to leave Habakkuk behind too quickly. There’s much more we can see before we get to what Paul says in Romans and Galatians. The Judgment of God is coming – most immediately in the Chaldean invasion, but finally at the End of the Age. What is it that will bring life instead of death to you in the Judgment? Before I give Habakkuk’s answer, let me make clear that if this is not your question, you are living in a dream world. If you’re not asking yourselves, what is it that will bring life instead of death in the Judgment – you need to ask that question. If you’re not, you’re living in a fool’s paradise of unreality – if you do not ask with all your heart: ‘How can I stand in the Judgment which is coming? How can I stand?’ Hebrews tells us: “It’s appointed for us once to die, and after that comes the judgment.” And those who resist are storing up wrath for themselves on the Day of wrath when God’s Judgment will be revealed as it was on Judah in Habakkuk’s day. And on that Day, it will be vividly clear to all how utterly naive it was for millions of people to live their lives as though the God who made this world for His glory would never call them to account for how little He has meant to them! It squares with Scripture and with reason: He has fixed a Day on which He will judge the world in righteousness, and it’s a frightful Day! And so I ask you to ask yourself: ‘Would I gain my life before a Holy God if I die tonight? Am I ready to take my stand in that glorious Celestial Courtroom and hear the Judge pass an eternal sentence on me?’ An eternal one! Not just so many years – Eternal! There’ll be only two verdicts in that Day. And one or the other of them will be passed on every person – no suspended sentences – either condemned or justified – Hell or Heaven – Eternal death or Eternal Life!
So if you want to know how to be ready to gain your life on that Day, listen to Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by faith.” Habakkuk knew well that everybody in Judah was a sinner and he knew that the Holiness of God prevents him from ignoring our sins. He says: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil and you cannot look on wrong.” And so Habakkuk taught that the only thing that would save us is faith. Faith in what? In God’s Mercy! In Habakkuk 3:2 he says: “In Wrath remember Mercy!” That’s what you must have faith in – on the basis of what Christ did on the cross. He couldn’t see ahead how God would preserve both His holy hatred for sin and His merciful forgiveness of sinners. God had to do both that: preserve His holy hatred for sin and His merciful forgiveness of sinners who trust Him. How much He do that? God revealed it, and so he proclaimed it: The just shall live – shall gain their lives in the Judgment – by faith. He knew that when He called them just, they weren’t sinless. He meant those who are right with God in spite of their sin, are those who trust God for His Mercy. But how can a holy God who hates sin show Eternal Mercy on sinners who simply trust Him for Mercy? That is the problem before us. And God did not reveal that much too Habakkuk, but He did to the Apostle Paul. And we’ve read the scriptures and Paul opened them up for us in Romans, Galatians and also in Hebrews if you believe Paul wrote it – which I’m inclined to do. And the answer is the death of Christ. That’s how God did it! Paul said it like this in Romans 3:23-26: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift through the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
How does that apply to us? When you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord – when you give up trying to lead your own life and establish your own worth and instead you surrender your heart to Him and totally rely on Him in your future, three things will happen: Your sin receives its deserved condemnation – that’s the first thing that happens. The second thing: God’s righteousness receives its deserved glorification. Thirdly: you receive your undeserved justification. That’s the Gospel: Sin receives its deserved condemnation, God’s righteousness receives its deserved glorification, and you receive your undeserved justification. Let’s look at each one of them briefly.
- Your sin receives its Deserved Condemnation
You may be all intoxicated now with self-confidence before the awesome Holiness of God, but I promise you, on your deathbed – if God gives you a deathbed – if He even gives you a chance – if He doesn’t take you like the man who dropped dead in front of Vicki the other day in the shopping centre, or the man I buried yesterday – who was, praise God, a godly man – who went to have a shower after a jog and just drop dead. I promise you, if you have a deathbed if God gives you one, or takes you like those – you will sober up swiftly. And you will be scared to death that in a day or two you will stand with all your sin and it’s culpability before God. Sin must be punished. But God who is rich in Mercy sent His Son to take our sin on Himself and suffer for it. Paul says to us in chapter 8:3: “What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. He condemned sin in the flesh.” We also learn from other Scriptures: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree…” If you close with Christ in faith – if you connect with Him in faith, the death He died becomes your death. Your sins become His, and you bear them no more. They have received their deserved condemnation on Christ’s account.
- God’s righteousness is Glorified
It’s not as though God’s righteousness is easily satisfied. It took the death of Christ for God’s righteousness to receive its deserved glorification. The Lamb without blemish slain before the foundation of the world. The finest of Glory – the apple of God’s eye – it took Him! If His righteousness had not been at stake, He might have swept your sin under the rug, but He glorified His righteousness by requiring an infinitely valuable sacrifice – the death of the Lord of Glory – the shameful death of the Son of God! It’s unthinkable in a moral universe that God could simply let bygones be bygones and just sweep it under the rug! The sins we committed ten years ago are as vivid and horrible and condemning as if we did them last night. The righteous God cannot forget and ignore sin unless there is an atonement – a sacrificial substitute. And so He sent His Son so that our sin might receive its deserved condemnation and His righteousness might receive its deserved glorification.
- You receive undeserved Justification
And now closing with the glorious Good News: When you trust in Christ you receive undeserved justification. Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 5:1: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 4:5: “To the one who does not work, but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Clearer it cannot be than that.
So Habakkuk taught us when judgment comes: “The just shall live by his faith.” And when that seed comes to full flower in the New Testament, we see that the reason the just live by faith is that the just are justified by faith, as Paul puts it. And I leave you with this invitation. They are justified by His grace as a gift through the Redemption which is in Jesus Christ whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood to be received by Faith.
Remember on this Reformation Sunday 2020 what the Lord taught you this evening about the great heart of the Gospel – the heart of the Reformation. It is this: “The just shall Live by Faith”.