Alfred Place Baptist Church

2:2-4 The just shall live by faith

Habakkuk 2:2-4 “Then the LORD replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright–but the righteous will live by his faith.’”

The prophet had poured out his complaint to the Lord, and we are told, “Then the LORD replied” (v.2). How important is that? It is all important. The claim Scripture makes is that what is recorded here in the Old Testament are the words God spoke. The God who made the world addresses his world; he does this through prophets and apostles. In many various ways he spoke to our fathers, but in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son. The God of creation is the God of revelation. What does God say?

1. HABAKKUK’S WORDS ARE WRITTEN DIVINE REVELATION.

Before God comes to the heart of his message he tells Habakkuk to make sure that his words are written down, and that they are utterly trustworthy words. You notice how our text begins;

i] “Write down the revelation” (v.2). God did not say that to Elijah though he were a mighty prophet, but to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and twelve other writing prophets (one of whom was Habakkuk) God did say this. Elijah’s ministry was one of exhortation while the others’ ministry was one of declaration and instruction. That is why we know so much about God. He has spoken to men and instructed them to make a record of what he has said, so that for 2,800 years after the days of Habakkuk men may read and learn revealed truths.

ii] “Make it plain” (v.2), God added. So though God had spoken there was no dictation, as though Habakkuk had become an automaton, a kind of dictaphone who simply recorded like a machine what God had said. Habakkuk rather was a man being helped and inspired by the Spirit of God, and he had to write down this message with fear and trembling, because it was God who was working through him and willing Habakkuk to write down these divine words. God was telling him to concentrate and think as he wrote – “Make it plain Habakkuk” – and so, incidentally, he would have to make sure that his handwriting was clear. “Do not confuse what is a clear word, Habakkuk.”

iii] “So that a herald may run with it” (v.2). The word God gives to the prophets was not like the words given by the priests to the disciples of the mystery religion cults, secret words not to be shared at any price with any one else. God’s words to Habakkuk are to be written down and the clay tablets taken immediately to the villages and town of the land and read out aloud everywhere telling the nation what their Lord God had said. “Hurry up!” God exhorts. “Haste ye with this word from God!” Here is an Old Testament foretaste of the Great Commission.

iv] Then the Lord adds some cautions. The message to Habakkuk tells of the judgment of God coming upon the land. God was going to raise up the Babylonians and use them as a rod to chasten and punish his people. This would not be a welcome message; it was a resisted, unpopular message; it would certainly be a challenged message. Months and years would go by without a Babylonian invasion and people would cry out, “When will this ‘judgment’ come on us that Habakkuk spoke about? Words! Only words! He told us that the end would be horrible, that Babylon would invade us – all false. Don’t let that Jeremiad trouble you; it was only words.” So God speaks and tells the people via Habakkuk, “You wait! You just wait!” “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (v.3). So that was the message from God that his word was true. His prophesies would be fulfilled. It would not prove false. As the Lord Jesus said, “Your word is truth.” It would come to pass just as God had told Habakkuk. The word of the Lord endures for ever.

Then, at this juncture, God spoke the heart of the gospel to encourage the remnant in Israel , the faithful ones who would wait patiently for this chastening time, and keep trusting in him. These were Habakkuk’s most famous words;

2. HABAKKUK SAID THAT THE RIGHTEOUS WILL LIVE BY HIS FAITH.

See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith.” (v.4). You realise how important these words are. They are quoted in the New Testament on three occasions, once in Romans, once in Galatians and once in Hebrews. Through faith the righteous shall live, says Paul to the Romans. Not by works of the law are we going to be justified but by faith, Paul tells the Galatians. The righteous show they are living to the full by their rich faith in God, he tells the Hebrews. The righteous will live by his faith.

What does that mighty phrase mean? Let us clear away some of the rubble that surrounds this statement. A demolition job on the clutter covering these words is needed. Let me do that now, saying that when Habakkuk said that the righteous will live by his faith . . .

i] He was not referring to FAITH-IN-FAITH. This may seem strange to you, but this is a very common counterfeit. You hear people almost bragging, “I have great faith,” or in a kind of parting greeting; there’s this mocking, throwaway line, “Keep the faith, old buddy.” But what kind of faith are they talking about? Faith in what? Who is the object of their faith? The prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel put all their faith in Baal. Every cult member has his faith in the leader of the cult. For many people today faith seems to be merely faith in good fortune; “You’ve got to keep believing,” they say, as if good things can only happen to people who’ve got this vague kind of ‘faith.’

The Bible is totally different. It directs our faith into Jesus Christ and him alone; it is not something vague, not a fuzzy matter at all, but it focuses on the Son of God. Look at him! Trust in him! The Roman jailer in Philippi seeing all the doors of his prison swinging open and all the chains broken was in despair. He was about to kill himself, but Paul cried, “Do yourself no harm. Everyone is still there!” No one had done a walkabout! If the earthquake breaking all the chains was a miracle, how much more the fact than not a single prisoner had absconded. The worship he had heard from the depths of the dungeon from two bleeding men with their feet in the stocks followed by this mighty shaking of the prison and yet no one leaving the jail! It was all a mighty humbling of this man whose life had been serving Rome . “What must I do to be saved?” cried the man. “Have faith!” said Paul. No he didn’t. “Have faith in faith,” said Paul. No. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Paul focused this brutalized military man’s faith into the Lord Jesus – the God whom he and Silas had been praising and worshipping half an hour earlier in their bleak dungeon, the one and only Person worthy of absolute trust. “Entrust yourself to his safe keeping, and to his mighty salvation,” said Paul. So the faith by which the righteous live is not faith in faith.

ii] Again we must say that Habakkuk was not referring to FAITH-IN-THE-HERO-INSIDE-YOURSELVES. There are people who are ultra confident about their ability to handle any situation and come out on top. “I believe in me,” they seem to be saying. A Christian was recently talking to a man whom he hadn’t seen for quite some time, a person of tremendous human accomplishments. Everything this man sets his mind to do, he does. It is quite amazing, from business to golf, this man is an achiever. He is also very resistant to the gospel. We Christians creep out of our struggles – not just struggles in our walk with God but struggles in our jobs and family lives, and then we stutter of what we believe to some very accomplished men, and they make it clear to us that they feel no need whatsoever of God, or religion, or the church, or the Christian faith. So this Christian acquaintance knew such a man, and he bumped into him again recently. He was hoping that he’d find a little softening of this achiever’s attitudes because he had recently been hospitalized due to serious heart problems. In fact, he’d almost died, but obviously he’d bounced back as many of these people do, and now he was his usual confident self. With a big smile he told him that he was feeling fine again, allowing no conversation about the Christian faith, and then as he was leaving, with a grin said, “In case you’re wondering, I still don’t need religion.”

That person believes so strongly in himself that even a brush with death does not faze him. He believes in himself and his ability to pass any test and overcome every difficulty. If there is a judgment day, he believes he will get through that as well. He has such faith in himself he feels no need for God. The object of his faith is himself. We may say that he is his own god in whom he’s put his trust. Habakkuk speaks about such a person in our text; “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith” (v.4). He is swollen; he is inflated and such a spirit is unnatural for mortal men and women. How uncertain are our lives. Jesus warned those whose faith was in Mammon that all they had achieved could be taken from them by such things as a little moth or some rust. We could add a tiny virus; one cancerous brain cell. Look at the recent collapse of a bank like Northern Rock and the lines of nervous people waiting outside its offices day after day insistent on withdrawing every penny of their savings; how fragile is our economy. “See he is puffed up,” says God, and such desires are unrighteous. Let us be more humble minded, especially when standing before the claims of the man who spoke and the winds and waves obeyed him.

As Walter Chantry says, “There are only two kinds of men who have ever lived on the earth: men of pride and men of faith. This contrast is the key to history and it unlocks the meaning of every generation living on the earth” (Walter Chantry, “A Revelation for All Time,” Banner of Truth magazine, May 2007, p.29). There are two categories of people, the puffed up who are not upright in their desires – let alone their actions. They are people destined to die, and there are the righteous who by their faith will live for ever. Our Lord Jesus talked of these two categories of mankind; he described the first as those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others” (Lk. 18:9). He told a parable of two men who went up to the temple to pray. One man didn’t really pray to God at all but ‘with himself.’ He was congratulating himself in the presence of God. He stood up so that everyone could better see and hear him. He was thinking that some of his glow could rub off onto God! He was puffed up; his desires were not upright. The other man in the temple that same day was very hesitant even about being there. His problem was not so much speaking about his faith to other people but speaking of his faith to God! He couldn’t look up towards God, his eyes focused on the dust under his feet. His conscience was smitten at the gulf between his own life and the holiness of God. He told God he was a sinner and he pleaded that God would show him mercy. His only hope was mercy; he had no other argument, and no excuses at all for his actions. His only hope was that the holy and loving God might hear his prayer and show him mercy for being a sinner. He returned home that day vindicated – declared righteous – by God. That was what the Lord Jesus said, and all because this sinner had cast himself upon the divine mercy. He lived by such faith in the mercy of God. The Lord Christ added these great words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:14). So Habakkuk is not talking of those whose faith is in themselves.

iii] Again we must say that Habakkuk was not referring to FAITH-IN-YOUR-OWN- PERSONAL-GOODNESS.  “I shall live for ever because though I’ve done a few bad things I have done many more good things,” says the man who believes this. This type of faith assumes that in the end people’s eternal destiny will be determined by how much good or evil they’ve done. That is what they believe. This is the faith of Islam, that God has some scales, so to speak, and on them he weighs our deeds, good and bad, and everything depends on which way the scales tilt.

Picture in your mind old-fashioned scales. On the one side are placed all the good things people have done, for example, they helped the poor; they put money in an envelope to Christian Aid; they served their community; they protected the environment as best they could, and they gave to charities. On the other side of the scale are placed all the bad things they’ve done: their lies, their impatience with others, they’ve stolen and cheated and committed adultery, and worst of all their failure to worship and honour God. Which way will the scales tilt? Will the good outweigh the bad? Many people believe their good works are many more in number than their sins. They readily admit that they are not perfect, but who is? They believe that they are good enough, and God is going to reward them with eternal life.

Unfortunately the scales of God are far more demanding than that. On the one side is the divine measure, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy might, and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” That is the standard by which your life is going to be judged, not by your standards but God’s. There was a king called Belshazzar, the ruler of the mighty Babylonian Empire. He was holding a banquet for a thousand of his nobles, carousing and celebrating his triumphs, and then we read this, “Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way” (Dan. 5:5&6). Daniel was sent for and asked what the words meant. He said to the king, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Dan. 5:27), and that is true for every life. God has weighed you, not by your standards but by his own perfect standards and he has found you to be wanting. So faith in one’s own personal goodness is a delusion.

iv] Again we must say that Habakkuk was not speaking simply about FAITH IN THE EXISTENCE OF A SUPREME BEING, whom most people refer to as ‘God.’ I am not interested in making people believers in ‘God.’ My problems in dealing with people are compounded if they say that they believe in God. I don’t automatically rejoice when I hear that some people have become religious whereas they didn’t used to be religious at all. 90% of the people in the world believe in the existence of God, but that is no joy to the Christian. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome he said to them that the people living in the mighty Roman Empire all around them actually knew God; “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him . . . and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal men and birds and animals and reptiles” (Roms. 1:21 & 23). We are not anxious to get you to believe in some kind of God.

Consider the most famous verse in the Bible, John chapter three and verse sixteen. It is famous because it summarizes most powerfully the heart of the Christian faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Who is this God we are to believe in? Is he any kind of divine being? No, he is the God who has a Son. He is a triune God; He is Father, and he is Son, and he is Holy Spirit. He is one God, and he has loved the world and he has done something incredible about it. Whereas every other religion would say something like this, that God so loved his son that he gave his son the world, this text tells us that God loved the world, and the world in the Bible is not so much an object of vast size, but a moral concept, a people of vast degradation. The world is defined in the Bible as the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It is a fallen, groaning, sinning world, and yet we are told that God loved it in all its depravity, and loved it in so costly a manner that he gave his Son up to the death of the cross on Golgotha, that atonement might be made by his dying, and eternal life might be obtained through his Son taking away the death of sin by bearing our death. What glories! God loved the world! God gave his Son! Whoever believes in him lives! So the message of John 3:16 is very specific, it is not about vague faith in some God or other. It says that whoever believes in . . . him . . . has eternal life. Him! Who is he? It is the Son God gave, his one and only son. It is through entrusting oneself to Jesus Christ alone that we do not perish but have everlasting life. What is John 3:16 saying? All who do not believe in the one and only Son whom God sent to die on Golgotha shall indeed perish. They will go to hell, says John 3:16, because they refuse to believe upon Jesus Christ, the only Saviour. So Habakkuk was not speaking about living by faith in some supreme being.

v] Again we must say that Habakkuk was not speaking simply about a mixture of FAITH IN GOD PLUS FAITH IN YOUR OWN GOOD WORKS. It is the popular notion that there is indeed a God in heaven. He is a loving God. He is the Father of Jesus Christ, and he has provided a way for us to get to heaven. He does this by forgiving us for all the sins of our past and then providing a ladder for us to climb up to heaven at the present, and every day we must go up another rung on the ladder. Picture in your mind a common stepladder; at the top of the ladder is God. All of us are at the bottom, at least at the start. God helps us get on the first rung of the ladder, but then it is up to each of us to make it the rest of the way. Every time we do something good – we help others, we give to good causes, we go to church, we say a prayer – then we go up a step, but then we do bad and we descend a step or two. It is called Snakes and Ladders’ religion.

This is the faith of millions, who think they have the real thing, the faith that will save them and gain them entrance into heaven. They are believing in God; they are also doing good works, and it is this amalgam that saves them, Jesus Christ plus themselves. What is the percentage? Is it 50% Jesus and 50% good works? Then we are lost men. Is it 90% Jesus and 10% good works? Then we are lost men. Is it 99% Jesus and 1 % good works? Then we are still lost men, because our good works are imperfect. The very best of good works has been touched by the virus of sin. There was an atom or two of pride in it. There was a smidgeon of self-glory in it. There was a tiny bit of imperfection in the very best thing we have done. I have never done a single thing in my life that is free from sin. So if my confidence in getting to heaven is based in some measure on something that I have done, and I am saying to God, “Open heaven and let me in because of this action on my part,” then it can never pass the scrutiny of the Holy One. There was a Christian in Scotland named David Dickson who got it right when he said that he made a bundle of all his sins and ran from them all to Jesus Christ, and that he also made a bundle of all his good works, and he ran from all of them too to hide in Jesus Christ alone. Saving faith is not a composite of Christ-plus-works, it is Christ alone who saves us. The blood and righteousness of the sinful one are our only hope. On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.

So those are five areas of confusion that have to be dismantled in order for us to see the reality of saving faith. How important is it for me to point this out to you? It is all important. An acquaintance of mine was standing in line to pay for his purchase at a check-out counter when there was a delay and a bell rang at the till and then the cashier said, “I’m sorry sir I can’t accept this bill. It is counterfeit! It’s no good.” It had not felt right to her fingers. Then she had tested it under a certain light, and finally ran a special pen along it. The bill did not measure up, and she rang for her supervisor to confirm her judgment and her supervisor agreed. The twenty pound note was a dud.

Everybody in the line was quiet and watched all of this unfold, but nobody was more surprised than the man who was trying to make the purchase. Judging from his facial expression, he was shocked. He wasn’t trying to pull a fast one; he didn’t know that his money was a poor forgery. My acquaintance felt really sorry for the man. He couldn’t believe this was happening to him. He had received the money either from another person or another store without knowing that the money he put in his pocket was a forgery. He left the store with his head down.

This scene in the store reminds us of another scene that we read about in the Bible, and depicted by Jesus himself when he describes what will happen when he returns on judgment day. He claims that he will be the judge of all people that have ever lived – this Jesus who preaches the Sermon on the Mount. This Jesus who prays when men are crucifying him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He says that one day he will judge you, and that judgment is going to divide all mankind into two. Some will be welcomed into heaven, but others will face eternity in hell without God. But my point now is this, that on that day there will be both shocks and surprises. Jesus says that there will be those who on that day will be confident of the reality of their faith and yet they will be deluded. Their faith will be counterfeit not real. Jesus says these words, “Not everyone who says to me,’ Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!’” (Matt. 7:21-23). Now you can dismiss this as the words of an ego-maniac, and yet when you read the rest of Jesus’ life, and his teachings, then you conclude that there was never a saner, more well-rounded and self-integrated man than Jesus. He is warning us of the dangers of self-delusion concerning faith. There will be many, he said, who believe they have faith, but it is faith in faith, or faith in their own goodness, or it is faith in some Supreme Being which is really an extension of what they think of themselves. Be sure you don’t have the counterfeit is the warning. Make sure you are trusting in the Lord.

3. THREE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS MAKING YOU A RIGHTEOUS PERSON LIVING BY YOUR FAITH?

There are three ingredients that create the faith by which the righteous live.

i] You’ve got to know the truth. You must have knowledge. That is why all the popular religious courses that people are urged to study first give knowledge to people. They are courses with teacher’s manuals, and personal study guides and there is a teacher speaking, and videos of top speakers giving their lectures, and the whole emphasis is on knowledge and understanding. That is where they all begin, because real faith doesn’t begin or end in a vacuum. Faith needs to attach itself to someone, and ultimately that someone is Jesus Christ. According to the Scriptures, saving faith attaches itself to the Lord Christ. Who is he? Why did he come? What did he teach? What were his claims? Why did he die? The fact that he rose from the dead; and where is he now and what is he going to do in the future? Those are the big questions everyone should be asking. The best courses are those which provide such answers, but better far to sit under biblical ministry week by week and hear what the Bible says.

The more you know about Jesus, the more you learn to trust Him. The less you know about Jesus, the weaker your faith will be. Think of it this way: Would you entrust all you had to someone you didn’t know? Would you stop a stranger at the railway station in Aberystwyth and give him the key to your house and tell him you were going away for a month and ask would he keep an eye on your house and its contents when you were away; then you waved goodbye to him? Not a chance. Yet when it comes to the greatest issues of all, eternal life, people make disastrous decisions depending on the slightest hunches. You have to have some knowledge of the Bible and historic Christianity and of Jesus Christ. In whom are you trusting? You must know him well.

ii] You’ve got to be convicted. Most people don’t know. Some people do know but they halt at the next barrier; they are not convicted. They are not aroused by what they believe. They are not thinking that they have to do something about this. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost he told the people that this day had been predicted by God through the prophet Joel. He said he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. “This is that! It is Jesus Christ whom you crucified who has done this, and you are facing a meeting with his Father – the God you have ignored and defied. He is holding you to account.” They were given this knowledge, but then it went a step further – they were convinced that it was true and they were lost men, under the judgment of God. They cried out to Peter and the other 120 Christians standing there, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” It was not enough that they all were given knowledge by Peter, they were convinced that they had to respond to the knowledge they’d received. They were convicted by it, just like the Philippian jailer asking, “What must I do to be saved?”

This is the great work of the Holy Spirit. When he comes to favoured sinners he doesn’t stop at encouraging them to read the Bible, and attend a service where the truth is preached. Giving them knowledge is not enough, he convicts them of sin and righteousness and judgment. He really gets under their skin; he moves on from intellectual knowledge to touching their consciences and persuading them that they’ve got to have Jesus Christ and turn from their sins. But that is not enough.

iii] You’ve got to have personal trust. The righteous will live by his own faith. He has to have faith himself. You see the progress, how true saving faith passes from Knowledge through Conviction to Trust. How intimate and precious is personal trust in another. It is built on a relationship between living persons, who know each other, and enjoy a vital relationship with one another. For example, if you have confidence in your car mechanic, you turn over your car to him with confidence for an inspection and when he tells you that the problem is serious and will cost you 600 pounds for the garage to repair what is wrong then the blow is lessened by the fact that you trust him implicitly. You know that he is not ripping you off. He is a person of the utmost integrity and if he says it is going to cost 600 pounds and the work is essential then his words are true. You put the car in his hands and you pay him all he asks for. Likewise, when you have confidence in your doctor, and you know that your doctor has the knowledge and skills required to help you get well, you put your life in his hands with confidence.

So it is with Jesus. You know about him from the Bible; the Holy Spirit has led you to Christian friends and Christian services; you are starting to read about his life and death. You see what he has done for others and you like this divine makeover. More than that, you are convinced that he is the only Saviour, the only Prophet who can teach you, the only Priest whose sacrifice can save you, the only King who can protect you now, in the days to come, and in the great day of judgment. Then, just one more thing is needed, you have to entrust yourself to him. You have to go to him when he says “Come.” You have to trust in him when he says, “Believe.” This a movement of your heart and mind as you look away from any faith in yourself and put all your hopes in the name of Jesus alone. That faith is ‘personal saving faith’ because it is a deep personal conviction that he is now your very own Saviour and Lord.

There has to be that final personal coming to him. Think of it this way. If you are on a cruise ship that is sinking, what do you do? You know you need to get to a lifeboat. You hurry to the side of the ship, and there you see a lifeboat bobbing in the water alongside the ship. You know that this lifeboat is seaworthy and that everyone that gets into it will be saved. But simply knowing this isn’t enough. You may believe the lifeboats are designed and constructed to save you and that there is food and drink and blankets on board – everything for your survival, but having that conviction is not enough to save you. You know that you have to climb over the side and climb down the ladder and get into the boat. But even that knowledge is not enough. You have to do it. You must personally get into the lifeboat. You have to do it . . . you have to do what Jesus says . . . you have to turn from unbelief and entrust yourself to him . . . you have to come just as you are to him . . . you must not tarry until you are better and then feel prepared to come. You must come to Christ just as you are without a single plea. You will be a lost sinner still on the broad road that leads to destruction until you come to him. So come to him. Come to Jesus Christ now.

That is saving faith in Jesus Christ. Knowledge about him is essential but not enough. Even a conviction that you need him and he is the only Saviour is not enough. True saving faith in Christ means throwing yourself body and soul upon him, trusting him to save you for time and eternity. That is the response of a man declared righteous by God, and for the rest of his life he lives by trusting in Christ. He is not interested in talking about his faith, how great it is or isn’t. “I am the chief of sinners,” he says, “but Jesus died for me.”

What about you? The righteous man lives by that faith; always he knows that Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour; always he is convinced of his need of him and Christ’s willingness to save and keep him from all evil: and he entrusts himself into the love of Jesus Christ for ever and ever, and he lives by such a faith. Righteous men and women live by their faith.

4th November 2007  GEOFF THOMAS