Justification by Faith.
You know we come along here to church each Sunday and the format is fairly much the same each time. We sing praise, give thanks, worship God, read God’s Word, hear someone preach, expound the Scriptures. It is quite easy to take this all for granted without realising what a privilege it is and what a fight was fought to gain these simple freedoms we take for granted. You might think that it has always been this way – but if you came to church 500 years ago you would not understand a word that was said because the whole thing was in Latin. You couldn’t come to God yourself; you had to go through a priest. You would not have had a Bible, and if you did, you would not be able to read it because it too would be in Latin. God was held afar off and only those of the clergy had any access to Him – or so the church taught. The Roman Catholic Church, for that was the only church apart from the Eastern Orthodox, which did a similar thing, did a good job in keeping people separate from God, making the distance great and the gulf unbridgeable. They controlled people be a fear of God, holding them guilty – they had a system in place whereby you had to work in order to please God. They did this through a series of concepts: (and may I say that the doctrinal position of the Roman Catholic Church has not changed at all to the present day)
♦ Purgatory – a place of temporal punishment, an intermediate realm. You didn’t go to be with the Lord when you died, you had to serve time. The length and severity depending on your deeds. You could by gifts and having masses said shorten and alleviated the suffering of your departed relatives. What a thing to hold over the grieving.
♦ Penance – church imposed discipline – you could shorten time in purgatory and pay for wrong you had done.
♦ Indulgences – paid money to the church in order to get sins forgiven – this financed expensive crusades, lavish building of cathedral and luxurious tastes of the priesthood. Guilt and sin were dealt with not only by Christ’s atoning work but also in part by indulgences and penance.
♦ Good works – if you wanted to earn merit with God you had to do good works, pilgrimage, harsh treatment and self denial – crawling up the steps of St Peters.
You may ask where all this was found in the Bible? – a good question – but as I said the Bible was inaccessible. The Church was the authority. All you knew about God is what the priest told you. The whole system developed because sin was not dealt with. The Church held this over the people because it held guilt over them. There was a man in Germany who was genuinely seeking God – he became a monk. Luther dedicated himself to monastic life, devoting himself to fasts, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage, and frequent confession. Luther tried to please God through this dedication, but it only increased his awareness of his own sinfulness. He would later remark, "If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them." Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, "I lost hold of Christ the Saviour and Comforter and made of him a stock-master and hangman over my poor soul." One day he accidentally discovered the Bible in an old dusty attic in the monastery. The young and naive monk visited the city of Rome 1510. Imagine his shock when he found out that holy Rome was actually unholy Rome: While climbing Pilate's Staircase on his knees to do penance for his sins he heard a voice like thunder say: "The just shall live by faith". At that time the new Cathedral of St. Peter's was under construction and money was desperately needed. This is what started the Indulgences scandal. Luther said later about his visit to Rome: "I myself have heard people say openly in the streets of Rome, "If there be a hell, Rome is built on it." That the free gift of God should be bought and sold like a commodity in the marketplace aroused his anger. This is what sparked the Reformation. He saw the corruption in the church and was appalled. The Pope desperately needed money to build St. Peter's in Rome. Forgiveness of sins was offered for a price —murder, adultery, lying, theft, swearing etc., etc. You could even buy forgiveness for future sins. . . . Salvation was bought and sold like any common marketplace commodity. That the Gift of God could be treated so contemptuously was the last straw for Luther. The whole system was based on what you did. But as He read the book of Romans, some time in 1517, he came across the liberating principle: the just shall live by faith. From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to understand terms such as penance and righteousness in new ways. He began to teach that salvation is a gift of God's grace in Christ received by faith alone. [sola scriptura, sola fides, sola gracia, sola Christos] The first and chief article is this, Luther wrote, "Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification… therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us… nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven, earth, and everything else falls." In October 31, 1517, Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, this may be seen as the actual beginning of the Reformation, with the affirmation of salvation by grace through faith instead of the synergistic view of the Roman Catholic Church – you had to work together with Christ. As a result, Luther rejected the Catholic doctrines of penance, indulgences, and any other form of human merit as necessary for salvation. Luther came to the conclusion that only God’s grace is the foundation and basis for man’s salvation and justification. He taught that it is God’s grace alone that forgives sins and imputes the righteousness of Christ to the one who believes. Works, Luther taught, have no part in salvation. Good works are the result or fruit of salvation but never a part of salvation. He distinguished between the “works of the law,” which are done in a state of unbelief and provide no part of salvation, and the “works of faith,” which are the proof of justification. Luther read the Bible – not so much Habakkuk but it was the book of Romans that transformed his thinking, and the church. But he wasn’t inventing a new doctrine, rather rediscovering what was there all along but had been suppressed by the church. The church hid the truth from people. This same book of Romans transformed many other men, Augustine, Tyndale – it set them free. They were burdened by a load of guilt that was too heavy for them to bear.
A hidden meaning So let’s see how the N.T. used and interpreted this verse from Habakkuk. Before we go on, I must make clear that the word “just” means “righteous” and to “justify” is to “make righteous” – the words mean the same and are used interchangeably – if you don’t understand that you will get confused. As I said last time the passage in Habakkuk, in context was telling the righteous to remain faithful waiting for God to carry out His judgement upon Babylon, and in the end he would be rewarded with life – “The righteous will live because he is faithful” This verse is quoted three times in the N.T. “The righteous by faith shall live” – now this can mean those that are just, by faith will live – they will live because they are faithful. Or those who are just by faith, will live – they will live because the are righteous and they are righteous because of faith. It all depends where you put the comma. Well which is right? How does the Holy Spirit in the N.T. interpret this verse? The answer is both. In Habakkuk it meant the former but there was a double meaning, a hidden meaning, it meant the second way as well! The meaning in context is the former, so too is in in….
Hebrews [Hebrews 10:31-39 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (speaking of coming judgement) But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one (faithfully looking to future justice). Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. (remember: “the vision is yet for the appointed time and hastens toward the goal and will not delay”) But My righteous one shall live by faithfulness; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faithfulness to the preserving of the soul.] It is a call for endurance in the face of tribulation – exactly akin to the context of Habakkuk’s day and it is a call for faithfulness – hanging in there until the end. But the statement is taken a different way by Paul in ….
Galatians The second reference is in [Galatians 3:1-14 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, (and that is what Habakkuk did) preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified (made righteous) by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.] Paul sets faith against works, flesh against Spirit, law against grace, and curse against blessing. Here the contrast is between the way of the Spirit and the way of flesh, the way of law and works and the way of faith. Faith is set against works – here it is not faithfulness that is meant but reliance upon Jesus and His righteousness and atoning work on the cross, His death and resurrection. So in Habakkuk Paul found a prophecy that referred to the way of faith that was going to be revealed. This is the same way the verse is used in Romans. It is not the meaning in the context of Habakkuk but it is the Spirit inspired meaning hidden in that message that was revealed to Paul. And this is the message that triggered the reformation. This is the same way Paul interprets the verse in Romans.
Romans [Romans 1:15-17 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 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.”] Paul goes on to give an extended exposition of this principle, the principle of the Gospel in the following chapters. I did a series on Romans where I went to some length to expound this principle, but it would be good to do a quick review of this fundamental principle. This is the principle of the Gospel – the good news is that man isn’t destined to be under his burden of guilt forever – righteousness is available – but it is not the righteousness of man but the righteousness of God! Perfect righteousness – it isn’t earned, it is credited to your account – but it credit on the basis of faith. No man is righteous, so instead of righteousness God accepts faith and gives His righteousness to the one who believes. So in (1:17) Paul says that “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.” – he then goes on to expound this Gospel of faith. He takes Habakkuk to mean not that the “righteous man will live because he is faithful” but “the man who is righteous because of faith will live” The way to live is to be righteous, the big problem is how to be righteous. Paul expounds this righteousness by faith that leads to life by first showing, in the first two and half chapters, that everyone without exception is guilty – no one is righteous. The conclusion come to in Rom 3: [Rom 3:10-12 “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”] The law, which religious people tend to rely on, was of no use, what was needed was God’s righteousness because the best of human righteousness is filthy rags [Romans 3:19-28 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified (made righteous) as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.] – there it is a man is justified by faith – this was the cry of the reformation: “Sola fide” “Sola Scriptura” “Sola gracia” “Sola Christos” And because of this righteousness of God given by grace there comes life – because only the righteous will live. Righteousness comes by faith alone – (I found some of my old OHPs). “It doesn’t depend on what I do, but it is depending upon what Christ has already done” This faith, is a gift, by grace – not by anything we do, we don’t earn it – it is credited to us – I explained the word logisomai (a word that occurs 11 times in Romans 4) [Romans 4:2-8 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favour, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”] Righteousness is not earned but the actual righteousness of God Himself is credited to our account simply because we base our life wholly and faithfully upon Jesus – His righteousness and His death instead of us and His resurrection vindicating His perfect sinless righteousness.
So where are we: we’ve looked at Habakkuk and how the Holy Spirit interpreted this prophecy in N.T. times and how it was a truth restored to the church in the reformation. But what about us here, today? What does this verse have to say to us? It liberated Luther and it can still do the same thing – it spells the end to human effort, striving, trying and religious bondage. It doesn’t depend upon you! This is not something the proud like to hear – they want some credit for accomplishing something. Boasting is excluded! But to the humble who simply receives what God gives this is wonderful news! You don’t have to do anything – it has all been done for you by Jesus! Hallelujah! Despite the Reformation there are many people who think that they have to do something to please God, to win His favour. The thing that we want, need and long for above all else is life – don’t believe me? Just wait until your life is threatened. Man will give anything for life [Peter meeting Noel Leeming]. This verse has the secret of LIFE! That’s what you need above all else – it is available to the righteous – and that previously unobtainable perfect righteousness is available by faith: THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH!