Sermon Text: Faith and Repentance the Response

Faith and Repentance the Response, preached at KBCF Lighthouse Church on July 31, 2011. Scripture is from Habakkuk 3.

I feel like I need to explain myself to you before we even begin the message for today… Because I think, you will sense a feeling of finality in this message. A sense that we’re finished. That the series is over, or whatever…

And on one hand, that is true.. Today is my last day preaching to you. That is until, or if, Pastor Alvin asks me back again sometime in the future. But I do need to get back to my own church, Morningstar, as they haven’t seen me there in almost 2 months now.

In addition to that, we are closing off the book of Habakkuk today… I already confessed to you last week that I didn’t think I could make it through the entire book, small as it is. But by God’s grace I did! And I’m actually really happy about that.

And then today, we are also finishing off the fourth and final point of what you might call the “Gospel Proper” or the “Gospel Core”. These four points make up the Gospel message, and if you forget everything else that I’ve talked about these past four weeks… five, if you include my introductory message at the end of June… I hope you’ll remember these four points.

1. God is the Righteous Creator. He created all things, and all things belong to him. He is also righteous, holy and perfectly just, and cannot ever tolerate wrong.

2. Man, God’s creation, rebelled against his creator and sinned. And so, God being perfectly righteous, holy and just, cannot tolerate man, who then must suffer the consequence – first of physical death, but more importantly, of spiritual death – eternal separation from God.

3. But… Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, came to earth, lived a perfect life, but nonetheless took on our sin, and was punished with physical death on the cross, but again more importantly, with the spiritual death of losing communion with the Father. But, Jesus conquered death, rising again on the third day, and now sits at the right hand of the father, offering his righteousness to those who believe in him.

Finally, number 4. Faith, an inward state, attested to by Repentance – outward actions, are the ways by which we qualify for the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. This, of course, we’ll be looking at in more detail today.

Anyway, these are the four points that must absolutely be present to have a correct, saving, understanding and knowledge of the Gospel. But it doesn’t end there.

Yes, it’ll feel like we’re ending, because I’m done my part… Habakkuk, and the Gospel Core, but there are other important truths about the Gospel that need to be explored. And this, Pastor Alvin and Pastor Mike will be doing in one way or another, I hope, in the coming weeks.

Still left to be covered are 3 further points about the Gospel: “God’s Kingdom”, which we kind of talked about last week. God’s redemptive rule is the “already” but “not yet” kind of living that we are subject to, right now… and that we can look forward to in the future.

Next, “Keeping the Cross at the Center”, which covers the need to maintain the exclusivity of the Cross as the only way by which to enter into salvation, despite the pressure to bend to more inclusive counterfeit gospels.

Finally, the “Power of the Gospel”, which concerns learning how to appreciate the grandeur of God’s saving work. It’s so incredible that it’s almost unbelievable.. It’s glorious, it’s scandalous, it’s wonderful in every way. “Who am I” the lyrics to a song goes… “that the Lord of all the earth, would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt”. It’s the gospel. And it’s amazing!

Again, I am finishing my part of this series today, and I may not be around to see you go through the rest, but it is my prayer that you are as blessed by this wonderful little book, “What is the Gospel?”, as I was.

But enough of that preview… Let’s look at the passage we have for today.

One last time… Habakkuk made 2 complaints to God about evil going on around him. The first was about the people of Judah, and the second about Babylon, whom God said he was going to use to punish Judah’s apostasy. God answers both complaints essentially make it absolutely clear that he will not tolerate evil, and judgement is forthcoming. Starting in Chapter 3 then is a prayer that Habakkuk offers up at the end of all this.

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Verses 1 and 2: “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth. O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

First of all, I want to explain this term “Shigionoth” … Although my explanation is actually that no one really has an explanation for it. It only occurs 2 times in the entire Old Testament. So no one knows what it means, but the best guess is that it is the name for a type of Psalm.

Habakkuk has by now accepted that God’s judgement is going to fall on Judah by means of the Babylonians, but then, he also believes that Babylon itself will be punished for its judgement.

Here, now then is Habakkuk beginning to call upon God’s previous acts of salvation. He asks God to revive his mighty works: to remember mercy in his wrath.

Verse 3: “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. Selah”

Again, another term that no one really knows the meaning to, anymore is “Selah”. It occurs a lot in the Psalms, and three times here in Habakkuk. The best guess is that it is a poetic or musical term. Kind of like “Crescendo” or “Fermata”… Some have come to regard “Selah” as referring to a “Pause”.

“Teman” simply means south, and so Habakkuk is referring to the southern part of Palestine. This is reinforced by his reference to Mount Paran, which is mentioned twice in Numbers, and once more in Deuteronomy, both in reference to a Israel’s time in the wilderness. What we have, then is Habakkuk evoking God’s character as redeemer of his people through the Exodus, and goes on to describe what he knows of God from that time.

4: His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power.

5: Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.

Habakkuk’s description of God here really evokes his might and sovereignty. First he likens God’s presence to thunder and lightning, again evoking that time immediately after the Exodus, specifically Israel’s time at Mount Sinai.

If it wasn’t clear that Habakkuk was appealing to the God’s saving work in the Exodus from Egypt, Habakkuk really makes it clear referring to pestilence and flood.

Then, Habakkuk turns his attention to the sovereignty of God over his creation: in Verse 6, he says “He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways.”

Verse 7: “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.”

Habakkuk is referring to two Arabic tribes near Edom who were stricken with fear over the reports about Yahweh. This continues Habakkuk’s references to the Exodus, as these tribes were referred to in Exodus 15.

8: “Was your wrath against the rivers, O LORD? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation?”

9: You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. Selah. You split the earth with rivers.

10: The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high.

Once again, referring to God’s sovereignty over creation. Specific references are made as to how God has used bodies of water as part of his salvation and judgement. This should evoke reminders of who God turned the Nile into blood and then drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea while the Children of Israel walked on dry land.

11 The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear.

This verse refers to Joshua’s victory at Gibeah (Joshua 10:12-13) when he made the the Sun and the Moon stand still for Israel’s battle to continue. It starts a section ending at verse 16 generally referring to God fighting for his people, although some specific references can be seen through out.

12 You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger.

13 You went out 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. Selah

This verse is interesting because it is interpreted as prophesying about Jesus. It is also a specific reference to God striking down the first born of the Egyptian households as the final plague in the Exodus.

14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.

15 You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters.

16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.

Habakkuk ends this section with quiet faith that God’s deliverance is at hand, even though he may not even see it in his lifetime, or as we have previously seen in Chapter 2, even though it seems to delay. Habakkuk is no longer complaining, he is simply putting his faith in God. Faith in His perfect timing, and for His will to be done.

With that then, Habakkuk closes his book rejoicing in the Lord.

Verse 17: “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,”

So despite everything that is going wrong in Judah, in verse 18, Habakkuk can make this assertion:

18 “yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

Verse 19: “GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”

Habakkuk, in just 3 short chapters, undergoes a radical and remarkable change in his outlook. He starts of by complaining about his people… Then about God’s judgement on his people. And now ends off his book simply putting his faith in God.

More importantly, he isn’t keeping this faith all to himself. He ends of with instructions to a choirmaster, and for music to be played along, most likely referring to the need for this prayer to be publicly sung together by the people of Judah (or be sung publicly to the people by one or more performers) as they go through God’s judgement, and then wait in anticipation for God’s salvation together.

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Now… Given that our topic today is Faith and Repentance as a response to Jesus Christ, the question we need to ask is from this passage then is, what does it mean to believe?

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1. Faith is a reliance on God’s promises.

We see this in how Habakkuk is calling upon God’s former acts of deliverance. He says in verse 2: “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Faith is a reliance on God’s promises, and this Biblical view point of what faith is stands in stark contrast with what our world believes faith to be today! There are two main ways I see the world dealing with faith… The first is just outright rejection.

I love how Gilbert puts it in “What is the Gospel?”: It’s a charade, a fun and comforting game that people are free to engage in if they wish, but with no real connection to the natural world. Children believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Crazy people believe in fairies. And Christians, well, they believe in Jesus”.

Do you see? To these people, faith is what you have in things that are not real. After all when something is real, you don’t have to believe in it, right? You just know it… Faith then is usually reserved for the immature – like children and Santa Claus, or the delusional, like Christians and their Jesus.

The second way that the world views faith, is to accept it… but then to place it on something that has natural value. Something they can see, feel and touch. This is what you might see as the optimistic side of the worldly view on faith… which when you really think about it, is really pretty sad.

I mean, obviously, the previous view, the skeptical-pessimistic-there’s-nothing-to-believe in is a whole kind of sad in and of itself. But this optimistic view that misplaces and misdirects faith is even worse.

Let me give you one example of this…

Most Olympic games have some sort of theme song… A song that, I think are written specifically for that particular olympic, it’s sung during the opening and closing ceremonies, and used throughout the games in one way or another… Anyway, this past one that we had for the 2010 Vancouver games was a song called “I Believe”, and it was sung by Nikki Yanofsky, and up and coming jazz artist from Montreal.

Part of the lyrics to the song go like this…

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I believe in the power that comes
From a world brought together as one
I believe together we’ll fly
I believe in the power of you and I

I believe the time is right now
Stand tall and make the world proud
I believe together we’ll fly
I believe in the power of you and I
I believe in the power of you and I

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Do you see what faith is placed on here? The great things achieved by people united… “I believe together we’ll fly, I believe in the power of you and I”. Very catchy, huh? And quite inspiring… The Olympics has a tendency to do that, too… For example, I think during the opening and closing ceremonies, the two Korean teams, North and South, marched together right? Maybe they’ve been doing that for a few Olympic games now… but is it real? Korea united? Last I heard there’s still a 38th Parallel… the Demilitarized Zone.

They’re not united. And neither are the rest of the world. How can they, even people within a country can’t agree.. Just look at this brand new debt crisis going on in the United States. The Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on yet another issue… big surprise… and now the US Government is apparently on the verge of defaulting on their loans. What’s really amazing, I think I read somewhere that the US Government’s cash reserve is something like 73 billion dollars, while Apple Computers, maker of my iPad, has like 76 Billion Dollars…

But yes, the world isn’t united. You can’t put faith in that… Man, even the Olympics are a horrible example of this. Those athletes are there to compete with each other for crying out loud! This idea of world unity… is just that. An idea. A nice little concept that people dream about every 2 years when there’s an Olympic games going on. But is in reality, just as much of a let down as Santa Claus is.

Thank God our faith isn’t like that though. Thank God our faith isn’t about empty promises and wild ideals. It’s a reliant faith that we have on the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

I’m going to pull Gilbert’s example straight out of the chapter. Turn to Romans 4:18-21, where Paul explains how Abraham continued to believe in God’s promise despite every reason not to.

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18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,

21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

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You see Abraham’s faith here. Despite every reason not to expect the child of promise, because he was old and his wife was barren, Abraham still believed God.

Now, to be sure, Abraham’s faith wasn’t perfect by any means… Hagar and Ishmael are evidence of that.

But notice the language that Paul uses here to describe Abraham’s faith. He was “fully convinced that God would do what he promised.

No, our faith is not a distant hope… It “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So says Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is a reliance on God’s promise. But then, what is this promise exactly? My second point is this…

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2. Faith is a reliance on God’s salvation.

In our scripture today, Habakkuk was calling upon God’s past actions of delivering his people… With a special emphasis, as we have already seen, on the Exodus. Which, is pretty much seen by the Jews as the ultimate picture of God’s saving work. Habakkuk is evidence of this… hundreds of years after the fact, and he’s still looking to the Exodus for inspiration…

And I think the reason that is, and the reason why this lesson from Habakkuk is important to us, is that in Exodus, God does everything.

There are many ways that God could have chosen to deliver his people from Egypt… In fact, probably the easiest thing would have been to raise them up as an army to battle Egypt… I mean, it was possible… Enough so that even Pharaoh saw it.. That’s why he had the male newborns killed around the time Moses was born right? Because he was afraid there was so many Israelites, and that they would rebel against him.

But instead of that. God choses plagues. Signs and wonders so unnatural and wholly impossible to deliver the people. This way, they couldn’t confuse the events. It wasn’t Moses and Aaron’s military leadership that brought the Israelites out of Egypt. It was God’s own doing. God’s actions that brought them out.

Now, ok. I know that this point is pretty much a given. Of course it’s God’s actions that brought about salvation. But, I really want to emphasize this point because it was something that was clarified for me when I was reading “What is the Gospel?” I mean, I knew it obviously. But when I read what Gilbert had to say, it was kind of like a lightbulb going off in my head, and I was like, “Huh… Cool”.

It is God’s work that does the saving. But what is it about God’s work that does it? What is it about God’s work that we believe in exactly? Gilbert puts it this way….

“But what exactly are we relying on Jesus for? To put it simply, we are relying on him to secure for us a righteous verdict from God the Judge, rather than a guilty one”.

It’s what theologians call “Penal Substitution”. And it’s actually a pretty simple point, when you think about it. But amazingly, it really is something that we tend to gloss over when thinking about the Gospel, or presenting the Gospel, or whatever…

I remember very distinctly this one tract that I saw when I was like 7 or 8 years old. I don’t know why I remember it, I guess it was just so odd that it’s stuck in my memory all these years.

Anyway, this tract, was of course trying to explain the Gospel, and in particular, it was trying to explain this idea of “Penal Substitution”, and so the tract is this comic about an accused criminal being prepared for his execution.

So I think the tract showed the criminal getting his last meal, then talking to the priest, then… waiting. Just waiting. and waiting. Until his time of execution comes and goes, and he wasn’t taken anywhere. Finally though, he’s summoned, but instead of being taken to the electric chair – yeah, the tract is that old – he’s taken to the judge who had sentenced him to execution. The judge then explains that earlier that day, the criminal’s mother came to him and basically offered herself up to die for the crimes of the son. The judge agrees, she is executed in his place, and so now, the criminal is free to go.

It’s kind of a cheesy little tract, but apparently, it worked because it’s stuck with me all these years. But yes, in a crude, almost ineloquent way, that is what penal substitution is about. Jesus Christ took on the punishment that I deserve.

And so now, faith, then, is the reliance that God will accept that punishment for me. This verse has already been quoted few times these past four weeks… But only because of how Paul, in it, so eloquently wrote it… Colossians 2:13 and 14.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

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Ok, now, before I get in to the next point, I need to preface it first to make sure that everyone here knows, that I believe it is by faith alone that we are saved. Galatians 2:15 says, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Also, Ephesians 2:8 & 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

These are absolutely clear. These are absolutely true. But it isn’t the whole story, because, as we have seen already, the world has a tendency to place their faith on something other than Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, there are people who put their faith in their faith. That is, put their faith in that they at one point in their lives made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and as a result of that, despite how they had lived their lives, they are saved.

There’s this story that an American Pastor named Paul Washer likes to tell. Paul Washer became a bit of an internet sensation when he called to account other American Pastors who are essentially distorting the Gospel by professing this wrong kind of faith… this faith in a profession of faith.

He tells the story of a gangster kid who had been killed in a shoot out with the police. Obviously the kid was a criminal, he was in a gang, he did horrible things: sold drugs, killed other people, and such. But despite all this, the kid had a church funeral at a good baptist church, where the minister proceeded to make the following statement…

“I know that this boy has had some rough times. He had been on the wrong side of the law, but he was trying to clean himself up… More importantly though, I have known this boy since he was a baby. And I remember distinctly at the age of 6, telling him about Jesus and about the salvation that Jesus had to offer through his death on the cross. And I remember leading him in the sinner’s prayer, and so I know in my heart that he is now in heaven with Jesus!”

Is the pastor right? Is this gangster boy in heaven with Jesus? The correct answer is, “I don’t know” of course. I don’t know his heart. But, if I had to hazard a guess based on how he had lived his life, I would say “probably not”.

Why? Well it’s right there in the Minister’s preaching… First of all, there are these two contradicting statements. Did you catch it?

First he said, that the boy “was trying to clean up his life”. Then also, that the boy had trusted in Jesus as his Saviour. Which one is it? If this kid was trying to clean up his life, he was trying to save himself, which inevitably, you have to come to the conclusion that he did not trust in Jesus to save him.

Furthermore, he did bad things. He lived a bad life. Does that negate Jesus’s salvation? Obviously not! But, after apparently having prayed the sinner’s prayer and putting his trust in Jesus, he goes on to live a life as if he had never trusted at all. So what conclusion can we draw from this contradiction? Well the simplest answer is that he probably wasn’t saved. He didn’t live like it, what’s to make us believe otherwise? A “Profession of Faith” he made at the tender age of 6?

Now don’t get me wrong. I was saved at the age of 7. And I absolutely believe that children can be saved. Of course! But, if the only evidence you have is a “Profession of Faith”, then something is wrong. That’s why Greg Gilbert doesn’t end this chapter on simply “Faith as a Response”. It’s “Faith and Repentance” as the response.

And so my third point is this: Faith has actions attached to it.

Gilbert calls it two sides of the same coin, and I think that’s a really good way of understanding it. He writes, “If faith is turning to Jesus and relying on him for salvation, [then] repentance is the flip side of that coin. It is turning away from sin, hating it, and resolving by God’s strength to forsake it, even as we turn to him in faith.”

Similar to this is how teachers at Capernwray Harbour Bible School explain it: “Repentance is a 180 degree turn”. Do you see? If this (right) was your sin, and before you were facing it, and this is your faith (left), turning to Jesus. Then inevitably, you had to turn 180 degrees away from your sin to look to Jesus. You had to repent.

Yes, Faith and Repentance and intrinsically linked together. They cannot be separated.

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James 2 contains some very scandalous verses that follow along this same train of thought. Let’s turn there now, starting at verse 14.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,

16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

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Now here, James is obviously talking in the positive… It’s not necessarily about repentance, which you might say is “remedial”. It’s about “good works”. But the logic between the two is similar.

If you have faith, you will inevitably be repenting and you will inevitably be doing good works. They are the outward evidence of your inward state.

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Understand, of course that this doesn’t mean perfection is expected of us. Of course, believers continue to sin. We will continue in that struggle until Jesus comes again.

But, as Gilbert writes… “even if repentance doesn’t mean an immediate end to our sinning, it does mean that we will no longer live at peace with our sin. We will declare mortal war against it and dedicate ourselves to resisting it by God’s power on every front in our lives.”

So, the question is, what are we doing to wage mortal war against our sin? This is a hard question to answer because each one of us have a different set of circumstances, and a different set of problems that we need to deal with. Each of us have our different struggles, and the way we deal with these struggles again, will be different.

But, what I do know is that an excellent place to start is to stir up your affection for Jesus.

I think this is what Habakkuk was doing at the of his book. Starting in verse 17…

17 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,

18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

Habakkuk rejoices in the Lord and takes Joy in Him. This is a man learning to love God more and more. And more than that, as I already said, he isn’t keeping it to himself. He’s bringing everyone else along.

Let’s do the same. Let’s help each other in this ongoing process of Faith and Repentance, and help each other stir up affection for Jesus our Saviour.

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