the heart of Habakkuk

I promised a friend that I would post the rest of this series when I started preaching regularly again.  Well, it looks like that may be a while from now.  So, I have decided to finish the series as blog posts.  I hope that you get as much out of reading these sermons as I am getting from writing them – JV.

Heart-Centered Human

Habakkuk 1:1-12.

You might think that it would have been great to be a prophet – to have the very words of God come out of your mouth.  But it was not easy for these guys.  Their gift was a burden as well as a blessing.  They could not just say what their listeners wanted to hear.  More often than not, they were saying the very things their culture did not want to hear.  They did not have the luxury of editing out the offensive parts.

Also, they didn’t always understand what God was saying through them.  And when they did understand it, they often wished that they didn’t.


Consider, for example, Habakkuk.  He is probably known best for a statement he made that the New Testament quotes: “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). 

Paul quotes that when he talks about how the gospel is for everyone.  All it takes is faith in Christ whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, because faith in Christ is what God wants (cf. Rom. 1:17). 

He explains to the Galatians that access to God is not through the Law, because the Law is about doing good things.  Salvation comes through putting your faith in a good God (cf. Gal. 3:11).

The author of Hebrews uses Habakkuk’s slogan when he talks about how we must endure through this time while we wait for our Savior to come, and live by our faith in him (cf. Heb. 10:38). 

I think that in each of these cases, the New Testament authors accurately understood what Habakkuk wanted to say, and quoted him in context.


Let’s look at Habakkuk’s context more closely.  He probably wrote between 640-615 BC.  That means that when he was writing Israel had already been taken over by the super-power of Assyria.  Judah alone was left to represent the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

The people of Habakkuk’s day were probably very interested in knowing why God had allowed that to happen.  Habakkuk and the other prophets had told them that God was all-powerful.  Now, he sits in shame because it appears that the gods of Assyria were more powerful than him.  The people are ashamed of what has happened, and they want answers.


They are not alone.  Habakkuk himself begins his prophecy from God with an earnest prayer to God.  He says…

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

God’s people had witnessed the collapse of Israel.  Moreover, the evil empire of the Assyrians seems unstoppable.  No law and no power seemed able to stop them.  Habakkuk is living in a time when “justice goes forth perverted.” 

Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever read about some crime being committed and ask “Where is the God of justice?”  That was where Habakkuk was.  That was where his heart was.

Personally, I am glad that he was allowed to ask that question.  If God never wanted us to ask questions like that, he would never have had one of his prophets ask a question like that. Since God, by his Holy Spirit inspired Habakkuk to ask a question like that, I feel much better confessing to you that my prayer life is often riddled with similar questions.

It might be that for our spiritual lives – Habakkuk’s questions are more important than God’s answers.  They reveal that life is going to be filled with things that happen that we do not expect.  Living by faith does not mean ignoring the unfortunate realities around us.  Living by faith means being able to cope with those unfortunate realities because we have someone to go to who has answers.

That does not mean – however – that the answers are going to be easy to take.  Notice God’s specific answer to Habakkuk’s prayer:

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!  (Habakkuk 1:5-11).

The short answer is that God intended to defeat the Assyrians by bringing in the Babylonians, who will swiftly destroy the Assyrian empire and take control of its lands.  These were not godly men.  They were a people “whose own might is their god.”  But God was going to use them to do his bidding and bring justice.

It was going to take about three decades before this took place.  We know from the Bible, and from history, that it did.  Habakkuk probably never saw it.  It was going to have to be enough for Habakkuk to know that God – in his time – would bring about justice against the Assyrians.  Meanwhile, God’s message to him and to the people he ministered to was something like this: “Keep believing in me, even if you are not living in a time when I choose to manifest my power.” 


Are you willing to trust in God even if you don’t get the answer you were hoping for, or if it does not come in your lifetime?  Are you willing to let God be in charge of how he answers your prayers?  That is hard.  It is not easy to surrender control of your destiny, but God often requires that we do it – to manifest our faith in him.  His message to Habakkuk was:

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

And Habakkuk’s words of faith in response were:

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. 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” (Habakkuk 3:16-18).

No matter what happens.  No matter how contrary life seems to be compared with God’s vision of the future – faith trusts that God will fulfill his promise.  That is faith in Christ.  That is the heart of Habakkuk.

LORD, we choose to trust in you. We choose to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is going to return and bring about true and complete justice upon this earth.  Until that happens, we choose to endure this age of uncertainty with faith in you. We choose to quietly wait for our Savior, and rejoice in the LORD.


living as people of the promise

2 Peter 3 (ESV)


The apostle Peter was marked for death. He had been pursued and persecuted by his own Jewish brothers, and now the Roman government had put him on their hit list. He knew that his time was short. This letter (2 Peter) was probably his last chance to communicate with a group of believers and churches that he felt responsible for. He was not going to waste his words. Peter’s words were to be his legacy. He wanted his readers to recall them long after he was dead (1:14-15). He wanted them to live as people of the promise.


The whole chapter is about the second coming. He mentions the second coming of Christ six times:

•Skeptics are going to try to get people to believe that the promise will always be unfulfilled (4,9).

•He shows that it will be bad news for some because it will bring judgment and destruction on the ungodly (7).

•It will be the Day of the LORD that divides this age from the next (10).

•It will dissolve the temporary things to make room for the permanent (11).

•It is the day of God (not creation, incarnation, or even the resurrection of Christ) 12.



Now, look at how Peter frames his argument. He uses the same word each time he begins a new section. That word is beloved. Look at verses 1,8,14,17. I asked myself why he is breaking up his letter like that. I think the answer lies back in 2:1, where he warns of false teachers bringing in “destructive heresies.” Peter responds to four different destructive heresies that were going to be introduced to the church. We have to use our imaginations to discover which heresies he responds to, because we only have his responses. But it is clear that each heresy is about the second coming.


2 Peter 3:1-7  This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,  2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,  3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,  6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Peter is responding to those who say that nothing ever changes in this world. They would probably argue that Jesus does not need to come because we can eventually figure out the world’s problems and take care of them. There is some truth in every heresy. Truth: the world is predictable. Truth: Christ has not yet come. Peter responded by pointing out that creation happened when God said GO. The flood happened when God said GO. Jesus is going to come again as soon as God says GO! We are people of the promise. We should focus on what will be, not what has been.


2 Peter 3:8-13   But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Peter is responding to those who say that God is too good and kind and patient to ever make good on his threat to annihilate the universe. Once again, there is truth here. Psalm 136 celebrates the steadfast love of God which endures forever. But Peter says the purpose of God’s patience is to populate a new universe after he has destroyed the old one. We can actually hasten the coming by getting involved in that redemptive work. God’s justice will eventually prevail, so his mercy is not infinite.


2 Peter 3:14-16  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.  15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Peter is responding to those who say that when you look at all the isms and conflicting teachings about the second coming, the whole thing is too confusing and impossible to explain. Peter says, true, it is confusing, and people distort the truth just like they do Paul’s writings. We need good solid systematic teaching on these issues. But the most important thing is not being able to explain the second coming, but being ready for it when it comes.


2 Peter 3:17-18  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.  18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Peter is responding to those who say that all those doctrines the church teaches are irrelevant: they don’t matter, and the second coming is one of those doctrines. True, good theology cannot save you, but bad theology can destroy you. It can make you lose your stability. Destructive heresies can destroy your walk and keep you from the coming kingdom. There are two eternal destinies: permanent life or permanent death. Peter warns against turning from this truth back to defilements of the world. To know the gospel and turn against it is worse that not knowing it at all.


This may be the last gospel message you ever hear. I challenge you to live in the reality of the promise of Christ’s second coming. Peter said it this way: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (11-12). Living in the light of the second coming is learning to live as we shall – not as we have, not as we are. God accepts us by grace, and sees us just as we will be. John says that when he appears we will be like him. Peter says be diligent to be found by him spotless.

LORD, we ask you to transform us now, and commit ourselves to living that transformation so that we hasten Christ’s coming. Make us people of the promise!




I’ve been going through a bit of a rough road for a while now.  I trust the LORD to lead me out of it.  He always does. It’s just taking longer than usual.

I found comfort today in the words of this sermon that I preached in 2009. If you are going through tough times, I hope this helps you as much.

Psalm 42:1-11 (ESV)


As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. 8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10 As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” 11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

If you want to know what a person is thinking, listen to his conversations. If you want to know what he is feeling, listen to his songs. That’s why the psalms are so important to Christians. We get to go deeper into the inner feelings of people as they wrestled with life and God and the devil. As we do that, we realize something really important: they felt like us. They got mad at the same things that we do. They felt glad at the same kinds of things that make us glad. The same sorts of things embarrassed them, and the same conditions that tend to depress us, made them depressed as well.

This psalm bares a soul who is in the depths of an ugly depression. For that reason alone it deserves a place in the scriptures because God’s people need to know that it’s OK to feel that way some time. If you wake up feeling depressed, it doesn’t mean that you have somehow failed God. We are commanded to rejoice in the LORD:

Psalm 64:10 “Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD”
Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

So, what do we do when we don’t feel like obeying those commands? This psalm is written for just such times as that. It’s like a blues song. It’s a song you can sing when you don’t feel like singing. It’s a song about hard times, disappointment, distress. It digs deep into the pits -the bad times, but it doesn’t leave us there. In fact, within this psalm are some of the tools that we can use to pull ourselves out of depression. Do you want to know what those tools are? Well, listen up.

1)Tool #1: Realize that depression is a natural consequence to living in a fallen world.

This psalm was written by a believer who suffered from depression (5-6,11).

We do not know whether one of the descendants of Korah was the author, or whether they were just a group of collectors. But whoever the original author of this psalm was, two things are sure about it: it bears the mark of the Holy Spirit, and it reflects the feelings of a person who is battling with depression.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul?”
“Why are you in turmoil within me?”
“My soul is cast down within me”

Many of the psalms were written by those who had deep bouts of depression.

There is, in fact, a whole category of psalms that reflect the believer’s inner conflict when times are bad. They are called psalms of Lament. Jeremiah’s book Lamentations was a Lament.

Many of the heroes of the faith suffered from depression.

John Calvin was of the opinion that Psalm 42 was actually written by David, and that is possible, considering all the psalms that are ascribed to David which struggled with this same harsh reality. We know, for example that David wrote:

Psalm 22:1-2 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

Jesus himself quoted that psalm when he was in agony on the cross. Why would he do that? It is a psalm that reflected such disappointment, such despair, that the Holy Spirit used it to predict Christ’s ordeal on the cross!

Psalm 22:6-8 “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; `He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'”

Psalm 22:14-18 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

Feelings of depression can be the Holy Spirit yearning for what’s next (2,5-6,11).

In psalm 42, the psalmist forced himself to look beyond the present problems and envision a triumphant future.

Psalm 42:2 “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”

Psalm 42:5-6,11 “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

This is the Holy Spirit’s way of reminding us that the last line of the song has not yet been written. The troubles we face are real. They reflect the fact that we live in a fallen world where the good guys don’t always win, and evil sometimes triumphs, but that is only temporary. When the last line of the song is written, God is the winner, and things are set right. Remember psalm 22? Here’s how it ends:

Psalm 22:27-31 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

That explains why Jesus could be quoting such a sad song as he hung on the cross. He was reminding himself of the bad predicament he was in – true. But the Holy Spirit was reminding him of the eternal result of his suffering. All the ends of the earth will remember his day on the cross. Posterity shall serve him!

2)Tool #2: Recognize that the circumstances of your life are not accidental.

The psalmist finds himself not where he wants to be (6).

Psalm 42:6 “I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.”

I think that the psalmist of Psalm 42 was not David, but was one of the descendants of Korah. He was a Levite, and his life revolved around the annual worship celebrations at the temple of God in Jerusalem. But here’s the problem: he cannot go to Jerusalem. He is held captive in a Gentile land far north of Jerusalem.

He is haunted by the inability to return to the glory days of the past (4).

Psalm 42:4 “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”

When I pastored in a small church many years ago, I had a couple in my church who had been members in a large, energetic church. They were a great couple, and I thank the Lord for their contribution to our church, but they complained a lot. When I visited them, they would constantly compare their present church experience to that church in their glorious past. Their present circumstances were unbearable for them, not because I was a bad pastor, and not because we had bad programs or people, but because they were living in the past. Depression does that to you.

The Korahite is lost in his memories of a better day – a day when he could function in his God-given role as a leader in a worship procession like no other. Vast crowds would laugh and sing, chant scriptures and hug each other as they marched into the Holy City itself… and he would be among the Levites leading them.

Perhaps you have had a great experience in your past. Hang on to those memories and rejoice in them, but don’t get stuck there. God has a future for you too. Don’t allow your past to keep you from experiencing the new blessings God has in store for you today and tomorrow. Rejoice over yesterday, and then let it go. The same Holy Spirit who gave you a good yesterday has a great tomorrow for you. Expect it.

He is hounded by constant reminders that his witness is inadequate. They ask “where is your God?” (3,10).

To add insult to injury, the Korahite appears to have lived in a pagan land with relative prosperity. He was a poor believing stranger living among rich unbelievers. His neighbors noticed that his tent was a little shabby compared to theirs. He had fewer animals, or maybe none at all. His crops didn’t gleam in the sun as brightly as theirs did. They would pass by him and deliver one of the most crushing rhetorical questions ever.
Psalm 42:3 “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, `Where is your God?'”

Psalm 42:10 “As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, `Where is your God?'”

Those pagan Gentiles had only one way of looking at things: the religious way. If a man is poor, or unhealthy, or lives in unsanitary conditions, it’s a reflection on the god he serves. He’s poor because his god is weak.

Now, how is a person supposed to witness in a situation like that? You see, being a witness is not just a New Testament thing. It didn’t begin with the Great Commission. God wanted the nation of Israel to be witnesses to his greatness, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60). But things are so bad for this Korahite that he is witnessing in reverse – he seems to be driving people away from God.

He asks “why?” (5,9,11).

He asks himself why he feels so bad. He knows he should not feel that way. He hasn’t forgotten his theology. He knows who God is, and he knows God is still on his throne. But he feels bowed down, humiliated inside. His anger is turned inward, and it is eating him up.

Psalm 42:5,11 “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

Then he turns his questioning to God, and asks him “why?”

Psalm 42:9 “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy”

If you ever get to that point in your life where you want to ask God “why?” then go ahead and do it. I’m not going to stop you. If you are counseling with someone who keeps asking God “why?” then let them go ahead and do it. Do not stop them. Don’t give them the idea that God does not want them to ask “why?” I say this for several reasons:

First, asking “why?” is part of a normal grieving process. We were built to look for answers to the mysteries in our lives.

Second, asking “why?” is a form of prayer, and prayer gets the depressed person closer to God, which is just what he needs.

Third, don’t think that asking God “why?” is a challenge or an insult to God. He’s a big God, he can take it.

We can ask God “why?” because he knows the answer. The circumstances of your life are not accidental. They are all part of his plan. He may give you an answer as you ask him to explain what you are going through. But even if he doesn’t give you an answer right now, he will help you to see that there is an answer. He has a plan, and he is working out that plan.

When you get to that point, you can say with Joseph:

Genesis 50:20 “As for you (my brothers who sold me as a slave), you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

When you get to that point, you can say with the Apostle Paul:

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”

And what did Paul mean by “all things”?

2 Corinthians 11:23-28 “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

Paul was probably well acquainted with Psalm 42. He was no stranger to difficult times, but he knew that God was behind the scenes in every one of those times causing things to work together for his good. He knew that the circumstances of his life were not accidental, and neither are the circumstances of our lives.

3)Tool #3: Retrain your feelings by centering on God himself.

He pants for God like a thirsty deer (1-2).

Psalm 42:1-2 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”

Those words seem strange today because our society has developed a thirst for everything but God. When times are bad we cry after the government to fix it. Well, I have no problem with the government trying to fix my problems, but I suspect that some of them are beyond the government’s ability to fix. The psalmist here was wise enough to understand that his problem was not really the circumstances of his life. His problem was that he had developed a God-shaped hole in his life. Brothers and sisters, there’s a hole in us that only God can fill.

He encourages himself to hope in God (5,11).

Psalm 42:5-6,11 “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

In other words, the song is not over yet. The psalmist keeps reminding himself that the Sovereign God is still working, and he will write the last verse.

He remembers past experiences with God (6).

Psalm 42:6 “I remember you”

One of the best cures for depression is a scrapbook or photo album. Just bring it out and start remembering all the good times you have had in God’s presence with godly friends. If you don’t have something like that – get it. If you can’t remember any experiences like that – that’s what church membership is for.

He keeps his relationship with God strong (7-8).

Psalm 42:7-8 “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

Nothing is more powerful to conquer depression than a regular devotional life. The psalmist would apparently go for regular walks in the woods, and every time he came upon a stream or waterfall he would hear God talking. Every day he would reflect on how God loves him, and he would spend time singing and praying every night.

I don’t know what kind of week you are having, but if you are struggling with depression, you’ve come to the right place. God is here, and he wants to help you overcome that depression.

The Essentials


“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26 NIV).


God supernaturally revealed his truth to us through the scriptures. When we try to understand and explain those scriptures, the results are human doctrines. Doctrines themselves can be divided into two major categories: basic doctrines and distinctive doctrines. Basic doctrines are those truths that almost everyone gets from the Bible as they read it. Most Basic doctrines are taken for granted by every believer, and the Church demonstrates a good deal of unity in its interpretation of them.

Distinctive doctrines are where most of the differences occur. These are generally based on scriptures which are not as clear as the ones the basic doctrines are based on. So, it stands to reason that there will be differences.

I think that there are a few basic doctrines that are so emphasized in scripture, and so important to salvation, that to ignore them is to be unfaithful as a believer and as a church. These are the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is all of the essentials3basic doctrines upon which the church is practically unified. The tip is what must be visible, and what must remain visible. I call this tip of the iceberg the essentials.

Today’s text focuses on some of those essentials. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans as an introduction to himself and his message, because he planned to go to Rome and minister there. He wanted the Romans to know what he was all about. As a consequence of that desire, Paul did not waste a lot of time on trivial issues in the Epistle, so it is a good place to look for the things he felt were essential to the Christian faith.


Salvation by Grace is taught throughout the scriptures. Noah’s ark was a great symbol of this truth. God looked at a whole world and was justified in destroying it all, but he chose Noah and his family to be rescued from that destruction because of his grace.

Notice with me what Paul says about salvation in today’s text.

The word “salvation” is not found here, but there are a few other words used which clue us in that salvation is what Paul is talking about.


God is righteous, but Paul is not talking about that. He’s talking about righteousness from God, a gift of God’s righteousness imputed to everyone who is in Christ.

This is salvation by grace. It is important because Satan wants to keep people away from accepting Christ by telling them that they are not good enough.

None of us are good enough. If we had to earn our salvation, the ark would have been empty, and the cross would be useless.


Justification is another term for salvation. It is a legal term. It means that God declares us not guilty based on the fact that the penalty for our sin has been paid in full at the cross.

This is salvation by grace.


essentials7The term redemption comes from the slave market. A slave could be redeemed for a price, and then his owner could choose to set him free. The slavery we are redeemed from is the sinful nature, which leads to death. The redemption we have in Christ will make it possible for us to have eternal life.

This is salvation by grace.


This term that the NIV translates as sacrifice of atonement is the old word – propitiation. It describes a change in relationship. It was used in the Old Testament for the “mercy seat” where the Israelites sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. When God saw the blood on the mercy seat, he forgave the nation. They would no longer receive his wrath. Jesus’ blood at Calvary has appeased God’s wrath.

This is salvation by grace.


Some people think that Jesus was a great man, like other great men. But if we take the Bible seriously, and accept what Jesus said about himself, we no longer have that option. Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life, the only way to the father.

Jesus said he was going to die, be raised, ascend to heaven, and then return to reign over the universe eternally. If he was just a great man, then he was a liar. If he believed those things about himself, and they are not true, then he was a lunatic. But if he is what he said he is, and he did what he said he did, and he is going to do what he said he will do, then he is LORD, and should be worshiped as LORD.


Paul explained that Jesus is LORD because God’s righteousness comes through faith in him alone.

He’s not just one of the great men pointing the way to God. He is God’s one and only Son. He is the only one worthy to be called Lord.



Paul explained that Jesus is LORD because he is the only one who can set us free (24). The redemption is in Christ Jesus.

If God had a number of ways of redeeming us, then we could just choose the one that most suited us. But there is only one way out of the slavery of sin.

That’s why Jesus is the only one worthy to be served as Lord


Paul explained that Jesus is LORD because he is God’s only plan for salvation (25-26). God does not have a plan B. God is the one who made up the idea of salvation, so he has the right to set the rules. He is not obligated to accept all those other ways of salvation made up by the various religions of the world.

There are some things that don’t allow options. One plus one always equals two. H2O always equals water. You can’t live without air. God made salvation simple: Jesus is either Lord or he is not. If he is your Lord, you are saved.

If anyone or anything else is lord of your life, you are not saved.


The book of Hebrews calls the elementary Christian doctrine a combination of “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (6:1).

These two choices make up what we call conversion. It is the only way to get into the kingdom of God. You have to turn away from your sinful life in the past and trust God for your future.

It doesn’t matter if you are a theologian like Nicodemus, or a tax collector like Zaccheus. We all get into the kingdom the same way: repentance from sin, and faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross.


Notice that Paul said that God’s righteousness is apart from the law(21).

The law was God’s way of telling the Jews how to act so that they brought Glory to him. But it could not save them from their sins: not now, and not even in Old Testament times.

Conversion to Christ is necessary because no-one (not even the Jews) could be saved without it.


Paul says that in God’s sight there is no difference (22). Everyone comes into the family of God by conversion.

There are no spiritual grandchildren. Your parents can give you a lot of things, but they cannot give you a relationship with God.



God shows that he is fair to all now by making faith in Jesus the only means of salvation (26).

Have you made that choice. I made that choice when I was about ten years old in a church much like this one -only down in Florida. I walked down the aisle and I gave my life to Christ.

I realized that I could never be good enough to please God by myself, but Jesus has already done that.

Repent from your sins and trust Jesus as your savior today!


When you get serious and talk to people about God, what is it that shows through? What is the tip of your iceberg?


LORD, help us to focus on the things that really matter.

May we care enough about the bible and truth to have distinctive doctrines and know how to defend them.

But please help us to focus on the essentials that we must teach: things like salvation by grace, the Lordship of Christ, repentance and faith.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.