God is Your God Through Faith Alone
A sermon on Habakkuk 2:18-20 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 6/24/01
Imagine that you are two years old. Some of us here this morning have not spent much time lately in the presence of two-year-olds, so to aid your imagination let me remind you of some characteristics of this age:
With these reminders, now imagine that you are two years old. And imagine that you can choose whatever type of parent you want – a Designer Parent. You define the characteristics of your parents. What type of parent will you choose?
Let’s assume that as two-year-olds go, you are quite wise. So you identify that you need a parent who will provide food, shelter, and care – we might say you choose a parent who will profit you. As a rare, wise two-year old, you also recognize that you don’t know everything. You choose a parent who will be able to teach you. Third, you definitely want a parent you can trust – a reliable parent who will never let you down.
So far this doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But every two-year old would choose this fourth characteristic: You want a parent you can control. You choose a parent who does what you want. Yes, you do want a parent who can teach you facts – when and if you want to learn. But you don’t want a parent who will control you, who will override your will.
What would be the outcome of allowing two-year-olds to choose their parents?
We would never allow two-year olds to design their own parents; we know that disaster would result. But we live in a culture that encourages spiritual two-year olds to design their own gods. And when given that opportunity, most people act exactly like the physical two-year olds: they design a god who will work for their good, who can teach them something about the future, whom they can trust – but most of all, whom they can control.
But, friends, the God of the universe – the One and Only Living and True God – is not like that! He promises to work for the good of His people, He is entirely trustworthy, He leads us into all truth – but our God does whatever HE pleases. He is not our genie, He is not at our beck and call – instead, He is sovereign, He rules over all.
Recall that we are making our way through Habakkuk chapter two. This chapter begins by contrasting the proud one with the righteous one who lives by faith. God then pronounces five woes on the proud one, in each case giving us an example of how not to live by faith. We have considered the first four of these woes, turning the negative examples into positive applications of how to live by faith. We have seen that:
Recall that each woe follows a common structure: the proud one pursues a good goal by wrong means; God then applies an appropriate punishment, yielding us lessons for living by faith. This structure once again provides the outline of today’s sermon. We will first look a the goal and means together, then the punishment, and finally the lessons for living by faith.
So please turn with me in your Bibles to Habakkuk chapter 2. We’ll read verses 18 to 20.
18 "What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, Or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork When he fashions speechless idols. 19 "Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, 'Awake!' To a mute stone, 'Arise!' And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, And there is no breath at all inside it. 20 "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him." (NAU)
The Goal: To Know the Unknowable, to Control the Uncontrollable; the Means: Idolatry
Why does the proud one want to have anything to do with an idol? We have seen him striving after satisfaction, security, accomplishment, and honor by violence, bloodshed, and disgracing others – why does he fashion an idol and worship it?
Because the proud one knows that some things are out of his control. He thinks, “Disease, natural calamity, or my revengeful opponents may be around any corner. I don’t know what tomorrow might bring! I’ve managed pretty well so far in accomplishing my objectives – but I need some additional power to ensure my position.”
And so he turns to an idol. This is the means he uses to accomplish his purpose. What is an idol? Listen carefully:
Note: these are the goals of the first four woes! In effect, in our discussion of each of those woes, the proud one is relying on himself – thereby making an idol of himself. Here in the fifth woe, he realizes he needs some additional power to secure his position, and so he turns to a physical idol. But we commit idolatry whenever we rely on something other than God to meet these objectives.
Let’s see how today’s text brings this out. Consider again verses 18 and 19. What are the goals of the proud one? There are four:
Do you see the inherent contradiction here?
In order to profit us in all circumstances, in order to be worthy of our trust, this “god” must be all-powerful. In order to be our teacher, this “god” must know more than us – particularly about the future, things unknowable to us. Indeed, if we are to trust him in all circumstances, he must be able to predict the future with complete accuracy.
Yet we want to control this “god”! Yet if we could control him, he would not be all powerful; if we could tell him how best to meet our needs, he would not be all knowing.
So do you see the necessary conclusion? There are no gods like this. Indeed, there cannot be gods like this. We want an all-powerful god who is under our control. That is a logical impossibility.
Thus, the proud one aims to profit himself, to have a teacher for himself, to have someone to trust – all of these goals are God-given, and God Himself is the only answer for these desires. Yet the proud one rejects the one living and true God, because that God is out of his control. So the proud one opts instead for a pseudo-god he can control, an idol.
For the first four woes, God’s punishments are logical and just: the plunderer is plundered, the house the proud one builds for security cries out against the builder, accomplishment disappears, honor turns to disgrace.
For this woe, there is a twist. God does not state an explicit punishment. Instead, the punishment is implicit. What is it?
Look at the terms used to describe the idol in verses 18 and 19:
So what is the proud one’s punishment? If your teacher is speechless, if one in whom you trust has no breath, no spirit, then he also has no power – and thus you have no protection. In the end, relying on an idol is only relying on yourself. You will get no profit, you will lean on a stick that will break. As the Psalmist says,
Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them. (Psalm 115:8 NAU)
Will become like them in what sense? Dead, powerless, helpless. This is the punishment.
As in verse 14, in verse 20 God gives us an explicit lesson in living by faith:
But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.
Do you see the contrasts between the true God and idols?
With these thoughts in mind, let us draw out two lessons for living by faith:
(1) Living by faith means we receive commands from God; we do not give him commands.
This is a hard lesson, isn’t it? We so much want to be in control. We really do want that genie in the bottle. Like the two-year-old, we really think we know what is best for us and what is best for those we care for – and God doesn’t seem to bring that about!
C.S. Lewis brings this out marvelously in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Four children are magically transported to the land of Narnia, where Aslan – a Christ-figure – rules. In this section, Mr and Mrs Beaver have just told the children that they must meet Aslan. Mr Beaver explains:
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Our God is not safe. Our God is not tame. Our God is not under our control. Our God does things that we cannot comprehend, that we cannot fathom. But our God is good, He works for the benefit of His people – so let us acknowledge that we are less than two-year-olds in our understanding compared to His, let us acknowledge that He knows infinitely more than us – and let us worship Him.
(2) Living by faith means relying on the God Who is with us.
Look at verse 20 again: How does it begin?
The Lord is in His holy temple.
Where is that temple today? What does that sentence mean today? Consider 1 Corinthians 3:16:
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
If this is true – then why rely on any idol? God is not only with His people at the center of their country in a physical building – God Himself is in YOU! If you belong to Him, then you have the gift of God’s Spirit as a down payment of all the blessings God will give you in the future.
Do you remember the definition of an idol?
On whom should you rely for satisfaction, security, accomplishment, and honor? The God who is in you! And if He is in you, if He loves you more than you can imagine, if He has already given you the gift of infinite cost – His own Son’s death – then how will He not also along with Jesus freely give us all things?
Isaiah puts it this way:
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. 18 "If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (48:17,18 NAU)
He is the one who teaches us! He is the one who profits us! Listening to Him leads to well-being that flows and flows and flows like a river, that keeps breaking over us like waves at the beach! His love and His goodness to us never end. When God offers us His very presence within us – is it really too much for Him to ask for us to yield all control to Him?
So, my friends: What do you trust in during the tough times in life? To whom do you turn when
The world today offers you a zillion false gods. The world today offers you ways to discern the future, whether through horoscopes or economic forecasts. But none work. All in the end are the same as relying on yourself.
So will you trust in the God of the universe? Will you turn yourself over to His hands and say, “God, I know I can’t control you! I know I am less than a two-year-old before you. Your understanding, no one can fathom. So, Lord, I trust you, I believe you are indeed working all things together for the good of those who love you, even when that doesn’t look to be the case. God! Make me yours completely!”
Oh, my friends! Trust in God! And keep trusting in God! For trusting in God is a never ending task. We don’t do it once and then say, “OK, now I’ve trusted in God. I can put that behind me.” No. We must turn to him day by day by day by day by day. Every moment we are tempted to rely on ourselves, to rely on false hopes. Every moment we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness, His power, or His faithfulness.
But our God is in His holy temple. Fight the fight of faith so that you might believe that!
“The Lord is in His holy temple – Be silent before Him, all the earth.”
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 6/24/01.
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