The Just Live by Faith

by Mike Ratliff

And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8 ESV)

I am in the process of reading a book that is a collection of works by John Owen. One of the works is his masterpiece The Mortification of Sin, which I have read several times already. The other two works are Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It and Indwelling Sin. This is not light reading, but it is rich and a treasure house of Biblical wisdom that is presented practically to shine these truths from God into our hearts.

I was attempting to read some of this last evening so I deliberately separated myself from my Mac and went to another part of the house. However, my wife was watching an episode of Law and Order on TV. As I read about the necessity of actively putting to death the sinful desires in my heart I found my mind drawn to the presentation on the screen of some of the most sinful things imaginable. All this day I have been asking God for direction because I know that He was speaking volumes to me through this.

As the time grew near to write this, it all started coming together. As usual, I got into the Word. I did a search in my Bible software for the phrase, “sin no more.” This lead me to John 5:14.

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14 ESV)

I meditated on that verse then realized that for us to obey Jesus like this we must have a level of faith that is being continually strengthened through the trials of sin mortification. It seemed that the direction I was being given had to do with the terrible lack of this sort of faith and obedience in the Church in our day. This caused me to grieve and seek my own repentance in areas in my own life where I have been slack in this. I had a terrible sense of desolation concerning the Church then. I then did a search for the word pair, “faith earth,” as I wanted to get the context of Jesus statement about Him returning and questioning if He would find faith on the Earth. This led me to Luke 18:8.

I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8 ESV)

This passage was part of the parable of the persistent woman and the judge who did not fear God. However, my focus was on v8. This verse suggests that when Christ returns , the true faith will be very rare as in the days of Noah (Luke 17:26). The period before Christ’s return will be marked by persecution, apostasy, and unbelief. (Matthew 24:9-13,24) I also noticed that there was a cross-reference for Hebrews 10:37-38.

For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:37-38 ESV)

The burning in my heart really started intensifying then so I put this passage in context. Hebrews 10:37-38 is a quote from Habakkuk 2:3,4.

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. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:3-4 ESV)

Habakkuk was a prophecy given during a time in Israel and Judah when justice had essentially disappeared from the land. Violence and wickedness were pervasive. There was no sense of righteous indignation against it that should have been present in genuine believers of that day. It was a day much like our own. The writer of Hebrews took this passage and placed it at the end of a section that starts in 10:26 and goes through 10:39. This section is a warning dealing with the sin of apostasy.

“Apostates are those who move toward Christ, hear and understand His gospel, and are on the verge of saving belief, but then rebel and turn away. This warning [Hebrews 10:26-39] against apostasy is one of the most serious warnings in all of Scripture.” – John MacArthur

We have been looking at the Religion of Do and what separates those folks in it from genuine believers. The main difference we have seen is that genuine believers are those who battle unbelief and deliberately seek to mortify their sin. They do not “let go and let God.” Their sin breaks their hearts and they seek to continually walk in repentance. They deeply desire holiness and purity. Why? Christ’s character is being wrought in them through their sanctification. They are taking on His character the more Spirit-filled they become because they are living sacrifices presented to God for His purposes. They are having continual mind renewal through which this transformation takes place.

However, this passage in Hebrews is a direct warning to those who profess Christ, but refuse to live like this and see no need to do so. They prove by their addiction to sin and their lack of desire to stop that they are apostates.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV)

The writer of Hebrews did not pull any punches. He did not mince words. He spoke the truth. Perhaps this will wake up some unto repentance. I took a class at church this Fall on the Jewish feasts. One night our teacher said something that really struck me. He said that all of the sacrifices prescribed in the Law were for unintentional sins. There was never any sacrifices given for intentional sins. That is essentially what v26 is saying. When we are in ignorance of the truth then that is one thing, but once we have heard the truth then we are liable. Those who have heard the Gospel are liable to obey it. If they do not then judgment awaits and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 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 is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:32-39 ESV)

Once again we see the difference between genuine Christians and nominal or disingenuous Christians. What is it? The just live by faith. The unjust live by their flesh. The just seek to walk in repentance, to put to death their sins while doing good works. The unjust seek fulfillment from their flesh and make excuses for their sin. Those who shrink back are those who deny Christ when the going gets rough. When the opportunity comes to be identified with Christ in the fire the genuine Christian does not shrink back, but the apostate Christian does. Suffering separates and clarifies.

Genuine Christians are those who persevere. They do stumble into sin at times, but they repent and get back into the race, which is the deliberate killing of their sinful desires as a way of life. They become more and more separate from the world and its ways. Their faith is alive and they learn that they can obey God and “sin no more” as they pursue Him, love Him, and delight in Him. When we are in worship in spirit and truth it is impossible to sin. However, the moment we step back into fleshly pursuits, even in our minds, we are seeking fulfillment from the flesh and this is sin. We cannot worship God in spirit and truth when we are walking this way. No, we must repent and seek Him, the Kingdom and our Lord’s Righteousness above all. Then we are in the race with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and this is how we put our sinful desires to death.

The just live by faith.


29 thoughts on “The Just Live by Faith

  1. I’ve been reading a lot in the Old Testament lately. I had just read the unintentional sin offering this morning in Numbers 15: 22-31 after verse 31 it’s about a man that is caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath and was stoned to death. Most of us would be stoned to death had we lived in those times. It’s pretty clear that Christians don’t take this walk very seriously. I believe if Christians would pick up their Bibles and read the Old Testament they would find that fear of God. This is very hard and easy believism and lukewarm Christianity just doesn’t cut it. This battle never ends.

  2. Amen Deb! We are saved by grace, but this life as a Christian is the living out of the Law in Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law and we are to take on His character. This isn’t legalism, it is taking on the Holiness that God commands us to and develops in us.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  3. “He said that all of the sacrifices prescribed in the Law were for unintentional sins. ”

    Mike, did you mean undefined sins? The sacrifices were for all the sins of the people, both intentional and unintentional. You are correct they were not for specific and defined sins but I was confused about the word unintentional.

  4. Rick,

    No, I meant unintentional sins because that is what my teacher said. I took it to mean the sacrifices were for people who sinned, but were either ignorant of the Law or they were captured by their circumstances.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  5. I agree with John MacArthur about apostasy. Apostasy is when someone comes soooo close to the truth, but they do not receive it and rebel. Most apostates and their teachers have head knowledge (95%) but they never have the heart knowledge because they have not died to sin, self, nor the ways of the world. If you look at most of the apostate ministers of our time period, they will deny the basics of salvation. The basics being the trinity, repentance, judgment, and suffering.

    It is my understanding that the Holy Spirit removes the desire to live as though we belong to the world. Prior to regeneration, sin ruled our lives. What seemed right according to the natural turned out to be a big lie. It was easy to base our standing with God on how we feel instead of what we know according to scripture. I was once controlled by my flesh because I had not died to sin and self. The Lord saved me by his hand eventually, and I had absolutely nothing to do with it. He let me have my way by handing me over to the world as well as what my flesh sought. It was the worst path I could ever have taken. This flattened me out so to speak. It was the most painful way of learning (one that I will not forget), but it caused me to die to the world. Thus follows Godly sorrow, and then genuine repentance.

  6. I would assume that the sacrifices were for all sins, commission and omission and sins of ignorance. That would mirror Christ’s sacrifice, right? I am still confused about the point he was making. I am an old man, I get confused!

  7. Numbers 15
    27 “If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. 28 And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. 29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. 30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”

    Here is the second half of the unintentional sin offering. In 30-31 it looks as if they were cut off from among his people for breaking a commandment intentionally.

  8. Rick,

    We asked questions similar to yours in the class. He told us that intentional sins were those done by those who knew what the Law said and broke it anyway. The penalty for those sins was things like stoning or some sort of payback, not a sacrifice. The only sacrifice that I am aware of that paralleled Christ’s sacrifice for our sins was done on the Day of Atonement when the sins of ALL the people were placed on the Scape Goat and it was sent away.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  9. Mike,
    Thank you for your article. Several pastors and myself have undertaken reading an edited version (edited by James H. Houston) of Owen’s work “Triumph Over Temptation”.
    We did so tiring of the endless books on Church growth, Church leadership, etc. Evidently talking about the mortification of the flesh is just not a hot topic.
    Keep up the good work, and thank you for your blog.
    Pastor Joe

  10. Deb,

    Under Grace, a Christian must be able to discern licentiousness from Grace. Grace is the desire and the ability to do the will of God. Licentiousness is when someone does not have the abilty to do the will of God, and he/she still cannot stop sinning. A licentious person can appear righteous, wear a cross, quote parts of scripture, but he will have no desire nor the ability to truly please God. What they do in private will contradict what they do in public. The cross (to them) is a license to sin. This is because they are controlled by their flesh. They are not able to put of the old man because they have not died to sin and self.

    Their is a direct relationship between a double-minded man and licentiousness.

  11. Good post Mike. Gotta question for you…….John Owen is hard to read. Is there someone that has Johns ‘mind’ in writing but easier to understand yet still says basically the same thing? Sorry but some of us can’t follow him. I’d take us a year to understand what he’s saying per 50 pages:)

  12. Mike, I believe for instance Leviticus Chapter six outline a tresspass offering after someone is caught sinning with knowledge. And this offering is a ram without blemish, shadowing Christ and His blood. What do you think?

  13. Paul,
    I don’t know if this is true for any other of John Owen’s books, but his “The Glory of Christ” is available from Puritan Paperbacks “abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. Law.” After attempting to labor through “The Death of Death…” I can assure you that this book truly is easy to read!! It is also beautiful and I highly recommend it.
    In Christ,

  14. Josh,

    I do live under grace. I don’t live by the law. I know that Christ bore our sin (undeserving) and wrath ( we deserve) for us on the cross.:) I think I confused you guys. I’m not really a legalist. I don’t really hold any day holier than another. They are all holy. I sometimes even work on Sunday. We worship every day. Now I might be in trouble so we will see.:)

  15. Mike,

    Thank you for sharing some good points on holiness. Please reconsider what the deliberate sin is that is mentioned by the writer in Hebrews 10. If you will analyze the whole section from chapter 9 on through, you will find that it is rejection of Messiah and the blood of the NC by Hebrews. A point of consideration is that in other contexts, Christians sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, but they do not reject Messiah. The writer’s usage of the pronoun “we” is a device for ethnic Hebrews of the first NC generation. The writer is not an adversary, though such will be consumed according to his point. There are other considerations, but it would take a book, and one has already been written that deals with this section contextually in the above manner and more.

    Blessings in Christ the Covenant,
    K Kinchen
    Isaiah 42:6, 49:8, 55:3-4

  16. Deborah,

    You’re right. There is no specific date which God has set for us to rest in him. Anyway, the sabbath was created for man. Man was not created for the sabbath. In Romans 14, the entire chapter deals specifically with this issue. The whole point of the New Testament sabbath is that we rest in him because we have experienced regeneration without us having to labor. We know longer have to labor to win God’s favor, because he does the regenerating work on our behalf. The Spirit pleads on our behalf in order to justify us, while the law proves us guilty. Yes, you use a mirror to see that you have dirt on your face, but you don’t take the mirror off of the wall and wash with it. You use soap instead of the mirror. The Holy Spirit is the soap. The mirror is the law, which only points out your sins without removing them.

    The sabbath was created to be a freedom and a joy. It was never intended to be a restriction. What day you choose to do a sabbath is between you and the Lord. Romans 14 explains this very well. There are groups who will accuse you of worshipping the sun god if you go to church on Sunday. This does not hold water because there is no sun god and everyday belongs to the Lord, regardless of the fact that our current calendar is named after pagan gods anyhow. Saturday is named after Saturn, and I would hardly accuse them of worshipping Saturn.

    Thursday is named after Thor. If I am off on Thursday, it certainly doesn’t mean that I worship Thor. This issue of legalism is an issue which the apostles warned us about. Legalists will often spy out your liberty, and hate you for it.

  17. Carrie, Thank you and we will take you up on the suggestion. We tried to read The Death of Death too and finally just gave up! Thanks again.

  18. Kerry,

    No, you are incorrect. Hebrews was written to Hebrew Christians and therefore all Christians. What I quoted was all about apostasy and the warning for unbelief. My article was about unbelief and besides there are plenty of other NT passages that parallel this.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  19. Rick,

    Yes, you are right, but if you read it carefully it is speaking of someone who REALIZES their guilt v4. We do often sin deliberately, but we do so from blindness. Then God opens our eyes and we realized how far we have fallen. As I read that that is the sense I got anyway.:-)

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  20. Carrie, Paul and Luann,

    I have book titled: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen. However, the words have been modernized and it is full of footnotes and explanations. I highly recommend it to you as well..

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  21. Yes, Mike, they realize their guilt but they KNEW they were sinning when they committed it.

    vs 2 – lie, violence, deceived
    vs 3 – lie, swears falsely,
    vs 4 – violently, deceitfully
    vs 5 – sworn falsely,

    He then brings a trespass offering for those sins that he knew he was committing but now desires forgiveness. These are men who lie or do violence or deceive, but it is unclear how their sins were discovered or if they themselves succumbed to guilt and desired atonement. Here is another instance:

    Lev.19:19-22 – You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together. Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free. He shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD to the doorway of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed will be forgiven him.

    This is another example of a man committing a known sin of immorality who lies carnally with a woman but is given a trespass offering as an atonement for that sin. These trespass offerings were not for sins in general as in the Day of Atonement, they were for specific sins and in some cases for sins which were known at the time. Again it is unclear as to how the sin became public, but the man clearly knew his sin and he would have been stoned had she not been a slave.

  22. Mike, the reason this might be important is because I can hear a universalist say that Christ died for everyone’s sins even if they didn’t realize it and everyone is forgiven even if they do not know it. Paul says the law enetered that the offense may abound, which means so the people’s sins may be clear to them and even Peter in Acts testified that their father’s were unable to keep the law so why would they require Gentiles to do so.

    You bring up an interesting point, however, and I find it defined by the brazen altar (sin in general) and the brazen laver (personal sins). It is also dilineated by repentance that accompanies salvation (Day of Atonement) and repentance that should be in a believer’s life which accompanies forgiveness (Trespass Offering). I have found it edifying to notice that terminology (unknowingly) as used in Leviticus and see the sin question itself being temporarily dealt with (one year). That would avoid any indulgence construction so people would sin willfully and then go get forgiven. That is works disguised as blood sacrifice and your article has made me read Leviticus again with a newer light to the atonement and also the implications for Hebrews 6 and 10.

    Very interesting, Mike. Everyone should read this post again.

  23. When I studied legalism, I could see a difference between man’s effort and the work of regeneration done by the Holy Spirit. Our flesh can mislead us and even enslave us. Legalism frustrates the grace of God because it hinders the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Legalists are well intended, they can be very well structured and organized, but their flesh still deceives them into believing that their efforts will do the regenerating work on their behalf. Under legalism, the Satan knows that the flesh seeks approval and says, ” Wow, look at you and what you did. You get credit for all that. You are the one. How can God say, “No” to you now?”

    When I came out of legalism, the Lord showed me that all of my efforts were futile. I adhered to the lies of my flesh. I was controlled by it– Flesh led instead of Spirit led. I was unwilling to see myself as a wretched sinner. I thought, ” Look at me. My performance is outstanding. I am being so righteous and I stand firm. Nothing can shake me now.” This was the beginning of a rude awakening of course.

    Who was it that said, “So you think that you are standing firm?….”

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