The Expository Files.

The Just Shall Live By Faith 

 Habakkuk 2:4

Hab 2:4 ... "Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith." (NKJ)

Habakkuk 2:4 is one of the greatest declarations of faith to be found in all the Bible. It presents a contrast between those who are arrogantly rebellious, and those who are humbly submissive. It reveals the striking difference between the proud and the just man. The future belongs to the righteous, while the wicked have no future. Wickedness carries with it the seeds of its own destruction (Psa 10:4; Pro 16:18). Pride, tyranny and evil cannot last, but the righteous shall live by faith (Hab 2:4).

In this immediate context, the pride of the Chaldeans would be their downfall, while the faithfulness of the righteous will be his salvation. Habakkuk says the Babylonians are self-centered and therefore doomed; the righteous are God-centered and therefore triumphant (Dan 4:30-32; Pro 3:5-6).

In other words, the righteous man trusts, not in himself, but in God. His faith is directed upward, not inward!

Herein is faith -- the ability to accept as reality what one cannot fully understand. The one who trusts in God is not troubled by the enigmas of life.

He knows that God does all things right and all things well. Running the universe is God's business, but the righteous man has a daily task to fulfill, and he will live by his faithfulness. He will trust and obey, even if he does not comprehend all of God's ways.

The Revell Bible Dictionary defines faith as "belief, confidence, trust, reliance. In the Bible, religious faith is a life-shaping attitude toward God. The person with faith considers God's revelation of himself and of truth to be certain and sure. The person with faith then responds to God with trust, love, and obedience."

"Biblical faith, then, has two aspects: on God's part there is an act of revelation that calls for a response; on man's part there is a response of faith that evaluates God's revelation as trustworthy and responds wholeheartedly to the Lord." 1

Acceptable service to God has always been based on active, obedient faith. Those who please God follow his instructions, regardless of their own understandings. How could Noah spend 120 years building the ark? What motivated Abraham to leave his homeland? How could he willingly take Isaac and offer him in sacrifice to God? What about Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua? Consider also Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. What characteristic did all these individuals have in common? Faith! They were willing to trust and obey God!

This passage is quoted three times in the New Testament. I believe each occurrence has a slightly different emphasis. Today's lesson will focus on the context of each of these passages (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38).

A. Romans Stresses "The Just"
Rom 1:16-17 ... 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." (NKJ)

Romans accentuates the idea of righteousness (Rom 1:16-17). The just shall live by faith. The Bible reveals the righteous character of God, and the conditions on which man can be judged righteous by God. In order to be accepted, we must pattern our lives according to the righteous picture of God that is revealed on the pages of Scripture (2 Cor 3:18). By pursuing God's righteousness, we can develop personal integrity, virtue and purity of life (Rom 6:11-18).

It is significant that Romans 1:17 contains two nearly identical Greek words that stress idea of righteousness and just conduct. Thayer defines the Greek word DIKAIOSUNE #1343, translated "the righteousness of God," as "1) in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God; a) the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God; b) integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting; 2) in a narrower sense, justice or the virtue which gives each his due." 2 Thayer defines the Greek word DIKAIOS #1342, translated "the just shall live by faith," as "righteous, observing divine laws; a) in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God; 1) used of those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined; 2) innocent, faultless, guiltless; 3) used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life; 4) approved by or acceptable by God; b) in a narrower sense, rendering to each his due and that in a judicial sense, passing just judgment on others, whether expressed in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them." 3 Both terms have application to the Christian who seeks divine acceptance!

B. Hebrews Stresses "Shall Live"
Heb 10:36-39 ... 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 "For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him." 39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (NKJ)

Hebrews accentuates the idea that faith is for the long haul (Heb 10:36-39). The just shall live by faith. Faith is not a singular event, confined to a distinct point in time and space; rather, it is a way of living. Those who have good and honest hearts bear fruit with patience (Luk 8:15). Eternal life belongs to those who patiently continue in doing good (Rom 2:7). We must run the race with patient endurance (Heb 12:1-2).

C. Galatians Stresses "By Faith"
Gal 3:10-14 ... 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them." 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NKJ)

Galatians accentuates the idea of trusting in God rather than trusting in self. The just shall live by faith. For a person to reach heaven based on their own doing, they must never commit a single sin. However, no one -- save Jesus -- can approach God on this basis. Therefore, we must trust in God and in Christ rather than in self.

In the books of Romans and Galatians, Paul declares that justification by faith is the antithesis of justification by law. The Pharisees, blinded to their faults, viewed themselves as perfect models of obedience. They foolishly trusted in themselves rather than in God (Luk 18:9-14).

Let us realize an important idea: Salvation by grace and salvation by meritorious works are mutually exclusive concepts. Salvation gained in this way would not be of grace, but of debt. If we perfectly kept God's will, we would deserve heaven. We could stand before God and demand salvation because we had earned it. However, this was not Abraham's approach (Rom 4:1-8). The ancient patriarch made his share of mistakes (Gen 12:11-20; 20:1-18). Nevertheless he believed God, and this was counted to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6). When Abraham learned his duty, he responded in faithful obedience (Jam 2:21-24). As a result, the Lord put down to his account that he was righteous.

Ephesians 2:9 says that man's salvation is "not of works lest any man should boast." In what works might man glory or boast? Perfect works! This is the only way a person could merit salvation. We earn many things: high school diplomas, college degrees, job recognition, a weekly paycheck, etc. However, do we earn salvation? If a person seeks heaven on this basis, his conduct must be flawless. He must never make even a single mistake (Rom 10:5). Once he sins, he stands condemned. At that point, there is nothing he can do, in and of himself, to remove his guilt (Gal 3:10-14).

We must never take the attitude that "God owes me something because I'm so good." To do so is to ignore the universal problem of sin. The sad fact is that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). If a sinner is to be saved, it will be by God's grace. Man's search for grace is an admission of sin, a confession that his works have not been perfect (Eph 2:9; Tit 3:5; 2Tim 1:9).

Luther, overreacting to the errors of his day, advocated justification by faith only. However, this idea was supported neither by the prophet Habakkuk or the apostle Paul. Salvation is made possible when man responds in faithful obedience to God's grace (Eph 2:8-10). Grace speaks of everything that God has done, while faith includes all that is required of us. The Bible clearly states that we must obey God if we are to receive His blessings (Act 10:34-35; Rom 6:17-18; Heb 5:8-9).

The faith of the head is the faith that is dead;
The faith of the heart is better in part;
But the faith of the hand is the faith that will stand,
For the faith that will do must include the first two.

This anonymously written poem communicates an important truth: Faith must dwell in the head, the heart, and the hand! Intellectual acceptance of the truth is not sufficient; willing obedience is necessary (Joh 14:15; Gal 5:6).

Therefore, will you not obey the gospel while there is time and opportunity?

The Revell Bible Dictionary, ed. Lawrence O. Richards, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, A Division of Baker Book House,
1990), s.v. "Faith."
The Online Bible: Thayer's Greek Lexicon and Brown, Driver & Briggs' Hebrew Lexicon, (Seattle, WA: BibleSoft & Ontario,
Canada: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1993), s.v. "DIKAIOSUNE," #1343.
The Online Bible: Thayer's Greek Lexicon and Brown, Driver & Briggs' Hebrew Lexicon, (Seattle, WA: BibleSoft & Ontario,
Canada: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1993), s.v. "DIKAIOS," #1342.


 By Mark Mayberry 
 From Expository Files 3.6; June 1996