“tHE jUST sHALL lIVE bY fAITH”
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.”
“The just shall live by faith.” God’s people in this world live by faith, trusting him, believing his Word. That has always been the case and shall continue to be the case until time shall be no more. Trusting Christ as our Savior, we trust him as our Lord, living by faith in him. Benjamin Beddome captured the meaning of these words in one of his hymns.
“‘Tis faith supports my feeble soul, in times of deep distress,
When storms arise and billows roll, great God, I trust Thy grace.
Thy powerful arm still bears me up, whatever griefs befall;
Thou art my life, my joy, my hope, and Thou my all in all.
Bereft of friends, beset with foes, with dangers all around,
To Thee I all my fears disclose, in Thee my help is found.
In every want, in every strait, to Thee alone I fly;
When other comforters depart, Thou art forever nigh.”
Clearly, Paul’s doctrine in this text is an undeniable declaration that justification can be obtained from God only by faith in Christ, without the deeds of the law. God’s elect were justified before the law was given just as we are today, by grace through faith, trusting Christ. Abel, Noah and Job, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph, Moses and Aaron trusted Christ just as we do today, believing God’s revelation concerning his Son, and obtained justification by faith in him. Since the law had not yet been given, it is not possible that obedience to the law had anything to do with their justification.
Many were justified during the legal dispensation. No one was justified by his obedience to the law, even in that day. The law was not given to justify, but to condemn. The law never made anyone holy, except in a ceremonial (typical) way. The law’s only purpose was to lead us to Christ, shutting us up to faith in him alone for redemption, righteousness, and grace. All the types and commandments of the law were given to reveal both our need of Christ as our Substitute and the blessed efficacy of his work as our sin-atoning sacrifice. Therefore, it is written, “The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith.”
The apostle Paul here quotes, by divine inspiration, the prophet Habakkuk (Hab. 2:4). In fact, this statement, “The just shall live by faith,” must have been one of Paul’s favorite passages. He quotes Habakkuk’s words three times in his epistles (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). The fact that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of these words four times in Holy Scripture certainly implies that there is much in them that we need to learn and remember.
If we carefully read the context from which this quotation is taken and the context in which Paul was inspired of God to use it, it will become obvious that the Holy Spirit’s intent is to teach us that as we experience justification by faith in Christ, so too we experience sanctification by faith in him. Clearly, this is what Paul is teaching (as we have seen) in Galatians 3.
That faith by which we live is the gift and operation of God’s grace in us. It is not native to man, but the gift of God, the fruit of his Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 2:8-9; Col. 1:12). The operation of faith in the heart produces love; and love produces obedience. These gifts of grace are not the cause of life before God, but the fruit of it. These things do not produce righteousness, but flow from it. In the spring we feast our eyes on the beautiful roses and flowers blooming around our homes, with their fragrances filling the air; but no one imagines that the flowers cause the plants to live. We know that it is the living plant that brings forth the flower and its fragrance. So it is with the believer. It is the grace of God that gives us life; and the life we live in faith, righteousness, and sanctification is the fruit of his grace. Love for and obedience to Christ are the fruit of grace, not the cause. They neither give us life, nor maintain it. They are the result of life given.
The Spirit of God here (and throughout the Scriptures) teaches us that faith is the distinctive principle of the believer’s life. By faith we embrace the Savior and live upon him. In Habakkuk 1 (vv. 2-3) the prophet cried beneath the heavy weight of his burden, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!…Why dost thou show me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance?” Then, at the end of the chapter (vv. 13-17), he asked the Lord to explain himself to him, to explain to him why he would choose to use the Chaldeans to punish Judah? His question is, “How is it you, O Lord, God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, will execute your wrath upon Judah by a people even worse than they?”
These were not the questions of a rebel, or a reprobate unbeliever, but the questions of a faithful man perplexed by God’s providential works. We might not be honest enough to put them into verbal expressions; but they are questions that frequently disturb us too. Are they not? Habakkuk’s questions remind us of David’s great struggle in Psalm 73.
We must admit that we have struggled with the same questions. The earth is filled with glaring inequity. The wicked do seem to prosper while the righteous suffer. After raising these questions, Habakkuk resolves to wait for God's answer. We would be wise to do the same, and to lay the answer to heart.
In chapter 2 Habakkuk stands upon his watchtower to await God’s answer, and the Lord gives it to him in a vision. He does not tell us what he saw; but it must be assumed that the rest of his prophecy is the result of the vision God gave him. I say that because God commanded him to write out the vision and make it plain (vv. 2-3); and the declaration of God’s vision was first and foremost a word of instruction, reproof, and assurance to Habakkuk and to us (v. 4). Let us hear the instruction, bear the reproof, and rejoice in the assurance. ― “The just shall live by his faith.”
The first thing we learn is that God is running things in this world right on schedule (2:3). Our time and God's time are not measured by the same clock. Israel offered sacrifices for centuries in anticipation of Christ, the coming Sacrifice, by whom sin would be put away. The Jews, in unbelief, fell into idolatry and were cast off by God, because, they refused to live by faith. They stumbled over the Stumbling-Stone (Rom. 9:33-10:4). Going about to establish their own righteousness, they refused to submit to the righteousness of God, never realizing that, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” “The just shall live by his faith.” But they refused to believe and perished.
Yet, ''when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). You can count on it, not one thing willed, purposed, predestined, and/or promised by God will fail to be accomplished, and accomplished in exactly the way and at the precise time God has ordained. A thousand years are as a day in God's sight. He never gets in a hurry, and he is never late.
This is God's answer to all Habakkuk’s questions and his answer to our own questions as well. ― ''The just shall live by his faith” (Hab 2:4). As I mentioned at the beginning of this study, this great statement made by God to Habakkuk is repeated three times in the New Testament, all by the apostle Paul. Each place describes a specific aspect of Christ’s all-sufficient and infallibly effectual work on behalf of his people as our Surety and Substitute.
The first New Testament quotation is found in Romans 1:17. It follows Paul’s declaration, ''For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom 1:16). Then he says, ''For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith'' (Rom 1:17).
In Romans 1 Paul is standing, as it were, upon the threshold of his great Epistle on Justification, in which he shows us how sinners are made righteous and just before God, not by works, but by grace. In the Book of God we are given an inspired record of his wondrous work of redemption by Christ, a record of redemption accomplished by the righteousness and blood of his darling Son. Faith believes God’s witness, says, “Amen,” to the testimony of God concerning his Son, and believing the record God has given concerning his Son, believing God, we receive righteousness, free, unconditional, irrevocable and eternal justification. I repeat: faith does not make us righteous. Christ did that at Calvary (Rom. 4:25). Faith receives the atonement and the righteousness brought in by it (Rom. 5:11). Like our brother Abel, believing God, offering God the blood of his own Son, we obtain witness that we are righteous (Heb. 11:4).
The second quote is here, in Galatians 3:11. ― “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, The just shall live by faith.” Here, Paul is saying much the same thing as he wrote in Colossians 2:6. ― “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” The Galatians were being tempted by false preachers, Judaizing legalists, to forsake Christ and the grace of God altogether (Gal. 5:1-4). These false teachers tried to persuade them that, having been saved by grace (justified by grace), they must now keep themselves saved and make themselves perfect, that they must sanctify themselves by their own works.
Paul is not confusing justification and sanctification, but clarifying them. In the context (3:1-10) he is clearly addressing the matter of sanctification. He is telling us that both are found in Christ, that both are received by trusting Christ, that both are works of grace received by faith. He is saying, “If you could make yourself perfect by works, you could justify yourself by your works. But that is evidently impossible, “for the just shall live by faith!’”
In Galatians 3:11 Paul is talking about the believer’s walk of life in this world. Just as we are saved by faith, we continue in life by faith.
We see Habakkuk’s words again in Hebrews 10:38. Here the Holy Spirit is talking about perseverance and the assurance of it (Heb. 10:39). When the night is darkest, faith pierces the darkness and, seeing the light of God’s promise and grace in Christ, refuses to quit. Faith embraces and clings to Christ.
Back in the book of Habakkuk, the prophet of God tells us that judgment is coming. Every proud rebel shall be destroyed. But, even in the midst of the providential calamities of divine judgment in time, and when the great and final day of wrath shall come, those who live by faith have their eyes on One who is the Anchor of their souls, knowing that he is in his holy temple (2:14, 20). ― "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea."
Certainly, this is talking about that last day, when judgment is over and God makes all things new. It is equally certain that this is talking about this gospel age, in which the gospel of God’s free, sovereign, saving, grace and glory in Christ is spread over all the earth, even as God destroys the nations by the great whore of false religion, Babylon.
Still, there is more. If you have a marginal translation, you will see that the words of Habakkuk 2:14 might be translated, “the earth shall be filled by knowing the glory of the Lord.” That is to say, “We who believe God, who live by faith, knowing the glory of God in Christ, see the fulness of God’s purpose in all things through all the earth” (Rom. 8:28-39). This is exactly what our Lord declares to be the case in John 11:40. As it was upon Mt. Sinai that the whole earth was full of the glory of God (Hab. 3:3-4), so it is now. If only we had eyes to see it, the whole earth is full of God’s praise. One day soon, all things shall show forth his praise.
Even when God marches through the earth in wrath, with his glittering sword drawn, he is riding upon his “chariots of salvation” (Hab. 3:8), and goes forth for the salvation of his people by Christ, his anointed (Hab. 3:12-13).
We are justified by faith; we walk by faith; we will be delivered by faith. This is the vision God gave the prophet of old. Habakkuk declares, “God is working out his eternal purpose of grace for the salvation of his people. In wrath, he does remember mercy. He is making himself known. He is preserving his church and kingdom. Blessed be his holy name!” In consideration of all these things, the Holy Spirit tells us four times, “The just shall live by faith.”
Knowing this, the troubled, heavy-hearted prophet closes his song and his prophecy with a marvelous declaration of determined faith, bowing to the wisdom, goodness and grace of God’s adorable providence, even when it appears dark and difficult (3:17-19).
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments."
That is exactly what is meant by these words, “The just shall live by faith.” May God the Holy Spirit, whose words these are, teach and give us grace, constantly, to live by faith.