. . . The righteous person will live by his faithfulness (Hab. 2: 4b).

I cannot leave this verse without giving it fuller treatment because of its importance in Scripture.

“This great principle – “the just shall live by faith” – so inflamed the soul of Martin Luther that it became the watchword of the Reformation. It occurs first here in the small prophecy of Habakkuk but is then quoted three times in the New Testament. The term “just”, of course, means “justified” or “righteous”. God says a person is enabled to live righteously by his faith.”

Paul’s first reference to Hab. 2:4, found in Rom. 1: 17, highlights God’s way of achieving righteousness. It comes through the gospel of God’s salvation. God’s righteousness is revealed through the gospel, a righteousness that is received as a free girt through faith. The great theme of Romans is God’s righteousness. How can a holy God forgive and receive sinners into His presence?

Through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, He has revealed His justice in punishing sin, and at the same time justifying the sinner, absolving us from all guilt because the debt has been paid by one who had no sin of His own. His justice has been fully satisfied. He is free to impute righteousness to those who are unrighteous and receive us back into His family as His beloved sons and daughters.

Paul’s second reference to Hab. 2:4 is found in Gal 3:13, a companion letter to his letter to the Romans. Galatians was written to deal with a serious error that was being broadcast by a group of Jewish believers called Judaisers. They were insisting that Gentile believers be circumcised first before they could become Christians and identify with the church. Paul was adamant that anything added to faith in Christ for salvation nullified God’s grace and put them back under the law.

Just as they could only be counted as righteous through faith in Christ, so they could only be declared innocent through faith in Him. The two truths are closely linked. Without justification which we receive by faith in Christ’s finished work and the righteousness which He freely gives us through the same faith, we cannot approach and have fellowship with a holy God. We can do nothing to absolve ourselves from guilt and the punishment we deserve for our imperfection in God’s sight. He did it all to bring us back to Himself, and we receive it by faith and act on what He has done for us.

The third reference, Heb. 10: 38, emphasizes the importance of the life that flows from faith in what God has done for us. It leads into chapter 11, the great “faith” chapter in which the writer gives a resume’ of the heroes of the faith who obeyed God because they believed in Him. Faith that does not issue in obedience is sterile and useless.

Paul emphasised faith as the basis for salvation. James emphasised “works” as the evidence of faith. The two themes go hand in hand. Jesus applauded Zaccheus because he bore witness to the change in his heart by his willingness to make restitution for his greed and dishonesty.

The point of this revelation to Habakkuk was that every individual must take responsibility for what he does and the way he lives. Those who, like the Babylonians, were cruel and ruthless were accountable to God for what they did not only to God’s people but to all people. The problem was the attitude of their hearts. They treated others with contempt as lesser beings than themselves and thus they wiped them out or enslaved them with impunity. They would not “live” in the sense that their wickedness would take them to an eternal “death”.

Those who, by faith in God, live in dependence on Him, will be reckoned as righteous and will continue to experience true life when they pass from this life. Righteousness is imputed to those who believe God’s promises.

Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15: 6).

It does matter what we believe because our destiny depends on believing what God has done for us and living our lives on the basis of His promise.

“Those who by faith are righteous, shall live.”

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Luella Campbell

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