What does Habakkuk mean when he says, “The righteous will live by his faith” (2:4)? How does Paul use this verse in Romans 1:17?
The first half of Habakkuk 2:4 addresses the posture of an unrighteous soul; It speaks of it: “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him.” His soul being puffed up, and the second phrase describing that soul not being upright within is establishing the unregenerate status of this soul. It is proud, thinking itself highly capable but in reality condemned. In typical Hebrew poetic fashion, a parallelism is employed that contrasts this negative with a positive to bring greater clarity; namely, the 2nd half of verse 4 which defines what it means to be upright in God’s sight. The opposite of pride is the meekness of faith. Faith is what the righteous, what the upright soul lives by…not in a puffed-up-self-made posture, but in humility.
Paul uses this verse to wage war against the idea of works righteousness, against the idea that a soul can be upright before God apart from faith in Christ. Paul’s usage in Roman’s 1:17 is paramount to his entire letter to the Romans as he labors to teach why not all Israel received Christ and why the gentiles are coming in. Faith alone reveals God’s righteousness. Not puffed up pride, or good works, but faith in Christ which produces humility and leads to truly good works. So Paul teaches the church to live by faith, living in it in an all encompassing way, thus ever warning the brothers to beware of those walking in pride, or of the temptation to think they can be righteous apart from Christ.
“For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” – Galatians 5:5-6 ESV
The hope of righteousness that comes by faith produces an eager anticipation of the eternal life obtained in Christ…a hope which is longed for by every believer. A hope worth fighting for and keeping secure in ones heart. Paul warns here that the circumcision party was adding works to the equation of justification (beware any teaching other than that of faith alone in Christ for justification) and therefore was robbing the hope that is so precious to every ‘child of promise’ (those who have faith in Christ).
How does this righteousness produce hope? First by recognizing that it is not ones own righteousness that the one who has faith tastes, but that of Christ’s. This recognition comes to light by the grace of God when humility speaks honestly to ones own sinful nature; that ones best deeds done in the flesh are equaled to nothing more than that of filthy rags (scripture says that man’s ‘good’ works = menstrual rags). It is His Spirit working in the believer, through faith, that one performs true works of Godly love. Such works will not feed a self righteous mindset, but these are those that can only result in the believers ascribing glory to God…because such works are completely by His grace and granting from start to finish and the believer praising God will sense this to be true both in the experience of it or upon reflection of it as we do now.
In His providence I suppose these works can and often do go unnoticed by the believer; perhaps so that the right hand not know what the left is doing…thereby pride would continuously be slain at its roots. I also wonder how often these works are left undone by believers and what type of judgement awaits us who through slack and apathy stall our Lords call to serve. I fear this for many Christians, myself included.
I can speak for myself as I know I’ve turned aside many times from opportunities from His works. What comforts me though is that my Lord is faithful when I am not; that He is Lord and I am not; that He is the perfect Teacher and I His student; I am His subject and He is my kind Ruler; I am his adopted son and He my loving Father; that He saved me a sinner, not as a righteous man and has committed to conform me to Himself; that He will finish what He started; that He is mighty to save. Oh goodness! He has dealt ever so kindly to me, even when my heart condemns me and my accuser screams my list of sins at me, He has not forsaken me and He leads me to repentance…He restores my soul. Praise God, grace is mine as a son, eternally!
Let me not lose sight of the hope of righteousness; let me let go of the elemental powers of this world; let me fully trust in my Lord and walk in His ways. I know that when I walk in His righteousness I am eternally minded; the temporal is enjoyed and used for His purposes but it becomes necessarily secondary. I pray to do more and more of His works to know the joyous laughter of His praise and glory. May it be so. Amen.
Justification is a gift of God’s grace to sinners. This gift isn’t like a Christmas time gift that one opens in order to receive; it is the forgiveness of sins and new life which only God can unwrap inside the stony hearts of men. The gift is His granting apart from any and all works. Do not confuse salvation with sanctification here, God’s will to SAVE sinners trumps man’s refusal; all of mens’ will in the 1st Adam are by nature in bondage to sin and cannot please God, these enslaved wills are transformed by the new birth which is completely wrought by Gods own doing. Even repentance is only granted by God’s kindness to the sinner.
In Romans 3 is seen an inditement on all mankind, that no one seeks God, and that He alone is righteous. So if all are judged and all will be, none have an excuse. But God being rich in mercy, under no obligation to do so, determined to grant pardons and makes them known to both Jew and Gentile as He chooses. If the objection is raised “why doesn’t he save all” the scriptural response is, “why does He save any?”
If you haven’t tasted and seen the The Lord is good, pray for mercy, the He might enable you to taste, to see His glory, and there bend your knee to His Lordship and great love.
To the person who has faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, give credit where credit is due. It isn’t because you said yes, it is because He drew you, He called you, He took out your heart of stone and caused you to hear and believe. He began this good work in you and He will finish it. Some might object and say, “doesn’t this make us mere robots”…a regenerated man is an object of the grace of God who still eats, drinks, sleeps, loves, hates (sin), plays, etc; only now he worships rightly…this is anything but robotic, it is organic and it is glorious. Salvation belongs to The Lord.
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28 NASB)