Four times in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit spoke this: “The just shall live by faith.” An eternal principle since the beginning, the statement declares the way man must live to please God. In each case where it is written, we can see, by way of contrast in the context, an emphasis upon a particular aspect of the principle. Let’s consider each.
“Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). In this context, the Lord first describes the Chaldean whose estimation of self is distorted by his pride, and as a result, his soul is not right before God. The same is true of all today who believe they exist and are sustained without God and don’t need God. In contrast to the proud, the Lord says that the righteous or just man will live by his faith. Faith comes by hearing the word of God, and living by faith means ordering one’s beliefs, thoughts, words, and deeds by that revealed word of God. The principle that the just shall live by faith is seen in the beginning in Genesis 2 when man was divinely instructed by his Creator. Obedience to God would please God, but disobedience would bring God’s condemnation. Satan appealed to Eve’s pride in his enticement of her, and the Scripture says that she believed the tree was “desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6) – and “make wise” was not the wisdom of God. Neither Eve nor Adam acted by faith in this case, and as a result they were not just or right with God. True both then and now: The one who walks by faith, not the one who walks in his own pride, is just or righteous.
“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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17). In Romans, Paul shows the gospel to be a system of justification by faith in Jesus Christ as opposed to the works of the law of Moses. But he goes on to explain to the Jew that obedient faith has always been what pleases God. Paul referred back to the eternal principle in Habakkuk that the just shall live by faith. In the gospel dispensation, one is justified – declared righteous – through faith, and that is an obedient faith, in Jesus Christ. In Romans, there is an emphasis upon the gospel of Christ being God’s plan for making man righteous by faith in Christ.
“But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Galatians 3:11). Not justified by what law? The law that was “four hundred and thirty years after” (3:17) the promise to Abraham – that is, the law of Moses. Here Paul again refers to the eternal truth that the just shall live by faith as an argument against any who would want to be justified by the law of Moses, and some in the churches of Galatia were contending for a binding of the law of Moses. But there could be no justification by the law of Moses. Justification can only be had through faith in Jesus Christ, and thus the just shall live by faith. So in this context, Paul is emphatically stating that justification cannot be had through the law of Moses but only through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Now the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:38-39). In this context, the author is exhorting and spurring on the Hebrew Christians, and us by necessary inference, to continue and to finish the race that we have begun. He reminds those Christians that they have already endured a great struggle and must not cast away their confidence. They needed to endure a while longer. The contrast is made between shrinking back – defecting from the Lord, casting off their faith – and continuing to live by faith – continuing to walk according to the revealed word of God. The emphasis here is that to be saved eternally, one must keep walking, living by faith.
The principle “the just shall live by faith” is just as true today. Beware of the pride of life – walking by your own rule; instead, humbly walk by faith, living according to the revealed word of God. Remember that justification is by faith in Jesus Christ, and the gospel is that message. Outside of obedient faith in the gospel of Christ, one cannot be declared by God just or righteous. And finally, do not abandon your commitment to Christ but continue to walk by faith and endure to the end of your life so that “you may receive the promise,” (Hebrews 10:36), which is “an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven” (Hebrews 10:34).
– Larry Jones