What did Habakkuk mean by the phrase “the just shall live by faith”?

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Old Testament – The just shall live by faith

The phrase “the just shall live by faith” was written by the prophet Habakkuk. “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Here, Habakkuk asserted that the upright, humble man will go forward in faith, trusting the wisdom and providence of God—in contrast with the proud man whose “soul … is lifted up” and who doubts the wisdom and justice of God’s dealings with men (Habakkuk 2:1, 4). 

Trust in God originates from the promise that He will lead, protect, and bless those who do His will. Habakkuk confirmed that he who lives by a childlike faith and simple trust in God will be delivered from evil, but the proud who walk in sin will be lost. 

While, mainly this verse refers to those who, because of their faith in the Lord, will be delivered from the Babylonians and will still find peace, though Judah be ruined, in a larger sense the verse declares a truth that is relevant to all times. 

New Testament – The just shall live by faith

The apostle Paul in the New Testament quotes (Habakkuk 2:4) as the theme of a thesis on righteousness by faith in the following references: 

Romans 1:16, 17 – “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.” 

Galatians 3:11- “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”  

Hebrews 10:38 – “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” 

Paul quotes Habakkuk to prove that the man who exercises faith will, as a result of his faith, be considered just (Galatians 3:6–9). He declares that faith is the fundamental necessary condition to acceptance with God. But those who “draw back” from the pathway of faith can never expect to hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: … enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). 

Faith and works

The apostle taught that all who depend on the works of the law for salvation are under a curse (Galatians 3:10) and he shows that it is faith—not law—that brings justification. In other words, the man who is just will exercise faith. This faith will reveal itself in good works the fruit of obedience to God’s law done through His power: “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Genuine faith cooperates with God’s Spirit for the restoration of man.

To show faith apart from works is an impossible thing because faith is a state of mind. It will always show its nature in external behavior. But one who doesn’t show good works also shows a lack of genuine faith. Genuine faith will show unselfish deeds, for it has a desire to serve men. Thus, it was with Christ and thus it will be with all who truly love Him. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team 

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