The Just shall Live by Faith: Habukkak 2

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Today’s reading: Habakkuk – Zephaniah.

Wrestling is at the heart of Habakkuk. The prophet was wrestling with God when he wrote the book. Why were the wicked prospering? What was God up to as he delayed judgment? When would God act and make things right? Habakkuk lived in Jerusalem at a time, before the exile, when the wickedness of Judah’s political and religious leaders seemed ripe and overdue for judgment.

Martin Luther was wrestling with God 2,000 years later when Habakkuk took center stage in his thoughts. He was struggling with assurance of salvation, and failing to find peace with God by his own works, when the reality of “the just shall live by faith” blazed into his soul.

“Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because, not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words – ‘The just shall live by faith!’ ‘The just shall live by faith!’ – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God.”

Habakkuk’s wrestling brought him face-to-face with God’s answer that he would act soon by sending Babylon to punish Judah. Luther’s wrestling put an end to his struggle to find peace with God, and helped launch the Reformation. The New Testament writers understood the significance of God’s statement to Habakkuk, using it three different times to magnify each of the three key words.

The Just.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'” Romans 1:16-17

The just person is the righteous person. They are righteous because they have been restored to a right relationship with God. They have been justified, declared legally innocent of all charges. This righteousness is the character of the man or woman of faith. Living by faith is the lifestyle of the just or righteous person.

Shall Live.

“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.'” Galatians 3:10-12

Paul’s point in Galatians is that eternal life comes by faith. The one who finds life finds it by faith, not by keeping the works of the law. Another way to state the same fact is that the person who lives a life of faith is the one who will gain eternal life.

By Faith.

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” Hebrews 11:36-39

The writer of Hebrews stressed that faith was the necessary ingredient for salvation. We keep believing in order to receive what God has promised. Perseverance or patient endurance describes the faith that assures salvation.

Habakkuk began by questioning God’s methods, but he ended by living out the righteous faith that God ordained. He was able to speak words of hope that have set an example for all who wrestle with difficult situations. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Image by Diogo Martins on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

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5 thoughts on “The Just shall Live by Faith: Habukkak 2

  1. “I hated God and was angry with him”.

    I am not at all sure about this man Luther. Does he truly hate God?

    No content with scripture, he rewrites it to suit his own purposes, adding the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. What kind of person takes it upon himself to add or subtract from sacred scripture? John has something to say about this: “If any man shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book.”

    What does Luther himself say about this act of audacity?

    “If your Papist annoys you with the word (‘alone’ – Rom. 3:28), tell him straightway, Dr. Martin Luther will have it so: Papist and ass are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil’s thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom.” from J. Dollinger, La Reforme et les resultants quelle a produits. (Trans. E. Perrot, Paris, Gaume, 1848-49), Vol III, pg. 138.

    I find this deeply, deeply troubling. This sounds very dark and sinister.

    • It must have been a very bitter battle between Luther and Rome, a life and death struggle. I’m sure it caused some hatred on both sides, not to condone either party.
      So here’s the Greek: λογιζομεθα (We reckon) ουν (therefore) πιστει (by faith) δικαιουσθαι (to be justified) ανθρωπον (a man) χωρις (apart from) εργων (works of) νομου (law) (Newberry, T., & Berry, G. R. (2004). The interlinear literal translation of the Greek New Testament, Ro 3:28).
      One commentator’s logic-based reply: The idea contained in the phrase ‘achievement by means of X and not by means of Y’ is arguably the equivalent of ‘achievement by means of X alone and not Y’. They are communicating the same concept.
      Another commentator: Catholic translators before the time of Luther had given the same translation. So in the Nuremberg Bible, 1483, “Nur durch den glauben.” And the Italian Bibles of Geneva, 1476, and of Venice, 1538 “per sola fede.” The Fathers also often use the expression, “man is justified by faith alone.”
      My main argument against Luther’s translation would be James’ argument that faith without works is dead, but the same conflict between Paul and James exists with or without “alone.”
      Rather than arguments against Luther, what do you think about the text itself, “the just shall live by faith”?

  2. I think the answer is this: it is not “either or”, it is “both and”. That is the only paradigm that makes sense of scripture as a whole. It is both faith and works. That unites Romans and James, and does not divide them. It removes the need to add words to Romans, and it makes James so much more than “an epistle of straw”.

  3. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Faith: Habukkak 2 | ChristianBlessings

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