“. . . but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
IN THE WHOLE BIBLE THERE ARE FEW TEXTS MORE BASIC THAN THIS ONE. The principle embedded in this passage from Habakkuk is fundamental and far-reaching. And it illustrates an interesting fact about the Scriptures: the more basic the principle found in a passage, the more different ways it may be applied in other passages.
In its original context in Habakkuk, “the righteous shall live by his faith” was a part of God’s answer to the prophet’s perplexity at God’s use of a nation like Babylon to accomplish His purposes. Based on a human being’s limited information, such may seem puzzling, but God has always proven Himself trustworthy, so those who are committed to justice will trust Him. Their trust in God will guide them through life’s apparent contradictions.
In the New Testament, Paul quoted the familiar words of Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:16,17 to emphasize one of the most basic truths of the gospel: it is faith (rather than race, social status, or any other criterion) that is the basis of righteousness before God. No one is excluded; the gospel is open to any person who will make the choice to trust God obediently. And no congregation needed to hear this more than the group in Rome, where the mixed Jewish and Gentile membership needed to keep in mind that they had all been accepted in Christ on the very same basis.
So here we have one of the key elements of the truth about our relationship to God. Beginning with Adam and Eve and coming all the way down to our own day, sin has always been a refusal to trust God enough to obey Him, and salvation has always required coming back to a trust that will obey Him. In the gospel, faith is required for our initial reconciliation to God and also our continuing lives in Christ. It is the mainspring of the watch (to use an antiquated illustration), the source of the energy that drives the mechanism. Yet real faith involves a good deal more than just accepting the facts of the gospel intellectually. That may be the starting point, since faith is based on what our minds recognize to be true. But as it grows to maturity, faith turns into trust — a trust that will risk everything in order to act on what God says about Himself and His will for us.
“Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you cannot understand at the time” (Oswald Chambers).