The Just Shall Live by Faith

Our study this morning takes us back to Hebrews 10. In some introductory thoughts toward our study of Hebrews 11, I want to consider the title to our series, “the just shall live by faith”.  I chose this as the title, because I am convinced that this O.T. quotation serves well as a summary statement for all of Hebrews 11, and that the writer includes it here as such. What does this mean?

( I saw this sentiment on a Tee Shirt at Hallmark the other day) just push the button. It’s just that easy.

I.  Easy Faith? It is my contention that most religious teaching has profoundly misinterpreted the meaning of “faith.” Faith is and should be the core of Christianity. In today’s popular Christian parlance, however, faith is frequently nothing more than a synonym for assent or belief. And believing is presented as easy.

In many churches, the bare minimum of belief is the conviction that because we know Jesus as our personal savior, recognizing that he died for our sins, we are going to heaven when we die.  Once this “faith” is possessed, the “believer” is safe in the arms of Jesus, and cannot be lost.

A. Our study of Hebrews 11 will confront this superficial definition of faith. What we see described in these passages is far more challenging, both to define and possess. Someone has observed that the modern definition of faith speaks if it as a noun to be possessed rather than a verb to be enacted. Faith is something that we live by, not simply have.

B. One way to illustrate this distinction is in the example of marriage. We often use the word faith(fullness) in this connection. What does it mean to “keep faith” in a marriage? It is about fidelity or faithfulness over the long haul.

1.  Faith takes time in a way that simple belief does not. Does a good wedding day insure a happy and successful marriage? (From the money many spend on that one day, you might think some believe this is so). But the bride and groom may believe their wedding vows with all their hearts and speak them clearly with their lips, but their convictions on the wedding day are only the beginning—not the end—of the story of their marriage. The marriage depends on a faith that is exhibited day, and day out, over a long period of time. The wedding day only asks that you believe; the marriage asks that you live by faith.
II.  Correctly Applying Habakkuk’s words:  Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted 3 times in the N.T. This reoccurrence alone should cause to reflect upon the fundamental idea contained in these words.  God’s words in Habakkuk 2 reflect core teaching on the subject of salvation. Yet the 3 occurrences of Habakkuk’s words must be understood within the context.Take a look at one of the three quotations:

A.   Romans 1:16-1716 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

1.  Many evangelistic presentations make these verses a simplistic summation of how one is saved. They place these verses alongside Rom. 10:9 ( “… if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”) and conclude that what Paul is describing here is singular moment of belief, usually exhibited in something called a sinner’s prayer. The popular teaching is that If one meant it when he prayed then he is saved, never to be lost.

2.   A reading of Romans 10:9 that sees this as the work of an instant contradicts the rest of the N.T. context. Those who came to be believers made dramatic changes in conduct and allegiance. They lived out their new relationship faithfully over a long period of time. The biblical understanding of faith bears no resemblance to the quick belief that is often taught.  No, in the biblical understanding of faith, the righteous one will live by fidelity and trusting obedience.

B.  God back to the original words in Habakkuk 2. The book of Habakkuk was probably composed near the end of the seventh century B.C., just before the Babylonians (Chaldeans) took Judah captive for 70 years. The book records a dialogue between God and Habakkuk wherein Habakkuk voices a concern that is common among His people. How long will God allow violence and injustice to go uncorrected. (1:1-4)

1.  God’s answer is twofold: He will discipline His own people by raising up the Chaldeans to take Judah’s land (1:6-11) After Habakkuk wonders how a Holy God could empower these pagan people (1:12-17), God tells him that He will also judge the Chaldeans in His own time.

2.  In Chapter 2 he issues 5 woes against Babylon. In prefacing His answer God says this, – For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.  4 “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith. (Hab 2:3-4).

a.  Notice that the words on faith are interjected into a longer discussion on the judgment of God on the wicked. Whereas the wicked also notice that God seems to be idle against evil and seek to exploit it, God calls on Habakkuk to live by “faith”.  What does that mean here?

b. In the context it includes

  • the continual, present expectation of the future judgment of God—
  • that is, in fidelity or trusting obedience to the dependability of God.
  • One author suggests that “by faith” of the righteous seems to refer both to God and humankind. The faith of people finds its home in the faithfulness of God.  This understanding of faith is beautifully expanded by the illustration in the final verses of his concluding hymn of praise:  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. The sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. (3:17-19)

c.  Habakkuk is called to do more than believe a set of propositions about God. This confidence in God must be lived out. He is not proud (as the Chaldeans) so as to trust in his riches or power, but trusts in God, who is faithful.

C.  Taking the original meaning of faith in Habakkuk and applying it to our Romans text leads us to a very different interpretation than the popular version.  Notice that Paul’s “from faith to faith” makes explicit the implication that faith is the double-sided character of the divine-human relationship.  We believe that God is believe-able, trust that God is trust-worthy, and have faith that God is faith-ful.

1.   An expanded paraphrase of Romans 1:16-17 along these lines might read as follows: For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who trustingly obeys [God], to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed by [God’s] faithfulness to the faith [of those who trust him], just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith/fulness.”

2.   James wrote to denounce such a shallow understanding of faith. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder?’ (James 2:18-19).  In the false understanding of faith, one’s Christianity can (in theory, at least) be an entirely internal and private matter, never requiring a connection to a church or any outward change in life. If Christianity simply requires belief, then Christ is technically no more significant than Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or any other object of belief.

D. Return to Hebrews 10 – another appearance of Habakkuk’s words.  Hebrews 10:36-3836 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” How is the writer of Hebrews using Habakkuk’s words?

III.  The Practical Context of Faith:  – The author of Hebrews is concerned with exhibiting the superiority of the gospel of Christ over the Law of Moses. He provides several reasons in support of his argument. (superior High Priest, sacrifice, law, hope, etc.)

A. But in chapter 10 he is urging those who have responded to the gospel of Jesus (believed & obeyed) to not give up or go back. He encourages them to “holdfast the confession of their hope, for He who promised is faithful” (v. 23) The word for faithful here is pistos, the word that most often is translated as faith in the N.T.  It appears 24 times as a noun in Hebrews 11, and 3 times as a verb.  The author’s extensive description of faith flows from the implied “faithfulness” of God.  His point is precisely that found in Habakkuk 2 – that God can be trusted. He will reward us if we persevere to the end. Therefore we must trust Him – and continue to have faith to the end.

B. The writer provides good reasons for perseverance to the end:

1.   There is a certain expectation of judgment (v. 27) and it is “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (v. 31)

2.  Since you became a Christian you have already endured persecution; “you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, (vs. 32-33)

3.   There is a great reward awaiting those who endure. “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:” (vs. 35-36)

4.   Then is vs. 38, he quotes the prophet Habakkuk with the words, “the just shall live by faith”.

  • Jamieson says…” Faith here is that fully-developed living trust in the unseen (Heb 11:1) Saviour, which keeps men stedfast amidst persecutions and temptations

5.  Living by faith is the consistent conviction that God is both right (correct) and trustworthy. Those who live by faith are sustained through this absolute conviction.  Matthew Henry says… “It is the honourable character of just men that in times of the greatest affliction they can live by faith; they can live upon the assured persuasion they have of the truth of God’s promises. Faith puts life and vigour into them. They can trust God, and live upon him, and wait his time: and, as their faith maintains their spiritual life now, it shall be crowned with eternal life hereafter.”

6. Faith is described as the force behind an action or decision to act.  Faith is described in the practical  context of someone doing something. – “By faith…” Faith  motivates and sustains the obedience. This faith we will consider here is not just a one time decision to accept what God says. It not just what one possesses, but rather how one lives.

7.    What follows in Hebrews 11 is a catalogue of faithfulness – 15 Biblical characters that lived by faith.

Conclusion: We certainly recognize that trusting obedience incorporates and even begins with belief and the conviction of the moment, just as a marriage begins and often finds its inspiration from a wedding. One cannot be faithful to that which one does not first believe. Thus, the writer of Hebrews begins with the classic definition of faith of Hebrews 11:1—it is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” But we dare not define faith superficially or make it easy. What we will see in our study is the struggle and victory of obedience over the long haul, against all odds.

  • Do you trust God? Will you live that faith through being obedient to His will?  The just shall live by faith.