What does “the just shall live by faith” mean?

Four times the Bible uses the phrase, “the just shall live by faith.” The Bible uses that exact phrase four times. It is found first in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. The New Testament quotes Habakkuk 2:4 three times. The apostle Paul says it twice, once in the books of Romans (1:17) and once in Galatians (3:11) The author of Hebrews also uses the phrase in Hebrews 10:37.

To answer the question faith must be properly defined. Most people today think of faith as the personal acceptance of the truth of something or as an opinion held by the individual. An example of this kind of faith would be the statement, “I believe global warming is real.” Or, “I believe the Broncos are going to win the Super Bowl.” This understanding of faith falls very short of what the Bible describes as faith. The Bible describes faith as the conviction of the truth of God’s Word that leads the person to obedience. One of the classic chapters on faith is Hebrews 11 which begins just a few verses after the statement, “the just shall live by faith.”

How do the just live by faith? They believe and obey God’s Word. Abel believed God’s commands about sacrifices and obeyed His instructions on how to properly sacrifice. Noah believed God’s warning about a coming flood that would destroy the world and he obeyed His instructions to build an ark. Abraham believed God’s promises to richly bless him and to make his family great. Abraham obeyed God’s command to leave his family behind and went on a journey to a destination he had not yet been told. Moses believed God would deliver the Israelites and he obeyed God’s instructions to lead the Israelites out of the land of Egypt.

Obedience alone is not faith. Faith must never never be confused with obedience. Obeying God’s instructions to love one another, to study the Bible and go to church is not the same as faith. Real faith will always produce genuine obedience, but obedience cannot always be traced back to saving faith. Many people go to church every Sunday, but not because they are Christian’s. Many people are kind to others, but not because they are saved or even believe in God.

Some people obey God thinking their obedience will be enough to outweigh their sin and get them into heaven. This is the exact opposite of faith. Obedience with the goal of achieving salvation is disobedience because it rejects God’s Word, refuses God’s grace and denies the need of Jesus’ death on the cross. Faith accepts God’s Word and follows its instructions. One is never made righteous by obedience, but those who have truly been made right with God will live in obedience. The just will live by faith.

The Bible makes clear that faith is more than acceptance of a fact. Biblical faith if far more than a personal opinion about something. Faith is more than personally accepting something as true for yourself. Faith is believing the truth of God’s Word so fully that you completely obey God’s Word. Biblical faith always produces obedience. Thus, those who are saved by faith (the just) are also those who will live in obedience to God’s commands (live by faith). Faith is not about stepping out to do something difficult. Faith is not imagining there is a presence with you when you are scared and alone. Faith is obedience to the Bible. The Christian lives by faith after salvation by being obedient to God’s commands.

The Bible means two things when it says, “the just shall live by faith”. First, those who are just were made just and given eternal life by faith. Salvation- eternal life- is only received by faith. Second, once a person becomes just the just person will live in obedience to the Bible. This obedience is not to try to get or keep righteousness, but is the natural result of true faith. The just will live by his faith. Through faith he will receive life life and faith will direct his life.

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