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The Righteous Shall Live by Faith. Romans 1:17

The Godly Man: Transformed by God's Faithfulness

"The Righteous Will Live by Faith"

Paul J. Bucknell

Faith & Faithfulness | Hebrews 11 | Counterfeit Faith | Righteous live by Faith | God's Faithfulness | Words of Faith | Cultivating Faith | God's Extreme Faithfulness | Faithfulness in Temptation | Testimonies on Faithfulness

The righteous (just) shall live by faith Romans 1:17  Heavens truths penetrated the world of men during the Reformation. God's kingdom reordered man's world. There is no doubt that the world was greatly affected by this seemingly small and inconsequential movement. The effect was not as great and thorough as it could have been. There were tragedies that took place because God's truth did not enter different areas of man's mind. Notwithstanding, God reached down and began to touch men's lives in a great way.

We need to ask, "Why is it that the Reformation was so influential?" We are not attempting to negate the many papers that have been written on this topic or oversimplify the issue. The development of the moveable press had great ramifications for the publicity of the truth. The corruptness of the church served as a large black backdrop in which one could see a tiny flame.

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But we would skirt the main issue if we denied it was the release of truth itself that changed man. In a sense, this certain truth opened a whole new world to these reformers starting with Martin Luther. This one truth was as a hallway that led to new perspectives on many other truths. The plethora of revelation of God's Word ignited a mighty flame in the hearts of His people that still goes on strong into the twenty first century.

What was this truth? The truth was called 'justification (righteousness) by faith.' The phrase "the righteous shall live by faith' is mentioned four times in the Bible. The three New Testament passages quote from the original Old Testament source. We will further examine this one truth here with hopes that we too will be greatly impacted by this foundational truth.

"I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, 'the righteousness of God', because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous .. Night and day I pondered until ... I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before 'the righteousness of God' had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressible sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven." - Martin Luther

Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of Christianity, p. 364.

Perhaps a chart will help us concentrate on the similarities and slight variances in the way this crucial phrase is used.

Passage Context Purpose Significance
Habakkuk 2:4

"Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith."

The righteous man listens to God. The proud one, however, is led by wrong desires. The righteous will be guided by his faith. Habakkuk wanted an answer on how God would use a more wicked people to judge His own people. He stood waiting upon God for an answer (2:1). Part of God's answer is seen in the contrast between the wicked and the righteous. The haughty would be judged for his wicked deeds (his unright soul). But God would protect and keep the righteous by his faith. God's people are often confused on the way God allows His people to suffer abuse. Tragedies are hard to understand. If we are going to get a good handle on this issue, we need to always go back to the fact that the 'righteous will live by faith.' They will trust God even in the most difficult of times.
Romans 1:17

"For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.""

The gospel is the power of God for salvation. The righteousness of God is revealed in it, and it results in righteous living. Paul the apostle uses this verse as a diamond in a ring. The ring is like the book of Romans, the diamond this truth. The 'from faith' refers to the perceiving of God's revelation of salvation through Christ (chapters 1-4) and the 'to faith' refers to the resulting righteous life obtained by Christ's righteousness (rest of book). Faith's fruit is righteousness. Paul bridges the gospels with the NT epistles with this verse as he shows their inter-relationship. Martin Luther was mightily moved by the powerful truths of righteousness gained by faith.
Galatians 3:11

"Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.""

Believers are exhorted and taught not to live by the Law but by faith. This verse is used to prove that no one is made right by observing the Law. The Apostle Paul has just used the argument as to how Abraham was saved by faith. The Gentiles were likewise saved. The believer does not focus on works of the Law but on faith centered around Christ's own righteousness. The Law demands satisfaction which we can't do because we haven't fully complied to the Law. This is a powerful argument against the attempt to gain righteousness by doing good. Man cannot be justified by his own works. Paul uses this verse to demolish the pretense of the legalist and to establish the way of faith for Jew and Gentile alike.
Hebrews 10:38


Those believers that have and will suffer persecution are exhorted to endure on in their faith. The emphasis is on the future faithfulness of the one living by faith. The author of Hebrews sees God's people wavering in the midst of persecution. In order to encourage them, he reminds them of the need to live by faith. There is the constant need to keep going on. They cannot look to the past but to being faithful in the present. All the debate about the necessity of a Christian to live a righteous life is rather silly. If in a n environment of persecution, Christians are to live righteous lives, it is all the more apparent that in our indulgent and entertainment society, we are expected to live righteous lives.

I just spoke to a twenty one year–old Christian brought up in a 'good' Christian church and home. I simply asked him whether he knew how his faith in Christ saved him. He was greatly confused when I told him that God can never overlook sin. He must judge all sins. This brother was very confused. He did understand the words of what Christ did at the cross but never could really understand their implication for his own life.

I wonder with the modern evangelical movement whether we have really done a disservice to God's people. Let me mention two reasons evangelicalism is morally and spiritually floundering.

Firstly, we have separated the acknowledging of faith as the same as living faith. We further this confusion by stressing what we have done rather than what we are presently doing (cf. Heb 10:38). We keep pointing people, even those flagrant in their sin, back to their confession of Christ. Once saved always saved. Somehow, we can't understand how we are often affirming the pagan that he has part in Christ's kingdom. A raising of hand is not he same as believing upon Christ. It seems to be a silent and unquestionable doctrine to question a believer's security in Christ. These people would mistranslate this phrase to say, "My righteous one shall live by his profession of faith." We have compounded this problem by not preaching the righteousness of God.

Secondly, we have not preached true repentance. If so, it is a revival, teary kind of regret, that humbles us for a weekend but not for a life. We focus on the given righteousness of God in Christ. If God is happy, I am happy. Somehow evangelicals have forsaken holiness in the last generation. Now we commonly hear, "It is okay just so we try hard." If we are sincere, that is all that counts. Before this, and perhaps this is where we got waylaid, we confused righteousness with legalism. We defined righteous living with doing what was good in our own sight. As a result, we could have a terrible temper just so we did not smoke cigarettes. We would mistranslate this phrase above to say, "My unrighteous one shall live by faith."

We personally might be in for a great surprise if we studied these verses. We might find that we need this new faith ourselves! Maybe I can point out one more tension in the church. Because evangelicals are shunning her reformed roots in exchange for a popular religion, an increasing number of dissatisfied evangelicals are looking elsewhere. They criticize, and rightly so in many cases, the lack of genuine faith among the evangelicals or traditionalists (which are not very traditional - they only use traditional buildings).

They would be wise to emphasize the passage in Habakkuk. Don't get discouraged. Hang in there. God has not deserted His people so that those in real faith have lost God or that God has deserted them. No. Not at all. God is still in control doing wonders about the world. The righteous will live by faith. Nothing around them should take their eyes off of their Lord. Neither should they get haughty, for pride is the quickest way to join those that we are disdaining (Gal 6:1).

We seem to keep tripping over our own feet. When we emphasize faith, we lose the need for personal righteousness. When we emphasize righteousness, we get caught up in legalism. This phrase needs to be buried in our mind like Paul did in Romans 1:17.

(1) Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1, NASB).

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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