This passage occurs in Romans and Galatians. With slight wording variations, it appears twice more in the Bible.
The first is in Habakkuk, who likely wrote his book shortly before the Babylonian invasion. The godly Habakkuk’s concern was evil. Daily, he observed violence, injustice, and wickedness in Judah. In a dialogue with the Lord, Habakkuk asked why he allowed this.
The Lord revealed that he would use the Babylonians to severely discipline Judah for its sins. Yet, he described the Babylonians as greedy and violent idolaters. This confused Habakkuk. It seemed inconsistent with the Lord’s character.
The Lord went on to reveal that someday he would also deal with the Babylonians. By contrast, he stated, “The righteous person will live by his faithfulness” [2:4].
There are three key words in this passage. The first is righteous. Bible characters—like Noah, Job, and Simeon—are labeled righteous. They are not perfect, but upright. Habbakuk used righteous to denote those who follow a standard like God’s holy law.
The second word is live, a word with multiple meanings depending on context. Hababbuk’s use denotes deliverance and living in a holy relationship with the Lord.
The final word is faithfulness. Note the preceding word: his faithfulness. This points to the Lord’s faithfulness to his promises.
In short, this passage from Habakkuk states that believers live—by faith—according to the Word of God. As such, they enjoy a special relationship with the Lord and they may fully rely on his promises.
Habakkuk may not have immediately understood the Lord’s words, but neither have we. At times, we look about in disbelief. We want to “throw in the towel” thinking that God has lost control of this world. When this occurs, may he lead us to this passage and remind us of faithfulness. He controls history for the good of his people and guides everything to glorify his name.
Habakkuk eventually understood this and—by God’s grace—so may we.
Lord, give us eyes of faith to view your faithfulness through Jesus’ cross. You have made us “the righteous [who] live by faith.”
Jim Grasby is principal of Lakeside Lutheran.
Contact him at email@example.com