Habakkuk evokes the deer which nimbly “tread upon the heights,” escaping, in the end, the trampling horses of Babylon.

God honored Habakkuk’s steadfast patience as a watchman on the wall, waiting for God’s response to his questions. God now called upon the prophet to record everything he was about to receive in a vision, for it was meant as encouragement in faith to all the people.

The Justified One

Look at the proud!
    Their spirit is not right in them,
    but the righteous live by their faith.

YHWH to Habakkuk, Habakkuk 2:4 (NRSV)

In the original Hebrew, this part of the verse is only three words: “the-justified-one”, “by-his-faith,” “will-live”.

Who is this justified person?

Think of someone who has all the trappings of what looks like righteousness and success, a super achiever, the nicest person who ever lived, every hair in place, every trophy ever won, they always do just the right thing, they know just the right words. But if this person relies upon their own ability, they are not actually upright, as some translations put it.

Being justified—being made righteous—is a matter of faith.

Centuries later, the Apostle Paul quoted Habakkuk in his famous treatise on the doctrines of Christian faith.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Apostle Paul, Romans 1:16-17 (NRSV)

By Faith

The next part, “by his faith” is how the justification is received.

Faith is pretty simple, really.

Faith is believing God and acting on your belief.

It is more than an intellectual acknowledgement of truth, although belief does include the mind. The first part of belief is believing in something, there must be some content, something that is known before it can be believed. But if knowing is of the mind, then believing is of the heart, because ultimately belief involves a measure of trust, and trust goes beyond a mere knowing, to a settled confidence.

This truth is so foundational that it was written of often in the scriptures. In fact, the author of the book of Hebrews meant exactly this in quoting Habakkuk.

For yet

“in a very little while,
    the one who is coming will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one will live by faith.
    My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.”

God, Hebrews 10:37-38 (NRSV)

In response, the author of Hebrews wrote on behalf of every believer in God and in Christ.

But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

The author, Hebrews 10:39 (NRSV)

Will Live

The last part, “will live,” is a moment-to-moment, non‑stop commitment, every hour of every day. Sometimes you and I can get caught up in thinking that faith is not enough, that somehow we have to add to it. We have to observe certain religious holy days, participate in certain ceremonies, make regular use of certain sacraments, be known for certain character traits, spiritual disciplines, and plentiful good deeds. We have to perform somehow.

Honestly, this is how our world works, does it not? We have to earn our way, we have to prove our worth.

Every culture has some variation on this theme, it is inherently human. It even seems as though the Law of Moses, the blessings and cursings, and commandments of God all support this view. We have to pay to play.

Yet the entirety of the scriptures places worth first and then good works, faith first and then justification, trust in God first and then righteousness. Words and actions alone do not have value, in scripture. Only words and actions that flow from trust and faith in God have life in them.

As I wrote those words I thought of a toy that was coveted by little girls when I was a very little girl over fifty years ago, a doll that could be tipped forward and made to cry “momma,” that could “drink” from a bottle, make diapers wet, and even cry like a real baby. But all those realistic (to us little girls, very real) works still did not make this toy a living baby. And what would we have done with real babies! We were pleased with our dolls that only mimicked life.

The profound difference between a doll and a baby -is- life.


And it brings to mind the concept of regeneration, a theological term meaning “rebirth.” It is a new generating, a new genesis, a new beginning. It is not just “turning over a new leaf,” but marks the beginning of a new life in a radically, supernaturally, renewed person. It is the Holy Spirit putting God’s eternal life into a person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The Apostle Paul described this transformation as becoming a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.

The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (NRSV)

Humankind experienced death spiritually in the tragic circumstances described in Genesis 3. Since that time all people are said to live in this condition of spiritual deadness until by God’s grace through faith the Holy Spirit gives them new life.

We often talk about a Christian being someone who gives their life to God, but it is a better way to think of a Christian as someone who gets their life from God.

The Apostle Paul put all of these concepts together in his instruction on faith and the unity of the Church.

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 

All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which [God] loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 2:1-10 (NRSV)

Faith is a gift from God and it is the act of living in trust of God which may end up looking like works, but is really a living faith that is producing genuine and authentic godliness.

That is what the Apostle Paul meant when he quoted Habakkuk in his letter to the assemblies in Galatia.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

The Apostle Paul, Galatians 3:10-11 (NRSV)

The righteous will live by faith.

God describes this kind of living by faith as being like soaring on God’s eagle’s wings, high in the sky, moving ever upwards, from faith to faith.

Habakkuk was to live by his faith in God, then he would see how God was at work.

[Cover Image | Pixabay]

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