The Righteous Shall Live By…

[…continued from What is Faithfulness?]

C’mon, you know what the next word is. If the Reformers had cars, their bumper stickers would have said

“The Righteous Shall Live by Faith
(Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11, Heb 10:38)”.

As a matter of fact, if Paul had a car (actually, we do know that the apostles did drive a Honda (I think they bought it used from a Hittite)), I think he would have had the same bumper sticker — except that his scripture reference would have been Habakkuk 2:4. But look carefully at this:

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.[a]Footnotes:

  1. Habakkuk 2:4 Or faithfulness

Apparently, there’s no question about it, the word faith should maybe be faithfulness. But to say “The righteous shall live by faithfulness“! Did Paul get it wrong? Why was he talking about faith so much, when he should have been talking about faithfulness?

Apparently, there is no Hebrew word for faith. What Habakkuk actually wrote was emunah, which out of 49 occurrences, is most often translated as faithfulness, and translated as faith only in Hab 2:4, and even then with a footnote. See here:

The word rendered faith is the Hebrew emunah, from a verb meaning originally “to be firm,” and is used in the Old Testament in the physical sense of steadfastness… Thus the better rendering is “faithfulness.” Faith is a word for which, in the New Testament active sense, the Hebrew has no equivalent — though the term “believe” is derived from the same root as emunah.”

If you look closely, you will find that the Old Testament never actually says “Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness”. What it actually says is “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

So when Paul wanted to talk about faith as a noun, he had kind of slim pickins for quoting the OT. Except for the fact that the Septuagint (Old Testament in Greek) did not say faithfulness (pistos), but faith (pistis). It might seem dubious that the same Hebrew word for faithfulness is only in this one place translated as faith (in the Greek Septuagint, and modern English translations). But Paul’s repeated quotation of that verse, and clear context of faith, not faithfulness (i.e. belief, not obedience) actually applies apostolic authority to that translation, elevating it to the level of inspired.

However, all of this (as well as recent revulsion to the maxim of Covenantal Nomism: get in by faith, stay in by faithfulness) has made me think. With English AND Greek AND Habakkuk 2:4 all trying to tell me that there is maybe more relationship between faith and faithfulness, I think I have grown a little.

We all understand that only true faith justifies; only faith from God, faith that thus by definition yields the fruit of obedient faithfulness, faith that perseveres. So in response to “get in by faith, stay in by faithfulness”, I say the answer to the question “How do you get in?” is “persevering faith”; and the answer to the question “How do you stay in?” is “I already told you — persevering faith!”


13 Responses

  1. Ahhhh. This is a good post, but I believe the real question is, why the heck am I not in your blogroll??? ;)

  2. Dude! The other day I pressed the little “Add to Blogroll” button that’s supposed to do it automatically, but it didn’t work! I’ll go do it manually…

  3. Rube,

    You may or may not be pleased to discover that you have actually oversimplified things a bit.

    There is a gigantic difference between faith and faithfulness.

    The huge difference comes in when we consider the covenantal context.

    So first things first. Habakkuk is writing in the context of the Mosaic covenant, which is a republication of the covenant of works. Why is that significant? Because faithfulness refers to being faithful to the covenant, i.e., obedience to the terms of the covenant, which eventually yields obtaining the promises and rewards of the covenant. Faithfulness to the Mosaic covenant means obeying the 10 commandments. And of course, if you obey the 10 commandments, then the promises are that God will give you prosperity in the land of promise. Again, context being the Mosaic covenant.

    Now faith means believing that God will hold up his end of the bargain. So in the Mosaic covenant, having faith that God will hold up his end of the bargain is a conditional thing, because if the nation didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, God would execute the curses of the covenant, not the blessings. So in the context of the Mosaic covenant, faith in the promises literally entails the necessity to be righteous (to obey the law) in order that the blessings might be triggered. Because, to put it more simply, the object of this faith is simply that God will be true to his Word. That is to say that IF you obey, you will prosper in the land. But by faith you also realize that if you don’t obey, God will execute the curses, e.g., that the land will spew you out (you being the nation).

    So in Habakkuk, which is 3 chapters, it works like this.

    Chapter 1: Hab laments the oppression of Israel at the hands of their wicked enemies.

    Chapter 2: God responds to Hab, saying, “Hey, if the Day of my judgment on your enemies seems slow in coming, don’t despair, but wait for it.” Look:

    Hab 2:2 And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.
    Hab 2:3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end–it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
    Hab 2:4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
    Hab 2:5 “Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

    The context of this saying must be considered very carefully. God is encouraging Hab to consider God’s PROMISES to be true and certain. He is saying, since you are righteous, you can know that my Day is coming. Your enemies are “puffed up”, but their hope in themselves, their hope in their pride will be proven to be vain, because the Lord will descend upon his enemies and destroy them.

    In chapter 3, Hab is given a vision of the day of the Lord, and in response, he writes the following:

    Hab 3:16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.
    Hab 3:17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
    Hab 3:18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
    Hab 3:19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

    Here, Habakkuk confesses what can ONLY be described as faith. He is saying that even if it looks like God is NOT being faithful to his promises, yet that will not dissuade me from trusting in those promises. “I will rejoice in the Lord”, and “the Lord is my strength”, “I will wait quietly for the day”, etc.

    So the conclusion is this: Hab is saying to himself, since I am righteous, THEREFORE, I know God will be faithful to me, indeed to his people Israel, and will destroy their enemies.

    But there’s a problem. Israel was ultimately destroyed and kicked out of the land. The Romans actually declared it to be illegal for Jews to live in Jerusalem at one point.

    These promises are actually only inherited by Jesus Christ, the only one who truly was righteous.

    Gal 3:16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

    The promise is the inheritance of the land – that was the promise made to Abraham. But the promise, says Paul, is only inherited by Christ.

    But of course, we know that Christ inherits much more than the land. He inherits the promises of the covenant of redemption, he merits – MERITS – eternal blessings from God by his perfect obedience.

    Now, since we obtain HIS merits through faith alone – trust in HIS perfect law keeping – therefore we are united to him by faith, and therefore we inherit the promises that he inherited FOR US.

    So, Paul says:

    Rom 1:15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
    Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
    Rom 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

    The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that the righteousness we require in order to inherit the promises, namely eternal life, beyond simply prosperous life in the land of Israel, meaning eternal blessed prosperity in the New Heavens, New Earth – this righteousness is given to us in Christ through faith alone.

    So Paul is actually making use of a word play here, and interpreting the general principle given to Hab by God to have layers of meaning. If you look only at the meaning that would have occurred to Hab at the time, you will not understand the full meaning.

    It all has to do with how Hab’s prophesy will be fulfilled. It is Christ who inherits the promises. He is the perfect MAN, as well as being the perfect revelation of God TO MAN. He is man’s perfect RESPONSE to God. (Thus we understand covenant to be analogous to verbal communication of God’s self revelation followed by man’s response.)

    The Day of the Lord imagery in chapter 3 is NOT fulfilled in Christ’s FIRST advent, but WILL be fulfilled in his SECOND (and final) advent. In that Day (tomorrow, in a figurative sense, which is why Hebrews says, “Today, if you hear his voice…”) all God’s enemies will be destroyed. That is to say, all CHRIST’S enemies, since he is the righteous one. However, since we are united to him as our federal head, since he responds to God for us in the covenant, THEREFORE, God will take vengeance for us on OUR enemies, because our enemies are his enemies. Thus we understand his coming judgment to be not just on the enemies of the nation of Israel of the OT, but on the enemies of the people of God throughout the world. Thus his judgment to come is global.

    So what does it mean for us to be faithful to the covenant brought about by Christ, by which we inherit the promises? It means ONLY having faith. We are made righteous only by faith, because in the context of the covenant of grace, the New Covenant in his blood, the only requirement is faith in him.

    So where do works come in?

    Good works in the NEW covenant are not done in obedience to the covenant. Rather, they are BLESSINGS of the covenant, not part of the TERMS.

    This is crucially important. No other distinction is perhaps more important, although there may be distinctions that are equally important.

    The good works we do are NOT part of the conditions of getting into the covenant, nor of staying IN the covenant. Rather, they are the BENEFITS of the covenant, which we are in by faith alone.

    That is why TRUE faith – which obtains the promises – always works. Our works, FAR from exemplifying OUR faithfulness to the covenant, exemplify GOD’S faithfulness to uphold HIS end of the bargain.

    A close examination of the book of 1 John will make it abundantly clear that our good works, our love for the brotherhood of believers, is actually the Spirit testifying to us that we have been borne of God. But this is perhaps no clearer than this verse of Paul’s:

    1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

    If it is by grace that he worked, indeed, if it was in fact the grace of God IN HIM that actually did the work, and grace can be understood to be God’s being faithful to uphold his end of the bargain, then it can be also clearly understood that our good works are part of the BLESSINGS of the covenant of grace.

    If we are united to Christ, then we WILL work, but only because of what God is doing in us. Consider this too:

    Rom 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
    Rom 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
    Rom 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
    Rom 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

    The unregenerate person, i.e., the person who does not have the Spirit dwelling within him, CANNOT obey the law in any sense. It’s not possible for the unregenerate to submit to God’s law. The unregenerate person is hostile to God, and therefore it is impossible for such a person to desire to submit to the law, and if there is no DESIRE to submit to the law, then there is no submission, because the law cuts to the heart, as Jesus so clearly and eloquently stated in the sermon on the mount.

    Rather, our good works are the RESULT of the Spirit’s work in us in sanctification. When the Spirit works in our hearts to transform our desires, we are sanctified, and we therefore obey to the extent that we are sanctified.

    1Jo 2:8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

    The darkness is only passing away, it is not yet gone. But it IS passing away, because the light is shining in our hearts. This is imagery that speaks of sanctification. And we know this because John also says that if we say that we don’t sin, we’re a liar, and we’re calling God a liar.

    So for us, faith alone is our end of the bargain, but of course even that is the fruit of the Spirit’s regenerating work, which brings us to the mystery of election, and leads some thoughtful souls to say that there are NO conditions of the covenant of grace that can be fulfilled by US. Some say that there are conditions, namely faith, some say that faith and repentance are conditions. But Paul says that we are justified by faith alone, and this faith is given to us by God according to his predestining favor from before the foundation of the world.

    He “foreknew” us, since he “predestined” us, says Paul. So some would say that we have been in the covenant of grace from the beginning, even in the predestinating work of God.

    But there is one thing that anyone with common sense will say: whatever condition there might be in the covenant of grace is met ONLY by God, but by God IN US, if in fact it is proper to say that there are any conditions at all.

    And good works, being the result of the Spirit’s work, are clearly not conditions of being in the covenant, because they prove that you are in the covenant already, since they prove the indwelling Spirit, since without the indwelling Spirit, it is impossible to submit to God’s law. That’s the point. So therefore, good works, the result of sanctification, are blessings of the covenant.

    So the question is this. How come the Bible is so emphatic that we must have works if we have faith, and that if we don’t have works, there can be no faith, and thus we aren’t actually saved? And is that in fact what the Bible says? Doesn’t James say that Abraham was justified by faith AND WORKS?

    Here’s the trick, and I understand how it can be tricky.

    Works PROVE our faith to be genuine. But only WE need this proof. My good works are a proof to ME that my faith is genuine, and they are also a proof to those around me, perhaps especially to my elders, whose job it is to oversee and shepherd me.

    But does God require the proof of good works in order to know if your faith is genuine? Absolutely not, since he is the giver of faith. That is why Paul says that we are justified by faith alone.

    James is talking about being justified before men and before ourselves. And what he says is quite apt and poignant. If I don’t have ANY good works, I should question my faith, and so should my elders, which is why if we get involved in unrepentant sin, they stop serving us communion, because the genuineness of our faith is now called into question, our profession is called into question. Literally, what “justified” means here, as it is used by James, is “shown to be justified by God”. We must be justified by God, but GOD justifies us to ourselves and to others by giving us good works.

    And this only makes sense, because our good works, being benefits of the covenant of grace, show that we are IN the covenant of grace, and inheriting its promises, since good works are part OF those promises. The sanctifying work of the Spirit is a promised benefit/blessing of the covenant of grace, and this sanctifying work yields the fruit of good works. So if we have good works, it PROVES that we are inheriting the blessings, which proves that we are in Christ by faith alone.

    Norm Shepherd’s problems only BEGIN by conflating/confusing faith and faithfulness. He also confuses the covenants. He thinks that since obedience was a condition of the Mosaic covenant, it is also a condition of the covenant of grace. He fails to see a distinction between the covenants. He has stumbled over the stumbling stone, he has made Christ into a great moral teacher, who spiritually enables US to inherit the promises ON OUR OWN. He does not do the WORKS required FOR US, but enables US to do them OURSELVES.

    But the Mosaic covenant required obedience to the law ONLY for residence in the land. It was not a covenant of ETERNAL salvation, but only for the TEMPORAL (temporary, if you will, of this earth, IN TIME) blessings of residence in the land.

    Actually, eternal life is only held out to ADAM to be earned by works. That’s why Christ is the second or final ADAM. Christ not only inherits the blessings of the Mosaic covenant AND the covenant made to Abraham, but he ALSO inherits the blessings of the covenant made with Adam.

    Here is another crucial point. What would have happened if Adam had not sinned? This is NOT speculation, but a crucial component to understanding the gospel properly. If Adam had not sinned, he would not have been subject to death. He would have been changed, even as we who are in Christ will one day be changed. We will be raised incorruptible, even as Adam would have been made incorruptible had he not fallen.

    Christ does far, far more for us than bring us back to the Garden of Eden, because the Garden was never the final thing. The New Heavens and New Earth described in Rev 21 was ALWAYS the final goal in mind. Adam could have earned it, but once he sinned, it became impossible for him to earn it, and it also became impossible for us to earn it who are descended from his seed. This makes the virgin birth of Christ of crucial importance. He did NOT inherit a sinful nature by birth, because his birth did not follow from man’s “seed”. And you know what I mean. Had Jesus been merely the son of Joseph and Mary, the product of their marital union, he would have been born with a sinful nature, which somehow comes through the seed. But he was born of a virgin, miraculously, formed in her womb by the creative power of God. Created in his human nature ex nihilo, out of nothing, which is the meaning of the Spirit’s hovering over her, as he hovered over the waters in Gen 1:2. He is a new creation, an eschatological man. He is eschatology in the present, the perfect man responding to God perfectly by obeying perfectly. He is also God’s perfect revelation to us in the flesh, and thus he is the Word become flesh, because he is the incarnate God.

    So you see, hopefully quite clearly, that there is no point of doctrine that is not properly interpreted only through understanding the gospel properly. Covenant theology actually informs our definitions of words, and how they are used. This is of crucial importance, or I would not have thought to use up so much of your precious time in order to explain it thoroughly.

    There is NOTHING in this world that is of such importance as what I have written here. My exposition of it may have been hard for some to understand, but if something is unclear to you, the reader, you must pursue understanding it thoroughly, because what I have written here is far, far more important than a mere matter of life and death – it is a matter of YOUR eternal life and death.

    Understand these things and you will not be sorry, for you will understand your salvation thoroughly, and you will be full of joy at the great salvation that Jesus Christ has wrought on your behalf, and you will not condemn yourself for your sin, but rather you will confess your sins to God in full confidence that he will be faithful and just to forgive your sins, for this too is a blessing of the covenant of grace.


  4. zzzzzzzzzzzzz…

  5. I won’t pretend to have read all of the above … but on a quick skim it doesn’t look entirely kosher. Echo has teased out a significant thematic difference between faith and faithfulness, but cuts it too neatly. If we understand it as obedience or good works, faithfulness also is described, at times, as a gift from God:

    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians chap 3)

    He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. (Ezekiel chapter 2)

    Matters of faith are by definition invisible, and though we have from God a Word that divides even between soul and spirit, we should not slice too confidently. Even Paul admitted that he saw “but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (I Corinthians chap 13).

  6. F,

    You’ll note above that I said that good works are a blessing of the cov grace.


  7. “Good works in the NEW covenant are not done in obedience to the covenant. Rather, they are BLESSINGS of the covenant, not part of the TERMS.”

  8. By the way, that’s the reason why the Sabbath was switched to Sunday. Just think about it in terms of works-rest.

  9. Blogorrhea has blogstipation these days.

  10. I’m sorry I can’t provide sufficient amusement for you. If you’re looking for an opportunity to type a lot, try here

  11. “Good works in the NEW covenant are not done in obedience to the covenant. Rather, they are BLESSINGS of the covenant, not part of the TERMS.”

    Glad to know the deficiency was in my reading.

  12. The deficiency is mine for not being more concise.

  13. Rube,

    Ron…well, I’ll not be going to that blog I don’t think.


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