Habakkuk 2:4 tells us that, “The just shall live by faith.” This is a pivotal verse for the Old Testament, and the New Testament builds on it.
It tells that we come to God through faith and not through works. Without it, we don’t have the gospel Our nation is under the wrath and judgment of God, and there is only one way out—the righteousness that God provides by faith in Christ alone.
In Habakkuk 1, the prophet complains to God about the unrighteousness of his nation. He asks why God is not doing anything. God responds by revealing that he will judge Judah through the Babylonians. Habakkuk then complains: “How can that be? How can you use people more wicked than us to judge us?”
In our society today it seems that God is doing the same thing. False ideologies and false religions are flourishing, and God’s people are being swamped by unrighteousness. That is why the Book of Habakkuk is so relevant for us today.
Preaching the right message
So Habakkuk climbs up his watchtower and prays again. God’s answer is recorded in Habakkuk 2:2, “Then the Lord said to me: ‘Write My answer plainly on tablets so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.’”
God’s response it to charge Habakkuk to proclaim the right message. Even today, there is a false and the correct message. Are we saying to people: “Come to Jesus and you will be happy forever! Come to Jesus and you will have no problems! Come to Jesus and you get healthy and wealthy!” Or are we preaching the real gospel of Jesus Christ? Are we preaching that the blood of Jesus saves you from the Christless eternity that the Bible calls hell, and gives you a future and a hope? This vision is for a future time. It describes the end. And it will be fulfilled. Our salvation is for eternity. And if it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it shall surely take place! Habakkuk 2:4 says, “The glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”
This shall happen fully in the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness is at home. But we believe that some of it will also be manifested in the Church. God will get glory to His name by Christ Jesus in the Church. Habakkuk 2:20 tells us that God will manifest his presence in his holy temple. And we are the temple of God. God will manifest his power and presence in the Church. It might seem that we are losing ground. But God hasn’t finished with us yet!
So began the Reformation
Think back to Rome around 500 years ago! Come to the St John’s Basilica! And zoom in on a rather undistinguishable man. He is a Catholic monk, seeking to be faithful to all the dictates of his Augustinian order. A man who had a brilliant career ahead of him in law but was hurting inside, desperately afraid of the wrath of God.
“How can I be right with God?” was his question. He had obeyed every rule, including the promise of having a few years less in Purgatory by crawling on his knees, praying the right prayers on the Lateran steps, there in St John’s Basilica. And as this monk, Martin Luther, in all sincerity crawled up the stairs, repeating his prayers, the words of the prophet Habakkuk 2:4 came to his mind: “The just shall live by faith.” Immediately, he ceased his prayers, returned to Germany and took this versa as the foundation stone of the Reformation.
Luther said, “When I saw these words, ‘the just shall live by faith’, I felt born-again. Like a new man, I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God.” By faith alone our sins are forgiven! And they are all forgiven! But in the phrase “The just shall live by faith” the word ‘faith’ is best translated as ‘faithfulness’. Or it means both faith and God’s faithfulness.
One modern preacher who needs to go back to the Bible says, “This means our faithfulness. We shall live by our faithfulness.” But I ask what you would rather depend on – your faithfulness or Jesus’ faithfulness?
This verse teaches us to rest not on our righteousness but Jesus’ righteousness, not our faith but his faith, not on our faithfulness but his faithfulness!
Have faith in the faithfulness of God. Whatever circumstance you are in, God is with you. He can turn it around. He’s working all things together for good. His purpose is being fulfilled. If we stay faithful to God by trusting in His faithfulness, God will still yet use us, and maybe a revolution will take place in our day!