Martin Luther was a monk, priest, professor of theology, composer, and one of the most important figures in the Protestant Reformation. As a young monk, Martin Luther worked hard, denied himself, and even inflicted physical punishment on himself, seeking to live a righteous life and be justified in God’s sight. With his whole heart he sought to please God, but in his mind he knew he could never measure up. No matter what he did, he could never be pure and holy in the sight of God because he knew he was a sinner. As he searched the Scriptures looking for a solution to his dilemma, God graciously led him to the Book of Romans where he read: The righteous man will live by faith (1:17). By the grace of God’s Holy Spirit, Martin Luther’s eyes were opened to see that all his sacrifices of hard work, self-denial, and self-punishment were in vain. It was only by God’s grace that he could find ease for his conscience, be justified, and stand as righteous before God. His works were nothing but “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:4). It was his heart of faith, in itself a gift from God, (Ephesians 2:8) that gave him right standing before his Creator and Sustainer.
That one short sentence, The righteous man will live by faith, changed Martin Luther’s life and ended up changing the world. But the apostle Paul, in the Book of Romans, was not the first to make that profound and life-changing statement. Hundreds of years before Paul wrote, the prophet Habakkuk had a conversation with God concerning justice and the judgment of the wicked. Before Habakkuk's time, the northern kingdom of Israel had been invaded and carried into exile by the Assyrians because of their rebellion against God and their evil ways. Habakkuk was disturbed because he saw that same rebellion and wickedness in the people of the southern kingdom of Judah in his day. Habakkuk wanted justice to reign, so he took his complaint to God and waited for God’s reply.
Chapter 2 of the Book of Habakkuk is God’s answer to the prophet, and in His answer, God proclaimed,
Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith
The problem with the people of Judah was their pride. They thought they could live as they pleased. After all, didn’t all the other nations live prideful lives of wanton pleasure, greed, and violence? The people of Judah thought they could scorn God by ignoring His Law and mistreating one another but then turn to Him and find approval by offering their sacrifices. They considered themselves God’s people, but their hearts were not right with Him. In this one simple statement by God, we see that the heart is the most important thing. God does not look upon our sacrifices but upon our hearts. God’s people must be people of faith and it has always been that way. It is by faith we believe in God and His Word and obey Him. The proud person lacks understanding of God’s grace and power and is unable to live a life pleasing to Him. So God says, “His soul is not right within him.”
The person who stands as righteous before God humbly admits there is nothing he or she can do to earn the grace of God. The righteous person takes God at His word, humbly taking God’s promise to heart, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation is God’s grace, freely offered, and accepted humbly by faith.
Habakkuk, the prophet, is a beautiful example of one who lived by faith. The final chapter of his prophecy is a prayer, written as a song, in which he asked to see God’s justice and mercy. His song closes with a confession of his faith and expression of his trust in God. May we all take Habakkuk as our example and live by faith.
Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.