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The Righteous will Live by Faith

Written by Dr. Kwok Wai Luen (Associate Professor of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University)

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’

Romans 1:17

When I was a relatively new believer, I would sometimes come across this saying in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11: “The righteous will live by faith”. Seeing that Paul taught the relationship between the law and God’s grace, I always thought this particular verse was quite obviously about being saved by grace through faith. However, I later came to realise that Paul’s words were actually an allusion to Habakkuk 2:4. When we read this passage together with Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians, it becomes clear that Habakkuk’s words of ‘the righteous will live by faith’ are, in reality, an encouragement for overcoming hardships in an arduous life.

The prophet Habakkuk said ‘but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness’ (Habakkuk 2:4). However, this did not refer to the proof that he needed to be saved. When the Lord had warned He was delivering justice and punishing the people of Judah through the Chaldeans of Israel, Habakkuk could not help himself and asked the Lord this: ‘Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?’ (Habakkuk 1:13) The response to this, it turned out, was the old adage ‘the righteous will live by faith’. This passage did not point to the change of circumstances that the prophet endured; rather, it was God’s promise that while the wicked would eventually be dealt with, it would only be done in God’s own way, in His own time. And meanwhile, as we all await His judgment, we should continue to live through our faith in Him and the righteousness He bestows upon us, as we are saved by His grace.

One could argue that God did not directly respond to Habakkuk’s question or resolve any of our doubts. However, we must not forget that the Bible has told us that as long as we believe in God, ‘the righteous will live by faith’ – and by extension, we will also have the power to overcome every trial and tribulation. Moreover, when we trust in God, only then do we become more beautiful, tenacious, and extraordinary in the face of adversity.

There are three things we need to recognise:

Firstly, we need to understand that we have no way of changing every single unsatisfactory thing in our life. What we can do, however, is change our attitude towards these matters. Often, a transformation or shift in mindset can in turn strengthen us when we need to deal with our problems.

Secondly, we must realise that the one we believe in is our just and loving God, and that He will never forsake us. Our Lord is always there to support and take care of us, even at our weakest and most vulnerable moments. One such instance of these low points can be seen in Job’s confession, which I find quite profound. Job lost nearly his entire family, was accused and slandered by his friends, had his integrity called into question, and yet despite it all, he stood firm in the Lord. A similar sentiment was seen in the prayer of Habakkuk, who said this in his own time of difficulty: ‘yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength…’ (Habakkuk 3:18-19). The way that Habakuk chose to rejoice in the Lord in spite of his circumstances should serve as a reminder that God is always on our side.

Lastly and most importantly, we have to remember that whenever we are suffering or embroiled in a harrowing ordeal, we will inevitably discover that even suffering and pain are blessings in disguise. Just as Josephine So Yan Pui had so wisely said while still fighting cancer: ‘There are only blessings, no curses’. Her life clearly was not free of hardship and agony, but she nevertheless found a source of strength and spirit that gave her courage and helped her face her misfortunes.

Our dearest Father, we ask You to let us experience the strength of ‘the righteous’ who ‘live by faith’ in our most troubling, desperate times. We pray that You call on us to support and take care of each other through faith, such that we can experience living by faith during our hardest times.

The original passage in Chinese was published in CEDAR’s app ‘施予達仁’.

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