The Just Shall Live by His Faithfulness

The Hebrew noun ĕmûnȃ in Habakkuk’s famous statement “but the just shall live by his faith [ĕmûnȃ 530]” (2:4), means “faithfulness” as a few translations render it correctly, “live because of his faithfulness” (NET), “live by his faithfulness” (NIV). This word appears about 50 times in the Old Testament and consistently carries the meaning of faithfulness within its contexts. Of course Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted three times in the New Testament, “The just shall live by faith [pistis 4102]” (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). The Greek noun pistis is used almost 250 times in the NT and is always translated as “faith” except just three places where the context forces otherwise, “the faithfulness [pistis 4102] of God” (Rom 3:3 NKJV), “kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis 4102]” (Gal 5:22 NKJV), “showing all good fidelity [pistis 4102]” (Tit 2:10 NKJV). This word pistis also appears about 30 times in the Greek Septuagint, and all but three are rendered into English as “faithfully,” “faithfulness,” “truth,” “trust,” “loyalty,” “reliable,” “steadfast,” or “assuredly.”

Furthermore, Habakkuk wasn’t talking about our faith or faithfulness but God’s, “his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4 NET, NIV). In all three letters he was quoted, “The just shall live by faith [faithfulness]” (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), it was about God’s faithfulness to the promise He made to Abraham: “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed” (Rom 4:13); “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made … that it should make the promise of none effect … God gave it to Abraham by promise” (Gal 3:16,17,18); “For when God made promise to Abraham” (Heb 6:13). About 1,500 years after making a promise to Abraham, God told Habakkuk that He was being faithful to that promise.

Because Abraham didn’t withhold his son from God, “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (Gen 22:10), God promised to not withhold His Son from Abraham, “By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen 22:16-18). That “God will provide himself a lamb” (Gen 22:8), God was faithful to keep that promise, “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jhn 1:29,36).

God had told His people that His love for them was because of the promise He swore to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt” (Deu 4:37); “But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deu 7:8); “that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deu 9:5); “Only the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day” (Deu 10:15). God’s purpose in them was to fulfill the promise He made to their fathers.

Therefore, when Paul wrote, “What advantage then hath the Jew? … shall their unbelief [unfaithfulness] make the faith [faithfulness] of God without effect [katargeō 2673]? (Rom 3:1,3), “Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?” (NIV), is that God’s people being unfaithful to Him wouldn’t cause Him to be unfaithful to Abraham. If the law of Moses was the intended end, then God’s faithfulness to keep His promise to Abraham is made without effect or unfulfilled, “For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith [faithfulness] is made void, and the promise made of none effect [katargeō 2673]” (Rom 4:14), “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect [katargeō 2673]. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” (Gal 3:17-18).

Finally, the Greek verb zaō in “The just shall live [zaō 2198] by faith [faithfulness],” isn’t our manner of living but eternal life itself. The English “live” when used with an object conveys “manner of living” or “way of living,” but without an object it’s “to remain alive” or “to continue to have life.” Paul used both forms in this one statement, “For if ye live [zaō 2198] after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit [breath] do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live [zaō 2198]” (Rom 8:13). The first is with the object “after the flesh,” expressing a way of living. But the second is without an object indicating “to have life.” Therefore, “The just shall live by faith [faithfulness]” is that the just or righteous obtain eternal life by God’s faithfulness—His faithfulness to Abraham in providing His Son for our sacrifice.

Trust and Obey

Salvation has always been by trusting and obeying God. The Greek noun pistis and verb pisteuo appear some 250 times each in the New Testament but have been mistranslated as “faith” and “believe” respectively rather than “faithfulness” and “trust.” We’re not saved by believing some facts are true but by trusting and obeying the one true God—Him being the God of our lives.

Many times God’s people were told to keep His commandments: “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exo 20:6; Deu 5:10); “Therefore shall ye keep my commandments” (Lev 22:31); “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them” (Lev 26:3); “That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God” (Num 15:40); “Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God” (Deu 6:17); “Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments” (Deu 7:11); “Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God” (Deu 8:6).

It’s taught today, however, that God’s people couldn’t keep His commandments and neither can we because we all were born with a sin nature inherited from Adam. But that’s simply false doctrine that keeps us from obeying and being saved. Jesus Christ Himself taught that we must live according to the righteous standard He taught or we won’t be saved: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:20), “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (7:23); “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (7:24,26).

The gospel isn’t only to be believed but also obeyed: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom 10:16); “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb 5:9); “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” (Jas 4:12); “And this is his commandment, That we should believe [trust] on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1Jo 3:23).

It’s taught today that Abraham is our example of faith but Paul taught his trust in God and faithfulness to Him, “Even as Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness … So then they which be of faith [faithfulness] are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal 3:6,9). And God Himself commended his obedience, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:18), “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen 26:5).

Paul taught that to be counted righteous as Abraham, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom 4:3), we must trust God as he did, “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe [trust] on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom 4:23-24). This is what he meant later in his letter, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe [trust] in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom 10:9). It isn’t just believing the resurrection happened but trusting in God who made it happen, “Who by him do believe [trust] in God, that raised him up from the dead” (1Pe 1:21).

It was for lack of trust that God’s people were destroyed, “And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed [trusted] not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief [distrust].” (Heb 3:18-19), “the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed [trusted] not” (Jde 1:5).

Salvation is ultimately about the one true God being the God of our lives: “I will be their God” (Gen 17:8; Jer 24:7,32:38; Eze 11:20,37:23; Zec 8:8); “will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33); “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jer 32:38); “ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Eze 36:28); “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Eze 37:27); “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2Co 6:16); “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb 8:10); “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Heb 11:16); “they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev 21:3); “I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev 21:7). And being the God of our lives means that we trust Him to provide for us, protect us, and defend us, and that we obey the commandments of His Son Jesus Christ.

Blessed are They that Do His Commandments

From the very beginning, God has required man to keep His commandments, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17). But because he disobeyed, God banned him from the tree of life, “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (Gen 3:22-23). And at the very end of Scripture we read that it’s those keeping His commandments that regain access to the tree of life, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life” (Rev 22:14). From beginning to end, eternal life has always been about keeping God’s commandments.

The false gospel of sola fide or “faith alone” concocted about 500 years ago by Martin Luther asserts that we’re saved by faith and nothing but faith. In fact, if there’s anything other than faith, including obedience to God’s commandments, then we’re not saved. Furthermore, it’s claimed that salvation under the law of Moses was by keeping God’s commandments perfectly without ever sinning. But since nobody could do it, then salvation under the law was also by faith. This is not true. There was never a requirement of utter perfection under the Old Covenant.

The animal sacrifices offered under the law by the high priest were for the people’s sins and for his own: “And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house … and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel” (Lev 16:11,17); “And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins” (Heb 5:3); “Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s” (7:27); “the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people” (9:7).

God’s mercy isn’t for those breaking His commandments but for those keeping them, “And shewing mercy [ḥese 2617] unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exo 20:6; Deu 5:10), “the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy [ḥese 2617] with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deu 7:9).

Under the Old Covenant, God’s people were saved by living righteously in obedience to His commandments. But when they did sin, they would repent and offer an animal sacrifice that would cover it. And this is the same model under the New—as God’s people today, we must live righteously in obedience to His Son’s commandments and confess when we sin, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jo 1:9).

Since sola fide claims that Abraham is our example of faith or believing, therefore “faithful Abraham” (Gal 3:9 KJV, WEB, YLT) is mistranslated as “Abraham the believer” (NET), “Abraham, the man of faith” (NIV), “believing Abraham” (NKJV). But Abraham is our example of faithfulness to God in obeying His commandments, “thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:18), “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen 26:5).

Paul taught, “For if Abraham were justified by works [actions], he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Rom 4:2-3). Abraham’s “actions” were that of building altars to offer sacrifices: “there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD” (Gen 12:8), “Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD” (13:4), “built there an altar unto the LORD” (13:18). That he “trusted God” is that he trusted God would one day provide the sacrifice for his sins, “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (22:8).

God’s people under the law of the Old Covenant were saved by loving God and keeping His commandments, “them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exo 20:6; Deu 5:10), “them that love him and keep his commandments” (Deu 7:9). Jesus said the same, “If ye love me, keep my commandments … He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me … If a man love me, he will keep my words … He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings” (Jhn 14:15,21,23,24). And John as well, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1Jo 2:3), “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1Jo 5:3), “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments” (2Jo 1:6). Eternal life comes not to believers but to the obedient, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life” (Rev 22:14).