The Just Shall Live By Faith

“But the just shall live by faith.” Hab. 2:4b

The just shall live!

That just man shall live now and for evermore.

He shall live by faith!

That is the ever-reassuring answer of all the Holy Scriptures to a constantly recurring question.

We may eagerly ask: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Or who will stand in His holy place?

The answer is given: The just.

We may desperately cry out, What must I do to be saved? The only possible answer can be, Believe, for the just has life through faith.

Or we may anxiously inquire, Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? And again the reassuring word is: The just shall live, even by faith.

The just shall live!

It is the promise of the living God that resounds throughout the realm of the dead.

Our present existence in the flesh is actually nothing more than a continual death. Conscious of the fact that he dwelt in a body of death the apostle Paul cried out, “I die every day."

This death is not so strange to us, for actually we know no other condition. We cannot even form a clear mental picture of a world where sin and death do not reign.

Ever since our first parents transgressed the commandment of God by eating of the forbidden tree in paradise the sentence of death was executed upon a fallen human race.

One generation after another enters into a world where death has long held its sway. Each one moves within the narrow compass of death, never to shake off its bondage. As soon as a babe is born the mother wonders whether it is too warm or too cold, whether it eats too little or too much. As the child grows she consistently warns it against thousands of dangers that actually lurk everywhere. She is worried about devastating germs, anxious about ravaging diseases, troubled about every kind of accident that could possibly happen.

And this never changes. A slight pain raises forebodings of a sickbed, fears of a dread operation, the grim picture of a newly dug grave. For we spend our days as a tale that is told. Scripture quite correctly speaks of the fear of death that holds us in bondage all our lives.

Yet this is after all, but a small aspect of the power of death that holds us in bondage. For we are conceived and born in sin, even as children of wrath. The curse of God is upon us wherever we turn. This is not a mere threat that might some day be carried out in the hereafter, in an eternal hell. Then we might cherish the thought that we could still evade it.

But this curse is upon us even now. For the soul that sins must die. God gives the sinner over to his sin, so that one sin only leads to another, ever enmeshing us deeper in a net from which there is no escape. He who sins is a slave to sin, according to the righteous judgment of the living God. No sin has ever passed unnoticed before the all-seeing eyes of the Judge of heaven and earth.

Thus we all are swept into wickedness and sin, greed and warfare, hatred and destruction, until the measure of sin is full upon the earth.

In the meantime floods and famines, earthquakes and every sort of disaster, unrest and confusion reign upon the earth, as God visits the world in His anger.

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven! And what is true of mankind in general is equally true of each one individually. The author of Psalm ninety expresses our sentiments perfectly when he cries,

“In Thy wrath our spirits languish,

Sinful ’neath Thy searching eye;

All our days are passed in anguish,

In Thy wrath we pine and die.”

Into that hopelessly dark night of sin and death there shines but a single ray of hope and deliverance. That single shaft of light, gloriously shining down, from heaven and penetrating into our bitter darkness is the glad tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming: The just shall live.

Even as at the very dawn of creation the heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all their hosts by the breath of His mouth, so also the voice of the Lord is mighty to recreate, bringing forth life in the midst of death.

Out of a fallen human race God gathers to Himself a people ordained from before the foundations of the world unto life eternal. Just as God once sent His word over this present creation, saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light, so He also calls the dead sinner out of the dominion of death unto His light of life.

Just as the Savior once stood at the grave of Lazarus, saying, “Lazarus, come forth,” so also He causes the dead to hear the voice of the Son of man, and they that hear shall live.

They are new creatures, born of the Spirit. They have the new, heavenly life, even the life of the resurrected Christ within them. That life never perishes. At death they lay off this mortal body, and their spirit goes to be with Christ. For we know that at the very moment that this earthly house of our tabernacle collapses, we have a house with God, eternal in the heavens.

And at the end of time, when Christ appears with the clouds, our bodies will be raised from the dust of the grave in a likeness of His resurrection body. We shall be with Him in eternal perfection.

The just shall live, now and unto all eternity.

Our human language fails us when we try to describe the fullness of the blessedness of that life. We know that it consists of peace with God in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even more, we have joy unspeakable and full of glory. For blessed is that people whose God is Jehovah. Who is like unto that God, and who can compare with that people?

Yea, we have fellowship with God in Christ. God assures us, “I am thy God,” so that we respond from the heart, “O my God, I am Thine for ever and ever,”

This is more than a passing fancy or an appealing hallucination, for the glories we await far exceed our fondest expectations. Now we are sons of God, and we cannot possibly know what we shall be except that God assures us that when it appears, we shall be like Him, as sons in His house.

We shall see Him face to face, and tell that story, Saved by grace.

For the just shall live, now and unto endless eternity, saith my God!

The just man shall live.

The question is a pertinent one: Who can ascend the mount of the Lord? And who can stand in His presence without terror or condemnation?

Who? The promise is not a mere offer or invitation promiscuously extended to all, and thus dependent on our acceptance. The assurance cannot be claimed by just anyone.

Even the prophet Isaiah makes distinction between the just and the unjust, declaring, “Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well with him, for he shall eat of the fruit of his doing. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him.”

And the book of Revelation speaks of the judgment upon the unjust who shall be unjust still, and the filthy who shall be filthy still, saying, “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they shall have no rest day or night.”

The promise is very personal. The just. That man shall live.

The just man is the one who is perfectly righteous according to the verdict of the holy and righteous Judge of heaven and earth. The Lord Himself is the eternal Judge. He sits upon His judgment seat and judges every man according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil. Every act committed, every word spoken, every thought that flashes through the mind, and every impulse that arises within us are known perfectly to Him, and are judged accordingly. His verdict falls in strictest justice upon every man that spends his days upon the earth.

In that great day when the Son of man appears with the clouds of heaven, every rational creature will appear in judgment to carry away an eternal verdict, according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil.

But let no man deceive you, for God also judges the sons of men even now, every moment of our lives on the earth. He declares guilty or not guilty, just or unjust. He makes the guilty inexpressibly miserable by giving them over to the vanity of their sins. He declares the just free from sin and guilt, spotlessly righteous in His sight, and assures them of their right to eternal life before His face.

To the just He gives life.

But that only accentuates the question: Who is that just man? Who is he that keeps God’s law perfectly? Who can wash his hands in innocence? Who is free from sin and guilt, worthy of the eternal blessedness of God’s inheritance in the heavens?

Is it the man who presents a handful of his own “good works” or boasts of his merit?

True enough, God’s law declares that man blessed who keeps the commandments. The law says, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them.”

But we also know that God’s law is more than a mere code of precepts governing our outward walk of life. It is not satisfied with a mere external show of obedience, particularly to the second table of the law.

The rich young ruler confessed that he had kept these things scrupulously since his youth, but he still was burdened with the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

For God’s law demands love. It requires: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. It insists: Thou shalt do so in thy actions, words, thoughts, and very impulses of thy heart perfectly.

That man shall live that does these things.

But who is fit? Well may we ask: Who, then, can be saved? For we find in ourselves the very opposite. We do not discover that we love God a little, at certain given times, even though we fail to love Him in the measure that He requires.

No, we hate. We hate God, and we manifest that hatred over against the neighbor. Even our pretense of loving God and our neighbor is still only pure selfishness and therefore nothing short of hatred. The inclinations of our hearts are only evil continuously. As the Scriptures testify against us, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

And God’s law is inexorable, rigorous, severe. It insists: Do this! And just as emphatically it adds, “Accursed is every one that does not abide in all that is written in the book of the law to do it.” The soul that sins must die. Surely, before that holy law no man is justified!

Who, then, is the just man that shall live?

In the final analysis there is none, save one, our Lord Jesus Christ. He came into our flesh and entered under our law. To every demand of the law He gave a satisfactory answer.. He loved the Lord with His whole being, even while He was cast into amazing torments of hell.

He is our only righteousness! For He laid down His life for His sheep.

He atoned for our sins and merited for us eternal life. Thus God raised Him up, even exalting Him to the highest heavens. From heaven He calls His own unto Himself. He draws them unto Him. For He causes them to labor under the burden of their oppressive guilt.

And He calls them, saying, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Thus we experience the power of the Gospel that proclaims to us: The just shall live!

But he shall live only by faith.

That is the answer to the age old question: What must I do to be saved? There is only one answer: Believe! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, for there is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved.

Believe, for it is the only possible way of salvation.

By grace are ye saved through faith.

Yes, it is as simple as that. Simply believe!

All our works avail us nothing. But neither is that necessary, for in Christ is all our righteousness. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.

Yet that way of faith is the most difficult way. Nay, it is the humanly impossible way. For no man can believe. No man will believe.

Faith is not of us. It is the gift of God, wrought by the Gospel.

It is the wonder of grace whereby the blinded eye is made to see, the deaf ear is made to hear, and the stubborn will is broken to humble submission. In awed amazement we discover that this is the one thing that we can do. We cry out: Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.

For by grace are ye saved through faith. And that faith is not of you, it is God’s gift. It fills us with love to God, submission to His law. It arouses in us the consciousness of guilt and condemnation. It leads us to the cross, where we realize,

“There is a fountain filled with blood,

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;

And sinners washed beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.”

How wondrous are the ways of God, unfathomed and unknown.

For the just shall live, even by faith!


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