Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

The thematic statement for the entire epistle to the Romans is found in Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’"
The just shall live by faith. This ringing assertion is a direct quotation from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. Not only is it Paul’s thematic statement for Romans, but it is quoted also in Galatians 3:11 and in Hebrews 10:38. Altogether this word of God is set forth four times in sacred Scripture. That should grab our attention.
The late Francis Schaeffer wrote a book with a strange sounding title: How Shall We Then Live? The biblical answer is that we shall live by faith. We are dealing here not with a pedantic question of abstract theology, but with the very essence of the Christian life.
What is meant by “The just shall live by faith”? The phrase is pregnant with meaning and can be taken to encompass many nuances. To get a quick fix on its meaning, perhaps it would help to rephrase it with terms that are virtually synonyms: “The righteous shall live by trust.”
In Romans, Paul cites this verse from Habakkuk to set the stage for his exposition of the teaching of justification by faith alone. The faith that justifies is a faith that is marked by a personal trust. Justification by faith alone means that we are justified in the sight of God, not by our works or our achievements, but by trusting in Christ alone for our redemption. To place our trust in anything or anyone else is to experience the fatal futility of a misplaced trust. If we trust ourselves for our salvation, we will be let down by that in which we trusted. Only Christ is worthy of our trust for salvation because only Christ is able to perform what is necessary to achieve that salvation.
To live by faith means to live by trusting in Christ for our salvation. Paul reiterates this in his scathing rebuke of the Galatians for their thinking that they could be justified by their works. The author of Hebrews amplifies this thought by admonishing us to a life characterized by trust in God for the duration.
We live by trust, not only for our justification. The godly person is a person who trusts God in life’s darkest moments. God spoke these words to Habakkuk when the prophet himself was struggling with his confidence in God’s sovereignty. To live by faith is to trust God for life itself. It means trusting His promises, His providence, and His precepts.
There is a flip-side to this matter of trust that is often overlooked. Trust is at the heart of the Christian life. But even as we are called to be people who trust, we are also called to be people who are trustworthy.
Think for a moment of the painful experiences you have suffered because someone you trusted let you down. Think of the times that you shared a confidence with a friend only to discover later that your confidence was broken. Think of the people who have made promises to you that you counted on, only to suffer the heartbreak of disappointment. Think of the agreements broken, the contracts violated, the vows unkept. As we think about these things we move quickly to some bitterly raw nerves in our souls.
Let us turn the guns around for a moment and aim them at ourselves. If I were to ask you, on a scale of 1–100, 100 being the pinnacle of trustworthiness, how would you rate yourself? What number comes into your mind? What kind of a friend are you? What kind of a spouse are you? Do you keep your promises to your children? Do you honor the terms of your work contract? Do you pay your tithe to God? Do you pay your bills on time?
If the number that came into your head was over 70 I fear that you have an exaggerated view of your own trustworthiness. We are by nature covenant breakers. Our lives are strewn with the debris of broken promises and unfulfilled commitments.
I desperately want to find friends I can trust. Even 70 percent trust. The longer I live the more difficult the search seems to be. Yet often there is little I can do to affect the trust level of my friends. What I can do and what I am responsible to do is to make sure that I can be trusted.
The righteous shall live by trust. If I want to be righteous, not only must I trust God, but I must become a person that others can trust. That is a heavy-duty responsibility. People must be able to trust my word. Though we can never earn our salvation, we must always earn the trust of our friends. Trust is so delicate. It can take years to establish and seconds to destroy. I cannot demand that my friends trust me. I can only hope that they will, and do everything in my power to demonstrate that I am worthy of their trust.
With all my resolutions I know that in this life I will never earn another human being’s implicit trust. I will never be totally trustworthy. That is why I must cling to Christ and why you must cling to Christ. For He, and He alone, is absolutely worthy of our trust.