We’re often preoccupied with understanding great things. We focus our attention on scientists, scholars, and experts—and, of course, we often need their insights! But, as believers, we must remember that ultimately we live by faith, not by human insight.
The Bible describes individuals who believe that they can handle life and death on their own as “puffed up.” Such people regard the idea of bowing down before God as ridiculous, unnecessary, and unhelpful—and they’re prepared to scorn those who choose to do so. In contrast, the righteous don’t look to themselves to find all of the answers; they humbly “live by … faith.” They believe what God says simply and solely because God said it.
We see this verse’s principle referenced on several occasions in the New Testament. Paul, for example, in writing to the Ephesian church about what it means to know God, reached back to Habakkuk. He made it clear that God gives His righteousness as a gift of grace through faith, not as something we earn by our good deeds or religious works (Ephesians 2:8-9). His epistle to the Romans can be seen as an exposition of this text from Habakkuk: in the gospel, he told the Roman church, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17).
Jesus addressed our need for humble faith in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee gloated that he was not like other people: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (v 11). His soul was puffed up. But the tax collector recognized that he was a sinner and sought God’s mercy. Jesus said, “This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v 14).
The puffed-up soul pictured in this parable and in Habakkuk’s prophecy can so easily be a portrait of you and me. We find it easier to live by human wisdom and effort than by faith in God. Our natural state is to puff ourselves up, not to humble ourselves at the foot of the cross. When we suffer from big views of ourselves and small views of God, we need to remember that humility of heart comes from an awareness of who God really is:
O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing His power and His love:
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
Sing more of His greatness than of yours and more of His power than of yours, live for His praise more than for yours, and you will know the glorious freedom and peace of the life of humble faith in the God who loves you, forgives you, and saves you.
1Paul, a servant1 of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning his Son, who was descended from David2 according to the flesh 4and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Longing to Go to Rome
8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,3 that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,4 both to the wise and to the foolish. 15So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
The Righteous Shall Live by Faith
16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,5 as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”6
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