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What does “the righteous shall live by faith” mean? (Romans 1:17)

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Romans 1:17 “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

In this passage, we are taught that the “righteous shall live by faith.”  The Apostle Paul is quoting from Habakuk 2:4, and as we read the passage, two subjects stand out. One is “faith”, and the other is “righteousness”. In the first part of the verse, Paul says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.”

There are some interpretations of what Paul meant by “from faith for faith.” Initially, to help understand this verse, we could look at other versions of the Bible. For example, the NLT (New Living Translation) says, “This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.” The NIV (New International Version) says, “from first to last“, and the King James version says, “from faith to faith.” 

One explanation for this statement is understanding it regarding the “source” of our faith. The source of our faith is the faith of God or His faithfulness to our faith. That is to say that our faith is a response to God’s faithfulness through which salvation is accomplished. Another way this verse is explained is to say that “it is the faith of one believer to another believer”, especially in terms of spreading the gospel through evangelism. Yet another view is that the verse is talking about a progressive faith. That is to say, from one degree of faith to another. And finally, a view that we must live by faith from the start of our journey in faith to the very end. Ultimately, it means that we need faith given to us by God, and we must remain in that faith, share that faith, and continue in the faith for the glory of God. Amen!

As we move onto the second section of this passage, it says, the righteous shall live by faith.” The point here is that whoever you are, you can only be made righteous/justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 5:19 says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” We are not saved by the good works or anything else we can contribute. It is only made possible because of God’s grace and faithfulness, as a gift, through which we receive faith to believe in Jesus Christ, and by doing so, we are covered by the righteousness of Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Galatians 2:16 says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also believed in Jesus Christ, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, becuase by works of the law no one will be justified.”

The truth is that “righteousness by faith” is true for all ages and all times. It is the same in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Habakkuk declares this truth by saying in Habbakuk 2:4, “…but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Just like it is said of Abraham in Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

In conclusion, no one can be declared righteous by following the law and on their merit. Good works will never be enough, and if we are not justified before God, we will be forever be separated from God because of sin. But in our place, Christ died on the cross, paying the total penalty for sin and death by living a sinless life, dying on the cross (as a sacrificial lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)), resurrecting from the dead victoriously, and satisfying God’s wrath. Now, all who believe in Christ and His sacrifice is seen by God through the righteousness of Christ. Because of that, all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are declared righteous and justified, enjoying a restored relationship with God. This is the gospel. Amen!

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