Dec 29, 2010

Justification by Faith

Habakkuk 2:4

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).

The old covenant prophets understood the flawed nature of the fallen creation, but they also knew the good news that God would finally destroy the Enemy and bring His people into the blessed presence of His kingdom again (Gen. 3:15). Consequently, they preached the gospel of the kingdom — the good news that the Lord will restore His people to the state for which they were created and grant them a new life that cannot be lost. This restoration involves the renewal of all creation and the sanctification of the universe by the Almighty’s presence (Isa. 24–27; Ezek. 45).

As confident as they were in God’s promises, the prophets were only human, and sometimes they grew discouraged when events did not turn out exactly as they expected. Habakkuk, who saw what the Lord was doing with the Babylonian empire around 612–586 BC, was one such discouraged prophet, and he put his complaints into writing in the book that bears his name. Habakkuk understood that Jerusalem deserved to suffer for its impenitence (Lev. 26; Deut. 28), but he had trouble coming to grips with the fact that God was using a wicked, pagan empire to bring His wrath to bear upon the city and its inhabitants. In Habakkuk 1, we see how the prophet wondered about the wisdom of Yahweh in using the Chaldeans — the Babylonians — to repay the covenant community for their sins, a covenant community that contained a righteous remnant even if most of the people were impenitent sinners.

It would be easy to criticize Habakkuk here, but we all have doubted when we have seen the wicked prospering and the righteous trodden underfoot. On such occasions, the need for faith in God’s goodness is even greater than when everything is going well. At those times, we must trust that our Lord has conferred citizenship in His kingdom upon us, and that in this kingdom all wrongs will be made right.

Such is the basic reply that God gave to Habakkuk. Though the arrival of the consummated kingdom appeared to be delayed, it would nonetheless come, and those righteous citizens who would enjoy the kingdom must continue believing His promises by faith (2:2–4). This is an essential truth of the gospel of the kingdom — not only does it announce eternal life for righteous kingdom citizens, it also declares this righteous kingdom citizenship is received by faith alone from first to last.

Coram Deo

Citizenship in any kingdom demands certain things, and in the kingdom of God, citizenship demands righteousness. We cannot attain this righteousness on our own, for it must be imputed to us by the great King of this kingdom. Those who trust Christ alone are declared righteous citizens of His kingdom, and the faith that lays hold of this righteousness is a faith that perseveres in both good times and in bad.

For Further Study