Romans 1:16–17 — “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” and effectually began what is known in history as the Protestant Reformation. The statement that the Apostle Paul makes in Romans 1:17 is long remembered as the statement that opened Luther’s eyes to justification by faith:
“The just shall live by faith”
In truth, the Reformation was a return to believing the Bible, particularly the epistles of Paul, as the word of God. Several years ago, I read the following from Pastor C. R. Stam about the Protestant Reformation:
“Surely it was only infinite grace that raised up men like Martin Luther and later John Darby and others to awaken the Church and restore it to life again …
“Actually, however, it was not Luther or Darby or any of the great men of God since the dark ages, who were used to restore the Church to life, for they preached nothing new. Luther, with his “grace alone” and “the just shall live by faith,” and Darby, with his “one body” and the “blessed hope,” were only recovering truths first revealed through Paul.
“As it was Paul who was used to restore Eutychus to life, so it is Paul who has been used to restore the Church of this dispensation to life, as men like Luther, Calvin, and Darby have been raised up to gradually recover the glorious truths of the Pauline revelation.”
Stam, Cornelius R. Acts Dispensationally Considered, Volume Three. Berean Bible Soc., 1983.
Surely it is true too, that the great doctrines of the Reformation, sola fide, and sola gratia, could not have been uncovered without the great truth of sola scriptura. Surely Paul’s question in settling doctrine was never “what saith tradition”, or “what saith the Church”, but “what saith the Scripture” (Romans 4:3). Interestingly enough, this was about the same subject, that of justification by grace through faith apart from works.
Justification by faith will be a great subject of this epistle to the Romans. This statement alone, that “the just shall live by faith”, is not what gives this doctrine its authority, but again, we will get to chapter 3 and learn this very explicit statement:
Romans 3:28 — “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
The Protestant Reformation did not give us the sola fide doctrine, but the Word of God through His apostle Paul did! Even more, it was not one statement, although this one is often thought of as that light, it is the entirety of the Pauline revelation. If we look even closer at this statement, “the just shall live by faith”, it looks beyond justification, and gives the justified, the one that God reckons as righteous, a way to live. The just shall live by faith. We can only be justified by grace through faith (Romans 3:24–26), and we can only live by faith once justified.
Colossians 2:6–7 — “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him: Rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.”
How did we receive Christ Jesus the Lord? We received Him by faith! We heard the word of the gospel and believed that He died for our sins and rose again. So we walk in the same way — by faith. We are to be rooted (a firm and deep foundation) and built up (how high a structure may be built is dependent upon the depth of its foundation) IN HIM. We are to be stablished IN THE FAITH! This is the faith that the saints in Colosse were taught by the word of the truth of the gospel (Colossians 1:5), and that is where our faith and our walk needs to stay.
In this statement “the just shall live by faith”, Paul is quoting from the prophet Habakkuk:
Habakkuk 2:3–4 — “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”
Now in Habakkuk, the prophet is told to “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it” (Habakkuk 2:2). The vision was about the Chaldeans being raised up as the scourge from God upon the unrighteous in Israel. How would those that were in right standing with God live?
The just shall live by his faith!
This is how the Israelite taken captive and scattered could still live by faith. Taken from their homeland, how would one walk before God who had his religion prescribed by God? How would he worship apart from the temple and ordinances, away from the holy city where the Lord put His Name?
The just shall live by his faith!
The following is from Scofield’s note on this passage in Habakkuk:
To the watching prophet comes the response of the “vision” (vs. 2–20). Three elements are to be distinguished: (1) The moral judgment of Jehovah upon the evils practised by dispersed Israel (vs. 5–13, 15–19). (2) The future purpose of God that, “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea” (vs. 14). That this revelation awaits the return of the Lord in glory is shown (a) by the parallel passage in Isa. 11:9–12 and (b) by the quotation of verse 3 in Heb. 10:37, 38, where the “it” of the “vision” becomes “he” and refers to the return of the Lord. It is then, after the “vision” is fulfilled, that “the knowledge of the glory,” etc, shall fill the earth. But (3) meantime, “the just shall live by his faith.” This great evangelic word is applied to Jew and Gentile in Rom. 1:17; to the Gentiles in Gal. 3:11–14 and to Hebrews (especially) in Heb. 10:38. This opening of life to faith alone, makes possible not only the salvation of the Gentiles during the dispersion of Israel “among the nations” (Hab. 1:5; Gal 3:11–14), but also makes possible a believing remnant in Israel while the nation, as such, is in blindness and unbelief, (See Scofield Note: Rom. 11:1–5) with neither priesthood nor temple, and consequently unable to keep the ordinances of the law. Such is Jehovah! In disciplinary government His ancient Israel is cast out of the land and judicially blinded (2 Cor. 3:12–15), but in covenanted mercy the individual Jew may resort to the simple faith of Abraham (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1–5) and be saved. But this does not set aside the Palestinian (Deut. 30:1–9, refs.) and Davidic (2 Sam. 7:8–16, refs.). Covenants, for “the earth shall be filled,” etc. (v. 14),and Jehovah will again be in His temple (v. 20). Cf. Rom. 11:25–27.
This quotation out of the Prophets is a statement of precedent showing that God is perfectly consistent with Himself to deal with man according to faith. If we need an example of this life of faith in the Hebrew Scriptures during the captivity, we need look no further than the prophet Daniel. He was faithful to the Lord and walked faithfully without temple or priest. It was completely a walk of faith, and the Lord blessed him outside of the land of promise, among the Gentiles.
In our day of salvation, the answer of faith to the word of God is to follow that which the apostle Paul wrote to us in Romans chapter 4:
Romans 4:5, 24–25 — “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. … for us also, to whom [righteousness] shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”