For the next 9 weeks, we will be studying the Bible’s teaching about how two key subjects relate—faith and works. We will base much of our study on Habakkuk 2:4, a key OT statement about faith, and its use in three NT passages (Rom. 1; Gal. 3; Heb. 10). We will also examine many other related NT passages.
1. To put Habakkuk 2:4 properly in its full biblical context, we first need to go all the way back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, to understand what faith in God has entailed from the beginning. Prior to the Fall, they had to exercise faith in God’s warning them about death (Gen. 2:17), something with which they would not have had any previous experience.
Tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve fell (Gen. 3). God pronounced judgment on the serpent, Eve, and Adam. In His judgment on the serpent, God proclaimed that the Seed of the woman would suffer at the hands of the serpent and that the Seed would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).
Exercising faith in the first evangelistic promise made to fallen humanity (Gen. 3:15), therefore, required that Adam and Eve believe what God promised His Seed would do in destroying the serpent. As just people, they had to live by faith in God’s promise about His future judgment, a promise that they never saw fulfilled.
2. After Adam and Eve, we have the first biblical account that exhibits a difference between people in how faith and works interrelated in their lives: Cain and Abel (Gen. 4). Although they were both sons of Adam and Eve, Cain was also of the evil one (1 John 3:12)—he was thus the first person who was one of the serpent’s seed spoken of in Gen. 3:15.
We infer that Cain, as one who was of the evil one, rejected God’s promise of future judgment and lived his life as an unjust man who did not fear God. His offering to God was rejected because he was an unbeliever who did not give God the best that he had (cf. Exod. 34:26). We should likely regard Cain as the forefather of those Pharisees who were hypocritical unbelievers in Jesus’ day—cf. Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees that they were of their father, the devil (John 8:44).
Instead of repenting when God graciously counseled him, Cain persisted in his unbelief. Because he did not fear God and believe what he knew about God, he later murdered his brother Abel. Cain did so because his (Cain’s) deeds were evil.
3. We then come to Enoch, the next great exemplar (based on those who are mentioned in Heb. 11) of a just man living by faith (Gen. 5). Enoch walked with God for 300 years. Scripture reveals that God took him because he was pleasing to God (Heb. 11:5).
In Jude 14-15, we learn that Enoch was a preacher who proclaimed a message that essentially was a continuation of the great promise made to Adam and Eve about the Lord’s coming to judge through her Seed. Enoch thus was a just man who lived by faith in God’s promised coming to judge, a promise that he never saw fulfilled.
4. By faith, Noah also believed in and preached about God’s upcoming judgment for more than a century before it actually came (Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5; cf. Gen. 6:3). He thus was another just man who lived by faith in God’s promise of His future judgment.
5. Abraham received the promise of the gospel (Gen. 12:3). Interestingly, God also informed him at this time that He would curse those who cursed him. He thus received another promise of God’s future judgment of the wicked.
Somehow, he also knew and believed in the righteous judgment of the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25) and witnessed a foretaste of the future destruction of the wicked that He will execute (Gen. 19). Based on these passages, we see that Abraham’s living by faith as a just man included his belief in God as the righteous Judge who would render future judgment against the wicked.
Based on our study of Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham we should understand that just people must live believing and acting upon their belief in the future coming of God to judge the wicked and save the just.
6. We now zoom ahead to Habakkuk 2. The prophet expressed his concern that God had not judged Israel for her unfaithfulness (Hab. 1:1-4). God responded by saying that He was going to judge her by using an even wickeder people, the Babylonians (Hab. 1:5-11). This caused greater perplexity for the prophet (Hab. 1:12-17).
God answered by saying that His judgment on the wicked Babylonians would also come in His time and that the righteous by faith must wait patiently and faithfully for it to come (Hab. 2:2-5). In its original context, therefore, the statement the just shall live by faith is an exhortation to a life of faithfulness while awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning His judgment of the wicked and His salvation of the righteous and doing so despite how unlikely their fulfillment may seem in your present circumstances.
From what we have learned from this analysis of Hab. 2:4 in its larger biblical context, we see that for just people to live by faith includes living faithfully while believing in God’s promised future judgment of the wicked. The full title of our Sunday school series The Just Shall Live by Faith: A Faith That Works reflects this biblical truth.
7. Our new SS series actually is closely tied to the series that we just concluded in Hebrews 11. Let’s turn back to the end of Hebrews 10 so that we can see this close connection. Based on Heb. 10:35-39 followed by 11:1, the faith that is specifically in view is faith in the Second Coming that will bring destruction for those who draw back and salvation for those who live by faith.
8. Survey of future weeks:
Romans 1 – righteous standing apart from works
Galatians 3 – justification by faith, not law; a right understanding of a frequently misused term legalism
Hebrews 10 (and James) – persevering faith leads to righteous works
Final judgment – works play a major role in that judgment Rom 2:6-11
9. Objectives: When the nine weeks are done, what do we want to accomplish?
- evangelistically: explain properly to lost people how faith and works interrelate in how we come to God
- sharpen our skills in using these passages for personal edification/correction as well as for helping others; counseling self and others, including working with believers who may have lapsed into erroneous thinking about faith/works
- challenge others to live righteously in keeping with their righteous standing before God
- motivate ability to address these issues
See the other lessons here