“The just shall live by faith.”At face value, most read this verse and walk away unfazed. For Martin Luther, the truth packed into this sentence was life-changing. There had been nothing in his life that had been this revolutionary, this mind-blowing, this incredible. These six words (five in the Latin) were earth-shattering, so much so, that Martin Luther would eventually abandon his lifestyle, his associates, his country, and ultimately his entire religion all for this one statement.
What was the big deal? Why does this one sentence get so much press? Admittedly, when I read the verse it doesn’t really have a lot of zing to it, so, why all the hubbub? It all comes down to how a person reads the verse. If you read the verse like – “Those who have been justified (Christians) will live a life that is characterized by faith (a constant dependence upon God),” then you will be reading it like most first read this verse. But if you read like this – “Those who will receive eternal life (those who “shall live”) will be justified by faith,” you will be seeing it in the revolutionary way that Luther did. As Martin Luther read the verse it had less to do with how a Christian lives, and more to do with how a Christian is converted.
It is in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone, through faith alone that we are justified. The just are only justified when they place their faith in Jesus. But this idea did not start with Martin Luther. Luther was simply reading what Paul had written centuries earlier under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And Paul was not the originator of this truth, he was quoting the prophet Habakkuk that lived centuries before him and had prophesied this as the very words of God.
Paul’s doctrine, and Habakkuk’s prophecy were both just reiterations of God’s truth. When Jesus came, He was the very embodiment of this Truth. It should come as no surprise then, that Jesus called those around Him in faith to Himself. If the only hope for mankind was Jesus, and the only way to receive justification and by it eternal life was faith in Jesus, then certainly Jesus would call all those around Him to believe in Him.
As Jesus addressed those in the temple, we find Him doing just that. But the gospel does not only carry with it the positive message of eternal life. As Jesus taught, He explained that inherent to the reality that those who come in faith to Him receive eternal life, those who reject Him and remain unforgiven in their sin will receive eternal damnation. This is the message of the ages. I am certain that John rejoiced to write verse 30, “As He spake these words, many believed on Him.”
The date has changed. The country has changed. The audience has changed. But the truth remains the same. Those who would have eternal life must come in faith to Jesus. Those who do not will perish in their sin. Truly, the just shall live by faith.
Food For Thought: Write the verse “The just shall live by faith” in your own words.