This righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith.”  This peculiar phrase has perplexed commentators throughout the years, and I do not propose to settle the dispute.  It may indicate from the faith of the preacher to the faith of the hearer, or from a low degree of faith to a higher degree of faith; either of which seems to me a suitable explanation.  Without defending one of these positions or another, or even discussing any other options of interpretation, we need only understand that Paul is once again emphasizing the primacy of faith in this matter of receiving righteousness from God.  It is not merited by our good works or observance of ceremonies, but is received simply by trusting the promises of God, and resting our entire hope for salvation upon nothing else but Christ alone.

Paul vindicates his glorious doctrine with a quotation from the prophet Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith.”  That prophet wrote at a time when the kingdom of Judah was facing utter ruin and destruction from the invasion of the Chaldeans.  Habakkuk complained to God that, wicked as Judah was, it seemed improper that they should suffer judgment from a people even more evil than themselves.  The first two chapters of that little book are a fascinating dialogue between God and the prophet, in the midst of which we find the Lord uttering these encouraging words to His troubled servant.  God’s people would not be annihilated, nor would the work of God in the world be overthrown, by Nebuchadnezzar’s mighty army, and thus His people need not despair.  They must live by continuing to exercise faith upon their great God and Saviour, whether the kingdom was in peace or facing destruction.  They would not live by trying to do better works, but by simple faith in the God Who had made the great promises which were the hope of Israel.  “The just,” the true people of God, live not by confidence in their own goodness to merit them acceptance with God, but by simple dependence upon the wisdom of His providence and reliance that He will fulfill every promise.  This is particularly so in the matter of salvation, where we as believers sustain our spiritual existence by continuing to look in faith to our God to fulfill the promise of eternal life made to us in Christ Jesus before the world began.

Certainly, this is not the only place in the Old Testament from which Paul could have drawn to buttress his argument of righteousness received as a free gift from God.  Moses pleaded in the 90th psalm that “the beauty of the Lord our God” should be upon the people of Israel, and upon their children.  Isaiah spoke of “the garments of salvation,” and “the robe of righteousness,” with which the Lord would clothe His people.  At the end of the 54th chapter of his prophecy, he quotes the Lord as saying, “This is the heritage of the servant of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me…”  Jeremiah likewise spoke of the Branch that would come from David, Whose name would be called “the LORD our righteousness.”  Then a few chapters later, he showed that the church herself would be called by the same name.  Nevertheless, Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, thought the one quotation from Habakkuk sufficient to establish his point, and we dare not quarrel with the divine wisdom that inspired the scriptures.  Still, it is good to know that Paul’s doctrine is established, not merely by the dubious support of an isolated verse in a book not necessarily dealing with the doctrine of salvation, but is a theme to be found often throughout the prophets.

 

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