TITLE of DOCUMENT
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
MARCH 23, 2014
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“I see in it God’s plan for making men right in his sight, a process begun and continued by their faith. For, as the scripture says: The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17, Phillips)
The title of this essay is a question because living by faith in today’s world seems more problematic than the world Paul lived and ministered in. He probably was referencing the prophet Habakkuk, who most definitely lived in a different world than Paul did or we do. A contemporary of Jeremiah, Habakkuk was a righteous man who questioned the Lord about why He allowed such evil, violence, strife and conflict to abound in Israel. He cried out to the Lord about the result of this sinfulness: “Therefore the Law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted.” (Hab. 1:4) Bad news for sure!
The Lord replied to him with an answer that He might well give to those among us today who wonder why all the evils of the world apparently continue unabated by God or man: “Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Hab. 1:5) And indeed, God’s answer to Habakkuk’s question and Paul’s reaffirmation of the principle in his day, is difficult to believe and at first glance, seemingly impossible to do: “Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) The concept must have rocked Habakkuk’s mind when he beheld how far the people of Israel had departed from the righteousness of the law.
Many since have been surprised to learn, “The righteous shall live by faith!” (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb, 10:38-39) Luther’s realization of this truth fueled the Protestant Reformation, setting the religious world on its head, turning it from Law to grace.
Elijah shared Habakkuk’s estimation about how few righteous souls could be found in Israel, yet we remember that this mighty prophet had stood before the 450 prophets of Bael and the 400 prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel, calling down fire from heaven in the sight of all Israel to consume the sacrifice he had made to the One God of heaven and earth. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!’” (I Kings 18:18; 36-39) Elijah was living by faith, in that moment because God gave it to him for this encounter with evil.
Yet, when the wicked king Ahab told his equally wicked wife Jezebel about their gods being defeated by one man representing the God of Israel, she sent Elijah an e-mail (a fleet footed messenger), with this chilling threat: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them (the false prophets that Elijah had put to the sword after God had sent fire to prove He was the true God). (I Kings 19:1-2)
A great man of God was Elijah, but when he heard the Queen’s threat, he ran for his life into the desert. His own faith had failed him. When he came to a broom tree, he sat down under it and whined, “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” The Lord sent an angel to make him a meal of bread and water. After that, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. (I Kings 19:3-9)
I encourage you to reread the entire account because the words recorded about Elijah’s exploits and God’s intervention have thrilled me since I first read them as a child. I love this scene particularly. Elijah had spent the night in a cave on Mount Horeb. After the Lord came to ask what he was doing, and Elijah had given his “pity-party” response, the Lord told him, “‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (the still, small voice). When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (I Kings 19:11-13)
Elijah again recounted his belief about the state of events: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (Vs. 14)
The poor man had “shot his wad” so to speak, and now the strain of being alone was too much for him to bear. The Lord gave him instructions concerning Israel, and then, overturned this mighty prophet’s pitiful analysis of the situation: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (Vs. 18) It’s not always as bad as we think it is, could be one take-away from this account, and another would be that we need to know WHO holds the power, and then rejoice that it is not us!
I’ve been pondering for well over a week what exactly it means for us today to “live by faith?” Whose faith was it which prevailed over the prophets of Bael and Asherah? I don’t believe it was Elijah’s own personal faith, but a faith God had placed in him to get the job done. Likewise, it is not our faith by which we live, but by God’s faith which holds us up when the world is pressing down on us and our reserves of strength are failing fast.
Lenny used a huge Bible with 26 translations in it, making it possible to research the meaning of whatever he was looking for, and he really preferred the King James Version of Gal. 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live BY the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” He preferred it because of the statement I live “BY the faith of the Son of God,” rather than “IN the faith of the Son of God,” which most translators have used. It may seem a subtle difference, but Lenny was convinced that it is a huge blessing for all of us. I believe he was correct in his evaluation.
We are told that we must have faith in God, which we all strived to do early on, and Bible accounts like the one I quoted have helped grow my faith enormously, but my faith and $4.75 will buy a small Starbucks coffee.
Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of Gal. 2:20 is rich and deep: “I was crucified together with Christ [= the Messiah], and thus it remains (or: I have been jointly put on the execution stake in [the] Anointed One and continue in this state), yet I continue living! [It is] no longer I, but it is Christ continuously living and alive within me! (or: No longer an “I,” now Christ constantly lives in the midst of, and in union with, me). Now that which I, at the present moment, continue living within flesh (= a physical body), I am constantly living within faith, trust and confidence, in and by that [faith] which is the Son of God (or: in union with the trust and confidence that is from God’s Son [with other MSS: in the confidence belonging to God and Christ), the One loving me and giving Himself over to another for the sake of me (or: even transmitting Himself, over my [situation and condition], or: also passing Himself along for me).”
What VERY Good News this is. Because Christ is “continuously living and alive within me,” I no longer have to worry about drumming up my own inadequate faith. He who lives within me and flows through me has all the faith that is necessary to accomplish any task He gives me, or to defeat any problem or hindrance which may arise. His life within is the ONLY way I am able to live by faith. “…the fair and equitable man (the one in right relationship within the Way pointed out; the just one) will continue to live from out of faith” (From a portion of Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of Gal. 3:11). Knowing that being justified by faith does NOT rest on me, is glorious, freeing and joyous.
Father, thank You, that we can trust You and rest in Your progressive, continual unfolding of Yourself in us and through us. You are our ever present Savior, deliverer, rescuer, and lover of our soul, spirit, and body. We praise You now and forever, world without end. Amen.