The JUST shall LIVE by . . . WHAT?


The just shall live by faith. – Habbakuk 2:4b

Such a little line . . . half a verse, out of context . . . such a source of controversy . . . centuries of debate . . . oceans of blood.

How should this verse be read and understood? Where does the emphasis belong?

The JUST shall live by faith.


The just shall LIVE by faith.

Emphasizing either at the expense of the other is how sectarianism starts. Dead faith does not justify, and the justified live like they are. Both are true and necessary.

I have given my life to the disciplined study of the scriptures. This has resulted in a deep appreciation for the difficulty and challenge associated with translational issues and those who labor in that endeavor. Folks, “it ain’t easy.” Translation goes beyond just the technical points of grammar. When our worldview, cosmology (how things “work” in the universe) and epistemology (the study of the nature of knowledge) and other “ologies” are not the same as the those who wrote the scriptures, its miraculous to me that we understand anything at all from the scripture.

These issues affect our translation and understanding of this classic verse.

In American English faith or belief means an individual, psychological, internal, cognitive, and affective assent of mind to truths.  This assent is given either because the truths make sense in themselves, or they are observed to be true by the individual.  This definition is the source of untold troubles and problems in our “Christian” thoughts, beliefs, and practices, and is not how the authors of scripture understood “faith.”   That is not how a Jewish prophet would have understood the term, nor a Jewish apostle, nor a Jewish Messiah.

For a Jew, Semite/Mid-Eastern person, faith and belief referred to the social glue that bound one person to another.  That is, the social, externally manifested, emotional behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity was “faith.” Faith primarily meant: personal loyalty, commitment to another person, fidelity, and the solidarity that comes from such faithfulness in relationship. Faith was inherently RELATIONAL–it involved an “otherness” an “outwardness toward another/s.” It was not a individualistic cast of one’s mind toward philosophic truths. Faith was the integrity one maintained in relationships for the benefit of the other, not one’s opinions regarding “propositional truths” from a book!

The faith that justifies is not one’s subjective opinions about what the scripture says. Faith that justifies is the relational trust in the One scripture reveals. It is entirely possible to have “accurate understanding of the scripture” and no relational trust in God whatsoever at a practical level. That kind of “faith” neither justifies nor saves.

I believe that the many problems, inconsistencies, lack of credible testimony, and poor witness among so-called “believers” is due directly to this issue and the way “have faith in Jesus” is typically presented in Protestant Evangelicalism. Gandhi said it this way: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” What is the problem here? No credible testimony by those who identify with Christ.

Consider the commandment about not taking the “Lord’s Name in vain.” This has little to do with our notion of “swearing.”  It means TAKING His Name–identifying ones self as belonging to Him–and not living like it! That is, you profane His Name by associating yourself with it, and not resembling Him. It is RELATIONAL, reflective, and behavioral. The vanity is in not looking like the one whom you claim to belong to.  That is what is being forbidden.  Frivolous and dishonoring use of His literal name is secondary to the meaning, if at all.

Consider the great commandment and the new commandment of our Lord.  They are both inherently RELATIONAL.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as your self.

 Relational vertically, relational horizontally. Very little in there about “maintaining right convictions about the scripture!”

A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Sacrificially and “integratively” . . . relational

If we were to read and understand Habakkuk as follows, I believe we would be much closer to what the prophet had in mind, and much closer to spiritual and “biblical” reality:

The “right-wised” ones will live by relational trust.

For me, that puts the matter in a completely different light, and one that is far more convicting, humbling, and promoting of a vital present union with my resurrected Lord as a daily necessity.

(Right-wised=the opposite of capsized–brought upright again, restored to “rightness” – think of a capsized boat being turned around and floating again, that’s “right-wised.”)


Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact This ministry is sustained by the freewill offerings of those who partner with us and believe in the message of a radical grace in a new covenant understanding. If this article has been a blessing to you, would you prayerfully consider making a tax-deductible contribution through our Paypal button to help? Thank you and God bless you.

17 comments on “The JUST shall LIVE by . . . WHAT?

  1. Great article!! So true!! By the way, in the second paragraph that starts with the words, “I have given my life to the study…” you need to edit part of the line. You used the word “study” twice in the same line. Just thought you’d like to know. I’ll call tomorrow.

    S. J.

  2. Love it – this is so true. Relationship is key, and a relationship that is centered in and totally dependent on the Lord – who He is, what He has done, and what He continues to do>

    I too have taken on the mindset that it is MY obedience and My trust is what is important, thinking and acting like it all depended on me – because that is how I was taught and that is how I tried to live. It was almost like I was doing the Lord a favor by declaring and demonstrating my lifestyle that was so focused on external behaviors and duties. I remember having to write reports to my pastors to document all that I was doing each week, and I in turn had people writing reports to me – after all, this was all about accountability…. or at least that is what I was trying to convince myself.

    However, there was no freedom or flow, or delight in authentic relationship where I was loved unconditionally and accepted fully, even if my report did not document obedience as good as I should have walked in. I thank God that He helped turn my duty into devotion and delight – where life was no longer focused on doing the right things, but rather because focused on the wonder of the love and relationship with the Lord.

    Accountability teaches conformance and adherence to behaviors, where relationship focuses on Jesus and what He has done and what He provides. In Christ I have been loved unconditionally, I have been given a new nature, and I experience an inward transformation as I learn to trust in and rely on Him.

  3. An accurate capture of the proper usage and context of Just/faith. We have no faith unless we’ve been redeemed by a just Lord. It was a pleasure to have met you. Please consider returning to offer us your testimony and your observance of the current new testament church as it relates to deterioration. Bless you brother! Andy Molatch

    • Thanks Andy, my Saturdays are sort of “premium” time, I am committed every Saturday until Mid-March, early April. If we could work something on the calendar, I would be glad to stop by and see you all again. Let me know . . . Steve

  4. “Amen!” Perhaps it is time to give some definition for “relationship,” since there is so much present-day emphasis being placed upon it. I wonder if the subjective application according to each one’s perception of its meaning might lack some integrity.

    For example, we find three thousand souls who hadn’t had time to develop relationships (as we perceive them) with the apostles, yet continued steadfastly in their doctrine. The numbers multiplied. This, too, may affect our use of the word, “relationship.”

    And then, we read, “Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.”

    • Excellent thought, Don. Worthy of some dialogue . . . indeed, regarding the 3,000 . . . they were “pre-conditioned” for some things, so to speak, by reason of their worldview/culture. They would not have struggled with some things that we as westerners seem to struggle with or end up in the ditch on one side or another of an issue, including this one. “None dared joined them . . . ” Because they understood the social/cultural/ practical implications of “faith” . . . they could be admired for their “faith” but joining them? Um . . . . that has a societal/cultural cost.

  5. Thank you, as any truth it strips the layers of chaff and lays bare the reality challenging us to either accept it or reject it. But to never be the same again.

  6. For God So Loved The World that He Gave His Only begotten Son to Get You!
    Posted on January 16, 2013 by

    Dear Steve, right about here there should be a picture of a bride in a wheat field looking into the brightness of her future. You will find it there on my blog post of which this is only a copy, and a partial one at that. between the two posts, this one, and the one prior to it I have tried to correct a misunderstanding from Chapter 6 of John Eldridge”s book – “Beautiful Outlaw.”
    For God So Loved…
    To be truly in love with someone is not a generous act, it is the most supremely selfish act. It is about wanting the object of our affection with all of our heart, soul, body, and Spirit. We don’t woo them for them, we woo them for us, because more than our own life, we want their life, and we want them in our life at any cost! This is something about which Ayn Rand was correct. She called it the “Virtues of Selfishness.” There were and are problems with her understanding of how it works, but she made a very important point.
    The point here is that Jesus not only knows us as we are, but He knows us as we are going to be in the pure light of His love. He is able to see us in that light now. About the best we can do for now is wander around in our failings, frustrations, weaknesses, selfishness, ugliness, flaws, meanness, nastiness, etc. – a lot of etc. – all the stuff that defeats us in the living out of our faith every day. This is all the stuff that drives us to the cross, every day and all day long.
    While Jesus already knows about all this garbage, it fades into insignificance in the light of the rest of how He sees us. To him we are altogether beautiful – we are HOT – divinely HOT in the highest and best sense of the expression. He can’t help Himself, He is just head over heals in love with us to the point of His own destruction, Isaiah 52:14. This is how He wants us to know how love is, and this is the love He wants us to know He has for us. It is a REVELATION! It is a revelation that we cannot refuse. It is not a lecture – it is not a homily – it is not a study – it is not economics – it is not philosophy – it is not even ethics or epistemology or even a good idea. It is living in this revelation that grows the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. It is because He wants us that much!!! Faith in it’s highest form and power agrees with His assessment! Jesus is not a squanderer. He was the only SEED his Father had, and that Seed was meant to be spent on purchasing the only thing His Father was and is hoping for: You and me. We simply cannot refuse! We simply can’t fritter away His Love for us. This is not about Jesus’ generosity, It is about Jesus and His Father getting what they are after: You and me!
    For more on this subject, see previous post: “My Time Has Not Yet Come“

  7. Stephen–

    I am writing a series on my blog site in which the very point you are making here is central to my several points. I thus want to say, “Bravo.” Not just because we agree but because it helps to see the Spirit leading others as He seems to be leading me. I love your writing and still read your posts with interest. I’d love it if we got better acquainted. Have you been to yet? I wonder if we should work toward being partners in some manner? In the same vein I think you would love my book, Your Church Is Too Small, where I argue against the very sectarianism you write about.

    Remind me again, where do you live?


    John H. Armstrong

  8. I see where you will be in Charlotte next Saturday. I will forward your information to my partner there, Rev. David Hickman, of CharlotteONE, a city-wide network to reach millennials for the whole church and not to compete with sects and denominations. You’d love David. Based on your bio you would love to meet David.

  9. Gal. 2:20 Paul says, “I live by the faith of the Son of God” He also says in that same scripture “It is not I that liveth but Christ that liveth in me.” Let it be by His faith, the Christ that lives within us. John 15:5 “Apart from me you can do nothing”. We can’t fix ourselves. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” Hebrews 11:6. Is it moving in my faith or His faith. I would like to submit to you that I believe that it is moving in His faith. “For it is He that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” Philippians 2:13.

  10. Wow Steve. I’m hesitant to, but will anyway, choose a favorite offering of yours. This is it. You have been an inspiration with words and personally responsible for growth in my life…that said, in terms of something that directly speaks to my heart in an immediate, HEALING way…this was awesome…..I will be offering your words the next time I speak to the group on 1 John – that we are empowered to be like Christ on this earth…that our love is completed when relationally poured to others…such a mind-blowing insight into our mind-blowng God and his unrestricted and unabashed love for creation. By the way, the stuff on discipleship is extremely helpful!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *