The Just Shall Live by Faith

A central theme in the life of Paul can be summed up in a phrase he used: “The just shall live by faith.” What does that mean? How do we live by faith today?

In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul put together a list of the trials and hardships he had been through (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). As you read through this list of beatings with rods, being stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and on and on, you can’t help but wonder how Paul was able to make it through all of these trials. In addition to all of this, he had the responsibility of managing the churches in the gentile world (verse 28).

There were tremendous highs in the life of Paul, and then there were some deep lows. After all of his intense activity, Paul languished in jail for years in Caesarea and Rome!

Paul’s example of how to live by faith

As we read through these accounts of Paul’s life, we have to ask ourselves, How did he do it? How was he able to hang in there and endure?

The answer isn’t a great mystery really, because Paul tells us time and time again how he did it.

One of the scriptures where he tells us how he managed to make it through all of these trials is Galatians 3:11, where he tells us, “The just shall live by faith.” It must have been one of Paul’s favorite quotes, as he uses it more than once in his epistles.

Paul is actually quoting an Old Testament passage found in Habakkuk 2:4, where it states, “The just shall live by his faith” (emphasis added). This is an interesting concept in itself—the just shall live by his faith. Not that we don’t need the faith of Christ in us (see our articles “Christ in Us” and “Living Faith”), but we also have a part to play when it comes to living by faith.

The two blind men’s example of living by faith

As an example of personal faith, Matthew recorded for us a time when two blind men came to Jesus and asked Him to heal them. Jesus first asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

Their reply was, “Yes, Lord.”

“Then He touched their eyes saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’ And their eyes were opened.”

These two men exercised their personal living faith in Jesus Christ that He could indeed heal them—and they were healed (Matthew 9:27-30).

The challenge of living by faith in beliefs and actions

Everyone, at some point in time, is going to have to live by his or her faith. Not my faith or someone else’s faith, but his or her own faith. He or she is going to have to take a stand on his or her faith. You are going to have to build your life on your faith and endure your trials and afflictions by your faith. (Of course, faith is also a gift from the faithful, all-powerful God, so our faith has a firm foundation!)

Living by faith is how Paul got through all of his hardships and trials, and that’s how we’re going to get through all of ours.Living by faith is how Paul got through all of his hardships and trials, and that’s how we’re going to get through all of ours. We have to personally exercise faith in God to see us through, no matter what we may have to face in this life.

So, it actually gets right down to what you believe, doesn’t it? It finally gets down to what’s living in your heart and mind in terms of your set of beliefs and values that you hold on to and build your life upon. One benefit of going through trials is that they strengthen your faith. It’s a fundamental truism—“the just shall live by faith.”

Paul again mentioned “the just shall live by faith” in Romans 1:16-17. He showed how the glorious gospel of Christ is a very powerful thing. He went on to say there is power in that gospel to lead one to salvation—there is power in that message. But we must also live by what Christ taught in that message. This is what living faith looks like. Living faith is living our lives as Jesus Christ lived His life. It’s obeying and doing the things He did.

Living faith includes what you do, as well as what you believe (James 2:18-20). Unless a person’s belief is backed up by good works, James says his or her faith is dead.

More examples of people who lived by faith

The phrase “the just shall live by faith” is also found in Hebrews 10:35-38. The writer of Hebrews was encouraging those whose faith was wavering to hang in there. He followed it in the next chapter with examples of faithful people:

  • Abraham, known as the father of the faithful, exercised living faith when he offered up Isaac.
  • Moses exercised living faith when he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea.
  • David killed the Philistine giant Goliath by exercising living faith that God would be with him and give him the victory.
  • Daniel exercised living faith when he refused to stop praying in spite of the penalty of being thrown into the lions’ den.
  • Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego exercised living faith when they refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold and then faced the “violence of fire.”

All of the above and many more like them, some of whom are listed in Hebrews chapter 11, put their lives on the line because they lived by faith, and God saw them through!

How can we live by faith?

What about us? How can we have the kind of living faith all of these Bible greats had? How can we be counted among those who exercised living faith? What does God expect of us?

The apostle Paul further tells us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Our faith can be increased by studying the examples of those who lived by faith. A careful, in-depth study of the lives of those faithful people mentioned in this article would be a good start. God expects us to study His Word, the Bible, to help us live by faith. Regular Bible study is a faith builder.

Moreover, God’s Word will reveal other areas of our lives that we’ll need to change if we are to live our lives as Christ lived His. We should embark on a study of the life of Christ, as recorded in the Gospels. He set us an example in all things, and we are admonished to “follow His steps,” meaning to live as He lived (1 Peter 2:21).

We can also ask God for more faith. God will increase our faith if we ask Him for it and diligently seek to draw closer to Him in prayer and the study of His Word. Living faith is not just believing that God exists. It is demonstrated by one’s service and obedience to God. Living faith is something we should have 24/7, not just during times when we are going through a trial.

After a life of faith

We began this article talking about Paul’s example of living by faith. How did living faith finally play out in the life of this apostle of God? What was the end result for Paul?

He tells us in his second letter to the young evangelist Timothy. Paul wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

A major part of Paul’s preparation for this momentous event was living his life by faith—living faith! We, too, can do the same.

Study more about growing in faith in our article “How to Grow in Faith.”

About the Author

Harold Rhodes

Harold Rhodes

Harold Rhodes was a pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, who died in 2021. He was ordained a minister in 1969 and served congregations in Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama and Florida.

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