Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The righteous shall live by their faithfulness. You say, “Oh that sounds like it’s something they’re doing.” No, you see, faith is not just what you believe intellectually. It’s not just what you say you believe, but it’s what you are really relying on—a faith that is lived out in obedience and faithfulness.

It’s that kind of faith that is whole-hearted faith and obedience to God, obedience that flows out of your faith because you really believe God. So it demonstrates, it evidences itself in faithfulness and obedience.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, October 15. What is faith? It’s sometimes used to describe a denomination, a relationship with God, and some parents even use the word to name their children. But do you really understand what faith means? Nancy provides insight for women into this important topic as she continues in a series called, Habakkuk: Moving from Fear to Faith.

Nancy: Well, I am so excited because today we come to the crux of the message of Habakkuk, the key point, the theme of this book. It’s this point that was transformational in Habakkuk’s life. He had gone up to his watchtower to hear what God would say to him. God had said, “I’m going to give you a vision. I’m going to give you a message of what’s going to happen.

That leads to the verse we’re going to see, Habakkuk chapter 2, verse 4. It’s this truth that is what took Habakkuk from wrestling to worshiping, from sighing to singing, from fear to faith.

Now before I tell you what it is, let me just reset here in case you haven’t been with us for the last few sessions. Habakkuk has cried out to God to do something about the corruption going on among the Jewish people. He’s frustrated because it seems like God is passive and indifferent to his prayers.

Then God responds, “I am doing something, but it’s not what you expected” because what God is doing is raising up the ruthless Chaldeans to chasten His people. Habakkuk cannot believe that God would do such a thing, so he goes to his watchpost to find out God’s perspective on all of this. That’s where God gives him a vision of His purpose and His plan. We’ll see that in the next part of chapter 2.

The Chaldeans are going to be punished, too. God introduces that vision with these words (Habakkuk chapter 2, verse 4) that contrast two kinds of people. As we read and talk about this verse and these two kinds of people, I want you to be asking yourself which kind of person am I? Which category am I in? Let’s read it.

Verse 4:

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Now, I just want to say this is one of the most important verses in all of God’s Word. “The righteous will live by his faith.” This verse is like a diamond against the sooty backdrop of man’s corruption and God’s judgment.

We’ve been hearing about the sin of God’s people and the sins of the Chaldeans and the judgment that’s coming. We’re going to see more of that in this chapter, but in the midst of all that, there’s this beautiful gem: “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

Now, I said there are two kinds of people in this verse, so we need to look at both of them. The first phrase says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him.” So that’s the first kind of person—those who are puffed up, those who are proud, those who are not upright.

In the immediate context God is talking about the Chaldeans, the Babylonians. That’s who He and Habakkuk are dialoging about. In the bigger context, this is talking about anyone who is proud and self-sufficient, people who trust in themselves to be their own God.

People who trust that they can save themselves. People who trust in themselves for their eternal soul’s destiny and people who trust in themselves in times of trouble or desperation or need. They’re proud. They don’t need God. They don’t need you. They don’t need anybody. They can make it. They’re self-sufficient.

Now these people don’t always shake their fist in God’s face. Sometimes they’re more subtle about it. These people can even be religious. They may go to church. They may even be full-time Christian workers, but they are trusting in themselves rather than in God. “His soul is puffed up [proud]; it is not upright within him.” That’s the first kind of person.

The second kind of person is those who are righteous. “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Those who are righteous, as God views righteousness, are those who do not trust in themselves or their goodness or their efforts or their abilities.

They know they have nothing of any value to offer God except their sinful selves, so they’re humble. They rely entirely on God. They know that God alone can save and deliver them. They accept humbly God’s provision for their salvation. They’re saved by faith, and they live and they persevere by faith.

Do you see the contrast here? Those who are proud and corrupt—they’re self-sufficient, they depend on themselves—and those on the other hand who trust in God. They humbly depend upon God. They rely upon God. They have no sense of their own goodness being able to save them. Those are the ones who are righteous. They live by their faith.

Now the word faith in the Hebrew language here is a word that could actually be translated faithfulness. The righteous shall live by their faithfulness.

You say, “Oh, that sounds like it’s something they’re doing.” No, you see faith is not just what you believe intellectually. It’s not just what you say you believe, but it’s what you are really relying on—a faith that is lived out in obedience and faithfulness.

It’s that kind of faith. It’s whole-hearted faith and obedience to God, obedience that flows out of your faith because you really believe God. So it demonstrates, it evidences itself in faithfulness and obedience.

The New Testament quotes the second part of this verse three times—“The righteous shall live by his faith”—in the book of Romans, in the book of Galatians, and in the book of Hebrews. But in the New Testament we have shed additional light that Habakkuk didn’t have when God told him the righteous shall live by his faith 600 years before Christ.

What came between 600 B.C. and the writings of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews that sheds new light on this verse? Christ! The New Testament sees this verse in light of Christ that the righteous live by faith in Christ and Christ alone.

There are two senses in which the righteous live by faith. I want to talk about the first one today and then in our next session we’ll talk about the second sense. The first one is so important. At first I thought about putting both of these in one session. Then I thought, no, we want to do justice to both of these senses in which the righteous live by faith.

The first sense is that we are justified by faith. We come into a right relationship with God by faith and faith alone. We are delivered from the judgment and the wrath of God. We are made righteous through faith in Christ alone.

That’s the sense that Paul uses in Romans chapter 1, verse 17, when he says,

For in it [that is in the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith.”

What is he saying as he quotes the book of Habakkuk? From beginning to end, the righteousness of God is completely, 100%, utterly, totally, absolutely on the basis of faith. It’s not our righteousness. It’s our faith in Christ and His righteousness.

You see, we are sinners. We are not righteous. We could never be righteous on our own. So from start to finish, Paul says, we are justified. We are made right with God. We are given right standing with God. We are granted access into the presence of God. We are brought into the family of God by faith in Christ alone.

Galatians chapter 3, verse 11: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law.” No one. No matter how good you could be, no matter how many of God’s laws you could keep, you cannot be right with God by the law. Why? Because no one perfectly keeps the law. You may think you are less a sinner than somebody who is a massive mega-lawbreaker, but you’re still a sinner. So no one is justified before God by the law.

“For [and here Paul quotes again the book of Habakkuk] ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Now this is the crux of our Christian faith—this whole issue that the righteous shall live by faith. It’s so crucial that it actually split a whole generation of professing believers wide open and became the foundation of our Protestant Reformation back in the 1500s. “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

How did that come about? In the early 1500s there was a young German theologian named Martin Luther. Luther had earned a doctorate of theology degree. He knew a lot about the Bible. He knew a lot about theology. He was a quick, bright, young mind, but he had no peace in his heart. He knew he wasn’t right with God, and he didn’t know how to be right with God. In fact, over and over again he would write in his diary, “How can a man find favor with God?” How can I be right with God?

Luther tried his best to be holy. He tried to keep God’s law. He tried to prove his devotion to God. He’d fast for up to two weeks at a time. He was deeply introspective. He was always digging and searching for some new sin to confess.

He was overwhelmed by a sense of his own sinfulness, so he would constantly be searching his own heart for every possible sin he might have committed in thought or word or deed. He went to confession many times a day until finally, the story is told, one of his confessors said to him, “Quit coming back here until you find some serious sin to confess.”

He developed this ultra-sensitive conscience. Maybe some of us need a little more sensitive conscience. So he would just keep going back to confess his sins over and over again. He would punish his body in order to try to get rid of impure thoughts or motives. He’d sleep outside without a blanket in below freezing temperatures. He’d beat his body until it was bruised and bleeding trying to purge himself of those sins, trying to gain God’s favor.

Now, Luther had studied the Bible. He knew that God was holy, and he knew that he had sinned and that he fell far short of the standard of God’s law. So he did everything that he could think of to gain God’s favor, to be made righteous. That word righteousness tormented him and haunted him because he knew he wasn’t righteous, and he knew he couldn’t live a righteous life, try hard as he might.

At one point Luther made a pilgrimage to Rome. Inside the church of St. John there was a stairway that was believed to have been the same stairs that Jesus walked up to stand before Pontius Pilate after he was beaten. Now that’s how the church told the story. This wasn’t true. They said these stairs have been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome and now pilgrims could climb up these stairs.

These stairs had pieces of glass embedded in the stairway supposedly marking the places where the drops of blood had fallen from Jesus’ body. So the pilgrims would climb these stairs on their knees, beating themselves with whips and kissing each piece of glass to try and earn God’s favor.

Some of you are shaking your heads like you can’t believe people would do this. I have been in Mexico, the Shrine of Guadalupe. I have seen people climbing stairs on their knees trying to do something to earn God’s favor.

Let me say, if ever a man might have been worthy of earning God’s approval, you would have thought it might have been a man like Martin Luther. This endless spiritual fervor and activity. I mean certainly nobody could have tried harder. Wouldn’t you at least get an A for effort?

Luther realized what we have to come to realize and that is you can never be good enough. We have no righteousness of our own. Even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags to God.

Well, as Luther climbed those stairs there in Rome, the spirit brought to mind this verse that he had read many times before. “The righteous shall live by his faith.” At that point, the light began to go on in Luther’s heart. It was a turning point in his life.

It wasn’t yet his conversion. That didn’t come for a number of years more. But over time, he began to grasp the fact that he could never please a holy God by his own acts of righteousness or even by his contrition or his deeds of penitence, no matter how many or how intense they might be.

He began to understand. “The righteous shall live by his faith.” He began to understand that he could only be right with God through the righteous deeds of Christ and that his sins were forgiven by faith, not by trying, but by faith in the person and the work of Christ on the cross apart from any good deeds of his own.

“The righteous shall live by his faith.” That became the foundation of Luther’s doctrine. That was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation as Luther and the people of his day, many of them, began to realize that righteousness is not something we achieve. It’s not something we can conceivably achieve. Rather, it’s something Christ achieved for us, something which becomes ours, not by any merit of our own, but only through faith in the merit of Christ.

Luther himself said of this text:

“The righteous shall live by his faith”—Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with Him because not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, He still further increased our torture by the gospel. [It’s like He held this out to us, and then we couldn’t have it.]

But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words—"The just shall live by faith! The just shall live by faith!"—then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God.1

How does a man get to heaven? How does a man become right with God? How is a man born again? How is a man made righteous? “The righteous shall live by his faith.” He shall be declared righteous by his faith, and he shall continue to live that righteous life by faith in Christ and Christ alone.

Two kinds of people. First, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him.” He tries to save himself. He thinks he can do it. He thinks he can earn God’s favor, and he never attains to God’s righteousness. But, “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

Is it possible that in some way you have been climbing up stairs over pieces of glass, beating yourself, trying your dead-level best to be righteous, to earn God’s favor, trying to be forgiven, trying to please God, trying to be right with God? Oh, maybe you don’t climb up literal stairs on your knees, but:

  • Maybe that’s why you’re putting in your appearance at church Sunday after Sunday.
  • Maybe that’s why you go through so many religious motions.
  • Maybe that’s why you read your Bible.
  • Maybe that’s why you pray.
  • Maybe that’s why you sing in the praise band.
  • Maybe that’s why you give money to the poor.
  • Maybe that’s why you try and live a good life because you’re trying to earn righteousness on your own.

The Bible says “his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him.”

You say, “But I’m trying so hard. That’s not proud.” It is proud. It’s pride that says I can do this. I can do anything to gain my salvation, to gain favor with God, to be right with God. Let me tell you Jesus already climbed those stairs. He climbed them for you. He was beaten. He was crucified. He shed His blood for your sin. The price has been paid. Through faith in Him, His righteousness can be yours.

I love that old hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” and particularly that stanza that says:

Could my tears forever flow;
Could my zeal no respite know.
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

I don’t know how to make it any clearer than I just have, but I trust that as I’ve been speaking, God has been speaking to hearts and helping perhaps some to see you’re not righteous. You’ve been trying so hard to earn My favor, but your soul is puffed up. It’s not upright within you. You’ve been trying to save yourself, thinking in some way you could merit My favor.

Maybe today the Holy Spirit has done for you what he did for Martin Luther as he climbed those stairs centuries ago. He’s turned on the light. He’s helped you to see that the righteous shall live by faith. Faith in Christ alone. Christ who took our sins on Himself. He was made sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Perhaps God is putting that faith in your heart today. You say, “What do I do?” Believe. If God is giving you repentance of your pride and your corruption, you don’t want to keep going that way. You renounce your pride, your corruption. You repent of your sin, and you realize that you have nothing to offer God. You repent of your self-righteousness, of trying to please God apart from faith in Christ. Then you turn simply from yourself to Christ, and you place your faith in Him.

Listen, in the final analysis every person on this earth is relying on one of two things for his eternal salvation, for his relationship with God. He’s relying on himself, or he’s relying on Christ. Where is your reliance? Where is your trust? Where is your faith? Trust in Christ today to save you.

My hope is in the Lord,
  Who gave Himself for me.
And paid the price
  Of all my sin at Calvary.

No merit of my own,
   His anger to suppress.
My only hope is found
  In Jesus’ righteousness.

And now for me He stands,
   Before the Father’s throne.
He shows His wounded hands
  And names me as His own.

His grace has planned it all,
  ’Tis mine but to believe.
And recognize His work of love
  And Christ receive.2

Leslie: Are you living by faith today? Nancy Leigh DeMoss has given every woman listening the chance to slow down and ask that all-important question. Today’s program describes the turning point in the story of Habakkuk. If you’re new with us, you just got a taste of how exciting and practical the book of Habakkuk is.

Nancy’s teaching on Habakkuk first aired a few years ago and we’re returning to it during our 10th year of broadcasting at Revive Our Hearts. Throughout the year, we want to revisit some of the classic series that have been a help to women. One wrote during this series and told us that her pastor had the congregation turn in their Bibles to one of the minor prophets. She was saddened to realize how new and crisp the pages in her Bible were around this section. Then Nancy began this series on Habakkuk and helped her wear these pages in. She wrote,

I love this ministry. If it weren't for the straight teaching given, I would not be where I am in God or in my marriage today!

That kind of ministry from our first year to our tenth has been supported by listeners who donate to keep the program coming to you each day. When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’d like to send you a booklet called Habakkuk: Worry, Woes, and Worship. It’s a daily Bible study that compliments Nancy’s teaching each day. This is an excellent opportunity to break in the pages of Habakkuk in your Bible. Don’t let them stay new and crisp. Donate at, or call 1-800-59-5959. 

You come to God for forgiveness by faith, but faith doesn’t stop there. We need faith every single day and Nancy will explain why on Monday. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts .

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1Cited in Bob Deffinbaugh message on Habakkuk – from James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 2, Micah-Malachi (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), pp. 91-92, quoting F.W. Boreham in A Bunch of Everlastings or Texts that Made History (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1920), pp. 20, 27.

2"My Hope is in the Lord."  Norman J. Clayton.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.