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Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian perspective.

This page is one of a series examining the role and function of discipleship within the Family.

 

The Just Shall Live By Faith

 

 “The just shall live by faith” is a phrase that occurs in the Bible four times: once in the Old Testament, in Habakkuk 2:4, and three times in the New Testament, in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and in Hebrews 10:38.

These verses − or rather, this phrase − is used by the Family as scriptural support for their policy of full time members not working at secular employment. The reasoning behind this policy goes like this:

The Bible says that the “just shall live by faith.” The “just” are interpreted to be the people who obey God the most, who follow Him the closest. These are the true “disciples”, according to the Family, not merely “Christians.” “Living by faith” means, again according to the Family, allowing God Himself to supply the things that are needed, instead of working in secular employment. Those who work in secular employment are seen as trusting their employer rather than trusting God, or serving Mammon rather than God (Matthew 6:24). Fulltime Family disciples, on the other hand, are seen as serving God, regardless of their actual ministry within the Family. As they are “serving God fulltime,” then God will provide for them, not only food, clothing and shelter, but also anything they might reasonably need to continue their “work” for the Lord. These “needs” might include vehicles, air tickets, household equipment, entertainment, and so on. As Family disciples are working fulltime for God, then God is somewhat obligated to provide for them.

If there is something that is needed by a Family ‘home,’ or an individual member, or by the collection of homes in a particular area, or if a home is simply short of money to pay their rent, then there are a variety of methods that might be used to obtain the needed item. Family members have access to a number of audiovisual products as well as books and magazines that they may sell. They may raise money through music performances, or through providing entertainment of one form or another. They may also directly approach people in the business community to ask them to give the needed items for free. This is called “provisioning” and is a long-established Family practice. Family members may also ask people to give sums of money in order to purchase their needs. All of these methods of obtaining money or needed items are seen as within the scope of “living by faith.”

There are a number of issues here that need to be addressed, one of which is covered on this page:

  1. The Bible actually makes no distinction between ‘Christians’ and ‘disciples.’ One of the implications of this is that the exclusive nature of the Family is lacking in scriptural support. For more, click here.
  2. The Bible does not condemn secular employment, neither does it say that Christ’s “disciples” should refrain from such work. The Bible does not say that someone who engages in fulltime ministry is better than someone who holds secular employment. Jesus’ warnings against serving Mammon (Matt 6:24) do not forbid secular employment. For more, click here.
  3. In many cases, there appears to be little difference between the methods used by Family members to raise money, and those used by secular salespeople or entertainers. Nonetheless, Family members are seen as ‘living by faith’ while the others are not.
  4. The Family practice of “provisioning” is open to abuse. There is nothing to stop an individual (or group of people), motivated by greed, to prey upon the generosity of well-meaning business people. Serious issues regarding the honesty of Family provisioners have been raised, both by former members, and within the Family itself. For more on honesty within the Family, click here.
  5. Finally, the Family has never produced a thorough study of the four verses that contain the phrase, “the just shall live by faith.” There have been many things written on the topics of fulltime discipleship, secular employment, provisioning and living by faith, most of which contain Bible verses. However, the Family has never examined these four verses in context to determine their actual meaning. If they did, they would discover, that the four passages in which these four verse are located each have a different emphasis or application, and that not one of the passages comes close to the way this phrase is interpreted in the Family.

The remainder of this page takes a brief look at the four passages that contain the phrase “the just shall live by faith” in order to learn the general application of this phrase as it is used in the Bible.

 

Habakkuk 2:4

Hab 2:4 Behold, as for the proud one,

His soul is not right within him;

But the righteous will live by his faith. NASU

The prophet Habakkuk lived about 600 years before Christ, in a time of intense turmoil. The Jewish people were divided into the north and south kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and were beset with problems both internal and external. Unlike other prophets whose books are records of their exhortations to the people to return to God, the book of Habakkuk is written as a dialogue between the prophet and God.

Habakkuk begins with a complaint to God concerning the wickedness of his own people.

 

Hab 1:2-4

1:2 How long, Lord, must I cry for help?

But you do not listen!

I call out to you, “Violence!”

But you do not intervene!

1:3 Why do you force me to witness injustice?

Why do you put up with wrongdoing?

Destruction and violence confront me;

conflict is present and one must endure strife.

1:4 For this reason the law lacks power,

and justice is never carried out.

Indeed, the wicked intimidate the innocent.

For this reason justice is perverted.

NET

God’s answer is shocking: He will not continue to tolerate wickedness in His people, therefore He will raise up the Chaldeans (Babylon) to come as an instrument of punishment.

 

Hab 1:6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,

That fierce and impetuous people

Who march throughout the earth

To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. NASU

The prophet is not happy with this answer. He remonstrates with God, pointing out that the Babylonians are even more wicked than Judah. God’s justice appears to be injustice.

 

Hab 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,

And You can not look on wickedness with favor.

Why do You look with favor

On those who deal treacherously?

Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up

Those more righteous than they? NASU

God gives several responses: First, the Babylonians will indeed come at the appointed time.

 

Hab 2:3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time;

It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.

Though it tarries, wait for it;

For it will certainly come, it will not delay. NASU

Second, God is indeed just, recompensing both the righteous and the unrighteous.

 

Hab 2:4 Behold, as for the proud one,

His soul is not right within him;

But the righteous will live by his faith. NASU

Third, Babylon will be itself punished for its wickedness.

 

Hab 2:8 Because you have looted many nations,

All the remainder of the peoples will loot you —

Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land,

To the town and all its inhabitants. NASU

The book of Habakkuk concludes with a psalm of praise and trust in God (chapter three).

God’s statement that “the just shall live by his faith” (NKJV) then comes within the context of God’s reply to the prophet concerning the justice of God’s use of a wicked nation to punish his own people. There is a strong contrast drawn, not between Judah and Babylon, but between those who are proud, whose souls are not right, and the “righteous” (NASB, NIV, RSV) who live according to their faith, or “faithfulness” (footnotes in NASU and NIV). The NET Bible puts it as “the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness.”

The word “just” is an adjective in Hebrew, meaning “just, lawful, righteous, as justified and vindicated by God” (Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon). Vine’s dictionary notes that the word is derived from the noun and verb forms of the word, which are legal terms involving the whole process of justice. The “just” therefore, are those whom God views as innocent.

The word “faith” in Hab 2:4 means “firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness, certainty.” This word is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to indicate steadiness, as when Aaron and Hur held Moses’ hands to keep them steady (Exodus 17:11); it is used of God’s faithfulness (Psalm 37:1) and of the faithfulness of God’s commandments (Psalm 119:86); it is used within the context of God’s relationship to Israel as depicted by a faithful marriage (Hos 2:20).

The word “live” is used in the Old Testament both literally and figuratively, with various meanings including to live, to have life, to revive, to preserve life and so on.

Habakkuk 2:4 is a strong statement; it is the heart of God’s message to the troubled prophet. God told him that He alone was the sovereign God, not only over Israel and Judah, but over the nations of the world as well. God’s justice would be fulfilled. The wicked would not escape. God would brings things to pass. Justice would be fulfilled in God’s own time, but it certainly would happen. The only way to avoid God’s displeasure was to remain faithful to Him, to remain true to His commandments because of faith in Him, to maintain righteousness and integrity before God.

Neither the Babylonian marauders nor the unbelieving Jews would be able to stand before God; only those whose faith was demonstrated in righteousness in integrity would live.

The principle we may apply in today’s world is clear and strong: regardless of the wickedness of the world, regardless of the sins of people who claim to be Christians, regardless of temptation, persecution or spiritual attacks, the man or woman of faith will remain true to God and His word. This is faith that is demonstrated in righteous living, faith that keeps one faithful to God, a living faith that produces integrity and obedience to God.

 

Romans 1:17

Rom 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (NASU)

The book of Romans contains one of the most influential theological arguments that has ever been written, addressing the tension that existed between Jewish and Gentile believers in the first century. The theme is that Jews and non-Jews together form one people of God, united in the righteousness of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

In chapter one, Paul lays the foundation for his analysis of the Gospel as it applies to both Jews and Gentiles, and gives a summary of the argument he will prove throughout the epistle:

Rom 1:2-4

… the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,

NASU

So, God sent Jesus Christ, who was revealed to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.

Rom 1:14-17

14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

NASU

The Gospel is about God’s power to save Jew and non-Jew alike; it is about God’s gift of righteousness to all. It is available not because of nationality but through faith in Christ the Saviour. The Gospel is thus the great leveller between Jews and non-Jews.

Paul finds himself “under obligation,” a “debtor” (NKJV, NET), to preach the Gospel. He is morally compelled to preach the Gospel, first to Jews, and then to non-Jews. The reason for this obligation is the fact that salvation is available by faith to all people, and to prove this point, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous man shall live by faith.”

The emphasis in Rom 1:17 is on salvation: God’s power to save and so give eternal life is granted to anyone who believes. So, the “righteous man” (the one who has been justified by God) “shall live” (eternally) “by faith” (in Jesus Christ).

This means, first, that Paul was obliged to preach to the Gentiles, and second, that the Gentiles could not excuse themselves from the Gospel by saying that they were not Jews. Similarly, regardless of cultural background, the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings salvation to all. Culture, nationality or background is no excuse for non-acceptance of Christ.

 

Galatians 3:11

Gal 3:11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “the righteous man shall live by faith.” NASU

The book of Galatians contains a heated defence of Paul’s own apostleship, set against the invasion of the church by Jewish Christians who were insisting that Gentiles had to get circumcised in order to be accepted by God. Paul hotly rejected this proposition, showing from the Galatians’ own spiritual experience, and from the Old Testament Scriptures that God’s gift came through the Holy Spirit by faith alone.

Gal 3:10-11

10 For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.”

11 Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because “the righteous one will live by faith.”

NET Bible

The implication for the Galatians was that circumcision − or any other Jewish rite − was unnecessary for salvation. In fact, Paul argued that if one were to get circumcised, he would then become obliged to obey the whole law, and he would negate Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Gal 5:3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. NET

Gal 2:21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! NET

Galatians 3:11 then states that it is by faith alone that God’s righteousness is obtained, resulting in eternal life.

 

Hebrews 10:38

Heb 10:38 But my righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. NASU

The book of Hebrews is a letter of encouragement and exhortation written to a group of predominately Jewish Christians who were enduring hardship. The author shows that God has given His absolutely final word in the person of Christ: rejecting Christ is rejecting God. He stresses that Christ is far superior to any of the Old Testament figures and ceremonies, and therefore God’s people may come to God through Christ with supreme confidence.

Hebrews 10:38 is within a section exhorting the recipients to continue in faithful perseverance, immediately following a strong warning against deliberate sin (Heb 10:26-31).

Heb 10:32-39

32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

37 For yet in a very little while,

he who is coming will come, and will not delay.

38 But my righteous one shall live by faith;

and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.

39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

NASU

The author of Hebrews then lists the heroes of faith in the well-known eleventh chapter to encourage his readers not to throw away their confidence (Heb 10:35). He concludes his extensive list of people who endured through extreme hardship with the ultimate example of Christ (Heb 12:1-3), who endured the cross.

The emphasis in Hebrews 10:38 is on the contrast between those who persevere in their faith, enduring hardship for their righteous cause, and those who “shrink back.” The Greek verb translated “shrink back” in verse 38 means to “withdraw oneself, i.e. to be timid, to cower, shrink: of those who from timidity hesitate to avow what they believe” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It is “perhaps a metaphor from lowering a sail and so slackening the course, and hence of being remiss in holding the truth” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words). It is also used in Acts 20:27.

Acts 20:27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. NASU

The author of Hebrews quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in support of his exhortation to endure, despite the “great conflict of sufferings” (Heb 10:32), despite “being made a public spectacle,” despite the “reproaches and tribulations” (vs.33), despite the seizure of their property (vs.34).  He reminds his readers of their former endurance (vs.32), and urges them not to throw away their confidence (vs.35), and that they have need of endurance (vs.36). God’s reward will come (vs.36) in “a little while” (vs.37). The principle he wants to draw from his quotation of  Habakkuk 2:4 is that those who hold to the true faith will never retreat in fear, they will endure to the end. Here, “live by faith” is used as a direct contrast to “shrink back.” He repeats this in the next verse, contrasting “those who shrink back and thus perish” to “those who have faith and preserve their souls” (NET Bible).

 

Summary

The phrase “the just shall live by faith” (NKJV) is used four times in the Bible, three times in the New Testament as a quotation of Habakkuk 2:4. Each passage has a slightly different emphasis:

In Habakkuk, the prophet exhorts the people to remain faithful to God, to remain true to His commandments, to maintain righteousness and integrity in true faith before God.

In Romans, Paul emphasises God’s power to save and give eternal life to anyone who believes.

In Galatians, Paul argues that eternal life is obtained solely by faith in God’s righteousness.

In Hebrews, the author urges his readers to persevere, courageously holding on to their faith.

Not one of the four passages in the Bible has anything to do with believers working in full-time ministries instead of secular employment. Not once is it used in relation to God’s provision of our material needs. Not once does it have a meaning even remotely related to the Family’s interpretation.

 

See also (on Make Straight Paths)

Forsaking All

Labour Not…

Salvation

 

Further research (external links)

The Relationship Between Your Ministry and Your Occupation (Bob Deffinbaugh)

Work: A Noble Christian Duty  (John MacArthur)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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