January 30th 2010

Law Not Based On Faith

4th of a series of studies from Habakkuk

“But the righteous shall live by his faith.”  “The righteous shall live by faith.” 

Habakkuk 2:4 (NIV UK) and Galatians 3:11 (NIV UK)

Paul used Habakkuk 2:4 to address a problem in the Galatian church.

The problem before Paul was an error, which, on the face of it, seemed a sensible proposition. Some thought that Christians should keep the Law of Moses. After all, was the law not all about attaining righteousness?

Paul, who might have supported such ideas before his conversion, says this is “no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6). It is not good news. Believers are not “justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16).  “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you have heard?” he asks, “are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (3:2). Abraham’s faith predated the law, he points out. The law was an imperfect expression of God’s will added to scripture until Jesus would come to make God’s mind and views clear to us. Jesus is the source of life, not the law. “If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would have come by the law” (3:21).

Furthermore all “who rely on observing the law are under a curse” because “cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10 referring to Deuteronomy 27:26). You can’t pick and choose which laws to keep: if you keep one then you are obliged to keep them all. “We were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed” (Galatians 3:23). The law was over us until the time of Christ so that we might be justified by faith. “Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (3:24). The law was like a servant hired to guide us, but now we have the real thing, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Master and Teacher. Therefore there is no obligation for Christians to keep the Law of Moses.

In the middle of his argument Paul makes the quote from Habakkuk. Being made right before God is not the result of observing the law. “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith’. The law is not based on faith…” We are all children of God “through faith in Christ Jesus”, not through the law (Galatians 3:11-12, 26).

I wonder what Habakkuk would have thought of what Paul wrote? He was already nonplussed by God’s refusal to intervene and he was reviewing his situation. God still had more to say to him, not just about faith, but about behaviour too.


Our Father, sometimes I try to attain the Kingdom by my own human effort. But I know that is not possible. Thank you that Jesus has already secured life for me, and that it is through faith in him that I am counted as one of your children. In Jesus’ name.


Study by James Henderson