Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The righteous live by faith. One important aspect of living by faith is that of the quest. The righteous individual is he whose entire life on the earth is a quest, a quest for something not yet a reality on the earth. The righteous person always is a stranger and an exile in the present world.
One of the foundations of the Protestant Reformation is the statement, “the righteous shall live by faith.”
This concept was given to Martin Luther, the Catholic priest, as he afflicted his flesh with various kinds of penances.
“The righteous shall live by faith” is taken from Habakkuk 2:4 where living in trust in God is contrasted with living in our pride, in our self-will and self-centeredness. “The righteous shall live by faith” is quoted three times in the New Testament.
It is true that no man can earn salvation by inflicting wounds on himself. No man can compete with God in the area of righteousness. In order for us to be righteous in God’s eyes, God Himself must declare us to be righteous. We must believe in God’s existence and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him diligently. We are sinful and rebellious by nature and are totally unable to attain in our own strength the righteousness of God.
However, the righteous shall live by faith often is defined incorrectly.
The present interpretation of the righteous shall live by faith is that if an individual “accepts Christ,” according to Romans 10:9,10 or Ephesians 2:8,9 or John 1:12 or John 3:16, making a statement of faith in Christ, he now is “saved.” According to this doctrine, being saved means that when he dies he will go to Paradise to live forever in the spirit realm.
He is righteous in God’s eyes because he has professed faith according to a few verses that have been removed from their contexts and employed as a “ticket to Heaven.” Faith is viewed as a continuing trust that the original profession once performed will ensure admittance to Paradise when one passes from this life.
The present understanding of the righteous shall live by faith is as far removed from the scriptural concept of righteousness and faith as is the belief that we can merit salvation by doing penance.
The writer is a born-again Christian, washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus, and knows the blessing of salvation. We understand also that faith is dead unless it produces righteous, holy, and obedient behavior on the part of the believer.
The just shall live by faith has become a matter of doctrinal belief rather than that of a kind of person and a way of life. A little reflection on Habakkuk 2:4, the realities of the Kingdom of God, and the words of the Lord Jesus in the four Gospels, will reveal that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God has to do with the kind of person we are and the way we behave rather than with our profession of belief in doctrine. When did the Lord Jesus, while describing His return, ever raise the question of doctrinal belief?
But isn’t faith belief in doctrine? No, it is not. Faith is our personal conviction concerning the Person of God, especially as His Character and purposes are revealed in the Scriptures. Faith is our grasp on God, our trust in His goodness and power, not our theological position.
God has defined faith for us in the Scriptures.
Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in Hebrews 10:38:
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. (Hebrews 10:38)
Right away we see that faith has to do with either drawing back or else going forward in our relationship with Christ.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is God’s definition of faith. Faith is revealed in the manner in which people live and think and act. The righteous live by faith. This is how they live and move and have their being.
There are many persons mentioned in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. Taken together, their manner of life constitutes the Divine definition of the righteous shall live by faith. It is interesting that God uses people from the Old Testament to teach Christians the meaning of the righteous shall live by faith.
One important aspect of living by faith is that of the quest. The righteous individual is he whose entire life on the earth is a quest, a quest for something not yet a reality on the earth. The righteous person always is a stranger and an exile in the present world.
Abraham and the other heroes of faith were righteous in God’s sight because their lives were one long quest for something better, something heavenly. They were not at home here.
By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:9,10)
Abraham was wandering about in the land of promise, in his own inheritance. Yet to him it was a strange country.
Abraham did not build a great city as did other men before him, although he was very wealthy. He lived in a tent. He demonstrated by this that he considered himself to be a pilgrim, a sojourner.
Abraham was looking for a city that has foundations, a city built by the God of Heaven.
The new Jerusalem is that city and the Scripture tells of the emphasis laid on the foundations of the wall.
How did Abraham know about the new Jerusalem? God must have shown it to him.
God revealed Himself to Abraham, and afterwards Abraham spent the remainder of his life seeking God. He endured as seeing Him who is invisible. Abraham was on a quest, looking for something that cannot be found in the world. He was a visionary. He was not at home here.
So it is true of every individual who would please God by faith. He must adopt the attitude that the world is not his home. He must spend his days looking for God.
The just shall live by faith means that immediately upon being saved we are to view this present world as being foreign to us and we to it.
Ordinarily the saint is not to accomplish great things here, to become wealthy or famous. We are not of the world. We are strangers and pilgrims. We are on a quest for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, for eternal life, for the new Jerusalem. Our quest is to occupy the chief position in all of our thinking and doing. This is the true Christian walk—that which leads to eternal life.
No individual ever was found righteous in God’s sight by blind adherence to the Law of Moses apart from faith. Beginning with Abel, whose “more excellent sacrifice” was offered in faith, the men and women who have pleased God have been those who have demonstrated their faith in God by continually seeking Him. This is why the Spirit can use the saints of the Old Testament as examples to us concerning how to attain righteousness by faith.
God has never changed His ways of dealing with people. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is not a new way of pleasing God. God never has been or never will be pleased on any basis other than faith.
A statement of belief in the facts of the atonement can never serve as a substitute for a life of vigorous faith in God.
We ask people to raise their hands, thereby indicating they have “made a decision for Christ.” Now they can return to their jobs and pleasures, being fully assured that when they die physically they will go to Paradise, there to have fellowship with David, Elijah, and Paul. This is not sound teaching.
John the Baptist did not preach this kind of “grace.” Jesus of Nazareth did not preach this kind of “grace.” The Apostles of the Lamb did not preach this kind of “grace.”
Every true prophet of God, whether of the old covenant or the new, has warned his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. He has commanded, “Turn away from this cursed world! Take upon yourselves the reproach of the godly! Deny yourselves! Let your lives be a testimony of God’s righteousness! Live as men and women who are waiting for the Kingdom of God to come from Heaven!”
God’s expectations concerning people have never changed and never shall change. God requires that we live in humble dependence on Him in every aspect of our personality and behavior. Without such consistent faith it is impossible to please Him.
A true saint, a Christian, is a person who is living as a foreigner on the earth. His life is a quest for the invisible God. His treasures are in Heaven above. His heart is in Heaven above. He hungers and thirsts for God as the dying man craves food and water. He is not at home here and he knows it and shows it in all that he is and does.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)
The marvel is, how could people who lived before the time of the life and ministry of Christ, before His resurrection, before He poured the Holy Spirit on His saints, have had such a hunger for God, such an insight into the things of Heaven? They put us to shame. We have been given so much more Divine assistance! So much more knowledge! Surely our zeal for God should outstrip theirs! Our quest for God should be more single-minded.
Yet, the churches of today are made up of “believers” whose faith and spiritual life are weak compared with that of the heroes of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. Something is terribly amiss in Christendom, in those who are supposed to be greater in authority, power, righteousness, and holiness than the Prophets!
The patriarchs “died in faith.” They entered death still seeking God. Our vision and hope must extend beyond to and beyond the grave.
We Christians view physical death in much the same way as the heathen in that we panic at the thought of death. We are at home in the world! This is because we are not on a quest for that which is invisible. Our talk about wanting to go to Heaven is often unrelated to how we actually feel about death.
The true Christian is a visionary. He lives in an eternal vision. He thinks of that which is not as yet a fact as though it already were in existence. God gives him many promises, some of which are for this world and some for the next—he cannot always tell; and then delays the fulfillment for many years. The believer either turns away in frustration and discouragement or else lives in a vision. He endures as seeing Him who is invisible. During this period of hope God teaches him to be a practical person.
The patriarchs are living in the Presence of God, waiting to be made perfect together with us. These are the spirits of righteous men made perfect. They with us constitute the Jerusalem that is above and that one day will be established on a high mountain of the new earth. They still are on their quest.
Even though the patriarchs are in Paradise in the Zion above, they have “received not the promise.” For the promise of God includes more than eternal residence in the spirit realm. It includes the fullness of eternal life, the fullness of the indwelling of God and Christ through the Holy Spirit, in spirit, soul, and body.
The inheritance includes rulership over the nations of saved peoples of the earth. It includes eternal glory and eternal service, and the privilege of beholding the Face of God. It includes the commission to drive all the works of Satan from the heavens and the earth—total, complete vengeance on the enemy.
The heroes of faith are persuaded of the reality and worth of the heavenly treasures. To embrace such treasures by faith requires that we live as strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
In many instances the modern Christian, even though he has “accepted Christ” according to the current doctrine, reveals by his life that he has not been persuaded of the reality and worth of the invisible rewards and therefore is not embracing them. How can we be sure this is so? Because he is intent on ensuring his security, pleasures, and achievements in the present world. Life on earth is occupying his prime energies.
He is not living in the vision of that which is to come. He is of the world. He understands the world and its ways and has embraced the values and objectives of worldly people. He hopes that he will be received by the Lord when he dies. According to the full counsel of the New Testament writings, such a “believer” stands in danger of losing part or all of his inheritance in Christ. He is not seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
The prophetic vision of the Kingdom of Heaven declares that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14). The Lord’s meek will inherit the earth. But today they must wander here as strangers and pilgrims in search of a city that has foundations.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. (Hebrews 11:14)
Although we may speak much of going to Heaven, the impression often is left that Heaven is a sort of mist in which ghost-like people float about doing we know not what. It is no wonder Christians are afraid of dying. We would like to think that Heaven is a desirable place to be but what we will do there is not always clear.
The patriarchs were not seeking a ghostly existence in a mist, they were seeking a country. They desired something that has foundations, something tangible, something that a human being would truly desire, a city that one day will come to the earth.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
A city that is to come down from Heaven to earth!
So it is that the new Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is “free,” is above us in the present hour. It is a real city. There are real people living in it. It is the Kingdom of God. We are to strive to make sure we are worthy of entering through the gates into that city.
If we are not worthy we will be required to inhabit some area of lesser glory; for only those who keep the commandments of God are allowed to enter through the gates into the holy city.
The New Testament writings do not describe what takes place when we die. We know it is appointed to men once to die and after this the judgment. But the major discussion of the Scriptures concerns what will take place when Jesus returns.
Because of the silence of the Scriptures concerning life after death we must limit ourselves to that which is declared to be true. We understand from the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation that no individual who is not holy and righteous in behavior will inherit the new Jerusalem.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14)
Faith, grace, and mercy do not govern our admittance to the new Jerusalem. Faith, grace, and mercy play their roles now while our character is being formed, while we are behaving either righteously or wickedly in our physical body. Faith, grace, and mercy work together to make us new creatures in Christ.
We cannot live a defeated life, not being transformed in character, not turning away from our wicked behavior, and then expect to be allowed into Paradise by “grace.” The Scriptures do not teach this. It is a great misunderstanding in Christian theology (Revelation 22:14).
To be saved is to be spared in the day of God’s wrath and to be brought forward into the new heaven and earth reign of the Lord Jesus. The New Testament teaches that we are saved from wrath and receive eternal life by believing in Christ and being baptized in water. The New Testament teaches also that inheriting the new Jerusalem and the other heavenly rewards depends on the manner in which we run the race, on our worthiness (II Thessalonians 1:5; Revelation 3:4; for example).
It is possible to be saved apart from receiving the heavenly rewards (I Corinthians 3:15).
What happens to the defeated Christian when he dies is not clear. He will be judged according to his deeds in his physical body. Of this we are certain. He will not bring his unbelief and lust into Paradise. We are certain also of this.
There are some who are teaching that all Christians will receive the same reward. It appears they are ignorant of the abundance of passages of Scripture that declare our rewards will be directly related to our works; that we shall reap precisely what we sow.
The law of sowing and reaping is an eternal law of the Kingdom of God. The victorious saint enters through the gates of the new Jerusalem when he dies. The defeated believer goes to some other area of the spirit realm, there to await his placement when the Lord returns.
This may come as a shock to those who have believed that the Lord Jesus will say to them when they die, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Lord.” They know they have been neither good nor faithful, but they expect to hear those words on the basis of “grace.”
Many commentators, recognizing this discrepancy, have attempted to separate the Words of Christ in the four Gospels from the arguments of the Apostle Paul in Romans, Chapters Three through Five. They maintain that the teachings of Christ apply to the Jews and to an earthly kingdom while we Gentiles are saved “by grace,” meaning we will be taken to Heaven on the basis of a statement of doctrinal belief in Christ.
This truly is an erroneous teaching. This is to remove the commandments of the Lord, such as the Sermon on the Mount, from the Christian churches. Why have intelligent Christian people accepted such an obvious error?
If we were to reject all the New Testament commandments to righteous conduct we would be required to willfully ignore not only the teachings of Christ in the Gospel accounts but also several of the books of the New Testament, including First John, James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. All of these have much to say about our behavior.
The dedicated saint is looking for a “country,” a land where the visions that God has given him will be realized in all their splendor. The more he loves God the more his thoughts are turned heavenward. He sets his heart and mind on things above. He is not living at home in the world anymore.
As was true of Paul, the faithful saint is forgetting the things that are behind. He is pressing forward to the fullness of Christ, to the fullness of eternal life. All that is not an asset to his quest he considers to be of little value.
We do not mean by this he desires to go to Heaven to live forever. Not at all. Rather, he is seeking the things of Heaven. He is looking for the treasures of Heaven to be in him and he in them so he can enter his inheritance in the earth.
God has given us the earth and all the joys of it. This is our inheritance. Our goal is not to escape from the earth but to bring the righteousness, peace, and joy of Heaven, of God, into the earth. Our inheritance is the material realm—a material realm centered on and filled with Christ.
The Lord Jesus did not come to bring the people of earth to Heaven. He came to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
The true saint has his hopes and treasures in Heaven. He turns away from the present world. He is looking for a new world in which righteousness abounds.
Whoever does not turn away from the world and make Christ the Center of his life is not worthy of Christ.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. (Hebrews 11:15)
Notice that “the just shall live by faith” has to do with whether we press forward or draw back. There is no middle position. “but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
The issue is one of single-mindedness. A double-minded person can expect to receive nothing from the Lord. If we put our hand to the plow and then look back we are not fit for the Kingdom of God.
“Crossing the Red Sea” in a grand parade, accompanied by stupendous miracles and the Presence of God, marks the beginning of our quest for the land of promise. It is relatively easy to press forward in God under such conditions.
Then begins the long, arduous journey through the desert. How often we are tempted to look back toward “Egypt,” even though we were glad enough to leave at the time we made our exodus.
How many lessons God teaches us in the wilderness! Some who start out turn back in their heart. Multitudes grow cold. Many are fearful. Some lose their faith. Not all who leave Egypt enter the land of promise.
The person who will inherit the Kingdom of God is that individual who perseveres to the end of the journey. God does not bring us from Egypt to Canaan in one step. Neither is “grace” a means of jumping from Egypt to the land of milk and honey. Like the Israelites, we are obliged to learn our lessons in the wilderness. We are tested over and over again.
Many are called but few are chosen. Many start out in the quest for the city of God but few finish the race. Will you be one of those few?
God hides Himself from us. He has hedged about the path of life with many pitfalls. If you keep on desiring to return to the world you may be granted your wish.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
Many times the Scripture indicates that our treasures, our goals, are in Heaven. We are seeking a “heavenly” country. From these passages has arisen the concept that our goal is Heaven itself, that the goal of the Christian redemption is eternal residence in the spirit Paradise.
The venerable tradition has come into being that confessing the name of Jesus is a pass from Hell to Heaven. Notice that this tradition makes the Lord Jesus a means to an end. Our fleshly nature desires to make Jesus a means of making itself happy and comfortable.
“Heaven” is not our goal. Our rewards are in Heaven. The Scriptures are careful to maintain this distinction. Our reward is not to go to Heaven, our reward is in Heaven. Our reward consists of those persons, opportunities, and glories that are being kept in Heaven for us while we are being tested in the earth. This is a different concept from that of going to live forever in the spirit realm.
The Scriptures, particularly the Prophets, teach that the Kingdom of God is coming to the earth. It is not Heaven that is our inheritance, our home, it is the Kingdom of Heaven that is our inheritance. The new Jerusalem is our eternal inheritance and is destined to be installed on the new earth.
The Father gave to Christ the nations and the farthest reaches of the earth for His possession. He did not give Christ Heaven for His possession but the nations and the farthest reaches of the earth. We are coheirs with the Lord Jesus Christ. The nations and the farthest reaches of the earth are our possession.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [nations] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. (Psalms 2:8)
Why then does Hebrews 11:14 state that the patriarchs were seeking a country? It sounds as though they were seeking a land other than the earth. The word translated country means “their own country” or “native land.”
One day the Kingdom of God will come to this earth. One day we shall be ruling, under the Lord Jesus Christ, the nations of the earth. But until that time, our home, our native land, is in Heaven with the Lord Jesus.
Today our home is not in this earth. When we see what is going on in the earth we are sickened. We want nothing to do with the abominations practiced on every hand. To the true Christian the present world indeed is a strange land.
Our beloved King is in Heaven. The saints are in Heaven. That is where our heart is, our home is. One day our King and all our fellow saints will descend to the earth. Then our home will be in the earth. It is not Heaven that is our home, it is wherever Jesus is that is our home. Our quest is not for Heaven itself, it is for the relationships, the ways, and the glory of Heaven.
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 11:39-12:1)
Going to Heaven does not make us perfect, neither is Heaven the rest of God. The saints in Heaven are watching us who are on the earth for they cannot be made perfect apart from us. All the saints of the Lord will be made perfect together in the Day of the Lord. Then we will descend with the Lord to Jerusalem on the earth to live and rule with Him for a thousand years.
Jesus is not only our means of attaining the goal of our quest, Jesus Himself is the Goal of our quest. Any other goal is an idol.
Whoever will be a friend of this present world system makes himself the enemy of God. God is looking to see if we embrace the present system or if we sigh and mourn over the lust, perversions, and lawlessness that are being practiced. If we can be content in this moral cesspool God is ashamed of us. But if we always are looking toward the holiness of Heaven, God is not ashamed to be called our God.
God has prepared for us a city. Emphasis is placed on the gems that adorn the twelve foundations of the wall of the city. It is a city that indeed has foundations.
The foundations and the wall are being constructed in our heart in the present hour. God desires no more unwalled Edens. He wants saints who can guard His creation from sin and rebellion forever.
Here is no vague, dream-like existence in a land of ghosts. Here is a real city, a city into which the kings of the earth can enter with their treasures. Our goal as Christians is to inherit the new Jerusalem.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
The wall prevents us from seeing the city’s inhabitants, from beholding their occupations, from hearing the sounds and the music that certainly are there. There have been many believers who have had dreams and visions of Heaven, but somehow their visions leave the feeling that what actually is within the wall has not as yet been witnessed by mortals. Perhaps these many inspiring accounts are true but incomplete.
In any case, the true Christian has one supreme objective in life: to attain perfect, complete union with the Lord Jesus Christ, becoming part of the Wife of the Lamb, the eternal city of God, the new Jerusalem. It is to have God acknowledge him as His son and heir of all the works of God’s hands.
The inheritance is unimaginably great. We cannot earn it but we must, according to the Scriptures, be found worthy of it.
Let us declare ourselves pilgrims and strangers in the world, pilgrims and exiles wandering in a land that indeed is “strange” to us in the present hour. No earthly joy or success is worth incurring the possibility of losing even the smallest fraction of what God has prepared for those who truly love Him.
We will reap in due season if we do not faint.
(“The Quest”, 3233-1)