“The righteous shall live by faith,” words that transformed the ancient world. “The righteous shall live by faith,” words that sparked the Reformation. “The righteous shall live by faith,” words by which, still today, the Church stands or falls. Who are these righteous? Look back a verse. These righteous are those declared righteous by God, those whose only righteousness is not their own, but Christ Jesus’. This is the righteousness that comes through faith, “from faith for faith.” Thus, “the righteous shall live by faith.”
One would think such a life would be easy—a life by faith. Surely, the Lutheran’s opponents claimed that such a teaching would lead to laziness and libertinism. Yet, this life by faith, resulting from the righteousness of Christ imputed to us through faith, is most difficult particularly because it is a life of faith and brings a righteousness of God and not one native to or instinctive for human religion. Often, therefore, this life will run opposite of what is easiest, of what makes most sense, of what seems most beneficial, most religious, holiest. Yet, faith clings to God’s promise, which by very nature is not something we can prove. We can taste the fish we eat on Friday. We can feel the waters of the Ganges. We can see Mecca. We cannot see God’s promise, except in the sacraments, and even there it is hidden. Indeed, the life of faith, unlike a life of works, often leaves us begging God to show his face, to come out of hiding. The life the righteous live by faith is anything but a walk in the park. In fact, oftentimes it is a walk through the very pit of hell, as trial, temptation, and doubt seek to drag us into unbelief and into the fiery dungeon created for the devil.
Yet, “the righteous shall live by faith.” But how? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The Christian is powered by the gospel, in Word and sacrament, received by faith and expressed through faith. Make no mistake about it, the Christian life is a life under the cross, a life often swum against the stream and contrary to the senses. Yet, “the righteous shall live by faith,” and may no one ever take this comfort from you, for in the midst of all the uncertainty of this life and often of our faith, this alone is certain: in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. It doesn’t depend on you, and your doubts and your questions cannot rob you of what is not yours in the first place, but Christ’s, given to you through the gospel. No one can take your righteousness, because it is God’s, received through faith, which, like righteousness, is a gift of God as well.
Ah, how God loves us! Not only does he give us righteousness and faith, but he gives it to us in such a way that we cannot bring it into question, sully it, or destroy it, for it never stops being his, even while it is reckoned as ours. In the midst of depression, in the face of sickness, in the darkness of doubt, let St. Paul’s words ring clear and chase away the demons: “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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
You have been declared righteous for Christ’s sake. God has worked faith in you through baptism and the Word. Live by that faith. Yes, life by faith is a life that at times brings suffering, but it is also a life that brings Christ’s suffering with it, and Christ’s suffering is never without Christ’s grace. Yes, it is a life under the cross, but it is a life under the cross, Christ’s cross, and Christ’s cross always faces the empty tomb, where we too journey until our earthly sojourn is done.