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.” – Rom 1:16-17
Some of Paul’s opponents thought he should be ashamed of the gospel that he preached because it promoted a sinful lifestyle since it didn’t require people to be subject to the law (Rom 3:8, 6:1). Paul countered by saying that he was not ashamed of the gospel because while salvation was indeed by faith, the gospel also called them “for faith”, that is, to lead their lives by faith. He quotes Habakkuk to prove his point - “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Now Habakkuk was also in a situation where it seemed that God was overlooking the sinful behavior of his people (Hab 1:1-4). When he complained to God about this, God told him that punishment was coming in the form of the Babylonians. That didn’t make sense to Habakkuk since the Babylonians were even more wicked. Was God turning a blind eye to their evil actions (Hab 1:13)? God’s response was to tell Habakkuk to have patience. In the end, the ones still standing would be the people that remained faithful to God (Hab 2:4). The ones that disobeyed God and led self-seeking, self-reliant lives would be destroyed – both Babylonians (Gentiles) and Jews.
This led Habakkuk to make his famous declaration of faith
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
That is the kind of faith that we are called to by the gospel. Whatever our circumstances might be, we are to rely on God. We are not to be self-seeking and self-reliant like the Babylonians but God-seeking and God-reliant like Habakkuk. When we live day to day with that kind of faith, there will be no room for sin in our lives because sin is the outcome of a focus on self.
That is why Paul felt that not insisting on the law was nothing to be ashamed about. Calling people to live by faith automatically excluded the possibility of their living sinful lifestyles. Salvation by faith is only half the gospel. The other half is that we are to live by faith – both Jews and Gentiles.
You have been saved by faith. Are you now living by faith?