NIV For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
ESV - 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith.
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I would say that Paul was contrasting righteousness imputed by God as a result of faith in Christ to righteousness before God gained as a result of total obedience to His commandments. Righteousness by faith is necessary because no human (other than Christ) was, is, or will ever be capable of achieving such perfect obedience. Even though the Old Testament is commonly regarded as setting forth a covenant of salvation on the basis of such obedience, Paul also quoted (in the verse cited in the question) from the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4) in showing that, even then, it was proclaimed that faith was the true basis for the granting of eternal life to the just (that is, those regarded as righteous by God).
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