Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
The subject of the apostle Paul in this section of his letter to the Corinthian church is death and the resurrection of the body. Paul speaks of this in very picturesque language. He speaks of the physical body in terms of an earthly tabernacle or tent. He describes the resurrection body as a building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. At death the earthly tabernacle of this body is dissolved. At the resurrection we are clothed with the house made without hands. It is Paul’s desire and hope to be clothed with that eternal house made without hands.
In that connection Paul speaks of the earnest of the Spirit. An earnest is a down payment that serves as a pledge of full payment at a future date. The Holy Spirit is an earnest of sorts. Through the Holy Spirit we have the beginnings of our salvation in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit and His blessings are God’s down payment and pledge of greater blessings to come, blessings we will receive through the resurrection of the body.
On the basis of this earnest, Paul expresses confidence for the future. For the time being we are at home in the body and absent from the Lord. But one day we will be absent from the body and be at home with the Lord.
This is not only our confidence but also our desire.
And the reason is that we walk by faith and not by sight.
A sharp contrast!
Sight over against faith.
By sight is meant, first, those things that we can see with our physical eyes or that are within the scope of our five physical senses. There are many things that we cannot see. We cannot see God. We cannot see heaven and hell. Neither can we see angels and devils. These all belong to a realm that is beyond our sight. But all that is earthly and physical we can and do see.
By sight is also meant that which to our observation and sense of reason seems to contradict that which God has revealed in His Word. God has revealed many things in His Word that seemingly contradict the realities that we see daily. For example, God promises that all things work together for good to them that love Him (Rom. 8:28). Yet many things in our lives seem to work for our ruin. This includes the loss of loved ones, sickness, poverty, and war. Then again God speaks of the resurrection of the body. This seems to contradict all that we see about death and the grave. God promises blessings upon the way of righteousness. But repeatedly the way of obedience to God seems to be the way of disaster, or at best a way void of joy. In that context, sight refers to the way we experience and see reality, often in contradiction to God’s Word.
And then there is faith.
Paul is talking about true, saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is by faith that we are saved in Jesus Christ. This is because faith joins us to Christ, in whom is all our salvation. This faith is not something we have naturally. It is sovereignly worked in us by the power of the Word and Spirit of Jesus Christ. God works this faith in the hearts and lives of all whom He has ordained to eternal life.
One of the elements of this faith is knowledge. The Heidelberg Catechism describes this knowledge in Lord’s Day 7 as a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed in His Word. As we have already mentioned, there is much that God has revealed in His Word that we cannot see. And much that He says in His Word seems to contradict what we do see. Faith is the gift of God to believe what God says to be true, even though we cannot see it and even though it seems to contradict observable reality.
This aspect of faith is emphasized in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This passage speaks of the things for which we hope and indicates that they belong to the things not seen. This is our future, heavenly glory. Faith is the substance and evidence of these things. Perhaps we could say that faith is the assurance and certainty of these things.
Such is the nature of faith.
It is necessary for faith to be this in order to lead us to Jesus Christ, the fountain of all our salvation.
An important walk!
One will either walk by faith or by sight.
Your walk is your whole life. To your walk belongs your inner thoughts and desires, as well as how these express themselves in your outward actions. To your walk belongs also your goals and aspirations in life. Your walk also includes the spiritual direction your life takes. There are only two possibilities. Your life is either headed towards God or away from God.
Your walk will be guided and determined either by faith or by sight. Those whose lives are guided by faith are walking by faith. Those whose lives are guided by sight will walk by sight.
Let’s be more specific.
And let’s begin with those that walk by sight.
They believe and hold for truth only that which they can see, and they refuse to believe that which they cannot see. For example, they cannot see the God of the Scriptures, and so they refuse to believe in Him—although some, wanting to have a god of some kind, make gods that they can see and handle. Those that live by sight often refuse to accept the existence of heaven or hell. Nor do they accept the fact of the resurrection of the body. They consider death to be the end of a person’s existence, because that is all that they can see.
In keeping with all this, those who walk by sight seek and strive for the things that they can see. Heaven and the resurrection of the body into glory hold no attraction for them. Neither does life with God. They cannot see these things. Neither do they desire them in Jesus Christ. Their hearts are set rather on earthly riches, earthly fame, earthly power, earthly comforts and joys. These things they can see. These things they pursue.
In keeping with all this, those who walk by sight have little concern to walk according to the law and Word of God. Yes, they do understand that to attain their earthly goals they must outwardly abide by some of God’s laws. Due to the remnants of natural light left in them, they understand that no one can possess and enjoy the bounties of this life should moral chaos prevail. And so there is a certain regard for outward morality. Nevertheless, they are much inclined to cast aside the good laws of God when, according to their judgment, the law of God stands in the way of their having and enjoying the things they can see.
Much different is it to walk by faith, so that one’s life is guided by faith.
Those who walk by faith believe and hold for truth all that God has revealed in His Word, whether they can see it or not. They believe that the God of the Bible is real, even though He cannot be seen. They believe that there is life after death and that there is final resurrection to glory. They believe in the existence of angels and devils. They also believe the promises of God, even when they seem contrary to all observable reality. When disaster strikes and hard times come, they believe the testimony of God that affliction is for their profit, even though they cannot possibly see what profit may come from their affliction. As they struggle with sin, they believe the Word of God that the way of righteousness is always the way of blessing, and the way of sin is always the way of misery. Never mind that God’s Word often seems to contradict observable reality. God says it, and therefore they believe it!
In keeping with this, those who walk by faith desire and seek to attain the great treasures that God sets before them in His Word. They desire, above all, life with God in Jesus Christ. They want that life now, but their ultimate hope is in the final resurrection into glory. To that end they cling to Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ they seek reconciliation with God. In Jesus Christ they strive to live a godly life, which is the only way to have and enjoy God. All things earthly and visible are important to them only inasmuch as it serves their hope and aspirations with regard to eternal life with God.
An important calling!
The apostle Paul makes a statement of fact: we walk by faith, not by sight.
What the apostle says is true. The saints of God walk by faith and not by sight. This is due to the fact God has given them the gift of faith.
However, this is not true of them at all times and in all circumstances. Often in the weakness of faith the saints walk by sight and not by faith.
Consider, for example, Abraham. How often he walked by faith and not by sight. By faith he left Ur of the Chaldees to go to a land that the Lord would show him (Heb. 11:8). In the strength of faith Abraham believed God’s promise to make of him a great nation and give him the land of Canaan, even though God gave him no seed until the end of his life and not so much as one square inch of Canaan. In the strength of faith Abraham also looked beyond the earthly Canaan to the heavenly Canaan (Heb. 11:9, 10). Yes, Abraham walked by faith. But then we see Abraham also walking by sight and not by faith. Even though God promised to keep him in safety, twice Abraham forced Sarah to lie about her identity because he was afraid for his life.
Consider Jacob, whose great weakness was to run ahead of the Lord instead of waiting for the Lord to keep His promise. This is because he lived too much by sight.
Consider Thomas, who had to see the wounds of Jesus to believe that Jesus was risen, even though Jesus had told the disciples repeatedly about His impending death and resurrection.
And we are no different. In time of affliction we tend to live by sight and not by faith, so that we despair of God’s mercy. In time of temptation we tend to live by sight and not by faith, so that we are much inclined to yield to sin. And there is always the tendency among us to seek the things that are here below, rather than the things that are above. We live by faith, but not perfectly. All too often faith is pushed into the background of life by our sight.
Live by faith and not by sight.
This requires a strong, vibrant faith.
This is possible only by diligent use of God’s Word, through much prayer, and by seeking the company and help of those who walk by faith.