One of the oddest characteristics of the Bible is its habit of casually tossing off profound thoughts. Some Biblical author will be talking along about something else entirely, then as an aside, say a few words that would be the high point of the career of a religious philosopher, then return to the original line of argument without missing a beat.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in 2 Corinthians 5:7. In context, Paul is discussing his yearning to be with the Lord in heaven and his consequent determination to live a life that will please Him. As part of this, he says of the reason for his confidence in this course of life, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Then, he goes right back to talking about confidence.
Paul uses this as almost a throwaway line, but its implications are profound. If we walk by faith, but the people of the world around us walk by sight, we’re going to live a dramatically different life than they do. Let’s consider, then, walking by faith, not by sight.
Where Faith Won’t Lead
Within the larger topic of walking by faith, I want to call our attention to the subject of where faith won’t lead. In other words, if these things take over our lives, they reveal that we’re walking by sight instead. The first of them is WORLDLINESS. Let’s consider what Paul says about the wrong turn that some Christians have taken in their walk in Philippians 3:18-21. These are Christians who once left the world but since have returned to it, and Paul says that their fleshly appetites have become their god. They can hope for nothing better than destruction.
When we think of worldliness, we often think of gross immorality, but in reality, the definition is much broader than that. There are worldly people who love sexual immorality and drunkenness, but there are also worldly people who love status and financial success. Both of those things are equally worldly, and both of them have the potential to destroy our souls. As John says, anything that is not from God is from the world.
This means, then, that we must keep watch over our souls to make sure that worldliness isn’t creeping up on us, and one of the best ways to do that is to compare the current us to the former us. How does our spiritual life today compare to what it was a year ago, or five years ago, or 10 years ago? Are we growing? Are we assembling with the saints more than we used to? Are we spending more time with the Bible and prayer? Are we doing more work for God? Or, by contrast, does God take up less of our lives than He used to, and other things take up more? The latter is a sure sign of growing worldliness, and it’s a trend that we must reverse for the sake of our souls.
Similarly, the walk of faith will never lead to WORRY. In this regard, let’s be mindful of the Lord’s admonition in Matthew 6:31-34. Ironically, worry is often the dark side of worldliness. Think about it. If the goal of our lives is to seek and find God, with the Lord’s help, that’s a goal that we are certain to achieve. People who love God most will get what they love.
However, in the world there are no guarantees. So long as it’s not God, whatever we are putting our lives into is an uncertain proposition at best. As Solomon says, time and chance overtake them all. What’s more, all of us know that. We’ve all seen people consumed by love of pleasure. We’ve all seen finances and families and relationships go bust. In fact, we sense that these things may well happen to us, and so we worry about them and fear for the future.
We can’t do the 1 Peter 5 thing and cast our cares on the Lord because He no longer occupies the place in our lives that would allow us to do that. Rather than being in the center of things, we’ve moved Him off into a corner. The good news is that He doesn’t demand very much from us there, but the bad news is that He isn’t going to be there for us when we need Him, either.
The command not to worry is inextricably linked with the commandment to put the kingdom first. If we are not putting the kingdom first, we cannot help but worry. However, if we are putting the kingdom first, if we are investing our lives in heaven, not only are the most important things free from uncertainty, but we are blessed with the certainty that God will take care of the rest.
Finally, the walk of faith does not lead to APOSTASY. Look at Paul’s admonition in Colossians 2:6-8. I’m sure there are all sorts of different dictionary definitions for what apostasy is, but to me, apostasy is what happens when you start thinking that you’re smarter than God. God’s ways are no longer good enough for you because you think you can improve on them.
Interestingly enough, just as worry and worldliness are linked, so too are apostasy and worry. Sometimes, apostasy is caused by out-and-out pride, but just as often, it’s caused by fear. The church has problems, and so we have to fix them! The gospel isn’t getting preached enough, so churches have to band together to form some massive organization that will make sure the gospel is preached. Christians aren’t being hospitable and welcoming all their brethren into their homes, so we need a fellowship hall to make sure everybody feels welcome. Our song worship is terrible, so we need to bring in the instrument so it sounds better.
All of these “solutions” are perfectly obvious to human wisdom, but none of them come from faith, because faith would look to the word rather than to the ingenuity of man. Every one of these problems, indeed, every problem that the church or Christians can have, has its answer in Scripture. If the gospel isn’t getting proclaimed, Christians need to get out there and do it. If hospitality isn’t happening, Christians need to open their homes. If the song worship is lousy, Christians need to sing out. And so on. If we’re walking by faith, we will walk according to the word. However, if we decide that God’s ways aren’t good enough for us, apostasy will follow.
The Walk of Faith
Now that we’ve considered the other options, let’s ask where the walk of faith will lead us. The first stop on the trail is SPIRITUAL GROWTH. Look at what Peter reports in 2 Peter 1:5-8. In the gospels, Jesus both compares the kingdom of God and faith to a mustard seed, and I think it’s appropriate to combine those two illustrations. As Peter reveals here, faith is what causes the kingdom of God to grow in us. The more strongly we believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, the more we will engage in that diligent search.
Doing so will cause a spiritual chain reaction in us. Because we believe, we want to live righteous lives. This in turn will lead us to study of the word so we can learn how to change. Increased knowledge of God’s will helps us to increase our self-control. The more self-control we have, the more we will persevere in God’s service. The more we persevere, the more toward God our lives will turn. This godliness will reveal itself in the way we treat one another, and as we learn to love the brother whom we have seen, we will learn to love the God we have not seen.
If this chain reaction is truly taking place in us, it will prove as powerful as the chain reaction in a nuclear reactor. We won’t be changed a little. We will be transformed.
Conversely, if there is no evidence for this kind of spectacular change in our lives, it should lead us to question whether the catalyst of faith is present in us. Do we really, really believe that loving God and living with Him forever is the most important thing in our lives? Or, instead, do we pay lip service to that while living basically the way we want?
The walk of faith will also inevitably lead us to SUFFERING. Consider Paul’s discussion of this in Philippians 1:27-30. There are many things wrong with the prosperity gospel, but one of the biggest problems with it is its insistence that the purpose of Christianity is to lead us to earthly happiness. That is utterly, completely at odds with the witness of the Scripture. By my count, the word “suffering” and its variants are applied to Christ and His followers 66 times in the New Testament. Variants of “persecution” add another 40 entries to the list. Suffering for the sake of righteousness isn’t some kind of sidelight of the gospel. It’s one of the themes!
In fact, the Scripture treats godly suffering almost as a blessing. Notice Paul’s language here. He says that it has been granted to the Philippians to suffer for the sake of Christ. To us, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. After all, suffering is by definition not fun, right?
However, when we consider Christ’s identity as One who suffered for righteousness, it starts coming into focus. Jesus did what was right and suffered for it. If we walk in His footsteps, we can expect to suffer for it too, and suffering for righteousness’ sake is a sign that we’re doing it right.
Maybe our suffering is because doing God’s will is hard. Jesus certainly suffered for that reason. Maybe it’s suffering because our outspoken proclamation of the gospel has angered the world. Jesus suffered that way too. However, if we’re just sailing right along spiritually without any suffering whatsoever, that may well be a sign we’re sailing toward the wrong destination.
Finally, the walk of faith will bring us to CHRIST, in every sense that this can be true. Let’s look here at the great text of Hebrews 12:1-3. From the direction we’ve taken, this passage reminds me of David’s cryptic promise in Psalm 37 that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us our heart’s desire. This does not mean that once I get religion, God will give me a million dollars! Instead, the point is that if we delight ourselves in God, He will give us Himself.
In the same way, if we seek Christ with all our hearts, we will surely find Him. We will find Him first of all in our lives and in ourselves. Day by day, as we immerse ourselves in the word and seek the kingdom first, we will be conformed to His image. Christ will root out the evil that is in us and replace it with His own nature and character. In our love for others, in our hatred of evil, in our devotion to God no matter the cost, we will re-enact the life of Christ in our own lives.
However, we will gain Christ not only in that inward sense, but also in an outward sense. The reward for discipleship is not only that we get to become more like Christ, but that we get to have Christ, which is why Paul describes heaven in 1 Thessalonians 4 as always being with the Lord. The presence of Christ is heaven! His eternal presence is a reward that makes no sense to the worldly, but for those who love His appearing, there can be nothing better.
–M. W. Bassford