2Co 5:6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 2Co 5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 2Co 5:8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2Co 5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Here is one of those verses that are often quoted out of context and misapplied with all sorts of unfortunate consequences. Paul is speaking of the fact that right now we live in a temporal body and that at death or the Lord’s coming we will receive our new and improved body. Right now we are physically apart from Christ but some day we will be with him forever, vs. 8. Right in the middle of all this we have verse 7. What does Paul mean when he says, “We walk by faith and not by sight” in this context?
First of all he isn’t just throwing out an unrelated truth. This is an indicative statement; it is a statement of fact, not an imperative statement in which he is telling us to do something. He isn’t saying we are to live by faith and not by sight but that we are presently living by faith and not by sight. He is simply saying that at this point we don’t see Christ with our eyes or the glories of Heaven but we are assured of them by faith in the revelation of the Word and so we live in the reality that they exist and we will someday enjoy them. “Sight” refers to Heaven, not the world around us.
What he is not saying is that walking by faith is to ignore or minimized the physical things around us. Growing up it was not unusual for the leaders of our church to declare that they believe that it is God’s will for them to engage in some big project for which the church did not have the money. But by taking this verse out of context they had the idea that if they have decided something was God’s will they could “step out in faith” and begin to build and the God would supply the funds that for the moment were “out of sight”. So they were walking by faith and not by sight or the fact that they couldn’t afford to build at the present.
Paul’s use at first might sound similar but I believe is very different. Because he knew that a glorified body awaited him, he was willing to obey the Lord even though it would mean that his body was going to suffer horribly in the effort. A lot of it comes down to one’s definition of faith. If faith is believing God’s Word then living by faith is to obey his Word regardless of the circumstances because one day we will stand before God and give an accounting. If faith is reduced to just believing that God is powerful enough to supply your needs no matter how misguided they are then that is a whole other matter. Faith believes all of what the Bible says about God it isn’t just trusting him.
This definition of faith is quite mystical. It causes one to ignore the laws that God has set up to govern our lives and expects God to suspend them at our convenience. It assumes that God will suspend the rules that everyone else must live by for Christians with enough faith. We expect people to get a job and live within their means, but when we want something we can buy it or attempt it and then pray that God will clean up the mess we make. But the Bible says the Christian life is a whole lot more than just trusting that God will help us.
In college many a young married man decided he was called to preach and would move his family to school with no job, no prospects and no real forethought but assumed that since he was “obeying” God, God would supply his needs. This usually meant that either they would eventually have to leave school or that they would depend on other people to support them because someone couldn’t stand to see his children go hungry so at their own expense they would give them money.
Is God able to suspend the natural laws or perform miracles to help us? Yes, and he does that from time to time. But is that the essence of living by faith; to presume upon God because we think we can ignore the way life and reality work because God is able to deliver us? I would say no. Remember, biblical faith is not believing real hard that God can do something or what you want you can have if you believe hard enough. Biblical faith is believing that the Word of God is true and living accordingly; “Faith without works is dead”!
All living by faith means here is that we will do what Paul did; we will live by what the Bible says even though we don’t yet see it all come to pass yet. Even though everything in this world tells us that there is no God we live in such a way because we know there is a God and he has revealed himself in the Bible. We live in hope not by sight right now because God is not in our sight yet. We know that day is coming but we don’t have it yet but we live like Paul did because we know this world’s days are numbered.
Stepping out in faith is to do what the Bible says even when the world and the circumstances say not to. It is not deciding what the Lord’s will is in some mystical way when common sense would indicate otherwise but doing it anyway and hoping for the best. This is tempting God and even Jesus refused to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple just so the Father could come to his rescue.
There is a huge difference between living in obedience to the Word regardless of the consequences and running around doing our own will and expecting the Lord to keep us safe. That is like a child who runs wild in the yard while his parent makes sure he doesn’t run out in the street. Are we spiritually mature; able to think through the Word of God and live in its light or are we like children who just want to have fun and not be responsible?
One honors the Lord, the other presumes and dishonors him.