For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
These are the words of the Apostle Paul in describing the Christian life. We often hear about “living a life of faith” and “walking by faith,” and we are fond of calling ourselves, “people of faith.” These are all very pious sounding words, but sometimes we do not really understand what it means to walk by faith.
On the other hand, walking by faith is often misrepresented and ridiculed. Christians are sometimes accused of having a “blind faith” and placing hope on something that, deep down, they fear does not really exist.
Mark Twain, for all his whit and writing ability, did great damage in mischaracterizing the life of faith with the much quoted statement of one of his characters: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” (Pudd’nhead Wilson). Also in our culture, it is common to refer to a “pie in the sky” type of faith, which ridicules the life of faith by implying that Christians are placing all of their hope in some future promises of heaven that do not actually exist.
Both of these references have their elements of humor, and if we do not take them too seriously, we can laugh at them. But unfortunately, they have also mischaracterized what actually is a walk of faith.
However, if these characterizations of faith are not true, then what does it mean to walk by faith? The Apostle Paul is quoted as saying “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Just what does this mean? What is it to walk in faith? Is it true that those of us who practice walking by faith, walk in blind trust, without sight and without any evidence whatsoever?
If it might help in your understanding, here is how I would compare a life of walking by faith in contrast with a life of walking by sight alone:
Walking by Sight
Walking by sight can be likened to what a man or woman may do when they stand in a doorway of a room. They do not immediately enter, but only stand in such a way so that they can see all that the room contains. They are able to simply stand in the doorway without making any real commitment to enter. Finally, when they become satisfied that they know sufficiently what is in the room, they may choose whether or not to go inside. Their commitment to act only follows their sight. It does not go before.
This is walking by sight. In this world, this seems to be a reasonable way of conducting ourselves. There is much in the world that is not trustworthy, so we must be cautious in making commitments.
However, when it comes to matters of eternity, walking in this manner is not the walk that God tells us we should be doing. The reason, of course, is that there are many things with which we must deal that are not of this world. These things we cannot see or perceive with any of our senses. This is why God tells us that we should learn to walk by faith.
Walking by Faith
Walking by faith is a little different than walking by sight. It is better explained using a different metaphor than standing in a door of a room. Walking by faith is better illustrated when we think of ascending a staircase that we must climb before we enter a room that is at the top of the stairs.
Standing at the bottom of the stairs, we are able to see very little of what is in the room above. It is not as if we can see absolutely nothing of the room before we begin to climb, it is just that we are not able to see things plainly. In addition to this of course, there also are many other items in the room that we cannot see at all. In order for us to be able to see more, we must make a commitment. We must step up on the first riser.
This is how walking by faith is different than walking by sight. When we walk by sight, we do not make any commitment beyond what we can see with our eyes. We do not take even one step until our eyes have confirmed that we should go forward.
When we walk by faith however, we find that we must make a commitment of sorts in order to be able to get a better vision to that place where we are going. Then, when we step up on the first riser, we learn that indeed, we can see just a bit more of what is in the room above. But in order to gain the next improvement of our vision, we find that we must again make another commitment. We step up on the next stair riser.
With each consecutive step, we may see a little more, but each one requires a step of faith on our part. In fact, our entire understanding depends more upon faith in the promise that we have about the room, than it does based on a decision about what we can see. As we continue to ascend the staircase, some of the questions that we had on the first step are answered, but many are not.
It is Not New Revelation that Gives Us Confidence
But even if our vision may become a little clearer with each step, it is not this improvement in what we can see that gives us confidence to continue. Indeed, we may sometimes ascend several steps without really seeing anything new in the room, or in other ways anything at all that is different.
Rather than sight, what motivates us is a promise. We continue on because someone whom we trust has told us what is in the room. We know this person to be of good character and we believe what he or she has told us, so we continue up the steps with confidence. We are walking in the faith that we have in the promises of that person. It is true that our own perceptions remain a part of our walk, but even if we are given no further revelation about what the room contains, faith requires that our walk continues to take action, based only on the promise of what we have been told.
This is what the writer of the book of Hebrews was talking about when he said of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NAS).
Examples from the Ancients
The writer of Hebrews then continues by telling of men and women of the past who had received promises from God, and then acted upon those promises. Sometimes, as in the case of Noah, walking by faith meant facing constant ridicule of the people of his day as he began a massive building project. Noah dedicated his life to building a huge boat, not based on any climatic evidence, but only because God had told him that a great flood was coming, one such as the world had never seen nor could imagine.
For Abraham and Sarah, walking by faith meant leaving everything that they had ever known and relocating their entire lives to a strange and distant land. This new land was in some ways to be their “Promised Land,” but in their own walk of faith, the gradual realization came to them that the ultimate fulfillment of the promises of God would not even be realized there, in that land. God’s full promise was of such a marvelous nature that nothing on earth could measure up to its fulfillment. That fullness would come in another day and in another existence. It could only be fully realized in an eternal kingdom.
The writer of this book of Hebrews goes on to tell of more men women who had their own walks of faith. Some of their experiences had commonality with others, while other aspects of their walks of faith were unique only to them. Each one however, began their path with God by peering up into an open doorway at the top of a stairway and taking the first step up on the first riser. This first step perhaps was done with much trepidation and hesitancy, but they did it. It was their first step of faith.
The Risk of Faith
We can see of course, that walking by faith in this way can be a dangerous act. If the object of our faith is not trustworthy, we will fall into deception. As we ascend the steps, we are further committing ourselves to enter into the room. It is possible that one ascends a staircase only to find that in the end, he had been deceived.
That is why I said that the life of faith is mainly based on a promise. However, our own perceptions nevertheless always also remain in play. Since our ascent of the stairs is motivated by faith in what we have been told, it is reasonable for us to assume that as we gain a clearer perspective of the contents in the room above, we should be able to assess the validity of those things that we have been told about the room.
Each step should further confirm the promise about the room. If it does not, then we know that we may be ascending the wrong staircase.
Those on Difficult Stairways
This does not mean that each step will necessarily become brighter and easier. It is true that for some, it will. The writer of Hebrews tells of those, “Who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…” and on and on.
But others, he said, were “stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death with the sword, went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated.”
These individuals, as they ascended the staircase, did not see their lives become easier. However, God had given to each of these assurances that despite the present circumstances, the walk that he had given to each one of them would indeed be worth any difficulty. In fact, the writer of the book says that when these individuals were offered their release, chose not to accept it, “so that they might obtain a better resurrection” (v. 35).
These were not men and women who had some sort of death wish or a perverted type of persecution complex, but men and women who simply refused to compromise their walks of faith for the easier walk of sight.
This was the choice of three young Hebrew lads when they were captives of King Nebuchadnezzar in the land of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had set up a large golden statue, some ninety feet high, and commanded everyone to bow in worship to this image. When the three Hebrews, given the names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to do this, the king told them, “I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you again refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
The answer that the three youths gave to the king demonstrated that they were on the path of faith, and would not be led astray. Their response: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.
“But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NLT)
Even Abraham and Sarah, although they both died at a ripe old age, did not consider their present circumstances on the earth as anything worthwhile, since they never even bothered building a permanent house. Instead, they “lived as aliens in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…for they were looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (vs. 9-10).
Despite the difficulties of the steps on the staircase, the three Hebrew lads and Abraham and Sarah kept their eyes on the room above. Of these and of all the men and women of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the writer pays a high compliment.
These were people, he said, “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).
These were people, he said, “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).
My Own Walk
Each person has his or her own experience. My own experience is that I have sought to walk by faith based on the promises of the God of the Bible, the God of all creation. My walk of faith has been far from perfect, but I will say that I have been very slowly ascending the consecutive risers of the stairway. My vision is also far from perfect, but I will also say that it is much clearer now than it has ever been in the past.
All of this has required of me consecutive acts of commitment to a promise. Sometimes I have been asked to make this commitment based on agonizingly little physical evidence. In retrospect of those moments of commitment (some of them still very clear to me), I can say that in every case, the promise of God has proven valid. This has given me courage to step up onto the next riser.
I continue to climb. My faith is ever stronger. I know that the God who has been shown himself worthy of my faith as I have trusted him in the past, will be worthy of my faith in the future. His promise does not fail.