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15. Faith: Seeing the Unseen

Chapter 15

Faith: Seeing the Unseen

Faith is central to any discussion on regeneration and renewal. But explaining faith is no easy task. Many books, in fact, have been written on the subject. Faith can be described in terms of a total commitment to God or complete faithfulness to Him. We are faithful to God because we trust Him. To trust God is to have faith in Him. Thus faith and faithfulness are inseparably linked. Not surprisingly, the Greek word for faith in the New Testa­ment (pistis) can mean either or both. We are to have faith in God and be faithful to Him.

In this chapter we discuss New Testament faith by going back to something even more fundamental. Our aim is not merely to gain an intellectual under­standing of faith but to actually enter into faith. The concern is practical rather than intell­ectual, for without true faith, we cannot know God. We are therefore dealing with something very basic and vital in the Christian life.

Definition of Faith in Hebrews 11

To arrive at the Scriptural meaning of faith, let us turn to Hebrews 11, which is the chapter par excellence on faith. Hebrews 11 is one of the few places in the Bible that has anything close to a definition of faith. The rest of the New Testament also speaks of faith, but with the assumption that the reader already has faith, or knows what it is.

Few people nowadays know what faith is. The Protestant Reformation did us a great service by showing us the importance of faith and the principle of justification by faith. What the Reform­ation didn’t quite manage to do was to explain clearly what that faith is.

To this day, though faith has been discussed, analyzed and scrutinized in a plethora of doctoral dissertations, erudite articles and scholarly books, Christians are still not very much clearer about what it is. This may indicate that faith is not something amenable to academic analysis, but has to do with a living relationship with God, and cannot be accessed by a procedure of intellectual dissection.

We have some general ideas of what faith is, but we need some­thing more precise. I won’t be so presumptuous as to imagine that all the questions about faith could be answered within the scope of this chapter. Nonetheless, God may be pleased to grant us some important insights that will have a profound impact upon our lives.

Within the one chapter of Hebrews 11, the word “faith” occurs 23 times, and “believe” once (v.6). Many examples of great men and women of faith are given. The dynamic of faith, rooted in a relation­ship with the living God, finds expression in these illumin­ating examples. The use of examples is an effective way of explaining faith. We are given an insight into what faith is, not by an analytical procedure, but by seeing what it does, or what happens, in the lives of those who have it.

1. What Faith Does: It Gains God’s Acceptance and Approval

Hebrews 11.1‑2 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained (God’s) approval.”

In the last chapter we saw that what counts is not whether we accept God but whether He accepts us. It is a grave mistake to assume that God will accept us just because we accept Him. The price of this error is incalculable. Put in another way, the important question is not whether we approve of the Christian faith, but whether God approves of us.

Once when we were in Europe I asked someone whether she was a Christian. I was rewarded with the retort, “Of course I am! What do you think I am, a heathen?” The people there were all baptized as infants into the state church. So if they are not Christ­ians, what are they? Heathens? Well, the blunt answer in many or even most cases, unfortunately but factually, may have to be “yes”. In the West where Christian­ity has become a cultural tag, being a Christian doesn’t always mean much in God’s sight, nor can it provide assurance of His approval.

2. What is faith in Biblical teaching?

Faith: Seeing the Unseen

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb.11.1). It is not easy to translate the original Greek text satisfactorily, but the general idea is clear enough. Here it says that faith is the “assurance of things hoped for”. What do we hope for? Romans 8.24-25 gives an answer:

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Salvation cannot be separated from hope. By grace and through faith we enter the salvation God has provided for us in Christ. But we don’t yet see the final outworking of God’s program of salvation in us and for us, with all its wondrous reality. This verse repeatedly speaks of seeing, stressing that we hope for the things we don’t see, not the things we already see at the present time.

Hope, by definition, has to do with the things we don’t see. Over the past few days, we were hoping to meet up with a dear friend, but we didn’t get to see him until today. If he had been with us all along, we wouldn’t need to hope for his arrival. We hope for what we don’t see, and wait for it “with perseverance”. Faith, then, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen—things invisible in the present age but which we will see in the age to come.

Paul says, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2Cor.4.18).

The visible things are indeed transient. Every physical object you see around you is transient. None will remain forever. Our physical bodies are similarly transient. We are reminded of this every time we meet up with our friends after a five-year absence. As age takes its effect, we will have thinner hair or more gray hair. Our faces will be “dignified” with a few more sculpted lines—though this description might not go down well with some people.

Nothing that our eyes can see right now is permanent. The transience of physical things is an incontrovertible fact.

But if we have faith, we will fasten our attention not on the things that are seen (tran­sient) but the things that are unseen (eternal). The unseen things, invisible to the physical eye, are eter­nal. The world of spiritual reality is eternal, and will continue to exist long after this physical world, and even this universe, will have van­ished into oblivion.

This church building will disappear one day. Its massive columns will pass away as surely as the preachers and the people who assemble here. In a hundred years from now, none of us will be around. We are not being morbid but simply stating a fact of life.

Faith, then, has to do with the unseen things, the spiritual things, the eternal realities, the eternal God, the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Jerusalem above, the Church as a redeemed spirit­ual body—and not with transient things. This point is of founda­tional importance for under­standing the nature of faith as taught in the Bible.

(1) Faith Analogous to Physical Sight

Faith—seeing the unseen—is analogous to physical sight. Our physical eyes see visible things, but the blind man doesn’t see them. Similarly, those who lack faith are blind to spiritual things. To the spiritually blind, God is just a theory or a philosophical con­cept. They may believe certain things about Jesus the Son of God—that he was born in a manger, that he had disciples, and so on—but is that true faith? Do we base our faith on a story about a manger? On the con­trary, faith has to do with spiritual perception. Without this perception, spiritual things, spiritual reality, will be nonsensical to us. Do spiritual truths make any better sense when pres­ented as abstract concepts dignified with philosophical or theological jargon?

Without faith, the only things that will be real to you are cars, houses, furniture, and the like. But spiritual things are real to the man of faith, who sees them not with physical sight or merely as abstract ideas, but with spiritual eyes.

Not surprisingly, Scripture speaks of faith as (1) “seeing” things spiritually and as (2) “seeing” spiritual things. These two are not one and the same, but are two aspects of the way faith functions. The first point means that a person of faith looks at everything with the eyes of faith, that is, he looks at everything from the spiritual point of view and not merely at how things appear externally. The second point means that the person of faith sees things which are not externally visible because they are spirit­ual realities which can only be seen with the eyes of faith. Examples of both are seen in Hebrews 11.

(2) By Faith Noah Saw the Unseen

Hebrews 11.7 says: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he con­demned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.”

Noah was warned about “unseen” or future events that were inaccess­ible to the five senses. Yet Noah perceived unseen events in a way that few people do. How then did Noah know they were real? Was it pure imagination on his part?

If you claim to be a Christian, consider a Christian doctrine that pertains to unseen things: the return of Jesus Christ. Whether or not his coming is real to you depends on whether you have faith. Every Christian knows in theory that Jesus was born into the world, that he died, that he was resurrected, that he ascended into heaven, and that he will come again. On the day of his return, you might ex­claim, “This is mind-boggling! So his coming back is real after all!”

Unseen things are unreal and even absurd to you unless you have spiritual perception through this remarkable thing called faith. Faith is not a matter of exercising the imagination, but is taking God at His word (as Noah did), and in so doing receives spiritual insight from God.

(3) By Faith Abraham Saw the Unseen

The next verse says, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inher­itance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11.8).

Abraham didn’t know where he was supposed to go when he first set out in obedience to God’s call. After he obeyed God’s word spoken to him, God told him to go to Canaan, a land Abraham had never seen and with which he was unacquainted. To him Canaan must have seemed like a place located somewhere at the ends of the earth.

More than that, the account indicates that Abraham set out on his journey by faith not knowing beforehand what exactly his final destin­ation was going to be. Hence it says, “He went out, not knowing where he was going”. This finds confirmation in Genesis 12.1 where Yahweh said to Abraham, “Go forth … to the land which I will show you”. At this point in time, Abraham’s final destination was not yet mentioned.

Hence he had to walk by faith, being shown only one stage at a time. Had his faith failed along the way, he wouldn’t have arrived at the “place which he was to receive for an inheritance,” both because he wouldn’t have known what was the place God had appointed for him and because he wouldn’t have had the perseverance of faith to attain the promised inheritance.

Ultimately, what was deep down in Abraham’s heart was that which is eternal, for he “was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (v.10). He longed not for an earthly inheri­tance but the heavenly city, “for God has prepared a city for them” (i.e. for those who have faith, v.16), a city that is called “the heavenly Jerusalem” in Hebrews 12.22 (cf. Rev.21.2). This was not a figment of his imagin­ation. Abraham did see the city of God through the eyes of faith, and as a result he turned his back on his earthly wealth. The world meant nothing to him, for he longed for the eternal things. Fixing his eyes on the city of God reserved for those who walk with Him, Abraham was oblivious to the world with its riches and pleasures.

Are you like Abraham, or do you find spiritual things nebulous or even absurd? Do you regard Jesus’ coming and the heavenly city as a Biblical fairy tale?

Faith is seeing the unseen, the spiritual things. Because we are saved by faith rather than by dogma, salvation is granted to those who, like Abraham and Noah, see the unseen with spiritual eyes, and live in obed­ience to God by faith. People with true faith will receive God’s approval and be saved.

(4) By Faith Moses Saw the Unseen

Regarding Moses, Hebrews 11.27 says, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.” Moses endured persecution and the anger of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Why would Moses go through suffering when he, a prince of Egypt, could have enjoyed the pleasures of Egypt? But these pleasures meant nothing to him because his spiritual perception was fixed on the things invisible to the physical eye.

If we claim to be saved by faith, do we likewise “endure as seeing Him who is invisible”? Or is our faith after all nothing more than accepting certain Christian doctrines, even that of a crucified Christ? Perhaps these were learnt from parents or teachers. If that is the sum of “faith,” then all we would need is Christian culture and education in order to be saved.

In Scripture faith is the capacity to see spirit­ual things. Moses endured because he saw beyond the transient. With his eyes fixed on the invisible God, Moses was willing to go through many sufferings in the wilderness. If we believe in the doctrine of justifi­cation by faith, let us ask ourselves whether our faith conforms to the Biblical definition.

Because he had this kind of faith, Moses could “regard disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to the [eternal] reward” (Heb.11.26).

(5) Looking to Jesus

Hebrews 12.2 says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

This verse exhorts Christians to live their lives by continuously “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (present participle). But where is Jesus now? We can­not see him now because he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. This verse wouldn’t make sense if “fixing the eyes on” refers to physical sight. The reference is to spiritual sight. Every Christian is called to a persevering faith that constantly looks to Jesus.

3. Intellectual Faith

To the great confusion of Christians today, there are two things that go by the same name “faith,” yet are radically different in nature. There is intellectual seeing and there is spiritual seeing. That both are called “faith” obscures the fact that they are funda­mentally different. The two must not be confused. Intellect­ual seeing is not the same as spiritual seeing. The “faith” that most people have today is intellectual seeing, not spiritual seeing.

What is intellectual seeing? If I explain some­thing to you, and you reply, “Yes, I see what you mean,” you indicate that you under­stand with your mind what I have just told you. This is intellectual seeing; it is not what is meant by “faith” in the New Testament.

Many people claim to believe in Jesus, but if you ask them why they believe, they may say, “Because my friend believes in Jesus.” Then they go on: “My friend is trust­worthy, and I believe his word absolutely. He even told me of his spiritual exper­iences. He once heard God’s voice speaking to him! It’s amazing that people can still hear God’s voice in this century. My friend wouldn’t lie to me. He did hear God’s voice, and it proves to me that God is real.”

Your reasoning is acceptable. There is no need to doubt your friend’s experience. Why must we limit God in what He can do in the world? There is, however, a crucial difference. Your friend has a direct, first-hand faith in God, but you have a second-hand faith. Your faith is based on your friend’s. Your faith is intellectual, his is spiritual. That is the key difference. There is nothing wrong in be­lieving his testimony, but that is not faith as defined in Hebrews 11:1. Intellectual faith may serve as an introduction or a preamble to spiritual faith, but it is not a substitute for spiritual faith. Many Christians are confused on this point.

Some people become Christians after reading biographies or autobio­graphies of people such as Sundar Singh, a great Indian Christian who experienced amazing things. God worked miracles through him, and I don’t doubt the truth of these accounts. As one who has experienced some of these things myself, I know that God certainly does do them.

You may have witnessed a sick man being healed at a Christian meeting. There is no need to doubt the miraculous, even though we must remain alert to the fact that some miracles are genuine, some are not. I once saw a man’s leg being lengthened through prayer. One of his leg bones was considerably shorter than the other, mak­ing him incapable of walking properly. Somebody prayed for him with the laying on of hands, while the TV camera zoomed in on his leg. It was lengthened right in front of the camera during the prayer.

There is the evidence before your eyes. “Seeing is believing,” that is, believing comes through seeing. Your eyes tell you that a miracle has happened. I cannot think of any gimmick that could extend the leg in front of the camera with the lens zoomed in on it. Anyway, why should we doubt God’s ability to extend a leg bone? Is that too difficult for the Creator of heaven and earth? We claim to believe in a God who created the universe, yet we are baf­fled when we see a miracle.

Many people, after seeing a miracle, cry out, “Hallelujah! I believe in God now!” They now believe in a God who performs miracles. That is certainly faith of some sort, but is it saving faith?

We may be surprised to know that that kind of faith is not yet saving faith. Throughout the land of Israel the Lord Jesus healed people in front of large crowds. They saw him give sight to the blind, and many believed in him after witnessing this and other miracles. They saw Jesus say to a paralyzed man, “Stand up, take your bed, and walk” (Mk.2.9-11; Mt.9.6). The man got up and walked right before the eyes of the multitudes.

When Lazarus died, the whole neighborhood knew about it. After Lazarus had been dead four days, Jesus said to him, “Lazarus, come out,” and sure enough he came out of the tomb. Many saw this, and they believed in Jesus because of what their physical eyes had seen. But according to Hebrews 11.1, true faith consists in seeing what the physical eye cannot see.

There is nothing wrong in believing in God after witnessing a miracle. But that is only the prepara­tion for faith, not saving faith itself. What kind of faith do you have? Did you become a Christian after reading a biography? That is good, but if your faith is built on someone else’s experiences of God, even miraculous experiences, then your faith is still at the second-hand stage. Saving faith, according to the New Testament, has to do directly with God. Like Moses, you endure as seeing Him who is un­seen.

Intellectual faith involves the analysis of facts and data. You weigh various propositions, and arrive at a logical deduction. You saw a miracle, and you deduced through a logical process that God is real and has the power to heal. That is intellectual faith. It is based on an investigative procedure similar to that used in a court of law, where the judge and the jurors listen to the witnesses. They weigh the evidence, the arguments, and the credibility of the witnesses, and then arrive at a verdict or conclusion. Intellectual faith, too, is based on intellectual analysis. There is nothing wrong with that. In this world we cannot do without intellectual analysis. Every day we must assess whether something is true or false, and then accept or reject it.

But we must distinguish between these two vastly different types of faith. One is the intellectual acceptance of certain statements. That is not wrong in itself, but it is only a preamble to, or a prepar­ation for, spiritual faith. Saving faith, on the other hand, is the seeing of eternal things that are invisible to the physical eye.

4. The Two Kinds of Faith (Seeing) are Comparable to Two Kinds of Knowing

The difference between the two kinds of faith can also be explained by the vital difference between “knowing” and “knowing about”. When I say “I know about John,” that doesn’t mean I know John personally, but only that I know something about him. But when I say “I know John,” that means I know him personally. But even if I have met John, shaken hands with him, and exchanged a few words with him, it still wouldn’t be correct for me to say that I know him. “Know” in Scripture refers to a relationship based on a personal experience of that person. This is a first-hand knowing, as distinct from “knowing about” which is a second-hand knowing acquired through inform­ation provided through someone or something (such as a book).

When we witness a miracle, for example, we thereby acquire some important knowledge about God’s love, power and majesty. If this knowledge spurs us on to establish a living relationship with God, we will have moved from “knowing about” to actually “knowing” Him. That is the vital transition from second-hand to first-hand faith. Seeing is a primary means by which we know someone or something. As we have seen, faith is analogous to seeing spirit­ually, hence it is also through faith that we come to know God, which is to establish a definite relationship with Him.

What do the Scriptures tell us about how this relationship with God is to be understood? Since it is through “seeing” with eyes of faith that we come to “know God,” at what point can we say we truly know God? As we have seen, even if we have met someone, shaken hands with him, and exchanged a few words, we are still not entitled to say that we know the person until a relationship or friendship has been established.

In our lifetimes we have met with, shaken hands with, and talked with a lot of people; but of most of them we could not say either that we know them or that they know us. Only where a friendship or a relationship has been established can we really say we know them and they know us. If someone says he knows you, but you don’t know him, in what meaningful sense can he claim to know you? Your knowing him is as important as his knowing you if “know” is to have any real meaning. In other words, knowing has to be mutual where real knowing is concerned.

In the same way, Scripture makes it clear that knowing in regard to our relationship with God is also mutual. For example, 2Tim.2.19 says, “The Lord knows those who are His”. Or 1Cor.8.3, “If anyone loves God, he is known by Him”. Likewise Gal.4.9, “You have come to know God, or rather to be known by Him”. Jesus himself affirmed, “I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10.14).

We earlier had occasion to note Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.21-23. There Jesus talks about people who claim to know him by the fact that they call him “Lord” and did mighty works in his name. But he says to them, “I never knew you”. As for these people, their relationship with Jesus was not mutual and therefore not recognized.

Like the question of acceptance that we looked at previously, we now see that the same is true of knowing. It is not a matter of whether we think we know God, but whether He knows us as one of His own.

5. The Physical Prevents Us from Seeing the Spiritual

We come to our second point: The physical component of man tends to prevent him from seeing spiritual things. Let us use baptism to help explain this point.

Baptism symbolizes death. It is death to the self and to the old way of life in the flesh. Why is death so important? You might say, “That’s easy. Through death we die to sin.” You are right, but it is not as simple as that. That is because you cannot die to sin unless you first die to the flesh.

(1) Bondage to the Flesh

Romans chapter 6 expounds the meaning of baptism using the picture of death to sin. This topic is carried over into Romans 7 by means of the connecting word “or,” that is, Paul is looking at it from another angle (though some Bible versions don’t translate the connecting “or”). In chapter 7 the link between flesh and sin is clearly seen, so it becomes evident that we cannot die to sin unless we die to the flesh.

In chapter 7 Paul describes his former pre­dicament when he was “in the flesh”: he couldn’t do the good he wanted to do, but did the very evil he hated (Ro.7.15ff). It reminds us of those who make New Year’s resolutions but cannot keep them. People find themselves in the dilemma of wanting to do something good but are powerless to do it. The “old man,” the unregenerate man, finds himself defeated by a power residing in him, so that despite his good intentions he ends up doing something bad.

Paul says, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.” (verses 16-17).

What is Paul saying? Something is stopping me from doing the good I want to do. What is it? Sin which lives within me. Sin is not just an act or a deed; it is a power that compels me to do something contrary to my intentions. In verses 18-20 Paul continues:

Nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Continuing on this point, Paul says in verse 23:

“But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (ESV).

Here Paul speaks of “members,” namely, the members of the physical body—arms, legs and so on. In the plural, “members” collectively refer to the body. In other words, “the law of sin” which operates in “my members” (my body) is waging war against “the law of my mind” and taking me captive. Paul then closes the chapter with these striking words: “With my flesh (my physical body) I serve the law of sin” (v.25).

This confirms what we observed earlier: You cannot die to sin unless you die to the flesh. It is as simple as that. That is why baptism involves death. Death at baptism signifies the putting off of the flesh, and the finishing of life in the flesh. When we experience this death and receive the Holy Spirit, what happens next? Romans 8.9 says, “You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

“You are not in the flesh”! A puzzling statement, isn’t it? Obviously, your body has not disappeared. The apostle is, of course, speaking spirit­ually, and he means that we are no longer con­trolled by the flesh and under its power. He em­phasizes the contrast between “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit”. We are in the Spirit if we have become new persons in Christ, and now live by his power.

(2) The Veil of the Flesh

Many Christians live in defeat and say to themselves, “Romans 7 is right on the mark. It describes my situation perfectly. I want to do good, but I do evil instead.” This self-assessment is correct if you are still under the control of the flesh, and therefore under the power of sin. You haven’t moved from the situation described in Romans chapter 7 to the new life described in chapter 8.

The flesh is a veil that covers your face and prevents you from seeing spiritual things. No one in the flesh can see the things of God. We can tell whether we are in the flesh or in the Spirit by whether spiritual things are real to us. To the man in the flesh, spiritual things are conceptual, abstract and even mythological. What matters to him is material reality: the car, the house, the ice-cream shop—the things he can see and hear, or taste and smell, or touch with his fingers. To the natural man, the things of God make no sense; to him they are foolishness (1Cor.2.10-14). What makes sense to him is physical reality. Hence it takes a radical and fundamental transformation to become a whole new person in Christ.

At bap­tism we “put off the flesh”. It doesn’t mean that baptism has any magical properties. No acid is put into the bap­tismal pool to dissolve the flesh. A chemist won’t detect any special chemical in the water. At baptism a spiritual transition takes place through faith. By God’s grace, the dominion or tyranny which the flesh exercised over us is “put off” or removed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We now gladly place ourselves under the control of the Spirit. This is a radical transfer from one sphere of power to another. But if you choose to remain “in the flesh,” it will cover your spiritual sight like a thick veil, blinding you to spiritual reality.

Let us note carefully what the apostle says in 2 Corinthians 3.15-18:

But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, behold­ing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (NKJV)

Do we see the Lord’s glory? We cannot perceive or “see” His glory so long as the veil of the flesh covering our spiritual eyes is not removed. Paul continues to speak of the veil in the next chapter:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2Cor.4.3-4)

The gospel is veiled—and the apostle’s preaching is veiled—to those who are perishing. The gospel makes no sense to those whose faces are veiled. They are in the flesh, and sin rules the flesh. They are perishing because the wages of sin is death (Ro.6.23). But thanks be to God, the veil of the flesh is removed in Christ.

Now “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh” (Heb.10.19,20). Even Jesus’ flesh is described as a veil. When, upon the cross, his flesh was pierced and torn, we were given access into the holy place where God’s Presence is. Jesus’ own body was the temple or “holy place” of God because “in him dwells all the fullness of Deity bodily” (Col.2.9). When the “veil” of Jesus’ flesh was pierced, the way into God’s presence was opened. It is in and through Christ that we have access to God.

(3) Second-hand Faith Costs You Nothing

Now we see why we must put off the old way of life dominated by the flesh, a way of life preoccupied with the pursuit of material and earthly things such as cars, houses, computers—the things that are visible; and if not with these particular things, then with the other things of this present world like the praise or applause from men, or their respect, or all sorts of earthly concerns and aspirations.

To an earthly-minded person, to someone who lacks the spiritual perception of faith, to someone who remains stagnant in second-hand faith, spiritual things appear abstract, remote and nebulous.

But something else is defective about a second-hand faith: It costs you nothing. For the person who sees God’s glory, his putting away of the flesh was done at a high cost. But a second-hand belief based on someone else’s faith involves no cost what­soever. Intellectual faith does not require you to deal with the flesh. The veil of flesh can remain as it is, because having a second-hand faith doesn’t involve seeing the eternal realities which draw a person away from the flesh.

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt.16.24). If you take up your cross, you are finished with the flesh. Intellectual faith, on the other hand, does not require you to deny yourself. Far from being costly, intell­ectual faith is in fact enjoyable. It toys with interesting theological concepts, and is the perfect remedy for intellectual boredom!

True spirituality takes place when the veil of the flesh is removed through death, that is, death to the old life in the flesh.

Hebrews 12.2 exhorts us to fix our spiritual eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. It is, of course, impossible to “fix our eyes” on Jesus if the fleshly veil has not been removed from our eyes.

6. Sight Is Its Own Proof

New Testament faith is spiritual sight as distinct from physi­cal sight, yet there is a significant similarity. Like physical sight, it is its own proof (or “self-verifying”). If you ask me how I know that a certain person exists, I would reply, I have seen him with my own eyes. Seeing is eyewitness evidence; this evidence is the basis of assurance. For how else can we know directly (as distinct from knowing indirectly) that some­thing is real or true?

When the apostle John[46], as one of the Twelve, is asked for evidence for the truth concerning Jesus, his reply is based on the strength and truth of eyewitness evidence:

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellow­ship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1John 1.1-3)

In this passage, both kinds of seeing (physical and spiritual) are present. In verse 1, physical seeing is clearly, though not exclusively, indicated by the words “which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” as also by the words “which we have seen with our eyes”.

In verse 2, there is evidently a change of emphasis to spiritual sight, because here Jesus is spoken of on the spiritual level as “the life”; life per se is not visible to physical sight, especially since the life being referred to here is “eternal life” which has now “appeared to us” in the person of Jesus Christ.

Following as it does from verses 1 and 2, the phrase “what we have seen” in verse 3 will inevitably refer to both kinds of seeing mentioned in the previous verses.

7. The Reliability of Spiritual Sight

Once we understand the truth that faith is spiritual sight, and that sight is self-verifying (in the sense that we are certain that what we have seen with our own eyes is real and not a figment of imagination), we won’t have difficulty understanding the meaning of Hebrews 11.1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Seeing is a necessary basis for knowing, as distinct from knowing about. The quality of the perception, as well as its extent, obviously affects the quality (i.e. accuracy and depth) of the knowing that results from the perception. That is to say, the more superficially I see, the more superficially I know; the less I see, the less I know (in the direct sense of knowing). The converse is also true: The deeper my perception, the better my knowing. The wider my scope of perception, the fuller my knowledge.

The link between faith, seeing, and knowing should now be clear. We now understand why the apostle says, with full assurance, not only, “I have faith in whom I have be­lieved,” but also “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced…” (2Tim.1.12). His faith, being spiritual sight, allowed Paul to know with full assurance the one who is now seated at the right hand of the Father and who cannot be seen with physical sight at the present time.

At the end of his earthly ministry, Stephen was granted to see the ascended Christ, while Paul was granted such a vision at the beginning of his ministry as an apostle. There can be no doubt that in both cases they saw what cannot be seen by the physical eye, and they saw it with the faith that sees the spiritual and the eternal. This is confirmed by the fact that both accounts of those events report that the other people who were present at the time did not see (with their physical eyes) what Stephen or Paul saw. If those who were stoning Stephen (cf.Ac.7.54ff) had seen Jesus as Stephen saw him, they would have stopped stoning him immediately!

The account in Acts of Paul’s experience doesn’t say that he saw Jesus with his physical eyes, but records that “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul (later called “Paul”), why do you persecute me?’” (Ac.9.3,4). A dialogue is recorded in verses 5 and 6 but there is still no mention of physical vision. Verse 7 says, “The men travel­ing with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone” (Ac.9.7, NIV). That Paul saw Jesus with spiritual sight (whether on this and/or subsequent occasions) cannot be doubted in view of his affirmation of having seen Jesus (“Have I not see the Lord?” 1Cor.9.1).

But if we say that both Stephen and Paul saw Jesus with spiritual sight and not physical sight, what is the natural man’s reaction to this conclusion? The natural man’s immediate reaction is that what is not seen with our physical eyes is not real, but is probably imaginary. They believe only their physical perception. If that is also our reaction, then it reveals how carnal our thinking is.

Actually, it is our physical sight that is unreliable. We often don’t see things accurately; sometimes we see things which don’t actually exist, such as a mirage in the desert. It is common to encounter people giving descriptions of something which upon closer investigation of the facts turn out to be incorrect. Not surprisingly, eyewitness accounts often disagree with one another.

Why is spiritual seeing reliable whereas physical sight is not? It is because true spiritual seeing is something inseparable from God’s work in us. It is God who opens the eyes of the blind when they call upon Him. It is God who enables us to see with the eyes of faith, and it is God who reveals to us the things we need to see for our eternal welfare.

This doesn’t mean that our spiritual sight has attained complete clarity of vision, but only that our seeing is genuine (not false) even if it may be inadequate. As the apostle puts it, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1Cor.13.12). Notice again the link between seeing and knowing. It is emphasized in the aphorism, “I see, therefore I know”; to the extent we see, to that extent we know and have the assurance of knowing.

Since so much is at stake regarding true spiritual vision, we must for that very reason always be on high alert to any form of spiritual deception, which is an ever-present threat in this age. What precautions can we take? We need to be ever watchful for every machination of the powers of darkness because these operate through the deadly reality of sin. We must be alert to the sobering fact that if any one harbors sin in the heart, genuine spiritual vision cannot be found in that person. Sin will give Satan the opportunity to deceive by means of false visions and delusions of all kinds. Only when our hearts are pure can we see as God would have us see with the eyes of faith.

All this helps us to better understand the importance of the exhort­ation,

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb.12.1,2)

 


[46] This is not the place to discuss the authorship of 1John, nor is it necessary for our purpose since all that is intended here is to show the kind of answer that an eyewitness like the apostle would give. Any one of the other eleven apostles could have given this kind of answer.

As for the authorship of 1John, the observation could be made that if the author of the epistle was another “Elder” John, then either he too was an eyewit­ness, or the “seeing” he speaks of is to be understood as a spiritual seeing throughout the three verses. But the latter option seems implausible for the reasons mentioned in relation to v.1.

 

 

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