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17. Faith: Seeing the Unseen

– Chapter 17 –

Faith: Seeing the Unseen

Faith is central to any study 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, as is well known in biblical scholarship.[1] We are faith­ful to God because we trust Him and have faith in Him. Thus faith and faithfulness are insepar­ably linked. In fact the Greek word (pistis) for faith in the New Testa­ment 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 basic and vital in the Christian life.

Definition of faith in Hebrews 11

To arrive at a 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 knows what it is.

Few today 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.

Though faith has been discussed and analyzed in a plethora of doctoral dissertations, academic essays and scholarly books, Christians are not much clearer about what it is. This may indicate that faith is not something that is amenable to acad­emic analysis or intellectual dissection but has to do with a living relation­ship with God.

We all have a general idea of what faith is, but we need to be more precise. This present chapter cannot, of course, cover the entire scope of faith, or resolve all the questions pertaining to faith. None­theless, may God be pleased to grant us some important insights that will have a pro­found impact on our lives.

Within the space of one chapter, Hebrews 11, the word “faith” occurs 23 times, and “believe” once (v.6). This chapter gives many examples of great men and women of faith, people who have a dynamic faith rooted in a living relation­ship with God. The use of real-life examples is effective for explaining faith, by giving us insight into what faith is. This is achieved not by an analytical procedure but by seeing what faith does, or happens, in the lives of those who have it.

Faith 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.”

We have previously seen that what counts is not whether we ac­cept God but whether He accepts us. It is a serious mistake to assume that God will accept us just because we accept Him. The price of this error is incalculable.

In Europe I once asked a woman whether she was a Christian. Then came the retort, “Of course I am! What do you think I am, a heathen?” The people in that country were all baptized as infants into the state church. So if they are not Christ­ians, what are they? Heathens? In many cases, the blunt answer, unfortun­ately but factually, may have to be “yes”. In the West where Christian­ity has become a cultural tag, being a Christian does not always mean much in God’s sight, nor can it provide assurance of His approval.


What is Faith in Biblical Teaching?

Faith: Seeing the unseen

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is not easy to translate the Greek text of these words, but the general idea is clear enough. The verse speaks of “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 faith we enter the salvation which God has provided for us in Christ. But we haven’t yet seen the final outworking of God’s program of salvation in all its won­drous glory. This verse speaks of the unseen, stressing that we hope for the things we don’t see, not the things we see at the present time.

Hope, by definition, has to do with things that we don’t see. In 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 is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen — things which are 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 transient. Every physical object that 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 friends after a five-year absence. As age takes its effect, we have thinner hair or more gray hair. Our faces will be “dignified” with a few more sculpted lines. Nothing that our physical eyes can see is perman­ent. The transience of physical things is an incontrovertible fact.

But if we have faith, we will focus 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 spiritual world is eternal, and will continue to exist long after this physical world, even this universe, van­ishes 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 reality 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.

(1) Faith is 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 just as 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 — that he is the Son of God, that he was born in a manger, and so on — but is that true faith? Do we base our faith on a narrative about a manger?

True faith has to do with spiritual perception, without which spir­itual things or spiritual reality will be nonsense to us, or will be reduced to abstract concepts couched in philosophical or theological jargon.

Without faith, the things that will be real to us are cars, houses, fame, and the like. But spiritual things are real to the man of faith, who sees them with spiritual eyes, not with physical sight.

Scripture speaks of faith as seeing things spiritual­ly. But in addition to that, faith is also the seeing of spiritual things. These two are related but not identical; they are two aspects of the way faith functions. The first aspect (seeing things spiritually) means that a person of faith looks at everything with the eyes of faith, that is, from the spiritual point of view and not by external appearance. The second aspect (seeing spiritual things) means that the person of faith sees invisible things, including spirit­ual realities.

(2) By faith Noah saw the unseen

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. (Hebrews 11:7)

Noah was warned of “unseen” events (future events) which are imperceptible to the five senses. He perceived unseen events in a way that few people do. How did he know they are real? Was it just 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 his coming is real to you depends on whether you have faith. Every Christian knows in theory that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he died, that he was resurrected, that he ascended into heaven, that he will come again. When he comes again, will you ex­claim, “Amazing! So his coming is real after all!”?

Unseen things are unreal and absurd to those who lack the spiritual perception that comes from this remarkable thing called faith. Faith is not a matter of exercising the imagination, but 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 even know where he was supposed to go when he first launched out in response to God’s call. The intended destination was Canaan, an unfamiliar land that Abraham had never seen. More than that, Hebrews indicates that Abraham set out on his journey by faith not knowing beforehand what his final destin­ation was going to be: “He went out, not knowing where he was going”. This is also seen in Genesis 12:1 where Yahweh said to Abraham, “Go forth … to the land which I will show you”. At this point in his life, Abraham’s final destin­ation had not yet been mentioned.

Hence Abraham had to walk by faith, being led 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,” not only because he wouldn’t know which place God had appointed for him, but also because he wouldn’t have the perseverance of faith to attain the promised inheritance.

The true longing deep down in Abraham’s heart was for the eternal things, 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” (who have faith, v.16), a city 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? 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 nothing more than accepting certain Christian doctrines, even that of a crucified Christ? Or stories learned in Sunday school? If that is the sum of faith, then all we would need is Christian culture and education 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 hardships in the wilderness. He “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to the [eternal] reward” (Hebrews 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 “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (continuously, present participle). But where is he now? We can­not see him because he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. This verse wouldn’t make sense if “fixing the eyes” refers to physical sight, but only to spiritual sight. Every Christian is called to a persevering faith that constantly looks to Jesus.

Intellectual faith

To the great confusion among 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. 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 should ask them why they believe, they might say, “Because my friend believes in Jesus. My friend is trust­worthy, and I believe him absolutely. He even told me of his spiritual exper­iences, even hearing God’s voice speaking to him! 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, or limit God in what He can do in the world. But there is 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.

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 does such things.

You may have witnessed a sick man being healed at a Christian meeting. There is no need to doubt the miraculous, though we must remain alert to the fact that some “miracles” are fake.

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”. Your eyes tell you that a miracle has happened.

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 that saving faith? We may be surprised to learn that that kind of faith is not yet saving faith.

Throughout the land of Israel, Jesus healed people in front of large crowds. They saw him give sight to the blind. Many believed in him after witnessing the 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 soon knew about it. After he had been dead four days, Jesus commanded him, “Lazarus, come out,” and sure enough he came out of the tomb. Many saw this, and 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. That is not yet saving faith, but only the prepara­tion for faith. 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 second-hand. 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 propositions and arrive at a logical deduction. You saw a miracle, and 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 judgement. There is nothing wrong with intellectual analysis. In this world we cannot do without intellectual analysis. Every day we assess whether something is true or false, and then accept or reject it.

But we must distinguish between the two fundamentally 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.

Two kinds of seeing and two kinds of knowing

The difference between the two kinds of faith can also be expressed by the vi­tal difference between “knowing” and “knowing about”. When I say “I know about John,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that I know him personally, but only that I know something about him. But when I say “I know John,” it means that I know him personally. But even if I have met John, shaken his hands, and ex­changed a few words with him, it still wouldn’t be accurate for me to say that I know him. In Scripture, “know” refers to a relationship based on a personal exper­ience of that person. It is a first-hand knowing, as distinct from “knowing about” which is a second-hand knowing.

When we witness a miracle, we gain some know­ledge of 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 Him to knowing Him, a vital transit­ion from a second-hand to a first-hand faith. Seeing is a primary means by which we know someone or something. Faith is spirit­ual sight, hence it is by faith that we come to know God and establish a living relationship with Him.

If 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 said, 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 or spoken with many people, but in most cases without a true mutual knowing. Only where a friendship or relation­ship has been established can we say that we know them and they know us. True knowing has to be mutual.

This is also the case with knowing God. “The Lord knows those who are His” (2Tim.2:19); “If anyone loves God, he is known by Him” (1Cor.8:3); “You have come to know God, or rather to be known by Him” (Gal.4:9).

This is also true of Jesus: “I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10:14). In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus talks about people who claim to know him because they called him “Lord, Lord” and did mighty works in his name. But he says to them, “I never knew you”.

The physical prevents us from seeing the spiritual

We come to our second point: Man’s physical component has the tendency of pre­venting him from seeing spiritual things. Let us use the picture of baptism to explain this point.

Baptism symbolizes death — death to the self and to the old way of life in the flesh. Why is death important? You may say, “That’s easy. Through death we die to sin.” That is correct, 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 explains 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” (which is not preserved in some Bibles), that is, Paul is now looking at it from another angle. Chapter 7 gives a clear link between flesh and sin, so it is 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 could not do the good he wanted to do, but did the evil he hated (Romans 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 dwelling in him, such that despite his good intentions he ends up doing something sinful.

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” (vv.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 but 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, eyes, etc. In the plural, “members” collectively refer to the body. Paul speaks of “the law of sin” which operates in “my members” (my body), waging war against “the law of my mind” and taking me captive. Paul closes the chapter with these striking words: “With my flesh (physical body) I serve the law of sin” (v.25).

This brings out what we said earlier: You cannot die to sin unless you die to the flesh. It is as simple as that. 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”? But your body has not disappeared, has it? Paul is of course speaking spirit­ually, saying that we are no longer con­trolled by the flesh or its power. This is what he means when he draws the contrast between “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit”.

(2) The veil of the flesh

Many Christians live in defeat, and say to themselves, “Romans 7 is right on the mark because it describes my situation perfectly. I want to do good but I do evil instead.” This assessment of Romans 7 is valid if you are still living under the control of the flesh and the power of sin, or if you haven’t moved from the dire 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. To the man in the flesh, spiritual things are conceptual, abstract and even mythological. What matters to him is material reality — a car, a house, travelling — the things he can see, hear, taste or touch. The things of God make no sense to him, and are even foolishness to him (1Cor.2:10-14). It takes a radical and fundamental transformation for him to become a whole new person in Christ.

At bap­tism we “put off the flesh”. It doesn’t mean that baptism has magical properties. At baptism a spiritual transition takes place through faith. By God’s grace, the flesh’s dominion or tyranny over us is “put off” or removed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we willingly place ourselves under the control of the Spirit. This is a radical transfer from one sphere of power to another. But if you remain in the flesh, it will cover your spiritual sight like a veil, blinding you to spiritual reality. The apostle Paul says:

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. (2Corinthians 3:15-18, NKJV)

We cannot “see” the Lord’s glory so long as the veil of the flesh which covers 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. (2Corinthians 4:3-4)

The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, and 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 (Rom.6:23).

But thanks 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 spoken of as a “veil”. When his flesh was pierced and torn upon the cross, we were given access into the holy place where God’s Presence is. Jesus’ body is 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, and we have access to God.

(3) Second-hand faith costs you nothing

Hence 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 and houses — the visible things, but also other things of the present world such as praise, respect, applause from men, and earthly concerns and aspirations. To an earthly minded person who has only a second-hand faith, spiritual things are abstract, remote and nebulous.

But something else is defective about a second-hand faith: It costs you nothing. By contrast, for the one who sees God’s glory, the putting off of the flesh involves a high cost, unlike intellectual faith which does not require dealing with 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. But intellectual faith does not require you to deny yourself, and can even toy with theological concepts.

Sight is its own proof

New Testament faith is spiritual sight as opposed to physi­cal sight, yet there is an important similarity. Like physical sight, spiritual sight is its own proof or self-verification. If you ask me how I know that a certain person exists, I would reply, I have seen him with my eyes. Seeing is the evidence that some­thing or someone is real. When John[2] was asked for the evidence for the truth of Jesus, his reply was 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)

Here both kinds of seeing, physical and spiritual, are present. In verse 1, physical seeing is indicated by the words “which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” and “which we have seen with our eyes”.

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

In verse 3, the words “what we have seen” refer to both kinds of seeing mentioned in the previous verses.

The reliability of spiritual sight

Once we realize that faith is spiritual sight, and that the sight is self-verifying (in the sense of being certain that what we have seen with our 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 necessary for knowing, as distinct from knowing about. The quality of the perception affects the qual­ity (the depth and accur­acy) of the knowing. The more superficially I see, the more superficially I know; the less I see, the less I know. 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 is now clear. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced …” (2Tim.1:12). Paul’s faith, which is spiritual sight, allows him to know the one who is now seated at the Father’s right hand, though Christ cannot be seen with physical sight at the present time.

Stephen was granted to see the ascended Christ at the end of his earthly ministry, whereas Paul was granted such a vision at the begin­ning of his apostolic ministry. In both cases, they saw what cannot be seen by the physical eye, for it is perceived by the faith that sees the spiritual and the eternal. In both events, the other people who were present did not physically see what Stephen or Paul saw. If those who were stoning Stephen (Acts 7:54f) had seen Jesus as Stephen saw him, they would have stopped stoning him immediately!

The account of Paul’s Damascus experience doesn’t say that he saw Jesus with his physical eyes, but that “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3,4). A dialogue is recorded in verses 5 and 6 but there is 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”. That Paul saw Jesus with spiritual sight 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 Stephen and Paul saw Jesus with spiritual sight rather than physical sight, what would be the natural man’s reaction to our assertion? The immediate reaction would be to say that their seeing was purely of their imagination, since only physical seeing is real such that reality is established by physical perception. That too would be our reaction if our thinking is carnal.

Actually, it is our physical sight that is unreliable. We often don’t see things accurately; sometimes we see things that don’t exist, such as a mirage in the desert. Many peo­ple recall an event which upon closer investigation of the facts turn out to be different from their memory of it. That is why 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 who reveals to us the things we need to see for our eternal welfare.

It doesn’t mean that our spiritual sight has reached full clarity of vision, but only that our seeing is true and genuine, though it may be inadequate. Paul says, “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). Again the link between seeing and knowing, as brought out 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 spiritual vision, we must 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 against it? We need to be ever watchful for every machination of the powers of dark­ness because these operate through the deadly reality of sin. If anyone harbors sin in the heart, spiritual vision would not be possible, for sin gives Satan an opportunity to deceive us through false visions.

But when our hearts are pure, God will give us sight through the eyes of faith. Hence the importation 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” (Hebrews 12:1,2).

[1] The understanding of faith as total commitment is well known to New Testament scholarship. Zondervan Bible Dictionary, art­icle “Faith”: “Faith is not to be confused with a mere intellectual assent to the doctrinal teachings of Christianity, though that is obviously necessary. It includes a radical and total commitment to Christ as the Lord of one’s life”. Dictionary of the Bible (John McKenzie, S.J.), article “Faith” (p.268): “The scope of the faith demanded by Isaiah shows that faith was a total commitment to Yahweh, a renunciation of secular and material re­sources, a seeking of security in the saving will of God alone.” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary begins the article “Faith” as follows: “Faith — a belief in or con­fident attitude toward God, involving com­mitment to His will for one’s life.” See also The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Faith, Faithfulness,” sub­article “Faith as assent and commitment” (vol.2, pp.416-417). [This footnote is a duplicate of a footnote in volume 1, chapter 1, and is repeated here for the reader who does not have volume 1.]

[2] This is not the place to discuss the authorship of First John 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 John would give. Any the other eleven apostles could have given this kind of answer. If the author of 1John is an “Elder” different from John the Apostle, then either he too was an eyewit­ness, or the “seeing” he speaks of is to be understood as a spiritual seeing. The latter option seems unlikely in the light of verse 1.


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