Learning to Live by Faith and not by Sight
“We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor.5:7)
The Old Testament is full of amazing accounts of God’s prophets and collectively they’re a pretty frightening bunch aren’t they?
I somehow think that even if Dale Carnegie’s best seller “How to win friends and influence people” had been available at the time, not many would have given it house room. As a group, these guys certainly influenced people, but by and large they fell a bit short on winning friends!
I especially like that account of the prophet Elijah where he announces to King Ahab that a drought is coming. It begins at the start of 1 Kings 17 and I like to imagine, though of course the Bible does not say so, that a heavy downpour as he walked up the long drive to Ahab’s palace had Elijah absolutely soaked to the skin, and that as he walked across the marble floor of the throne room to challenge the king, his soggy trainers squelched embarrassingly, and drops of rain dripped gently from his nose as he announced those famous words: , “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) and then of course, he turned on his heels and squelched off back down the drive.
Imagine that. That is faith isn’t it? You would have to be pretty confident to march into Buckingham Palace and declare something like that to Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t you? Leave aside the thought that in Ahab’s day you might very well be risking the instant loss of everything north of your shoulders! At the least, if the words of your prophecy failed to come to pass, you’d spend the rest of your days as a celebrity laughing stock with all your credibility completely gone.
So, Elijah must have been a man who had a really close relationship with God to be able to act in faith like that, mustn’t he? After all, he presumably had to take that risky trip to Ahab’s palace putting his life and career on the line on the basis of something that he felt God had said to him.
So this morning I want to put Elijah’s faith under a microscope as we have a look at how, some three years later, that drought came to an end.
We read about that in 1 Kings 18:41-46 where, after having seen God deal decisively with the false prophets of Baal, we find the remarkable conclusion of the story. But as I read it now, you might like to listen out for Elijah’s standout faith statements, because I think they can tell us a thing or two about the nature of real faith. So, here we go - 1 Kings 18:41-46.
“And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ ”
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.” (1 Kings 18:41–46, NIV84)
Now apart from revealing Elijah’s sensational athletic prowess, something that would probably even have been a challenge to our Mo Farrow, this passage nicely introduces our subject for today and exemplifies our key text which is found in 2 Corinthians 5:7 where Paul reminds us of the core nature of our Christian life when he declares: “We live by faith, not by sight.”
But what about those faith statements? Did you catch them?
First, Elijah says to Ahab, after an appalling three-year drought - the land, parched and bone dry; animals, crops and people thirsty and desperate; and before there is even a hint, even a whisper, of what’s to come, Elijah declares, “there is the sound of a heavy rain”. Now that is a FAITH PRINCIPLE, the principle of “putting our faith into words”; of speaking out as fact what is yet to happen.
Second, not once, but SEVEN times he gets his servant to look out for the fulfillment of his faith, when most of us would probably be grasping for some plausible excuse, some face-saving get-out, and have given up totally by the third or the fourth time of asking. So this is the faith principle of “perseverance”, of holding on tenaciously to our faith expectation regardless of appearances or even apparent contradictions.
Finally, on hearing his servant report a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea - not a great black cloud or a violent thunderclap announcing a storm to come, (just think of the outrageous boldness of this man!) he has his servant tell Ahab to get going before the heavy rain stops him. That is the faith principle of “acting decisively BEFORE the fulfilment actually arrives”.
Faith is the foundation and the sustainer of ANY experience of God. For God is not tangible is He? We cannot reach out and physically touch him, can we? And God is invisible isn’t He; and 20:20 vision or not, we do not see him with the naked eye. We can only see him and experience Him by faith whilst we’re here on earth.
We have been SAVED BY GRACE “THROUGH FAITH” Ephesians 2:8 tells us, but importantly it goes on to say “and this not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God”. So the faith that we are to exercise in our Christian lives, the faith that is at the core of living our new life in Christ, is not our own, not of our own making, it is a gift, in fact, it’s a birthday gift from God when we are born again.
Faith is absolutely fundamental to the Christian life. As Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists AND that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” And as Romans 14:23 reminds us: “. . . EVERYTHING that does not come from faith is sin.” It is not coincidental that the most common name for Christians in the New Testament is “BELIEVERS”. Christians are those who believe; those for whom faith is the central characteristic of their life and walk.
Now since FAITH then is so vital, it is crucial to understand what it is, and how we can make the most of it, and we will come to that in a moment. But since there are a number of imposters or counterfeits, masquerading as faith, I think it is important to take a moment first to establish what faith is not.
1. First, faith is NOT simply “BELIEVING” that God exists. James, Jesus’ half-brother in his very forthright letter takes no prisoners and gives that idea very short shrift when with what seems like an element of sarcasm he declares, in James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” And demons, it is clear from the Bible, face the prospect of the Lake of Fire with their leader rather than gaining entry into glory. So from their example, “having faith” in the sense of believing that God exists, on its own, will not save us, and is therefore a completely inadequate and erroneous definition.
2. Second, faith is not the same thing as “FATALISM” – a “whatever will be, will be” approach to life. This is just another imitation. What, for example, would have happened to the Ninevites had they responded like that to Jonah’s warning from God of imminent destruction? Thinking, “Oh well, if that’s it, we might as well enjoy our last few hours – there’s nothing we can do about it.” Well, I’ll tell you what would have happened, they would have perished. But Jonah 3:5 tells us that they responded with real faith and took action, for we read: “The Ninevites BELIEVED God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” And, of course we know that their faith was rewarded because in Jonah 3:10 we read the outcome: “When God saw what they DID and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” Believing, accompanied by action - that’s faith, and it brings salvation; it moves the hand of God.
3. Third, faith is not “OPTIMISM”. It is not groundless “wishful thinking”. Faith, in fact, is anything BUT a laid back, happy-go-lucky, “looking on the bright side”. Faith is ALWAYS a battle. Faith is a fight. This is why Paul urges Timothy in 1Timothy 6:12 to “Fight the good fight of the faith.”
If your experience was anything like mine, you will perhaps remember wrestling with doubts in those early days of your Christian life before securing your assurance of salvation. And that same battle is required of us in every spiritual acquisition or engagement in our Christian walk.
4. Finally, faith is not “PRESUMPTION”. This is another deceptive counterfeit. The Egyptian army, in hot pursuit of the Israelites after their exodus, caught up with them at the Red Sea and seeing the waters held back and dry land in front of them, PRESUMED that if the Israelites could pass through on dry ground, then so could they. How wrong could they be, as to the man they paid with their lives for their presumption. Or what about those characters we meet in the New Testament, the seven sons of Sceva the priest, who thought that if Paul could tackle evil spirits in the name of Jesus, they could too. The result – they barely escaped with their lives and the Bible records that the demon “gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” (Acts 19:16) Why? Because real faith is not a method, not a technique, not a form of words. Using the name of Jesus, for example, is not an “open sesame” to a box of spiritual “tricks” that we can dip into at will. Real faith is always and only operated out of a relationship – a relationship with God. A relationship based firmly on our love for, and our obedience to, Him.
So, what then is FAITH? Well Hebrews 11:1 of course, gives us the classic definition of faith. It says: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” From this verse we immediately see that Bible faith relates to two spheres where you and I simply cannot operate on the basis of our natural senses. They are, “what we hope for”, or in other words, the things of the future, and “what we do not see”, or in other words, the things of the Spirit.
Faith though gives us instant access to both these spheres. Because when we take God at His word we can trust implacably that both the future and the spiritual are a here and now, present reality.
The Amplified Version really makes the full meaning of this key verse very clear, it says: “Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].”
Faith is not in any way though, an airy-fairy notion. It is not fantasy or wishful thinking. It is grasping hold, as actual, here and now reality, of the truth and trustworthiness of God’s promises and it’s making them our own in a situation where only God can meet the need. And we do this, not by gritting our teeth, or by trying to get God in a half-nelson to squeeze some chosen blessing out of Him in order to satisfy some desire of our own. But, as we simply believe that God’s WORD is true, and understand as Balaam did that: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19). And above all, as we act, NOT on the basis of some technique or principle, but out of a close and obedient RELATIONSHIP with the Lord, we will see Him respond to confirm His Word.
So how are we to make the most of this birthday gift from God, this gift of faith?
First, since faith operates out of our RELATIONSHIP with God, we must have a clear conscience before Him. Trying to live a double life, where we want God’s blessings, but refuse to give up on indulging our selfish and sinful ways just won’t work. Listen to Paul’s instruction to Timothy in the Amplified version of 1 Timothy 1:18–19, “This charge and admonition I commit in trust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with prophetic intimations which I formerly received concerning you, so that inspired and aided by them you may wage the good warfare, Holding fast to FAITH (that leaning of the entire human personality on God in absolute trust and confidence) and having a good (clear) conscience.” Faith MUST be supported by a clear conscience or it will sink like a stone. We need to get right and stay right with God to see faith operate the way God desires in our lives.
Second, we have to KEEP LISTENING CLOSELY to God. Romans 10:17 tells us clearly and unequivocally how faith comes into our lives, it says: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” In other words, the faith gift God gives us as a birthday present is not a one-off package that we open and then use up. It’s more like the tap that we turn on to get a supply of water. It’s actually a plumbed-in supply of God’s own, God-empowered, wonder-working faith, and it’s never going to run out - we just need to turn on the supply. And we turn on the faith tap by HEARING God’s Word. “Hearing” the Word is the key. It is no good just reading the Word casually like we might read any other book. We must be listening out for God as we read the Word.
That’s just what Paul was saying to the Galatians in Galatians 3:5: “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you HEARD?” In other words, the Word of God is not like some magic spell, where we chant some form of words or mix a set of ghastly ingredients; it’s not that we take the Word hostage and use it to force some blessing out of God. But, as before God we read and meditate on His Word the Holy Spirit brings revelation of its truth to our spirits, and we rise and act on that truth with full assurance and trust that it is ours.
Third, we need to develop the regular habit of SPEAKING OUT IN FAITH. Listen to Paul on this point in 2 Corinthians 4:13: “It is written:,” I believed; therefore I HAVE SPOKEN.” With that same spirit of faith WE also believe and therefore speak,” I defy you to take any scripture that deals with “who we are in Christ”, of “what Christ has done for us”, or “that confers a promised blessing” and stand and speak it out boldly before the Lord and see if you are not encouraged by it, and find that your faith begins to rise. It just happens. Our newly created spirits are enlivened by the truth and power of God’s Words and our faith is boosted. We need therefore, not just to try this out, but to commit to doing it, and then we’ll see what God will do with the faith He has put in our hearts. So, when it comes to God’s Word, if we believe it, SPEAK IT, because then God will lead us into the truth and experience of it.
Fourth, we must be ready to ACT ON OUR FAITH. The watchword of the great Pentecostal warrior, Smith Wigglesworth, was “Faith is an act”. He understood and demonstrated throughout his ministry that while faith is not the result of acts or works, faith is often INITIATED or IGNITED by our acts or works in line with the promptings of the Holy Spirit or the Word of God. This, at least in part, is what James was speaking about when in James 2:20-24 he writes to us: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working TOGETHER, and his faith was made complete by what HE DID.”
Finally, we must HOLD FAST TO OUR FAITH IN THE WORD whenever it is challenged by our doubts, by deception or by our feelings. We must stand firm in our faith though the promise and fulfilment are delayed or apparently negated by circumstances, by setbacks or by contrary evidence. Remember, there is one who is ALWAYS seeking to frustrate, deny or hinder the purposes of God. So we must hold on to the absolute truth of that powerful declaration of Jesus after he had won eternal victory over sin and death, securing our salvation for all eternity and restoring God’s rule in our lives, a rule to which we now willingly submit, the declaration recorded in Matthew 28:18 when He announced that: “ALL AUTHORITY in heaven AND ON EARTH has been given to me.”
Jesus is the one who has underwritten forever the absolute dependability of every jot and tittle of God’s Word, and it is on the unshakeable authority of His victory that we can base our God-given faith in His Word. So, as Peter urges and encourages us in 1 Peter 5:9, whenever we sense or see the hand of enemy working against God’s purposes we should have every confidence to, “Resist him, STANDING FIRM IN THE FAITH,”.
The key for us all is to hold on to the truth that FAITH IS ALWAYS A FIGHT, but it is a good fight, and a faith victory is a blessing indeed!