How to Walk by Faith and Not by Sight

Man in Forest

For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The statement above is found in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. We could say that this is the fundamental idea behind being a Christian. But what does it mean? How do we “walk by faith” and “not by sight”? To answer that question, we can look at the context.

In this context (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9), Paul described six great contrasts. Examining these will show the meaning of our text above. Let us consider these here.

The Outward and Inward Man

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Our outer man is decaying. Our bodies wear out. The wise man described this in figurative language at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes (12:2-7). One day we will pass from this life “as it is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). This is a depressing thought to someone who walks “by sight.” So the goal for such a person often becomes to simply enjoy life as much as possible. Paul described this mentality with the statement, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). Yet this pursuit of enjoyment and pleasure in this life is futile. “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

However, our inner man is renewed day by day. We have an eternal soul that will live past this life. After our body returns to the dust, our “spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7; cf. Acts 7:59). Our spirit is renewed day by day through the strength we receive from God’s word “which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). The word of God produces faith (Romans 10:17) and this faith enables us to see the hope for our inner man. We gain encouragement and receive comfort as we look forward to our home in heaven (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

Affliction and Glory

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

We face momentary, light affliction. Yet it does not feel “light” in the moment. Earlier Paul described this “light affliction” as being “burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Intense suffering and affliction can feel hopeless to one who walks “by sight.” This world is filled with trouble. Job, who certainly faced more than his share of hardships, said, “Man, who is born or woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil” (Job 14:1). Everyone experiences this.

Yet this affliction produces an eternal weight of glory. In other words, there is no comparison. “Glory” is the exalted state of being with the Lord. Paul said that the faithful will be gathered “to meet the Lord in the air” and will “always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Jesus has gone to “prepare a place” for us (John 14:3), and this will be in His presence (Revelation 22:3-4). Near the end of the New Testament, heaven is described in symbolic language in the “richest” terms possible (Revelation 21:15-21). This is intended to emphasize beauty and extravagance so that we will recognize the greatness of the glory of this eternal home with the Lord.

The Seen and the Unseen

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

The things which are seen are temporal. This refers to all that pertains to this life – life “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). John explained that “the world is passing away” (1 John 2:17). The same thing is true for the things of this world. Paul told Timothy to instruct the rich to not “fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Timothy 6:17). Therefore, to walk “by sight” and make these things our priority is foolish. This is why Jesus called the rich man a “fool” for neglecting the state of his soul in order to focus on the temporal things of this life.

In contrast, the things which are unseen are eternal. These are spiritual things, particularly what is beyond this life. Paul went on to say in the next verse, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). These unseen things are not just dreams, wishes, or fables. Peter said that they “did not follow cleverly devised tales…but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Our faith in the unseen is based upon evidence. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV). Jesus emphasized the reward of “eternal life” (John 3:16), but we must believe and obey Him to receive it (John 3:36).

The Earthly and the Heavenly

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:1-3).

Our earthly tent can be torn down. In this context, he was referring to our body – “our outer man is decaying” (2 Corinthians 4:16). This “house” can be torn down by age (Ecclesiastes 12:2-7), disease (James 5:13-14), or violence (Matthew 10:28). Paul said that while we are “in this house we groan.” If we walk “by sight,” we cannot see past this.

On the flip side of this, we have a building from God that is eternal in the heavens. This world is not our home. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). That dwelling place is not able to be destroyed because it is being prepared by the Lord (John 14:1-2). Yet we still “groan” – not out of despair, but out of a longing for change. Paul described this feeling to the brethren in Philippi: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Philippians 1:21-23). If we have the same conviction that “to die is gain,” we can anticipate this by faith.

Mortality and Life

For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4).

We are mortal. As we have already discussed, one day we will die as this has been “appointed for men” (Hebrews 9:27). Paul explained that “the creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20) because of sin (Genesis 3:19, 22-24). This means that we will not live forever here on the earth. James wrote, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). This end could come at any time. The wise man noted, “No man has…authority over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8).

Even so, we long for life – not just life here, but “life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:19). Jesus came so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). When we have new life in Christ, we have real hope. Paul explained, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5). This is only possible if we know the Lord. Jesus said “eternal life” is to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). If we do not know, believe, and obey Him, we cannot be saved (1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 1:8).

Absent and Present

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).

In this life, we are absent from the Lord. Paul was not referring to separation due to sin (cf. Isaiah 59:2); instead, this is about our personal presence. Because we are physically separated from God, those who walk “by sight” ignore the evidence for God that is here. The creation is a witness to Him (Romans 1:20; Acts 14:17), yet many reject this because they cannot actually see God. Those who walk “by sight” see no reason to strive to be in the presence of the Lord. They are like Pharaoh who asked, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2). In the same way, people today reject any evidence for God whom they do not see and refuse to submit to Him.

If we walk “by faith,” our preference is to be present with the Lord. This does not mean our goal is to be present with Him here on the earth; rather, we “desire to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23) where He is in heaven. We have fellowship with God here (1 John 1:3), but we long for the day when we will “see His face” (Revelation 22:4). So our ambition is to be pleasing to Him, to demonstrate our “faith by [our] works” (James 2:18), so that we will be judged to be faithful (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Conclusion

So what does it mean to “walk by faith, not by sight”?

  1. Though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is renewed daily by the promises of God’s word.
  2. Though we face affliction in this life, we know it cannot compare with the hope of glory in eternity.
  3. Though we live in a temporal world that is seen, we focus on eternal things that are not seen.
  4. Though our bodies can be torn down, we long for our incorruptible home in heaven.
  5. Though our lives could end at any time, we recognize the blessing of eternal life through the Lord.
  6. Though we are absent from the Lord, we look forward to the time when we will be in His presence.

What is the result of all of this? “We do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16) because we have encouragement to endure hardships. “We are of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:8) with the motivation to remain faithful.

There is an ever-present temptation to focus on the things of this life – decay, affliction, what is seen, and so on – and walk “by sight.” But let us “walk by faith” and keep our focus where it needs to be, continue serving the Lord, and look forward to the eternal reward in heaven with Him.

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Adapted from an outline by Boyd Taylor (1922-2019)


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