Walking by Faith

Posted 6/17/2018

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

During college, studying to be an agronomist, I had to take lab courses. Now mind you, these labs weren’t research — they were simply “re-proving” various theories we’d already learned in class. But, as good “scientists-in-training,” reproving what had already been proven was an integral part of our learning “the scientific process.” Proving a theory, and proving it over and over again, is at the heart of scientific work — the kind of work that our agronomy knowledge was based upon. Besides that, there could be little doubt that some of us would go on to do jobs in labs as technicians, or even do original research, and we’d need these kinds of scientific lab skills. So, in the framework of my degree, even though I expected to never, ever need to do another lab-type process in my life-time, my required agronomy labs made a certain amount of sense.

But the truth is it isn’t just those training in science based fields who are shaped by the assumptions of the scientific process. We live in a world that has been significantly shaped by the scientific process. Much like scientific theories, we generally expect statements people make can be proven to be true. In fact, there are times we demand proof before we will believe what the other person is saying. Even in our “post-truth” society filled with “fake news,” there is still the demand for proof — although finding any kind of proof that everyone will accept is increasing difficult.

As I said, this expectation of a person being able to prove the truth has shaped our entire world. That is one reason that some Christians from the earliest days of Christianity have made such serious attempts to prove the existence of God. Such proofs have taken many forms, but ultimately all such proofs have been subject to doubts. In pre-scientific days, such proofs were normally based upon philosophy. However, in the last 400 or so years, the attempt more often than not has been based upon the kind of logic that scientists use. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is a part of me that really admires those who do the hard work of very carefully thinking through the difficult theological issues such proof present. And certainly, the work such apologists (as they are called) do can help all of us in understanding the faith in a deeper way and responding to the real questions of those about us who don’t believe. But in the end, no one — and no argument for God’s existence — has been able to prove the existence of God beyond all doubts.

But that inability to prove God’s existence shouldn’t really surprise us as Christians. As our epistle lesson for today reminds us “we walk by faith, not by sight.” What we believe can’t be proven — philosophically. scientifically or in any other way. That isn’t to say what we believe is either illogical or not real because it can’t be proven. The fact we can’t prove what we believe shouldn’t really make a difference to us, because, as Paul reminds us in today’s lesson, we know that the inability to provide such air-tight proofs is actually inherent to our faith, for we live in faith.

Yet if we don’t rely upon scientific or philosophical or any other kind of proofs, what is it we rely upon? How is it that we know what we know about God? What does walking by faith mean in today’s scientific oriented world?

Walking by faith means, as Christians, we know what we know about God because of Jesus Christ. This is the classic Christian answer to how we can know God — we can know God only through God’s self-revelation. It is Christ who reveals God to us. It is in Christ that we come to know God’s character, God’s will, and God’s desires for our world. Again, in classic theological terms, we know about God only because God has revealed himself to us in Christ. While there may be all kinds of things we can discover about God by looking at nature, classic Christianity says, it is only in Jesus Christ that we see God, as it were, “face-to-face.” 

But this seeing requires what Scripture describes as a new way of seeing with what can only be called new eyes. Just as in Jesus’ day, it is still possible today to know all about Jesus and not know who Jesus is. In Jesus’ day, the scribes, Pharisees and many others were witnesses to Jesus’ miracles and heard his teaching, yet didn’t understand who Jesus was or come to believe in him. Scripture is clear, knowing isn’t the same thing as believing. We can know without coming to faith. Scripture tells us it is only the power of the Spirit that can open our eyes to the truth about Jesus and give us new eyes and a new heart that responds to the good news of Jesus in faith.

Yet such faith isn’t simply something we hold in our hearts as a private, personal opinion. Paul says we “walk” by faith. In the Scriptures the word “walk” is used to describe a way of living. Our faith in Jesus impacts our daily lives. It shapes them in ways that make them different that the ways of the world. That is, to walk by faith is not only to be given new eyes but also to be given a new heart. And in this passage, Paul identifies several aspects of that “walk” — several signs of that new heart.

The first sign is “we make it our aim to please [the Lord].” “Do what feels right to you,” is a common maxim in our day. The assumption is whatever gives you happiness is the right thing — the thing you ought to do. Right and wrong are subjective things — based on how you feel about something and how an action affects you. Yet Scripture is clear. We who are Christians are guided not by what “feels right” but by what God says is right. We know ourselves to live in a moral world, where there is objective right and wrong. We know that right and wrong aren’t simply matters of what we subjectively feel, but a matter of how God has created the universe. And so we live in a way that seeks to please God, that “fits” with God’s moral order.

Secondly, we “try to persuade others.” Because we firmly believe in a moral world where there is objective right and wrong, we attempt to help others see this moral structure to the world, which includes knowing God through Christ. We desire that others would come to faith. While we recognize that we can’t prove our faith, we also recognize that we are called upon to witness to our faith. We are called upon to speak about our faith. We are called upon to “always be ready to make [our] defense to anyone who demands from [us] an accounting of the hope that is in [us].” That is, we are to be prepared to explain WHY we believe as well as WHAT we believe. We are to be prepared to explain our faith.

For many of us “being prepared to explain our faith” feels scary. We feel unprepared to do this. We are inclined to say, “That’s the job of pastors, not my job. They’re the ones with the education.” Yet Scripture is clear — this is the “job” of every Christian. And it is not a job which requires a seminary education (or any other form of formal education). What it requires is our reflecting on our faith and our willingness to continue growing in our faith. Yes, it does require that we prepare ourselves — but it is the kind of preparation that should be the part of every Christian’s life. It requires we spend time reading and studying Scripture. It also requires us walking in faith — trusting God’s Spirit will give us the words we need at the time we need them.

Paul reminds us, we walk by faith. We don’t walk by proof. We walk by the faith the Spirit gives. Our lives are changed by the power of God’s Spirit working in us. We witness by the power of God’s Spirit. We live in a new way, with new eyes and a new heart — all given to us by the Spirit of God working within us. May we walk by faith — living the Christian life and witnessing to Christ in our daily lives.