I preached this sermon on Sunday, February 12, 2023.
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by this our ancestors were approved. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7
Well, we all know the saying, “Seeing is believing.” In other words, if I can’t look at something with my own eyes or touch it with my own hands or hear it with my own ears, I can’t be sure it’s real. I’ll believe it when I see it, many say. Another way of thinking about it is how in our culture many believe that unless we can provide scientific evidence, we shouldn’t consider something to be true or reliable. For many science is the only way to find truth.
But then we have to ask: what about faith? What is faith? What does it mean to have faith? Because some say that only religious people need faith, while people of science have facts. And what I really want us to get at this morning is the fact that every person lives by faith. Everyone trusts someone or something outside of themselves. This is true whether you call yourself religious or not. The question, therefore, is not whether we have faith but what or who we have faith in.
What is Faith?
A few moments ago, we read the opening verses of Hebrews 11, often called the faith chapter. And as the chapter continues, the author tells us about all kinds of OT figures who walked by faith: Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and many others. And their faith was in God and in God’s promises. And the author of Hebrews is encouraging his readers to hang on in the midst of difficult times, in a time when they are being persecuted, to cling to their hope in Christ. Having faith, therefore, is central to being a Christian.
In Hebrews 11:6 it says that without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. If this is the case, then this means we need to ask: What is faith? And what does it mean to walk by faith?
Maybe we can start here. Faith means believing something or someone to be trustworthy. It can also refer to the state of being faithful or trustworthy, like being a faithful friend or spouse. And it can also refer to the doctrines one believes — for example, the Christian faith. Faith refers to the act of believing and what it is we actually believe or have faith in.
So to say that God is faithful is to say that he is consistently reliable. And to have faith in God means not only believing he is real but that we can trust him. Trust him with our lives. Trust him with our problems. Trust him with our future.
Years ago when our kids were a lot younger, we were at a playground with monkey bars. One of our sons had climbed up fairly high. Then he turned and said to my wife, who was more than a few steps away, “Mommy, catch!” And he immediately leapt from the monkey bars, anticipating that she would catch him. Which she did, but only because she moved very quickly! That’s what you call trust! He had faith in his Mom. And in this case that meant trusting that she would act in a way he could rely on because of who he knew her to be: Mom loves me. She’s always there for me. So if I ask her to catch me and then jump, I have every reason to trust she will catch me.
Trusting God — having faith in God — is similar to this. On the basis of who we know God to be, we have faith, like those described in Hebrews 11, that he will keep his promises. That he will be who he has revealed himself to be. In other words, on the basis of how God has already been present in my life and proven himself trustworthy, I will continue to put my faith in him as I face new circumstances.
Think of the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:7: For we walk by faith, not by sight. Faith is about trusting in what we can’t lay our eyes on. It’s about what we can’t get our hands on in the here and now. If we could see and know for sure how God was going to answer our prayers or had some tangible, empirical evidence that his promises are true and reliable, then we wouldn’t need faith.
Remember what our main text says: Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. Another translation puts it this way: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. And another one: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Of what is not seen. What we do not see. Of things not seen. We walk by faith, not by sight.
In the first Star Wars movie Obi-Wan Kenobi is training Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi and says to him at one point: “Your eyes will fool you. Don’t trust them.” I’m not saying Star Wars has a Christian view of the world, but it is a good analogy.
When we go about life in this world, it doesn’t always look as though our faith in God is warranted. Looking at our own circumstances and at what’s happening around us, we might reasonably find it hard to have faith.
But: Your eyes will fool you. Don’t trust them. Or as Paul says, We walk by faith, not by sight.
Seeing with the eyes of faith means believing that God, who we can’t see, is real, is present, and is trustworthy.
So: how would you describe faith? And can you think of a specific moment when you really had to walk by faith? What made it possible to walk by faith at that time or in that situation?
Everyone has Faith
Now, here’s the thing. Having faith doesn’t make those of us who are Christians unique. It doesn’t even make religious people unique. Because everyone lives by faith.
Think of it this way: how many of you drove to church this morning? Did you know that driving here took faith? Because most of us here aren’t engineers or car mechanics, right? I’m sure not! But by driving here you implicitly trusted those who were responsible for the manufacturing and upkeep of your car. You had to have faith that your vehicle would get you here safely.
Everyday everyone exercises faith in a number of ways. Getting behind the wheel of your car is just one example.
In his book The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, Ben Myers writes: “Most of the things we know about the world are really things we believe on the basis of someone else’s word. We can’t verify for ourselves if events in world history have really happened. But we accept testimonies that have come down to us from the past. We can’t visit every location on a map to verify that they all really exist. But we accept the word of others who have been to those places.”
As Augustine once pointed out, without faith, “We would be unable to do anything in this life.” We actually need faith simply to live each day.
So it’s not if we have faith; it’s who or what we have faith in. Keep that in mind the next time someone criticizes you for being religious or for believing in things you can’t see.
Now, here’s the thing: not every kind of faith is equal. I might have faith that when I go to have a shower, there will be hot water. That’s a low level of faith. It’s not a matter of life and death. But it’s not the same as having faith in God, trusting that he will bless me with eternal life in his presence, that in Christ death has been defeated. That is a matter of life and death.
When it comes to matters of life and death, who or what am I trusting? When it comes to where I’ve come from, why I am here at all, and where I’m eventually going, who or what am I trusting? Not everything or everyone we can potentially put our faith in can bear the weight of the most important questions of life and death, of meaning and purpose, of who we are and why we are here.
It’s one thing to trust that my car will get me to Sobey’s. It’s another to trust it to get me to heaven.
And when it comes to matters of life and death, to big questions of life, only faith in God can sustain us and give us actual hope. Faith is the assurance of what we hope for and hope is important. Hope is what enables us to persevere and even to do so with joy.
Seeing with the eyes of faith means only God can bear the weight of life’s biggest questions and give us hope.
How does your faith in God give you hope in the present? Does your faith bear the weight of the things that you struggle with the most?
“By it I see everything else”
C.S. Lewis once said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” What he means is that his faith gives him a way of seeing all of life, all the world, all of the questions of importance and meaning.
So when we put our faith in God — and specifically God as he has revealed himself in the person of Christ — we are able to look at and deal with life with an entirely different perspective. It means we handle life differently. As people of faith, we deal with all the same things other people do, but not in the same way.
A good example is grief and loss, something we all experience. Even Jesus. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus wept. I’ve often heard Christians wonder about how people who don’t trust God get through difficult times, especially times of loss and grief. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says that believers will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Because we know that this life is not all there is. Because we believe in resurrection. Because we believe in eternal life.
Seeing with the eyes of faith means that we see life here and now differently.
But maybe you think your faith is small or weak, that you don’t have as much as you should. Maybe you even feel guilty or embarrassed about that. After all, you’ve been coming to church for years. Can I tell you that sometimes I feel that way myself? That I struggled on occasion?
But perhaps we can think of it this way. If someone were to place all of their faith (and, really, therefore, their hope) in their money or their career or whatever, does it matter how much faith they have?
What’s more important, how much faith you have or what your faith is in?
In Luke 17:6, Jesus says to this disciples: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” the Lord said, “you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Obviously, Jesus was talking about having faith in him, in God.
I could have all the faith in the world, but if it’s the wrong thing or person, it’s not going to do me any good. Not when it comes to the biggest stuff in life. But when you have some faith — even a little faith — and that faith is in God, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who made you and loves you, then that faith can sustain you, can carry you, and can see you all the way into eternity and his presence forever.
That is our hope. It is the assurance we have. Like I said, everyone lives by faith. It is not whether you have faith, but who or what your faith is in. Who or what is your faith in today?
Seeing with the eyes of faith means continually looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, the one who went before us and has prepared the way and is waiting to bring us home.