Hopping the Fence of Faith
Hopping the Fence of Faith
Last week was mine and my wife’s sixth anniversary. We got married on a Friday, which is somewhat unusual. What was interesting was that this anniversary marked the first time since we got married that June 15 again fell on a Friday. So, at different times throughout that day I found myself thinking about what I had been doing on that Friday exactly six years ago. As I thought back on the time in the wedding ceremony when we were sharing our vows I realized my only basis at that time for saying emphatically that we would still be married six years later was faith. Not necessarily faith that everyone who gets married stays married but I had faith in what I knew of my about-to-be wife. I knew her to be kind, committed and selfless. And as we left the building we were married in that evening I had greater faith in our ability to be married six years later based on the fact that she had just promised that we would be.
Faith is one of those words that is used so often and in such varied ways that it can be difficult to get our arms around just what it means. We may be Rangers fans and discuss longingly the chances of a World Series title, when the die-hard among us respond “Ya gotta have faith.” In this case we use faith to refer to believing in something that, as of yet, we have little basis to hope for. We might have heard people speak of some person “embracing the faith.” In this case faith is used to refer to a specific set of beliefs. Other times we hear of a person with “deep personal faith.” Faith, in this case, is a person’s response to a set of beliefs.
The passage I want to talk to you about today deals with faith and was written by a man who found himself the subject of a great deal of concern. The Apostle Paul, who started many churches and wrote a good part of the New Testament, had been going through many difficulties as a result of his work as a pastor. People were abusing him physically and lying to him and about him and so he writes to a church, a group of Christians that he knew well and who were very grieved to watch him go through such hard times. He writes to them to explain the purpose of his suffering and how he is able to walk with God through these challenges. This is what he says in 2 Cor 5:7-10:
"We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2 Cor 5:7-10
This passage has been helpful to me in understanding how to approach life with Jesus Christ and I’d like to share some insights I’ve learned. First, we have a video of a trip I took recently to shed some light on what Paul is talking about here.
The Reality of Faith – Blind Sight
In the passage I just read, Paul tells us that those who follow God live by faith and not by sight. Paul’s means of enduring one of the most difficult lives ever lived was to do something that runs completely counter to that which is expected and accepted today. We live in a time where only things that are observable are legitimate and any claims about something we can’t see are deemed radical and extreme. But the Bible’s teaching is just as applicable now as it was in Paul’s day. Living by faith means living without sight. It means doing what antelopes can not or will not do. It means walking in places where you can’t see your foot strike down. It means doing things whose outcomes are not certain. Like getting married or taking a new job, striking up a conversation or helping someone in need.
However, this conclusion is often frustrating when we consider following God. ‘Is Christianity just about blind faith?’ we often ask. ‘How can I be expected to follow something I can’t see?’ As I’ve wrestled with these questions and studied what Paul says to the Corinthians I’ve come to understand that the proper response is “No, Christianity is not about blind faith… it’s actually about blind sight.”
Let me explain, by pointing out another statement Paul makes regarding sight. In a passage just prior to the one we’re looking at, 2 Cor 4:18, he says this: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. As a reminder, Paul is trying to encourage his readers who are upset by all the suffering he has been going through. He tells them that his response is to “fix his eyes” or “look, see” the things that can’t be seen instead of the things that can because the unseen things are eternal whereas the things that are seen are just temporary. Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say “we fix our eyes on things that aren’t there.” Pastor and author A.W. Tozer said "Faith is seeing the invisible, but not the non-existent." Paul says that He’s looking at real things that despite being unseen are not only not non-existent, they are actually more real than what is visible.
If you’ve ever watched one of those forensic cop shows on tv you know what Paul’s talking about. On every one of these shows there’s a trusty device that writers use when they can’t think of anything cleverer. Its technical name is the “blue light blood finding thingy.” There’s always an episode where the detectives know who dunnit but don’t have the evidence to support the case. The crime scene looks pristine with no traces of anything having occurred… Until one of them suggests the “ blue light blood finding thingy.” The lights are turned out, the blbft is switched on and the case against the suspect closes shut. The previously invisible evidence is now clear as day, what was invisible is now seen, more real than what was visible.
This is an example of the faith it takes for detective work but what is biblical faith? What are the unseen things that those who follow God should be looking for? Listen to what Paul saw:
2 Corinthians 4:13-14, 17, 5:1, 5:5 (NIV)
… With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence… For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all… we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands… it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."
Paul saw that God had guaranteed something far better than his current situation. Faith is seeing the unseen reality that God will not let us down.
This brings me to my next point, why should you or I or anyone else live a life of faith? 2 Cor 5:9 provides the answer:
"So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it." (NIV)
The reason for Faith is Christ-pleasing living. But this raises another question. Why should we care about pleasing God? Paul answers that one too.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10, NIV)
We seek to please God because he is the only true judge of what is pleasing.
Let me pause here. Before I explain why a Christ-pleasing life is so good, let me explain what it is not.
Remember, Paul is writing to a group of Christians, people who know something about faith and have recognized two often unseen things: One, that they are unable, incapable in themselves to live a life that is worthy of God and are, therefore, cut off from Him. He is too great, too perfect, what the Bible calls ‘holy,’ to be in the presence of people who have sinned, who have committed even the simplest lie or felt the slightest twinge of hatred for another. And two, as a result of seeing this in themselves they have come to see that Jesus, in the life he lived, the death he died and the new everlasting life he lives having been raised from the dead, is the only way for them to know and be with God.
The Bible says it elsewhere like this: Eph 2:8-9, 2 Cor 5:21
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This is the good news, the Christian gospel. But reading 2 Cor 5:10 seems to suggest something different from this. It seems to suggest that God’s judgment of us rests in our deeds. Let me say that the first way I explained salvation is correct and so living that pleases Christ does not result in our salvation. I’ll explain the purpose of Christ-pleasing living by recounting a story from the OT. Solomon was King of Israel and known for his wisdom, he wrote the Biblical book of Proverbs, which is essentially an instruction manual for wise living. Not long after Solomon became king two women had a dispute and were brought before him to settle the dispute. It seems they lived in the same house and both gave birth to sons within a few days of each other. One night one of the women accidentally suffocated her child while sleeping. So, she got up and switched her dead child with the other woman’s living one. The next morning, the other woman realized the switch had taken place and so arose the dispute. In response to the story, Solomon declared that the living child should be divided in two and a half given to each mother. The Bible tells us that the woman who knew her son to be alive asked that the child be given to the other so as to spare him. The woman who had switched the sons, said essentially “if I can’t have Him, then you can’t have him, divide him.“ It was obvious who the true the mother was and so her son was returned to her. I tell you this story, despite it’s less than pleasant subject matter because it is an incredible demonstration of the purpose of Christ-pleasing living. Notice that the woman whose son was living did not become the child’s mother by her response to Solomon. Her response was the indication of what was already true. So it is with our faithful deeds. They are the proof of our salvation, not the means.
So, while Christ-pleasing living does not earn our salvation it does do two other things. In Rom 12:1 we’re encouraged to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God because this is our spiritual act of worship. Christ-pleasing living results in worship for God, which he deserves. But it also results in something for us that we don’t deserve. Heb 11:6 says: "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."
Christ pleasing faith results in not only worship for God but good for us.
The greatest good was Paul’s description we read earlier: A life spent with God. Heaven is only good, because God is there.
But faith also results in good in this life. The last part of the passage we’ve looked at is 2 Cor 5:8, Paul says that we live by faith and not by sight … and so "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
That word confident can also be understand better as courage. It comes from the greek word tharseo and means a confident attitude that disposes a person to acts of faith. The result of faith is courage. Mark Twain said that “Courage is resistance to fear…not the absence of fear.” This is the type of courage that faith produces. Living a God-pleasing life of faith (seeing the unseen) gives us the courage to hop the fences of life.
It gives us the courage to:
Hop the fence of Significance (Youth)
o Live for the things that looks like foolishness to the world
Hop the fence of Leadership (Men)
o Go first and do the hard thing of taking responsibility
Hop the fence of Trust (Women)
o Living an honest and open life and following when all we know is disappointment
Hop the fence of Love (All)
o Doing what’s in the best interest of another, at expense of self
Hop the fence of Forgiveness (All)
o Refusing to hold a grudge and quickly restoring those who have harmed you
Hop the fence of Perseverance (All)
o Continuing to press on even when the obstacles seem insurmountable and the “why’s” don’t have quick answers
Hop the fence of Honesty (Gospel for all)
o Looking honestly at ourselves and acknowledging our total lack of self-sufficiency, and then looking honestly to God and acknowledging his complete sufficiency to fix and change us.
I want to conclude with one last story, again from the Old Testament (2 Kings 6:14-17)
Elisha was a prophet in Israel who lived about 900 years before the time of Christ. He served as an advisor to the king of Israel during a time when Syria was warring against Israel. In 2 Kings chapter 6 it tells us that in the middle of the night the king of Syria surrounded the city where Elisha was staying with a “horses and chariots and a great army.” The next morning Elisha’s servant woke up early, stepped outside and found the city surrounded. Upset, he rushed to tell his master. In my mind, Elisha looks at the servant with a crooked smile as he says what’s recorded in 2 Kings 6:16-17: Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” It tells us that he then prayed for the young man “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” And whether he blinked and the change occurred or the view slowly cam into focus, I don’t know, but it says that the Lord opened his eyes and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around.
Lord, open our eyes so that we can see the surpassing greatness of living a life that is pleasing to you. Give us the courage that comes from seeing the unseen and allow us to hop the fences of life that we come upon. In Jesus’ name I ask these things. Amen.