How Do We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight?

Christians “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). It is a deep trust in what cannot be seen that provides hope.

Candice Lucey
A woman walking on a log

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus stated, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus ascended and left his Spirit as a guarantee.

Walking by faith is sometimes lonely, except for the presence of Christ by his Spirit, left to all believers as a “guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5). Christians are frequently called to stand firm in spite of the isolated place their faith leads them to.

Our faith is reasonable, but there are aspects of the gospel we accept on faith and are unable to see. What are these invisible things? And what is the walk of faith?

The Second Letter to Corinth

First of all, here is some context for 2 Corinthians 5:7. Paul’s relationship with the church at Corinth was a difficult one.

Paul had led them to faith with the assistance of mature believers in Christ, but when Paul was gone the church was easily swayed by outsiders who opposed his teaching.

In Paul’s absence, they fell apart and it was easy for opponents to convince the church that his suffering was a sign that Paul’s faith was actually folly. If Christ has really come to save sinners, how could the apostle’s life be so horrendous?

To Paul’s mind, his way of life represented faith. How else could someone suffer so much, if not for the reasonable expectation of eternal gain? (ESV Study Bible, Introduction to 2 Corinthians).

The Corinthian church was struggling, and Paul’s letter suggests a big part of the problem was trusting the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and trusting in the promise of Heaven. Faith is trust.

Faith in Eternity

What does the gospel tell us which we cannot prove by way of anything other than faith? For one thing, we cannot see what awaits the faithful — eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Paul is confident: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God” (v.1). That building is the individual body, the church body, and a real Kingdom, invisible to us for now. “We know,” says Paul; not “we believe,” or “we imagine.”

The original Greek uses “eidó,” which means “be aware, behold, consider, perceive.” “Knowing” in this sense combines knowledge with an intelligent perception of an idea, which cannot be physically represented — yet.

Paul based his belief in eternal life on sound, objective evidence as well as his subjective, personal experience of Christ. His suffering could have become a distraction from this truth — it certainly was for the Corinthians.

To Paul, his immediate suffering was supposed to demonstrate his deep trust in what could not be seen and provide a reason to hope.

Christians “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

A Connecting Faith

Christ’s message of eternal salvation through his death and resurrection was explosive. Saul, before becoming Paul, had originally sought to persecute these blasphemers, until he realized that the Old Testament had been leading Israel to the empty tomb all along.

When Paul described the body as a “tent” (2 Corinthians 5:1), he was also connecting the new church with the Old Testament. God’s people had frequently been sojourners, both in the days before Solomon and during Jesus’ ministry.

Moses and the Israelites followed a pillar of smoke and a pillar of fire, setting up temporary shelters to cover themselves against cold desert nights. They had nowhere to permanently call “home” until Solomon built the temple.

The body as a “tent” evokes the Israelite’s trust that God would meet their needs day by day. A tent is impermanent, just like a body is temporary, but once this covering is shed God provides something better.

Faith in the Spirit

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

As believers, to some extent, we already see more than those who choose to turn their faces from God. We have an “unveiled face,” although we only see “in a mirror dimly” for now, it is by faith we believe we will one day see Christ “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Meanwhile, we have the Holy Spirit. Here is one aspect of the Christian life we cannot lay hands on and inspect up close.

There are ways to detect the Spirit in us; evidence of “fruit.” Galatians 5:22-23 describes this fruit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When one has grown in any of these ways, the Holy Spirit is responsible, and we are invited to recognize this gift living inside of us and in others.

The Spirit is not a virus or an implant; it cannot be scrutinized with the naked eye or under a microscope. Everyone holds a belief in something, and Paul says we can be confident.

That is the word used in the NIV and KJV for “courage” so “we are always of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:6, ESV) is a statement of certainty. Faith is not blind; it merely sees in other ways.

Every Faithful Christian

Every faithful believer sees something that is not visceral but still real — much of our knowledge is like that. We believe someone is trustworthy based on actions, which demonstrate their character.

We know that an event took place in history based on statements of witnesses and on physical remains. We must examine the evidence and be ready to give our testimony, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

We all live by faith in something, although not the same things. “It is theologically accurate to say and to insist that the Christian must always seek to live by faith and trust in God and his promises, and not be motivated by only what he or she can see and hear in their present circumstances,” wrote Bill Combs, but Paul says the church at Corinth is already doing that. Paul “directly and unequivocally says that we, all believers, do, in fact, live by faith.”

This faith must also stand firmly by the strength of internal reasoning, against external forces, and without an apostle to hold one’s hand in a spiritual sense.

The Corinthians’ faith was strong in the presence of mature disciples such as Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18) but blindsided by “partisanship, with the Corinthians factionalizing behind rival leaders.”

Paul knew what made “considerate and appropriate relating especially hard at Corinth,” which was an “unusually diverse” and tough, working-class culture. Paul sought to “overcome the tensions that these differences were bringing into the community” by talking about how to love one another in Christ-like ways.

What Does it Mean to Walk by Faith?

And what about the action of walking in faith? “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” wrote Paul (Ephesians 4:1). Combs says, “the word walk in 2 Corinthians 5:7 is [...] used in the metaphorical sense of ‘live.’”

Our walk as Christians should be identifiably different from the walk of one who does not believe and has been saved by grace. There is a practical element, which must not be overlooked, for if we love God there will be an outpouring of that love towards others.

Jesus embodied a unifying love for the marginalized and Paul taught that their Savior was the best example of “what a Christian leader should look like. It could hardly be more dramatically countercultural, and Paul lived out this leadership style in person.”

Yet walking, or living, by faith, is also about our relationship with Christ “God is looking for not only a clinging bride but also a walking partner.” When we walk with him, we recognize that worship of Christ is not so much a “catalyst” to action but “an everyday walk of unbroken communion with our Lord and friend.”

Jesus calls us “friend,” and we are called to live our lives close to him, confident and worshipful. This is personal and real — other people cannot fill in for Jesus, whether pastors or mentors. Such individuals promote growth, but they are not the vine. Only Jesus is the vine (John 15).

Is Sight Coming?

Will we see Jesus when we die? Paul says it himself: We see dimly today, but the mist will lift one day revealing his face. The veil between God and man was torn when Jesus died on the cross.

So, while we cannot fully see him right now “this does not mean that we are cut off from fellowship with the Lord.” Living by faith, explains Bill Combs, is “no hindrance to communion with our Savior.”

For further reading:

Walk by Faith: A Misused Verse?

What Is the Spiritual Gift of Faith?

What Is the Meaning of the Body of Christ?

Did Paul Know His Letters Would Be Scripture?

What Is a Profession of Faith?

What Are the Marks of a True Believer?

What Does it Mean to Have Faith in Jesus?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/demaerre


Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.


Originally published February 09, 2021.