Faith: Certainty of Invisible Spiritual Realities
July 02, 2018 | Andrew Davis
The Eyesight of the Soul
One very memorable day centuries ago, a wicked Aramean king sent an entire army to capture one man—the prophet Elisha. Elisha’s ability to tell the King of Israel his secret plans put the Arameans at a terrible disadvantage in war. So the Arameans surrounded the town where Elisha and his servant were sleeping. When the servant looked out on that vast host, he was in terror. But the faith-filled eyes of Elisha reassured the terrified servant with these words: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them!” (2 Kings 6:16). Then he prayed a powerful prayer: "O Lord, open his eyes that he might see" (2 Kings 6:17). The Lord showed this servant a whole army of angels in chariots of fire all around him.
Faith is the eyesight of the soul. It has the unique power to receive from God the invisible light of spiritual truth. Like the eye, faith does not create reality but instead passively receives information from the true nature of things. God has ordained faith to play the central role in our justification: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). The faith that justifies is imparted to the human soul as an act of God’s grace, enabling us to receive full forgiveness in Christ. In this immature stage, faith is well-pleasing to God and is fully equal to the role of justifying the wicked.
However, like every living thing in God’s creation, healthy faith must grow. The growth of our faith is essential to our ongoing sanctification.
Over the next five posts, we will explore five elements of faith.
1. The certainty of invisible, spiritual realities: past, present and future
2. The assurance of things hoped for, both in this world and the next
3. The conviction of personal sin
4. Active reliance on Christ as all-sufficient Savior, provider, and protector
5. Reception of spiritual guidance
Certainty of Invisible Spiritual Realities
The essence of faith is that it operates on invisible things. Paul’s statement, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7, ESV), directly contrasts faith and sight. So does Hebrews 11:1, which says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB), and 2 Corinthians 4:18, “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.”
Faith does not operate on things that are visible, just as eyesight is not employed to hear a violin solo or taste a succulent peach. Faith operates in three vital invisible realms: the past as recorded in Scripture; the present invisible spiritual world which exists around us right now; the future as promised in Scripture by God the Savior or threatened in Scripture by God the Judge. None of these three realms can be seen by the eye; truths from each must come by faith in Scripture’s statements about them.
Realm #1: The Past, Recorded by Scripture
Ours is a historical faith, concerned with the acts of Almighty God in history. The Bible begins with a statement of historical fact: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It is faith that accepts this first step of history: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb.11:3). From that first act of God, a march of Redemptive History began that we can only perceive properly by faith. The events of Redemptive History, including the flood, the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, the establishment of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land under the Old Covenant, the acts of the Kings of the Jews, the words and deeds of the prophets, the exile to Babylon, and the restoration from exile all point toward a consummation of the ages in the coming of Christ. Christ’s own birth, sinless life, miracles, teachings, atoning death, and bodily resurrection are matters of the historical record. We cannot see any of them with our eyes, but must simply accept by faith that the Bible’s historical record is true.
This issue is most powerfully connected to the gospel message and especially to Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The history really matters, as Paul pointed out: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor.15:17). Our faith would be futile because our faith is connected to the historical record of Christ’s life as preached in the gospel and recorded in Scripture. All generations who lived after the eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection must accept it by Scripture alone, or they will never believe: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Cor.15:3-4). When we hear the gospel preached, the “eye of faith” in our souls can “see” Christ crucified and resurrected as though it were happening right now: “Before your very eyes, Christ Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). The stronger our faith, the more vividly the historical events of the Bible will seem to us, the more radiantly the light of God’s past actions will shine from the words of scripture.
Realm #2: The Present Invisible Spiritual World
Just as in the days of Elisha, we are surrounded at every moment by an invisible spiritual world. Above all, this world contains God himself. By faith, we continually see Almighty God seated on a throne of glory and power reigning over the entire earth, and before him, all nations are like grasshoppers (Rev. 4:1-2; Isa. 40:22). The stronger our faith, the more continually we will see this holy, enthroned God and seek to live a life worthy of him. Moses lived a courageous life because he lived “as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). By faith, a growing disciple will seek more and more to please God, and to be rewarded by him (Heb. 11:6).
Furthermore, it is by faith alone that we see God the Son, Jesus Christ, who was dead but is now alive, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). And by faith also we accept the person and work of the Holy Spirit, who is invisibly moving powerfully to accomplish God’s work all over the world. Just as we have never seen the wind but have seen what the wind does, so it is with people born by the Spirit (John 3:8). By faith alone we can perceive the Spirit’s existence and actions in the world.
The invisible spiritual world also contains angels, demons and other spiritual beings, in various orders and arrangements of power (such that they are called “rulers, authorities, powers, and forces” in Eph. 6:12 and “thrones” in Col. 1:16; and “cherubim” in 73 places in the Old Testament; and “seraphim” in Isa 6; and “living creatures” in Ezek. and Rev.). By faith, we believe in glorious angels who continually serve God (Rev.5:11) and his people (Heb. 1:14). And by faith, we know there are also incredibly powerful evil beings—the devil and his angels—who continually oppose the Kingdom of Christ and afflict God’s people. By faith, we see the need to put on spiritual armor to defend ourselves against these invisible spiritual enemies (Eph. 6:10-18).
Finally, we also accept by faith that the souls of departed Christians are living in the presence of the Lord at this present time (Heb. 12:23), and that the souls of unbelieving sinners are presently experiencing torment in hell, as the rich man does in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:22-24).
All these present spiritual realities—the Triune God, a heavenly realm, angels, demons, righteous human spirits in heavenly bliss and wicked human spirits in hellish torment—are described in Scripture and based on Scripture, by faith we see them.
Realm #3: The Future as Promised or Threatened in Scripture:
The Bible is a supernatural book in that it records prophecies spoken from the mind of God, who alone knows and foretells the future (Isa. 41:26, 43:9, 45:21). By faith, we see the future based on these words. We see a world of blessings based on the promises of God or curses based on the threatenings of God. It includes the certainty of the advance of the gospel, of “wars and rumors of wars,” of the Antichrist, of the Second Coming of Christ, of Judgment Day, and of an eternal heaven and hell. By faith we see the beauty of the New Heaven and New Earth, we accept it as though we could see it with our eyes; and when we read of the torments of hell, we accept that they are real and we fear it and are deeply concerned for those whose sins are leading them to suffer there eternally. The stronger our faith, the more vividly we see these things as though they were happening right now, before our eyes.
In the next post, we will look at faith as the assurance of things hoped for, both in this world and the next.