"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).
It Is What Occasions the "Good Warfare''
Sight's Antagonism to Faith
By Fred O. Blakely
"Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight): we are ... willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (II Cor. 5:6-8).
Ensnared by the gross materialism of the times, the church, by and large, has become oblivious to the essential antagonism of sight to faith. That, of course, is because faith has become so modified, if not neutralized, by its possessors' addiction to sight and the other physical senses that it has lost its essential nature. In other words, though still professed, faith is virtually bereft of its power (II Tim. 3:5).
ln that corrupted situation, churchmen appear to be fully "at home" in the sinful body and the evil world. To all intents, they have naturalized the God of heaven and His glorified Christ, comfortably adapting Them to the earthly order and way of life.
Consequently, there is little recognition of the irreconcilable conflict that Scripture consistently represents faith as creating for those who have and live by it. Affinity with the world that now is has resolved the God-designed conflict, but at the expense of the faith claimed by the church. That is simply because whoever "will be a friend of the world [spiritually congenial to it] is the enemy of God" (Jas. 4:4), and so has departed from the faith, if he were ever in it. (Cf. I Jn. 2:15-17)
The Opposition's Recognition. The opposition of which we treat--that of sight to faith--is everywhere recognized by Scripture and warned against. The recognition is implicit in the passage printed above. When Paul says that "we walk by faith, not by sight," he posits alignment of the two ways of walking against each other. Thus, to walk by sight is not to walk by faith, and to walk by faith is to oppose and condemn a walk by sight.
So Noah's "walk," in his preparation of the ark, "condemned" the unbelieving world of his time (Heb. 11:7). The two ways of life--by sight and by faith--are mutually antagonistic to and exclusive of each other.
That warfare is further accentuated by Paul's willingness, yea, his desire (Phil. 1:21-23)--to be done with it. In being "absent from the body" and "present with the Lord," the warfare will be forever over. He then can get down to an eternity of serving God without distraction or conflict. Thus, do the saints "rest from their labors" --those of the work and fight of faith--when they depart the mortal body to be with Christ (Rev. 14:13).
In the preceding chapter of Second Corinthians, the Apostle also sets forth the contrariety between sight and faith. Crossbearing works for us "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," it is declared, and is definitely tolerable. It is so, however, on condition. The "affliction" seems to be light "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" (vv. 17-18). Spiritual vision of God and the things pertaining to His kingdom is what sustains one in his encounter with the challenging and conflicting things and situations perceived by the natural senses.
That nature of the case is climactically demonstrated in Hebrews 12:18-24. There "the mount that might be touched" is contrasted with the one--Mount Zion--to which we, by faith--not by sight--"are come." Whereas the one in Arabia --Mount Sinai-"gendereth to bondage," the one which is above--Mount Zion, or Jerusalem--does so to liberty (Gal. 4:24-26; cf. ch. 5:1). The unrelenting contrariety between the two mountains, involving the means of access to them--sight and faith--is here stressed.
The Emphasis on Faith. The heavy emphasis that Scripture lays on the fact that spiritual life is by faith in Christ constitutes clear recognition of the involved conflict. "The just shall live by his faith," is the edict (Hab. 2:4; cf. Gal. 3:11-12). That means of living is arrayed against any other means thereof. An endeavor to be accepted by God on any other basis is reckoned by Him as unbelief, and is so charged against one. It is an attempt to climb up "some other way" than God's appointed one of faith in His dear Son (Jn. 10:1).
It was with that situation in mind that the Lord Jesus anticipated the time when His brethren would live unto God by believing in Him whom they see not. "What then if ye should behold the Son of man ascend up where He was before?" He asked. "It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing" (Jn. 6:62-63, ASV).
That remark was made in application of His assertion that they subsequently must be sustained by eating of Him, which was to be done by faith, since He was to leave them in bodily form (vv. 35-58). Obviously contemplated was the friction of sight against the faith by which they were to be nourished in their life Godward.
Paul's combative term for the struggle to keep the faith by which one has his spiritual relation to God is fully descriptive. "Fight the good fight of faith," he exhorted Timothy, "lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called" (I Tim. 6:12). Faith's unavoidable conflict with sight is, thus, fully in view. As the Apostle himself faced the executioner, he exclaimed, "I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (II Tim. 4:7).
He did not keep the faith, however, without constantly engaging in the "good warfare" that its maintenance required (I Tim. 1:18); and neither will anyone else. The notion, popular among today's churchmen, of spiritual pacifism is totally foreign and contrary to the doctrine of Scripture. It is a war that we are in, and the issue is eternal life or eternal death.
"This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith," asserts John. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (I Jn. 5:4-5). And who is he that the world overcomes, but he that does not so believe?, it can be added.
Here, the world is seen as aligned against one's faith, in deadly opposition. "All that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" --is opposed to one's faith, and militates against it. The world, accordingly, poses for the believer a struggle in which his faith must prevail over the world, or it will conquer his faith, and captivate him to the world's lusts.
The Situation's Nature. When the situation involving and necessitating faith is duly recognized, faith's intrinsic conflict with sight becomes apparent. God the Father is invisible to and unseen by the natural eye (Col. 1:15; I Tim. 1:17). It was "by faith," it will be recalled, that Moses "endured [not fearing the wrath of the king], as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). Christ, the exalted Son, is also beyond the range of fleshly view. "Whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (I Pet. 1:8-9).
When the cloud received the ascending Lord out of the upward-gazing Apostles' sight (Acts 1:9), He passed beyond the physical view of men. The heavens must retain Him in that obscurity to earth, until His universal revelation at the second coming (Acts 3:21). The only contact people can now have with Him is by faith, or by believing the record concerning Him that the Father has given (I Jn. 5:10). The spiritual life which the glorified Christ imparts (Jn. 5:21, 25-26) is through that faith in Himself (Jn. 20:30-31). The Holy Spirit, functioning through the faith, gives to the believer's spirit the naturally-invisible and imperceivable Father and Son. It is by and in that enduement that the believer lives, as God reckons life. That is the way it is with life unto God, as contemplated and set forth by especially the new-covenant Scriptures.
Obviously, one's whole natural environment, particularly as it has been corrupted by sin and is ruled by Satan, is arrayed against the life-dominating conviction concerning the reality of the Father and the Son. Especially is that the case, since the Godhead is irreconcilably opposed to the sin and sinfulness with which the world of the seen has been infected.
Hence, the "good warfare" of faith. The visible world seeks to persuade one of its primary importance; the invisible one testifies that it is the one of prime concern, being eternal and approved by God, as opposed to the temporality of this world and its government by the evil one.
So is the battle joined, and the believer is charged with the responsibility of maintaining his grasp of and adherence to the truth in the situation. On that continued grasp and adherence is conditioned his victory over the competing world and the flesh. As Jesus urged, in face of the constant challenge, the believer is to "be not faithless, but believing" (Jn. 20:27), and so continue to escape from "the corruption that is in the world through lust" (II Pet. 1:4; 2:18).
There just is no other way to keep oneself "unspotted from the world," as he is told to do (Jas. 1:27), and so "meet for the Master [present] use" (II Tim. 2:21), and ready for His glorious appearing at the last day (Rev. 16:15). This fitness must be maintained by one's faith.
It is sheer folly to expect the Holy Spirit to do the work for one independently of one's faith. That is because, in sanctification, the Spirit operates through that faith. Neither can one, by human willpower alone, achieve and maintain the required sanctification. Were that possible, Christ would have died and risen in vain.
The Conflict's Demonstration. The militancy of sight's opposition to faith, and vice versa, is profusely demonstrated in holy Scripture. Because "the things which are seen" affect the physical senses, they are naturally responded to, In order to be governed by "the things which are not seen," one must have faith and maintain it. That is the only way the unseen things can be apprehended, and wield their dominating force.
In Old-covenant Times. The case of the 12 spies sent out by Moses at Kadesh-Barnea is a classic example (Num. 13:1-33; cf. ch. 32:6-13). They had a clear word from God, assuring that He had given Israel the land of Canaan, which the 12 princes were sent to espy (ch. 13:2). That word, being the object of faith in this case, was what was to be believed, and implicitly relied upon, regardless of any apparencies to the contrary.
When 10 of the spies saw in the promised land the obstacles to its possession by Israel, however, they were overcome. The obstacles so opposed the faith which God's commitment was designed to engender that they prevailed against the faith of the 10. Thus, "they brought up an evil report of the land," saying they were unable to possess it, as God had said (vv. 31-33).
With Joshua and Caleb, two of the 12 spies, though, it was entirely different. "Let us go up at once and possess it: for we are well able to overcome it," was their conclusion and exhortation concerning the land (chs. 13:30; 14:6-11; 32:12). Their faith triumphed over that in Canaan which was visible to the natural eye. They saw God as being fully able to subdue all the adversaries and overcome all of the obstacles which were reported by the committee's majority (cf. II Kgs. 6:14-17).
It is highly significant that "none of the men that came up out of the land of Egypt, from 20 years old and upward," except Joshua and Caleb, were permitted to go in and possess the land of Canaan (ch. 32:10-12). Moreover, it should be duly noted, the 10 spies who brought the unbelieving, evil report all "died by the plague before the Lord" (ch. 14:36-38).
From those circumstances, a wholly-valid conclusion can be drawn. It is that only those with the "full assurance of faith" may have good hope of receiving the crown of life, the counterpart for us of literal Canaan (Heb. 10:19-22; cf. II Tim. 4:7-8; Tit. 1:2; I Jn. 2:25). We must both have and keep the faith, despite all its challenges, if we are to obtain its recompense, which is acceptance by God in the world to come.
Other scriptural instances of sight's challenge to faith come readily to mind. The later trying of Israel's faith by the wilderness experience is one. They were "much discouraged because of the way," and, in their unbelief and rebellion, "spake against God, and against Moses" (Num. 21:4-5). The people seem never to have been able, for long at a time, to see God above the obstacles and trials of the way. That, of course, is but to say that the things which they saw triumphed over their faith--the Object of which was imperceivable by the natural senses.
Under the New Covenant. Such prevalence of sight over faith continued into· the new-covenant era, and still persists. Demas, Paul's companion, is a typical example. Love for and attachment to the temporal eclipsed the Object of his faith. He forsook the Apostle, "having loved this present world" (II Tim. 4:10). The world challenged Demas' faith, and overcame it. Thus, Jesus' anticipation of the situation that is now so widely prevalent: "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Mt. 24:12).
The Laodiceans gave a group demonstration of the neutralizing effect upon faith that the tangible things of this life exert (Rev. 3:14-22). Presumably having begun by belief in and devotion to Christ, they became self-sufficient, which is to say, independent of Him, in their deluded thinking. We are "increased with goods, and have need of nothing," was their appraisal of their situation (v. 17). That of Christ concerning them, however, was radically different. They were "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," He said (Ibid.). In consequence, He would spew them out of His mouth, unless they repented and turned to Him in fullness of faith and consecration.
The most subtle case of sight's antagonism to and triumph over faith is that of the appeal of law-righteousness over "the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). It was notably manifested in the Galatian churches of the first century, but is still widely operative in the church. Although it is utterly impossible for people to merit acceptance by God with their religious ritual and benevolent deeds, they persist in trying to do so.
That practice was at the root of the Jews' rejection of their Messiah, as both He and Paul declare (Jn. 5:39-40; Rom. 9:30-33). The "weak and beggarly elements" of law righteousness, as the Apostle termed them (Gal. 4:9), continue to exert a stifling effect upon faith, being both incompatible and at overt war with it. The endeavor to be "made perfect by the flesh," after having begun "in the Spirit" (Gal. 3:3), causes many to cease "the good fight of faith", preferring a course that is more comfortable to the flesh and not so opposed to the present world system.
The Opposition of the Beast. Finally, the negative effect upon faith of temporal pomp and power very much needs to be recognized today. That is because, increasingly, churchmen are being urged by their leaders to become intimately and actively identified with the state and its affairs. That despite the fact that the new-covenant Scriptures contemplate the saints as essentially separate from the civil government--never as identified with it. Caesar is to be honored in his due claims upon their temporal lives, but always as by those whose basic citizenship is in heaven, not upon earth.
On the premise that the "beast" of Scripture is temporal political government, the great jeopardy of such identification with it is undeniable. God's people are distinguished from those who have received the "mark of the beast" in their hands and foreheads (Rev. 13:16-17). They have the Name of Christ's Father "written in their foreheads" (ch. 14:1). That is to say, they have the mind of God rather than the mind of the world, which of necessity actuates earthly governments (cf. I Cor. 2:6-13).
The ultimate end of those so corrupted by the fleshly pomp and temporal power of worldly empires is emphasized. It is set forth in Revelation 14:9-11; 16:2; and 19:20, and is fearful, in· deed, to contemplate. On the other hand are those of reference in chapter 15:2-4, who stood "by the sea of glass," and celebrated their eternal triumph (ASV). They had "gotten the victory over the beast."
That is, they were spiritual virgins, having kept the faith, not permitting it to be corrupted by adultery with the tangible powers of earth. They implicitly followed the Lamb, with their faith in Him prevailing over all competitors (ch. 14:1-5). This victorious company again appears in chapter 20:4, as reigning with Christ on the earth. In their devotion to the unseen Lord, they forewent distracting involvement in the temporal rule of earth. As a recompense, they were accorded dominion in the eternal world to come.
The conflicting effect of tangible splendor and power upon the person of faith is strikingly demonstrated in the Apocalypse. Even the Apostle John was so impressed momentarily with the sight of great earthly show that he "wondered with great wonder" (ch. 17:6, ASV). The escorting angel had to rebuke him. "Wherefore didst thou wonder?" he chidingly asked (v. 7). He then proceeded to show the Apostle the identity and end of "Mystery Babylon the Great," that had elicited his marvel (vv. 5, 7-18).
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).