Dear radio friends,
“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Notice especially what we have here in II Corinthians 5:6-8 and that which is found in parentheses in the King James Version. For it gives us the reason for the apostle Paul’s confidence that he expresses in this word of God: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” It is only by faith that the child of God realizes that being absent from the body is being present with the Lord. So much so that he can say, as the apostle Paul does in verse 8, we are confident, not only, but rather willing, even desirous, that we may be absent from this body so that we may be present with the Lord.
On September 11, 2001, the United States of America experienced a most terrible disaster. Two most brilliant products of modern civilization toppled before our eyes: airplane and skyscraper. Death and destruction visited our country and we were shocked, frightened, and grief-stricken. Indeed, if we depend merely on what we have seen, on what we continue to hear and see with our natural eye, with our human understanding, then a certain dread fills our minds, because the question arises: What next? How crucial it is for us, especially as the people of God, to continue to walk not by sight but by faith. Glued to the TV, to the radio, to the newspapers, to the internet, we stand in danger of fainting. There is, after all, exactly the plan of the evil one who is behind all of the wicked and behind all of the terrorists and evildoers. Rather, I John 5:5 tells us, we must walk in the victory which overcometh the world – even our faith. By faith we must see the almighty hand of a sovereign God who ordains all things. By faith, I say, by faith alone, can one understand and explain what has happened. And by faith one can remain strong. By vibrant faith, trusting in Christ, we will be able to endure – not only wars, rumors of wars, and persecution, but death itself. Do you walk by faith instead of by sight?
We continue today our series on preparing to die willingly. And the question is: Are you facing the reality of your death by faith?
We want to consider, on the basis of this Word of God, what faith is in general, so that we may understand, really, how that faith is applied to death, how that faith affects the attitude of the child of God toward his or her death.
May God be pleased to give us that faith and increase our faith so that we may, through that faith, not only endure death, but prepare to die willingly.
We read in verse 7 of II Corinthians 5, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, true faith is contrary to what we see with the natural eye. This is a crucial part of our text, even though we find it in parentheses in the King James Version. For, on the basis of this principle, we will be able to endure all things – even death itself. And what is that principle? We walk, we live, yes, we take each step of our way, and then even we enter into death, not by sight, but by faith.
Actually this is not the first time the apostle Paul has pointed to this reality. Already in II Corinthians 4, the last part of that chapter, we read, “For our light affliction (vv. 17, 18), which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” notice, “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” In other words, there are two kinds of seeing. Better believe it! There are two kinds of eyesights. The one is with the physical eye, the natural eye, the eye with which we were born. Paul says that that is emphatically not the eyesight by which the child of God walks. What does that eyesight tell us? I mean, what do we see with the natural eye without faith? It tells us, on the one hand, that everything about mankind will turn out OK. It is good. It will all turn out well for men. Just look at the heroes of the world. Just look at the goodness of man. Look at how they are united and seek to be compassionate even in times of war and distress. Look at how the world is coming together, in spite of all the wars and rumors of wars, trying to establish a world kingdom. In fact, that goodness will destroy evil men. There will be one people who will stand up for good over against evil and destroy the evil.
We walk, we live, yes, we take each step of our way, and then even we enter into death,
not by sight, but by faith.
On the other hand, I say to you, this physical eyesight can also make us think, All is bad, all is doomed, there is no hope. We are attacked, we are frightened, we are distressed, we are vulnerable. And even all the so-called peace plans seem to falter and fail. In spite of all the consolations and assurances, we are very fearful. We know how painful death is, and we ask, What if it hits us? This is also true for the Christian – when he begins to depend again on the physical eye, when he does not walk by faith, and when he begins to depend again on what he sees with the natural eye, as Peter did, for example, when he took his eyes off the Lord and then began to sink in the waters. The raging sea of the world, with all its temptations, with all its opposition, with all its troubles will surely cast us down. We cannot walk merely with this physical eye. We must walk by faith, not by sight.
Faith has different eyes – spiritual eyes – based on God’s holy Word. We see that which cannot be seen with the physical eye – not the things not which are earthly and temporal but the things which are invisible and eternal. Faith, in other words, is able to see things that are unseen. Yes, by faith we see Christ, though with our physical eyes we have never seen Him. By faith we see heaven and the glory that awaits all those who fear Him. That faith makes us active. That faith causes us to embrace and to walk in and through Jesus Christ because, you see, that faith is a bond that unites us to the Lord. He is the vine. We are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing. But when God, in His mercy, takes us, those dead branches, and joins us to Jesus Christ the Vine, the life-giver, then we become alive and we live and we do that which is pleasing to God, and we begin to look at life differently – not as the world does, but as Christ does, with Christ living in us and we by faith joined to Him.
You know, the world too has its own outlook, its own “faith,” faith in humanism. The world trusts where it has been cheated. The world trusts where there is the lie. The worldling refuses to trust where there is truth. The world and the unbeliever want to put their faith in, perhaps, some kind of higher power that will compromise the Rock of Ages with stones and idols, and then call them gods.
Yes, if we are merely going to walk by this physical eyesight, then surely we will be swayed by all kinds of falsehoods. We will join what, by and large, is today considered the way to go, a world-religion, an ecumenical movement, a way which would compromise the Word of God with the philosophy of men.
But faith, which is worked by the Holy Spirit, and which makes us partakers of Christ’s benefits, will say, “No, we look to God’s Word. And we know that it is this Word of our God which will abide forever.” That is how we must look at life. That is how we must look at death, because if not, we will not be prepared to die willingly. Then we will ever be fearful of that time when our last breath is taken from us, because then there is no basis, there is no hope, if we live and depend upon the whims and fancies of this changing world.
But when we have faith, faith of the Son of God, then we have the knowledge of our justification. We know that God has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin (II Cor. 5:21). Amazingly, we have been made the righteousness of God in Him. And we know that for us to live is Christ. Then, if we die, we gain. By faith we know our sanctification, because we are made new creatures in Christ. Old things are passed away, all things are become new. We are joined to Him, our Head. We already now sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.
By faith we not only know our justification and our sanctification, but also our glorification! That is how this chapter of God’s Word begins. We know that we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have that building which is in the heavens. We know that by faith. We have that building of God which, in the light of the disaster of the toppling of the buildings on September 11, points us to the reality that if our eyesight is on this world, and if all we see is the prosperity and power of man, then all will be dissolved. Every single brick one day will topple. But our faith is not in the world. Faith of Jesus Christ is in God and in the things revealed by God in His Word.
Now, we want to consider, on the basis of our text, especially our faith as it regards death. While we are at home in the body, Paul writes, we are absent from the Lord. In other words, while we are alive we are really not at the most blessed place. An interesting word is used here: home, being among God’s own people. While we are alive, we are at home, we are present in the body. We are, so to speak, among our own people. God’s people, however, have a different home. And when they are here in this present tabernacle, though being of the earth earthy, though having an attachment to this present life and often finding it difficult to face the reality of separation, yet, nevertheless, they know that this present home is but a tent, a tabernacle which must be folded up. This home is temporary, it is not permanent. It is brief – seventy or eighty years. It can end suddenly.
By faith we must see that. By faith we must realize that there is another home – the home that the people of God have always known as their home. God’s people, throughout the ages, have looked for that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. They realize that when they leave this body, this present “home,” this present place of our family and friends, then they arrive at the eternal home with God, with the holy angels, and with His precious children. It is the Father’s house of many mansions, where God is preparing in Christ a place for all His children, and then will come in our death for us, for each one of us, when our place is ready.
… this present home is but a tent,
a tabernacle which must be folded up.
Paul writes, “Willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Yes, it is far better to depart from here because then we go to be present with the Lord. Again, as we have pointed out through this series, the Word of God teaches no such thing as purgatory, as the papists falsely teach; no soul-sleep, as if until the day of resurrection there is no existence, no conscious existence, of the saints. No, we have a building not made with hands eternal in the heavens. Faith assures us of that. Faith tells us that immediately we go to be present with the Lord. It is true that we look for the resurrection of our bodies in the final day. Then, body and soul, we shall be in the new heavens and the new earth. But immediately the child of God, when he dies, goes home to be with Christ.
Christ, our Lord, died and rose, did He not? He ascended to the Father’s right hand, did He not? Do not the Scriptures clearly teach us that, because our Head is there, so also we, in principle, are already there? And, therefore, we set our affection on things above and not on things below.
Is that your hope and desire? Can you say that you would rather be absent from this body to be present with the Lord? Or is this life more precious? The psalmist says the opposite. He says, Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, is better than life. Oh, no, this does not mean that we have a kind of pessimistic outlook on life. It does not mean that we go around with a “banana-look” on our face, a look of “Oh, we wish we could die.” Oh, no. We live because God gives us life. And we live joyfully, awaiting that appointed time when the Lord will take us home.
We walk, right now, by faith. We must continue to walk by faith until the Lord in His appointed time brings us home where we belong. But it does mean this, beloved. The child of God realizes that this world, this present body, this present earth, is not really his home. His faith affects him with regard to his life and with regard to his death.
… we live joyfully, awaiting that appointed time
when the Lord will take us home.
Paul writes, in verse 8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Always confident, he says, always cheerful, always happy. Twice this is repeated in our text so that he says, “I am of good courage.” Does that mean that the apostle Paul had no fears at all, no anxieties, that he was courageous at every single moment of his life and that there were no concerns? Oh, no. He surely did not mean that. Twice in this passage he speaks about groaning. And how true it is that, as Romans 8 tells us, we groan. There is suffering. There is pain. But yet, by faith, the faith of the Son of God, those groanings are turned to cries of faith and we are brave. We are confident always. We are courageous because we know that the faith by which we walk is not of men but of God. We know that that faith, a gift of God by which our eyes are opened, gives us the hope of eternal life.
In a moment there will fly before our very eyes all the things of this present life. As when wars come, and rumors of wars abound, as when death comes for each one of us, the text says, therefore we are always confident. Do you know why Paul says “therefore”? Because Paul gives us a connection with what he had been writing about previously in this passage of Scripture. He has told us that we have this confidence, that we have a building made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And though we groan now, he says in verse 5, He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident. This is the basis of our faith. This is the reason why we have faith to see that we are not at home here but we will be at home when we finally go to be with the Lord.
Do you know why that is? Because we now have the earnest of the Spirit, the Spirit who has worked faith in our hearts. And because God has given us His Spirit as an earnest (that is, God has given the Spirit to us as a down-payment, a proof, a pledge that He has begun that good work in us), therefore we are assured that because we have that pledge, we have that proof from God Himself, we will abide to the end. We will walk by faith. We will not walk by sight. We will, to the end, be confident and willing rather, not only sure, but in fact we are desirous, by the grace of God, to be prepared to die.
Now we have only a temporary home, but we have come to see, though not fully, that the day will come when we will enter into that eternal abode which God has prepared for His holy angels and all of His redeemed saints. And then we shall see the Lord face to face. Then we shall worship Him and walk in that faith of the Son of God.
Oh God, cause Thy Word to go to the nations and gather Thy people, quickening them from death unto life through Jesus Christ Thy Son. Amen.