For we walk by faith not sight; so said the apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5:7 while explaining to the Corinthian Christians the nature of this earthly tabernacle and the incorruptible dwelling which God has prepared in heaven for his people. In this passage the apostle describes how Christians ought to trust that the dissolution of this earthly tabernacle, that is our physical, earthly, and bodily lives, is not the end of our existence, nor is it something to be dreaded. For the Christian conviction is that “to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). This is the conviction which motivates and comforts us in the present life and is the hope which gives us confidence for the future. Indeed we groan with longing, desirous to be enfolded within the house from heaven prepared for us by the Lord (vs. 2). How do we know these things? The answer which the Word of God provides is simple: by faith! It is by faith, the apostle says, that we Christians walk the path set out for us, our pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death. Indeed by faith we rest our hope in this knowledge of our salvation and therefore we live according to God’s revelation of these yet unseen realities, confident in the Lord’s faithfulness toward us in Christ.
That faith confides in unseen realities is not to say that faith is blind. Such an idea, so loved by those who disparage belief in God and who trust only in their own spiritually blind eyes, is one which entirely misrepresents the nature of faith. Indeed the blind lead the blind, for they believe they see more clearly than those who actually see. This is the foolishness of unbelief. Unbelief is blindness that obstinately and persistently insists that it is actually unclouded vision. Lacking faith, the unbelieving man is thoroughly blind, he cannot understand or perceive spiritual things, for they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:14), and so he roams throughout his life, lost, devoid of the truth, and dead in sin. “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). On the other hand, the man of faith discerns all things. Faith is not blindness rather true faith is sight; it is sight of an entirely different sort than our worldly physical sight. Our perceptions, our intuitions, our human manufactured knowledge and systems of belief, none of these provide for us a sure foundation or a secure hope for the future. However, true faith endows the Christian with a new set of eyes. These are spiritual eyes which “gaze with such uncommon accuracy that they afford immediate and complete certainty and assurance concerning those things perceived by them: so clearly, so lucidly, so sharply this knowledge defines the things before your consciousness” (Triple Knowledge, 312). This therefore is what it means to walk by faith. With the eyes of faith and the sure knowledge of God which it affords, we have sure guidance for the road which is marked out for us. This leads to the main topic of this post. Last time we briefly considered the importance of the Reformed teaching concerning faith and its central importance in our Christian confession. In this post we will endeavor to consider what exactly true faith is, namely, what it means that faith is a certain knowledge as defined by the Heidelberg Catechism.
What is this knowledge, and where does it originate? As Rev. Hoeksema wrote, the knowledge of faith is an entirely “new” knowledge which is implanted into the child of God by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Consequently the believer is a new creation, for “he that receives this knowledge, knows differently, sees differently, touches differently. That which before he could not discern, he now perceives, and it becomes the life of him. Enlightened eyes of the understanding the apostle therefore calls this knowledge” (Triple Knowledge, 312). The content of this knowledge, simply put, is the revelation of God which is revealed in the Scripture. The knowledge of faith is foremost a knowledge of the Word, both the Word written and the Word incarnate whom we know by means of the written Word. It is only by the enlightenment of the Spirit that we are able to read the Scripture aright and by faith come to a knowledge and understanding of the truth contained within the Bible’s pages. In Scripture God’s identity is revealed particularly in the person of Christ, the knowledge of whom lies at the very heart of the Reformed faith. As the Catechism teaches, the necessity for Christian faith is to believe “all things promised in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us” (Q&A 22). This certain knowledge of faith is not only knowledge of God and who He is, but also knowledge of God’s will for us. Calvin writes: “For faith includes not merely the knowledge that God is, but also, no chiefly, a perception of His will toward us. It concerns us to know not only what He is in Himself, but also in what character He is pleased to manifest Himself to us. We now see, therefore, that faith is the knowledge of the divine will in regard to us, as ascertained from His word” (Institutes, 3.2). Thus the Christian who lives out of a true and living faith also knows God’s will for him or herself, that it is good and filled with lovingkindness and tender mercies in the person of Christ.
Moreover, the knowledge of faith is experiential knowledge. See Triple Knowledge pg. 320. Here Hoeksema provides an extensive quotation which eloquently presents this idea in full. Our doctrine is not a dead corpus of dogmatic pronouncements. The knowledge of faith is not simply a collection of facts which one cognizes, categorizes, and debates like armchair theology. The knowledge which is the Reformed faith is known and lived. We taste it so to speak, and breath it, and touch it in our daily Christian walk. Ultimately the reason for this is that the object of our faith and the subject of faith’s knowledge is Jesus Christ, and through faith we experience the love and warm fellowship of God as members of his covenant people. In addition to this we experience the covenant goodness of God toward us personally, through the ways in which the Lord enacts His wonder works of grace in each of us, and brings us into fuller consciousness of himself. Therefore although our faith consists of knowledge, and indeed doctrinal knowledge is dogmatic, it is never purely a head matter, it is a matter of the heart as well, and of the will too. What we know with our minds and confess with our lips, we also experience and practice in our lives.
Faith is an indescribable and invaluable gift that none of us deserve. Yet by God’s grace we have been given this gift of being enabled to believe and live these truths. Faith takes hold of and clings to the certain knowledge of God’s benevolent will, his providential orchestration of all things, and his gracious, infallible promise of forgiveness and everlasting communion with him and our beloved fellow saints in heaven. By faith we have a foretaste of this covenant communion of which we shall partake eternally. So says the Apostle: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Corinthians 2:9). Yet the eyes of faith see it, indeed we have certain knowledge of it. Although “now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12). Nevertheless while we remain in the body awaiting the dissolution of this earthly tabernacle, we do not see it fully on this side of the grave, but faith gives sufficient knowledge and the reflection through the dark glass is more than enough to assure us of the certitude of our hope. The eyes of faith see Christ, we need nothing else, for “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
May we offer continual thanksgiving to the Lord, in whom are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge and whom to know is eternal life, for his bountiful grace toward us, being the author and finisher of our faith, and who has given it us both to believe and to suffer for his sake, and who holds in store an eternal weight of glory for all who trust in his name.
As the Reformers confessed ~Sola Fide