WALKING BY FAITH ALONE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:7
8-13-86 7:30 p.m.
We turn to the second Corinthian letter – the second letter of Paul to the church at Corinth – and to chapter 5; and in a moment, we’re going to stand together and read the first ten verses: 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, the first ten verses.
Now, the reason for the passage chosen: the message tonight concerns our faith in God without any sign, without any wonder, without any miracle – just believing God. An illustration of this and the text sustaining it is the passage we’re going to read together. I do not know of any promise of God that seemingly is more impossible or unlikely than that these dead, and decaying, and returning-to-the-dust bodies [Genesis 3:19] will be raised from the dead and will be glorified by the power of the Lord [1 Corinthians 15:42-57; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
I don’t see it. I live in a world of continuing death: the dissolution of families, the dissolution of the body, the decay of all that I see. Yet, God says that He’s going to raise this decaying, disintegrating house in which we live and give us a more glorious house which is from heaven [2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 5:1-3]. As I say, I see no evidence of that at all. These people that we bury stay buried; and when they decay, they turn back to the dust. But God says it, and I am to believe it. This is an illustration of the message we’re preaching tonight: just believing God with no other confirming sign at all; and I pray that when I get to the end of the message, it will be most meaningful for us in our lives. As you will see, it means so very much to me.
Now, let’s share our Bible if we do not each have one, and let’s all read out loud together standing in the presence of the Lord – 2 Corinthians 5, verses 1-10. Now together:
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven,
If so be that being clothed, we shall not be found naked.
For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened, not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Now He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given us the earnest of the Spirit.
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.
Wherefore we labor that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the thing done in His body, according to that He hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Now, we may be seated, and we shall begin. In this avowal that "if this earthly house be dissolved, we have another house, a building of God not made with hands . . . In this body we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house from heaven" [2 Corinthians 5:1-2]. We – we grow old. We fall into every kind of illness. I was telling somebody this afternoon, when I go to the hospital as I do – I’ll go see somebody in the hospital – there’ll be a half a dozen people who will stop me: "Please, won’t you pray for my . . . " and then they name somebody dear to them. "Won’t you come and see my mother or my father or my child or my husband?" It is universal, and it includes us all.
Finally, each one of us will know in himself the groaning in this body and the longing to be well because, he says, we don’t want to be, he says, "naked" [2 Corinthians 5:2-4]. Isn’t that an unusual way to describe disembodiment? I’ve often said the Bible abhors disembodiment as nature abhors a vacuum. The Christian faith, the biblical faith, does not look forward to being disembodied spirits. The whole faith of the Bible is represented in the resurrection of Christ. We look forward not to being disembodied spirits, but we look forward to be being whole persons, as Jesus was whole, with a resurrected body immortalized, glorified, transfigured [Luke 24:36-51; John 20:19-28. 21:9-15; 1 Corinthians 15:1-57; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 21:4]. That’s what he’s talking about here. We don’t look forward to being naked but clothed upon that mortality might be swallowed up of life [1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 2 Corinthians 2:4].
Well, anyway, the whole passage here is an illustration of the text in verse 7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight" [2 Corinthians 5:7]. This is a commitment in our hearts. Whether there’s any confirming sign or not, we believe that God will keep His promise and we shall some day find ourselves glorified as our Lord was glorified [Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2]. So we’re going to speak tonight about believing God without a confirming sign – just trusting in the Lord.
As I read the Bible, I cannot help but wishing, "O God, how I would love to have been present when God’s mighty hand wrought glorious miracles." I wish I could have seen them. There are several times in the Bible, several eras in the Bible, when the Lord did many confirming signs.
He did so in the life of Moses. I wish I could have been there when, by the power God placed in the rod of the great lawgiver, He divided the waters, and the Red Sea parted and the people went through on dry land. Just think of seeing those waters piling up on each side, divided by the power of God, and the people walking through dry-shod [Exodus 14:1-31]. Just think of that! O Lord, if I could have been there.
Or think of the days of Elijah on Mount Carmel standing there as the emissary and prophet of God, and, in answer to his prayer, see that fire fall from heaven and consume not just the offering but the very stones that comprised the altar itself [1 Kings 18:20-46]. Just think of that. The power and the presence of God – think of it!
How I wish I could have been there to see the power of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of being present and listening to our Lord’s voice call Lazarus from the dead, and he comes forth bound in his grave clothes [John 11:1-46]. O Lord, what an astounding miracle! I wish I could have been there in the days of the Apostle Paul. In the nineteenth chapter of Acts and the twelfth verse, it says that they took from Paul handkerchiefs and aprons and laid them on the sick, and the sick were made well [Acts 19:11-12]. Just think of a miracle like that!
Well, why do I not see the parting of the Red Sea now, and why do I not see fire fall from heaven now consuming an altar? Or why do I not see now someone like Lazarus raised from the dead, and why do I not see now confirming miracles such as laying a handkerchief on someone sick and they miraculously be made well? Why not? The reason is found in the purpose of God. These miracles are confirming signs; and they were wrought by the power of God in the beginning of His revelation, of His truth, of His manifestation in the world [Hebrews 2:1-4].
Look at Moses for example. When Moses said to the Lord God, "If I go down into Egypt and tell them that Yahweh, I AM that I AM, hath sent me, they’re going to ask me ‘How do we know that the Lord God Jehovah sent you?’" [Exodus 4:1] And the Lord gave Moses three confirming signs. Do you remember? One of them was: "You take your rod – that staff in your hand – and cast it down, and it will turn into a serpent" [Exodus 4:2-5]. That was the first one – a confirming sign. Second: "If they don’t believe the sign of the rod turning into a serpent, take your hand and thrust it into your bosom and pull it out, and it’ll be leprous. Then put your hand back into your bosom and pull it out, and it will be whole again [Exodus 4:6-8]. Then if they won’t believe that sign, then take water out of the river and pour it out on the land, and it will become blood" [Exodus 4:9].
That is in the first nine verses of the fourth chapter of Exodus. There was purpose in the miracle. It was a sign, a confirming sign, from heaven: this is an emissary and a messenger from God. In the days of Elijah – in 1Kings, chapter 18, verse 37 – in the days of Elijah when Elijah prayed for the fire to come down from heaven, Elijah said, ". . . that the people may know that God is the Lord" – a confirming sign from heaven.
And in the days of Jesus – do you remember Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:22? I quote: "Jesus, a Man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs which God did by Him in the midst of you." Those miracles that we see in the life of our Lord were confirming, affirming signs from heaven that this is the Son of God.
The same thing is found in the life of the Apostle Paul. Those miracles that he wrought were confirming signs that he was an apostle of the Lord. In Romans 15:19, I quote – this is Paul writing to the church at Rome: "Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem unto Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." Then, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 11 and 12: "For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I am nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds."
The signs and the wonders, the miracles, were confirming evidences from God that this is an emissary, a chosen representative, an ambassador from heaven, but this – signs and miracles and wonders – is not God’s way to extend the truth of the gospel. They were only in the beginning and for the purpose of confirmation. Thereafter, thereafter, we are to receive the truth of God by faith and by faith alone.
For example, in John 20, verse 29: "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed." That’s a benediction for all of us – a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful word. I haven’t seen the Lord. I haven’t thrust my hand into His side. I haven’t beheld the scars in His hands, yet I believe the Lord Jesus Christ. Sweet, precious Savior! That’s God’s intention: "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed" [John 20:29].
Or look at Paul. Paul writes in Romans 8:23 and 25:
. . . waiting for the redemption of our body.
For we are saved in hope, but hope that is seen is not hope;
For what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
"We are saved in hope" – in trust, in waiting, in commitment – believing just in faith, in hope, trusting God for it.
I want to make an aside here before I continue on. I want you to tell me something. All of these people who believe that healing is a matter of our believing – it’s a matter of our faith – and that we ought to have the same confirming powers that they registered back there in the Bible, I want you to tell me this. In the last chapter of the last letter that Paul wrote, in the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul says, "Trophimus" – and Trophimus was one of his great leaders and one of his right-hand men [Acts 20:2-6, 21:29] – "Trophimus, have I left at Miletus sick" [2 Timothy 4:20]. Now I want to ask you a very simple question. Don’t you think that was the cruelest thing that you could ever think for, leaving his right-hand man who’d lay down his life for the apostle, leaving [Trophimus sick] if he had power to raise him up, to make him well? He never had the power to raise him up and make him well. Therefore, he left him at [Miletus] sick. Thus the miracle is a confirming sign, and it’s not God’s will that all of us be well all the time.
I’ve been sick; and I can tell you this, I prayed by the side of a man this afternoon in the hospital; and when I prayed by his side, I said, "Lord, I thank You that there are times in our lives when we are humbled and made to depend upon Thee and look to Thee for strength and help and health and rising up." There’s not anything that will humble you in the presence of God like a devastating illness, and sometimes these things come into our lives just to make us lean on the Lord all the more and a thousand other like things [2 Corinthians 1:5-11, 12:7-10].
Now, I want to speak of the faith and the trust that pleases God. In Genesis 15 and verse 6 is that famous verse: "And Abraham believed in the Lord, and his faith was counted for righteousness." Paul quotes that in Galatians 3:6 and 7: "Even as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Know ye therefore that they which are of faith the same are the children of Abraham." This is a sign that we belong to God and are in the family of the Lord because we just trust God for the blessing, for His presence, for His help, for His salvation, for all the things that He’s promised in the Bible.
Now, I’m going into an area that I never had thought of before in all of my life – something new to me. Out of all the years and the years that I have been a pastor – as I have said last Sunday, next year I shall have been a pastor sixty years – out of all the years that I’ve been a pastor, and out of all the study and the years of perusal of God’s holy Word, I never, ever have come across a thing like this until this week.
I was reading in the life of Evan Roberts. Evan Roberts was the leader of the greatest revival, the most spectacular that England has ever had in hundreds and hundreds of years. The revival was in Wales, and it occurred in the early years of this century from about, oh, the early 1900s to 1910 in there. It was a miraculous thing like the world hadn’t seen. The jails were closed up. The law offices were dismissed. Nobody was in a pub, in a bar. Everything was just remade. People were saved by the hundreds of thousands. It was a visitation from heaven.
Now, in reading the life of Evan Roberts, he was in a revival meeting seated by the pastor, and Evan Roberts said, "There came to my mind the number one hundred forty-six – one hundred forty-six – one hundred forty-six." And it stayed in his mind: a hundred forty-six. He turned to the pastor and said, "Pastor, is there some reason one hundred forty-six?"
And the pastor said, "No."
And Evan Roberts said, "There’s bound to be something here. One hundred forty-six."
The pastor said, "I know nothing of it at all."
After the meeting was done that night, they counted the converts. There were one hundred forty-six converts – one hundred forty-six.
Evan Roberts, as he continued in his ministry, said, "That was from the devil. It was satanic. He put that number in my head because out of that I came to seek for numbers, numbers, numbers – converted numbers; and instead of seeking for God, and seeking the power of the Lord, and seeking for the presence of Jesus, and seeking for the outpouring of the Spirit, I began to seek for numbers; and it was a satanic intrusion in my mind." Evan Roberts said that.
All right, a second thing: Evan Roberts said he was praying, praying, praying before a service; and he said while he prayed before that service, the room was filled with the Shekinah presence and glory of God. It was brilliant. It was lighted. It was filled with the sunshine of God’s presence. Oh, he’d never experienced such a thing! Then he said he went out into the revival service, and it was the most glorious service: people converted by the scores and the scores. Then, he said, thereafter when he prayed before the service, he was looking for the light. He’s looking for the Shekinah. He was looking for the glory. He was looking for the sunshine of the presence of God.
And Evan Roberts said, "I came to the conclusion that that was satanic. Satan sent that sign to me. Satan filled that room with light in order that my mind might be taken away from just trusting God, looking to God, believing God." Instead, he says, "I began to pray for the signs, for the light, for the glory. It was from Satan," he says.
Then I got to thinking about me. I started turning over in my mind about me. You see, when I was converted, when I became a Christian, I was a boy ten years old and converted as a ten-year-old boy. The preacher holding the revival meeting stayed in our home. Little bitty town of three hundred people, little white cracker box of a church house – and he stayed in our home. He loved buttermilk. That was my task. Did you ever churn buttermilk like that? That was my job. I churned the buttermilk, and he loved to drink buttermilk after he got through preaching at night; and we’d sit there at the kitchen table, and he’d drink buttermilk and talk to me as a little boy about the Lord.
At a ten o’clock weekday service morning – I was excused from going to school with a note from my mother and went to the service at ten o’clock on a weekday morning. And I happened to be, just happened to be, seated back of my mother; and when the preacher gave the invitation, she turned and said to me, "Son, today, will you give your heart to Jesus? Will you take Him as your Savior?" She was crying, and that broke my heart too; and I said, "Mother, yes. Today, this day, I accept the Lord – I take the Lord Jesus as my Savior." And I went down to the front – couldn’t see the preacher for crying – and gave him my hand and said, "Today, I accept the Lord as my Savior. I take Jesus as my Savior;" and I was baptized the following Sunday afternoon. Now, that’s the way I was saved: taking the Lord Jesus as my Savior.
When I started preaching, I was seventeen years of age; and for ten years, I preached out in the country. We had, in those days, arbor revival meetings – tabernacle revival meetings – and they had grove prayer meetings with them. The women, usually, would stay underneath the tabernacle for their prayer, and the men would go to a grove – a grove of trees like a bunch of mesquite trees – and we would hold our prayer meetings there. They were grove prayer meetings. When I attended those grove prayer meetings, the men would testify as they would pray, and I never heard such testimonies in my life. Oh, the wonder of wonders when those men were converted! This is one of them.
One of the men stood up and said: "Right there" – and he pointed to the place over there next to the arbor – "Right there," he said. "Right there. I’d been mourning for my sins." And then he told how long he’d been under the burden of his sins. "I’d been mourning for my sins." Then he said, "There came down from heaven a ball of fire, and it burst over my head and struck me to the ground; and how long I lay in that condition, I do not remember, but when I came to, the burden of my sin had rolled away." Then he described how the world looked: the sky so blue, and the sun so bright, and even the mules with which he plowed so docile. The whole world had changed from that ball of fire that burst over his head and bore the burden of his sins away.
Now, that’s just one of them. What happened to me was, as I listened to those marvelous stories of conversion, I hadn’t seen no ball of fire. I had seen no angel. I had no great experience. I had just converted, as I said to you, as a ten year-old boy taking the Lord Jesus as my Savior. I came to the conclusion that I was not converted; and, dear people, I cannot describe for you the conflict and the agony in my heart when, as a preacher standing up there in my little country churches trying to proclaim the gospel – a message every Sunday, every Lord’s Day – and every night kneeling down by my bed crying, "O God, I’m not saved! I’m not regenerated. I am not born again. Lord, Lord, may a ball of fire burst over my head. O Lord God in heaven, send an angel. Let me see an angel. Lord, confirm my – confirm my conversion, my experience, so that when I stand up there in that pulpit before those country people, I can tell them a marvelous story of how God saved me." Now, that went on for years: every Sunday – and of course in those days I preached Saturday night – Saturday night and Sunday morning and Sunday night. Every weekend, every Lord’s Day, I preached, and then every night get down on my knees and cry to God for some sign from heaven.
Well, in those days, of course, as they multiplied into years, I read the Bible – reading the Bible and reading the Bible – and I read in the eleventh chapter of 2 Corinthians, I read where Satan transforms himself into an angel of light [2 Corinthians 11:14]. I read that, and I read in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation where the beast deceives the whole world [Revelation 13:14]. He sends balls of fire down from heaven to deceive them on the earth [Revelation 13:13]. And as the days passed, it took a very definite form in my heart and in my mind, and this is the way that it finally came to shape.
Some day, I shall stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God – the great assize [Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 10:42, 17:30-31; Romans 2:5-6, 10:12; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 4:3-6; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 2:23, 20:11-15, 22:12]. All of the world will be gathered there before the throne of God; and I see the saints of God go marching in, and I assay to join their number. And the Lord God stops me and said, "By what right and by what prerogative do you enter My golden city and mingle with My redeemed people?"
And I say to the Lord, "Lord God, I know I’m saved. I know I’m a Christian. I know I’ve been born again. I saw an angel from heaven. I know I’ve been saved."
And Satan laughs, "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Listen to him! He knows he’s been saved; he knows he’s born again; he knows he’s a Christian because he saw an angel from heaven. I was that angel. I transformed myself into an angel of light just to deceive him." And he drags my soul down to hell. What could I say, and what could I do?
Or, when that great assize is gathered before the throne of God and the children of the Lord go marching in, and I assay to join their number and the Lord God stops me and says, "By what right, by what prerogative, by what authority do you go through My pearly gates and walk on My golden streets and mingle with My sainted redeemed people?"
And I say, "Lord, I know I’ve been saved. I’ve been regenerated. I’m born again. I’m a Christian. I saw a ball of fire fall from heaven and burst over my head and strike me to the ground. I know I’ve been saved."
And Satan laughs, "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Listen to him! He saw a ball of fire from heaven strike him to the ground. I sent that ball of fire just to deceive him." What I could say, and what could I do?
Contrariwise, when the great Judgment Day comes, and we all stand before the throne of the Almighty and the saints of God are marching in, and I propose to join their number and to enter that beautiful city, and the Lord God stops me and says, "By what right and by what prerogative, by what authority, do you enter My city, and mingle with My redeemed people?"
What I’m going to do is, I’m going to turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 11 and 12: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right" – the privilege, the prerogative, the authority to enter the kingdom of God – "even to them that trust in His name."
And I’m going to point it out to the Lord. "Lord God, that’s Your Word. That’s Your promise: ‘As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name’ [John 1:12]. And, Lord God, when I was ten years old, in a little white cracker box of a church house, on a weekday morning, my old mother turned and said, ‘Today, will you take Jesus as your Savior? Will you trust Him?’ And I said, ‘Mother, today, I take the Lord as my Savior.’ And, Lord, I am just depending upon You to keep your Word. That’s all. That’s all – just trusting You, Lord, to be true to Your promise."
Then I’d dare Satan to defy God! I’d dare him! My salvation is not between me and some miracle or some great ball of fire, some angel, or some confirming experience. My salvation is between God and His holy Word. I got it settled. And dear people, let me tell you something: an amazing thing has happened in my life and heart. If I were to see an angel from heaven, or if I were to see a ball of fire fall from His hands, it would never occur to me now to connect it or associate it with my salvation, not at all.
If I could see an angel from heaven, I’d be so grateful, but it’d just be an experience. It wouldn’t be my conversion. That’s what I mean when I say we just trust in God – just believing in His Word, in all of those marvelous, incomparable promises that God has made in these Holy Scriptures such as the resurrection of my body from the dead [John 11:18-27; 1 Corinthians 15:20-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Philippians 3:20-21]; such as, "I’ll be with you to the end of the way" [Matthew 28:18-20]; such as, "I’ll never leave thee, nor forsake thee" [Hebrews 13:5]; such as, "You trust Me and believe in Me, and I’ll give you eternal life" [John 3:14-16, 20:30-31; Acts 16:27-31; 1 Peter 1:8-9; 1 John 5:11-13]. These are the great promises of God that can never fail, and they need no confirming sign. Just trust in Jesus!
And that’s our precious and promised extended appeal to you. Tonight, somebody you, "Pastor, I’m taking the Lord as my Savior, and here I stand trusting Him;" or coming into the fellowship of this wonderful church to be baptized, or to put your life with us, or to answer a call of the Holy Spirit of God in your heart. In this moment when we sing our song of appeal, if you’re in the balcony there’s time and to spare; in this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is God’s time for me. Here I stand."
Make the decision now in your heart; and when you stand, stand taking that first step. It’ll be the most meaningful step you’ve ever made in your life. Do it now. Welcome now a thousand times. God bless you now while we stand and while we sing.
WALKING BY FAITH ALONE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:7
I. Reading the Bible, I wish I could have been there
A. Days of Moses, crossing of the Red Sea
B. Days of Elijah, fire falling from heaven at Mount Carmel
C. Days of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus from the dead
D. Days of Paul, the aprons of Paul healing the sick (Acts 19:12)
II. Purpose of God
A. In the beginning, miracles are confirming signs
1. Moses’ signs – the rod, the leprous hand, the water into blood (Exodus 4:1-9)
2. Elijah – that the people may know that God is the Lord(1 Kings 18:37)
3. Jesus approved of God by miracles and signs (Acts 2:22)
4. Miracles of Paul confirming signs he was an apostle of the Lord (Romans 15:19, 2 Corinthians 12:11-12)
B. Signs, miracles and wonders are not God’s way to extend the truth of the gospel
1. Only in the beginning for the purpose of confirmation; thereafter we are to receive the truth by faith alone(John 20:29, Romans 8:23, 25)
2. Paul did not heal Trophimus(2 Timothy 4)
III. The faith and trust that pleases God
A. Faith of Abraham (Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:6-7)
B. Evan Roberts
C. My conversion
1. As a young pastor, hearing marvelous stories of conversion, I concluded I was not converted
2. The Lord’s answer from His Word (2 Corinthians 11:14, Revelation 13:13-14, John 1:11-12)