How do we walk by faith? Even Paul had just referred (2 Cor. 4) to darkness, troubles, perplexity, persecution, death, and affliction. He could “see” the obvious. The apostle acknowledged the very real problems he and others faced in preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, which to most in the Roman Empire was irrelevant, if not nonsense. He walked by faith, but he did in fact see the troubles swirling around his ministry.
To “walk by faith” does not preclude us from using our sight. To use a common expression, Paul could “not help but notice” the obvious. When we hear this admonition to “walk by faith,” we must never assume it means we are to be oblivious to the obvious that we observe “by sight.” The Greek word walk Paul uses refers literally to “walking at large,” or figuratively to how he lived or deposed himself. He had already revealed his frame of reference a few lines earlier when he contrasted the “seen” as temporal versus things “not seen” as eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
What Do We See?
When we observe our world we see one mess after another. It is well that we recognize that man in sin does make a mess of things. It is necessary to see the world and people as they are. The Bible gives us no reason to have illusions of man’s goodness. The sins and failures of even its saints are clearly laid out. Paul was pointing us to his worldview perspective. He could not help but see the problems of confronting the unbelieving world with the claims of the gospel and he knew what he experienced was “pushback.” His statement was that he lived in terms of his faith, his worldview of the eternal.
We are not lacking faith if we see and address the problems of our day. Ours is only a weak faith if we live or deport ourselves in terms of such temporal matters rather than our faith. Our faith in what God is doing must give us perspective and direction.
In the mid-1970s my father noted that men’s faith in salvation by politics was making them impatient with the failures of government to create the wonderful future they promised in each campaign. He suggested it would lead to more one-term administrations.
He was partly right in that neither Ford nor Carter were re-elected. The impatience he noted has since turned into a very divisive political climate which now seems to have permanently entered every area of society. Our country is in a civil war, though thankfully without armed conflict.
We would be foolish to ignore the issues of our day that are obvious to any observer. Our challenge is to “see,” or understand these issues in terms of our faith, and to live and deport ourselves in terms of the eternal issues rather than just the temporal ones. Paul had temporal needs and concerns that were very real, as do we. His faith did not require him to ignore or dismiss problems, but to understand them; he had to see issues in terms of the world and life view his faith in Christ gave him.
The End of the Age of Statism
My father frequently referred to our current crisis as the end of an age. The post-Enlightenment world, he felt, had run its course and the age of humanism and its statism was, so to speak, running on empty. Its death throes would be violent and dangerous, but it was nearing an end. We see one area of our civilization after another in disarray: law, politics, currency, morals, education, the arts, and more. The problems cross national borders.
Within the United States, we have political chaos. Whoever emerges the victor in the presidential election by the time you read this, will, next year and thereafter face more political dogfighting. The political campaign will continue. When I was in high school it was common to hear comparisons of the U.S. to the Roman Empire in its decline. That was typically a reference to the moral decline of America and its “bread and circuses” welfare mentality, but it is now more analogous to compare the current treachery within Washington, D.C., to the murderous plots for control of the imperial throne during its latter stages of decline.
Humanism has run its course and the bright future liberalism promised as late as the 1960s now seems transparently impossible. But you cannot merely remove a philosophical worldview and expect a void to rule the day. Humanism must be replaced by something else. Walking by faith will lead us to see clearly that the “something” our world needs is the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.
There is little common ground in our culture. Fifty years or more ago it was a truism that one could only talk with strangers about sports and the weather. Now those options are gone. Sports have gone from tribal-like loyalty to symbols of political correctness and “woke” thought. Discussions of the weather now revolve around the political cause of “climate change.”
Humanism has not united mankind, because it cannot. The words common, community, and communion are related. In order to have community there must be a communion, something in common. There is precious little we now have in common that binds us as a people. Both Darwinism and Marxism have embedded the idea of an inescapable “conflict of interests” into the modern mind. All of life and relationships are now seen as a dog-eat-dog struggle for control, race vs. race, men vs. women, labor vs. management, children vs. parents, haves vs. have nots, etc. Modern man is now paranoid about what others are doing to him, and that irrational fear causes him to feel justified in “doing unto others before they do unto you.” We no longer even agree on a common history, as history has been taught as a social science to ideologically manipulate recent generations. References to history are now only made to cut off appeals to the past by a condemnation for evils real or imagined. Without a communion based on a common faith, there can be no community, so the next four years will see disunity and conflict. With no moral standard in a common faith, every man will do that which is “right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). That is not just a reference to moral lawlessness. We must take the statement that they were right in their “own eyes” at face value. Every lawless (by a righteous standard) man believed in the certainty of his own virtue and stood proudly in terms of it. It is describing a proud, self-righteous lawlessness, much like our own situation. Satan offered Adam and Eve the power of making their own decisions over “good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) determinative. All sin seeks to establish itself as the legitimate norm.
The Lust for Power
The problem with politics is that it is the means to acquire and maintain power in our statist culture. An alternative means to power is wealth (also subject to great abuse), but politics attracts those without even the real skills to develop power by legitimately creating wealth. It attracts those whose only ability is demagoguery.
Politics (often in the form of political correctness, a form of censorship) now controls the media, entertainment, courts, academia, and most recently, sports. It is seen as a vehicle to establish one’s power over others, so it increasingly dominates every aspect of our lives to define justice, rights, progress, and freedom. Now even religious groups are being ordered to conform.
The Alternative to Salvation by Politics
Our culture is dysfunctional because statist humanism is failing, just like Rome’s corruption and infighting hastened its weakness and eventual collapse. It was replaced by Christendom, but that took centuries. When a system collapses, one must exist to take its place or a dangerous void exists. The authoritarianism of the Soviet Union collapsed but was only replaced by another authoritarian regime and corrupt, crony capitalism.
The alternative to political salvation is salvation by Jesus Christ and the making of all things new (Rev. 21:5; Isa. 65:17; 43:19). This was the faith of which Paul spoke. The Kingdom of God involves all that is in heaven and earth and is associated with power, glory, and victory (1 Chron. 29:11). The model of the kingdom in the old covenant was the kingdom of Israel, but the reality now is the Kingdom of God (or Heaven), where the reign of God (Isa. 52:7) is now represented by the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God was announced by John (Matt. 3:2) and preached by Jesus after Herod’s attempt to silence him (Mark 1:14; Matt. 4:17). Jesus said this gospel of the Kingdom would go forward despite the coming judgment on Jerusalem, the apostate center of the old covenant model (Matt 24:14). Citizenship in the Kingdom of God was by the new birth, or regeneration (John 3:5) based on the redemption purchased by our Lord’s atonement (1 Cor. 1:13–14). Therefore, we are to seek, before all else, that Kingdom and the righteousness commanded by God (Matt. 6:33), and that duty means we must, as good citizens, obey its commandments (Matt. 5:19).
We should look around us and truly see the end of the age of humanistic statism. The coming years will likely be unpleasant in many respects, but the change is necessary. The first Christians lived through the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. A later generation lived through the fall of Rome itself. The problems presented in our day seem, at this point, small in comparison. The crises of history come and go, but the Kingdom of God survives and grows. This process continues. We do not have the advantage of foresight to see exactly how the crises of our day will play out, but our eschatology must point us to the certainty that all will resound to the glory of God and His Christ. His Kingdom will advance and know no end, and we are heirs with Christ of its eternal glories (I Cor. 6-9:10, c.f. Rom. 8:14-19).