Paul tells Christians to “walk by faith, not by sight” in 2 Corinthians 5:7. What does this verse mean, and how does it apply to our spiritual lives?
Many Christians have likely heard at some point in their lives the phrase walk by faith, not by sight.
This saying comes from 2 Corinthians 5:7, where the apostle Paul advises the congregation in Corinth to rely on faith. Since then, this phrase has been plastered on the walls of churches, posted on social media and shared in many other ways.
What does “walk by faith, not by sight” really mean? What is this verse trying to tell us about the nature of faith?
What is the context of 2 Corinthians 5:7?
People often overlook the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:7 because they take the saying out of context. This verse comes in the middle of an important discussion regarding perseverance through trials.
In the previous chapter, Paul describes the various trials that Christians face as a result of their beliefs. However, he tries to ease the congregation’s concern by reminding them that trials build righteous character—and righteous character leads to the promise of eternal life (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Trials build righteous character—and righteous character leads to the promise of eternal life.In the following verses, Paul draws a distinct line between physical things, which are visible, and spiritual things, which are invisible (2 Corinthians 5:1-6). Essentially, he is asking his readers an important question: In which will you put your faith?
It is after all this that Paul finally writes, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, he’s concluding that Christians should put their faith in the invisible things of spirit—the things of God.
He then brings this discussion to an end by focusing Christians on the future—when we will “be present with the Lord” in the coming Kingdom of God (verse 8). That is a hope we haven’t seen fulfilled yet, but are to be seeking (Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 11:13). (For more insight, read “Absent From the Body, Present With the Lord?”)
Although the world parades before our eyes endless things to worry and fret over, our focus should be on something else—the things that are not seen, the eternal Kingdom of God.
What are “things not seen”?
Throughout the Bible, there are various references to both the visible and the invisible world. We recognize that the “visible world” pertains to the physical—things we can see, hear and touch. But what is this “invisible world” of which the Bible speaks?
Romans 1:20 suggests that the physical world actually helps us see those things that are invisible: “For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”
God’s power is a part of this invisible world, but His creation is meant to guide us to a better understanding of what we cannot see.
The order of nature, the beauty of the creation and the complexity of man can all be seen from a physical perspective, but also point to the very nature and character of the God who made everything we see.
God is invisible and cannot be seen with the human eye (Colossians 1:15-16). However, throughout the Bible, there are examples of people who put their faith in God, despite never seeing Him (Hebrews 11:27).
Because we cannot observe Him, humans can easily forget that God is at work behind the scenes of the physical world. It is far easier to put our faith in the physical things we can see right before our eyes.
However, Paul warns against this in 1 Corinthians 7:31, revealing that “this world is passing away.”
God doesn’t want people to put their faith in physical things, which, while tangible, are impermanent and fickle. While it is far harder to trust in a Being we cannot see, He is not “passing away,” but is eternal and everlasting (Isaiah 40:28).
Hebrews 11:1 reveals that true faith is trusting in the unseen: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
God wants us to put our trust in Him because we cannot see Him. He wants us to have faith that will not be shaken when trials abound.
The benefits of walking by faith
Consistently and unerringly, God has proven that great blessings await those who put their faith in Him, rather than in the world around them. Those who do not solely rely on their physical eyesight will be blessed beyond comparison.
The blind men in Matthew 9:27-30 illustrate this truth. Unable to see Jesus, these two men believed that He could heal them—and He did. Their faith transcended their lack of sight, leading them to be healed.
Jesus Christ Himself performed many miracles as proof of His divinity. However, physical signs shouldn’t be a basis for faith. In John 20:29, Jesus told His disciples that those who believe in Him without seeing will be blessed.
Likewise, the individuals listed in Hebrews 11 did not come to be known as heroes of faith because they put their trust in the physical world. Instead, they put their faith in something that they could not see—something invisible and wonderful on the horizon.
The heroes of faith all believed in the promises of God, even though they did not see them fulfilled in their lifetimes.The heroes of faith all believed in the promises of God, even though they did not see them fulfilled in their lifetimes. Many of these men and women faced great trials, and they “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off” (Hebrews 11:13).
They saw God’s blessings in their mind’s eye, by faith, not by sight.
(To learn more about the lessons of Hebrews 11, read “Hebrews 11: The Faith Chapter.”)
We gain confidence in God and in His plan when we realize that this physical life is only temporary. Like the heroes of faith who sought a homeland beyond the flesh (Hebrews 11:14), we recognize that nothing physical lasts forever—not even our trials.
God’s spiritual promises—which cannot be seen or heard or touched—are where God’s people can find strength to carry on through all of life’s temporary trials.
When we put our faith in the invisible and permanent, we can survive the visible and impermanent. We put our faith in God the Father, whom no eye has ever seen (John 1:18), because He is eternal.
Walk by faith
Struggle and hardship have touched every human being’s life. However, people are differentiated in how they react to those trials. Many turn to the things that they can see for comfort and confidence, but these things only provide temporary relief.
God implores us to put our faith in Him, not in the passing pleasures of this world. Only God promises eternal relief from hardship. His promises cannot be observed with the naked eye, but are all the more precious as a result.
Walk by faith, not by sight.