Faith: Spiritual Eyes of the Soul

Dr. Brian Allison

There is nothing more foundational, more central, than the matter of faith. From the human side, it is the key and the means of spiritual reality and fulness, as well as spiritual victory in the Christian life. As the Apostle John affirmed, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith" (1 Jn. 5:4). Do you believe that? Where does faith figure into your thinking, and into your experience? Do you see faith as a matter of life and death, that everything hinges on it, spiritually, from the human side? Experientially speaking, there is nothing more important than this matter of faith. The reality and depth of faith is proportional to the reality and depth of your Christian life in Christ. As goes faith, so will go your experience of God. I believe that the problems, difficulties, and struggles that Christians have in their lives can be traced back to a shallowness, a weakness, or a lack of faith. An immature faith results in instability, lukewarmness, powerlessness, fruitlessness, disobedience, a lack of holiness, etc. All spiritual graces, virtues, and blessings (from the human side) spring from, and grow out of, the soil of faith.

Faith and perseverance

How would you define faith? Perhaps the more pressing question is this: do you know whether you have faith? Hebrews 11:1 reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Here we have a general statement on the nature of faith. This is not a definition of saving or justifying faith. Here we have neither a technical nor comprehensive definition of faith, but rather a practical and narrow one. Here we have presented a certain understanding of, and perspective on, faith, in keeping with the main message of this epistle, which is that of perseverance. This practical definition of faith apparently suited the author's purpose in articulating his pastoral concerns for Jewish believers who were on the verge of abandoning their faith and reverting to Judaism.

What we should know, by way of background, so that we may understand and appreciate the teaching of Hebrews 11:1, is that faith is the means by which one perseveres as a Christian. Faith is necessary because by faith one patiently endures and will eventually receive what is promised. Hence the writer encouraged these believers, "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hb. 6:11,12). Patience, and thus perseverance, is the fruit of real faith.

Now, notice Hebrews 10:35ff., which introduces Hebrews 11:1, "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence [your assurance], which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [And by what means will one endure and receive what was promised?] FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. BUT [in the meantime] MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; BUT IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul."

Again, through faith, Christians persevere in order that they might receive, inherit, what God has promised; and, according to this epistle, God has promised simply salvation and spiritual perfection (see Hb. 1:14; 11:39,40). Thus, we come to Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for [that which was promised], the conviction of things not seen." The author here proceeds to give an exposition on faith, and his goal is to provide an understanding concerning faith, as well as to actually strengthen and inspire the faltering faith of these believers. He first states the nature of faith, and then he proceeds to outline the demonstrations and illustrations of faith.

The experiential nature of faith

The author presents a twofold statement concerning the nature of faith (and he is not being redundant). He presents two essential aspects of the nature of faith, practically and experientially understood. First, faith is that which gives hope, its force and its strength – "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for." To have faith is to be absolutely sure that something will definitely happen. Second, faith is that which makes the invisible world personally real and meaningful – "the conviction of things unseen." Faith offers, by its very nature, indisputable evidence that certain unobserved things exist.

Notice that the essential character of faith (according to this text) is that of certainty. For the author, by its very nature, faith is intolerant to doubt; by its very nature faith, brooks all, and any, incertitude; by its very nature, faith is absolutely sure of the object in which it acquiesces and rests. So, by faith, on the one hand, one embraces and knows the future as if it were the present; and, on the other hand, one perceives and touches the invisible as if it were concrete and observable.

The account of the martyrdom of Stephen aptly illustrates and highlights the essence of Biblical faith. After uttering stinging and accusatory words against the Jews, Stephen became the target of hatred and anger. We read, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, 'Behold I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'" (Acts 7:54-56). Now, I suppose that you could argue that Stephen saw a vision, but I want to suggest that Stephen's experience was a demonstration of his faith.

Here is a sufficient Biblical image that captures the essence of faith simply, plainly, and forcefully. There is nothing abstract about this; there is nothing theoretical about this. Here we have what faith 'looks like'. Faith is the spiritual eyes of the soul. Or, faith is the eyes of the spirit. What our physical eyes are to the body, so faith is to the soul. Faith essentially is a spiritual seeing which is just as real as a physical seeing. Faith is the ability or the function of the soul to see beyond the physical realm and beyond the restrictions of time. Thus, Jesus said to the Jews, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (Jn. 8:56). The soul has different abilities, different functions. The soul has a will – it can choose and decide. The soul has a conscience – that sense of determining what is right and what is wrong, what is morally acceptable and what is not. Just as the will, conscience, etc. are abilities and functions of the soul, so is faith.

So, again considering Hebrews 11:1, we read, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for;" or in the language that I have just articulated, "Now faith is the spiritual eyes of the soul which sees and grasps the future as if it were looking at the present." That is why the author uses the language "assurance;" there is absolutely no doubt about it. Thus, in referring to Sarah, Abraham, and others, we read, "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (Hb. 11:13). Again, we read that faith is "the conviction of things not seen;" or in the language that I have articulated, faith is "the spiritual eyes of the soul, which sees or grasps the invisible as if it were visible." Thus, in referring to Moses, the author states, "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen" (Hb. 11:27). The eyes of Moses' soul 'saw' God.

The scope of faith

In Hebrews 11:1, faith is portrayed as being two directional: a forward direction and a backward one. Faith spans history and embraces truth; it is unhindered traveling through time, rendering the past and future as if it were the present. The forward direction centres on the promises. That's hope – "faith is the assurance of things hoped for." The backward direction focuses on unseen historical facts and events; that is the implication of the second half of this text – "the conviction of things not seen." By faith, you know that Christ really died; you 'see' it as if you were actually at the cross beholding His lifeless body. By faith, you know that Christ has risen from the dead; you 'see' it as if you were actually at the empty tomb, beholding Him on resurrection morning with your physical eyes. Accordingly, John 20:26-29 reads, "And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, 'Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.' Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord, and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see [with the physical eyes] and yet believed.'" These blessed ones see with spiritual eyes.

Biblical faith – real faith – confirms the past without any doubts or questions, and experiences the future without any doubts or questions.

God must give the light, and only when God brings the light, and dispels the darkness, will one really see; and unless God brings the light, one will remain in your blindness. Listen to the Scriptures, "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled [if you are yet in your sins, if the Gospel makes no sense to you], it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:1-6).

Further, every professing Christian is equally dependent upon God for the sanctification of his or her soul by receiving continual light from God. God Himself must strengthen faith. God must give the light if there is to be any reality and power to faith, and if He does not shine that light into our souls, then our spiritual sight will be dim and failing.