“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor 5:7) is a short verse with incredible depth. Set against sight as its opposite, walking by faith is walking in the principles of the unseen world of the spirit. It helps me to think of our lives as living in two worlds at the same time. In the unseen and eternal world, you became a brand new person when you received Christ. All the provisions and promises of the New Covenant came true for you in an instant. It may sound mysterious, but the unseen and eternal world is just as real as the black letters on this screen or page.
But what about that other world, the seen and temporal world that we are more familiar with? In this world, you may not have noticed much change at your point of salvation. In the initial before and after Christ, you may look the same, you may feel the same, your personality may be unchanged, your challenges did not immediately go away, etc. In short, the immediate change in your temporal world before and after Christ varies greatly among believers.
So growing and maturing in the Christian life boils down to this. It is the process, sometimes slow and gradual, sometimes rapid, of taking all you know to be true about the new you – things you know are true by faith – and bringing its application into your every day experience. Let me put it this way.
Promise in the unseen world: You have a new identity (II Cor 5:17). Your new self is “created in the likeness of God; in righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). Application to the seen world: As you begin your life in Christ, you may not feel like righteousness defines who you are. In fact, you may feel like sin is still your propensity. You have a conscious choice to make. Are you going to live by faith – believing you have a completely new and righteous nature – or live by sight? The apostle Paul calls living by faith “putting on the new self”. You now have the ability to make large and small choices to live as if the “new self” is who you really are.
When you are tempted to anger and want to blow up at your children, you can literally say to yourself, “Hey, anger is not who I am in my new identity”, and choose patience. When that ad for a suggestive website scrolls across your monitor, you can literally say to yourself, “Hey, lust is not who I am in my new identity”, and choose to pass on going there. When you desire to use a power play to gain a leg up on a co-worker in your competitive work environment, you can literally say to yourself, “Hey, seeking their good is who I am in my new identity”, and work to aid their success.
Now this may all sound theoretical and impractical in the heat of the moment, in the throes of temptation, but this is literally what we must learn to do. We talk back to temptation by reminding ourselves of who we are in Christ. We talk back to temptation by reminding ourselves of God’s promise of a new power over sin. And when we do this, we find that what started out as basically a practice in willpower to not sin becomes an experience of His power to overcome sin. We begin to learn, embrace by faith, and experience that sin is no longer my master.
Do I ever stumble? Of course. Do I ever sin? Of course. The maturing process is just that: a process. But what I can guarantee is that as you practice living into your new identity, you will more and more experience God’s resurrection power in the everyday path of real life.