Summary: Unbelief is the root of our sins and the great threat to our souls.
Edward Everett Hale first published his novel, The Man Without a Country in 1863. He created an American army lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who developed a friendship with Aaron Burr, and is then tried as an accomplice when Burr is accused of treason. During his testimony, Nolan bitterly renounces his nation, angrily shouting “****** the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” Upon conviction, the judge sentences Nolan to his wish: he is to live out his days on Navy warships, a floating exile, never again to set foot on U.S. soil or to hear of his country again.
The sentence is carried out to the letter. For the rest of his life, Nolan is shuttled from ship to ship as a prisoner on the high seas, never touching U.S. soil or hearing about the U.S.
A friend visits Nolan just before he dies. They recite together several prayers for the country from The Presbyterian Book of Public Prayers, then Nolan’s last words were, “I have repeated those prayers night and morning, it is now fifty-five years. Look in my Bible when I am gone.” Then he passed.
In his Bible was a slip of paper and Hebrews 11.16 marked: “They desire a country, even a heavenly one: therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city.” And on the paper he wrote: “Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it. But will not someone set up a stone for my memory at Fort Adams or at Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear?”
Mr. Hale wrote that novel to stir sentiment for the union cause during the Civil War. To do so, he invoked the image of another traitor, the first fugitive and wanderer, the first to complain that his punishment was greater than he could bear. Cain was exiled from God’s presence, and spent his days building a life and home away from what is good and godly. This is the way of Cain, and it our somber, but important, task to consider the beginning of the way of Cain, and how to root this tendency from our hearts. I will be reading Genesis 4.8-24; please give your attention to the Word of the Lord.
[Read Genesis 4.8-24. Pray.]
The Bible tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11.6). Without faith it is impossible to please God.
It seems to me that most Christians readily understand the implications of that verse for conversion. Faith is the means by which a sinner receives the gift of salvation: it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing” (Ephesians 2.8). A person may do “things” which conform outwardly to God’s standards, but she can never do enough to repay the debt she owes, and whatever she does, bears the taint of sinful motives. Therefore, we could say that she who would please God apart from faith, and by good works, is doubly damned!
Instead, faith sings with Horatius Bonar, “Not what my hands have done, can save my guilty soul; not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God; not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load. Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak; Thy pow’r alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.” Faith trusts an alien forgiveness and righteousness, the good works of another; faith asks Jesus be damned in my place, to receive the just punishment for my sins, and to apply to my credit his good works. Thus we understand how God cannot be pleased with us apart from the faith of salvation.
Maybe we are less sure of the relationship between faith and sanctification, between faith and the deeds which the justified believer does that please the Lord. In 2Corinthians 5, Paul notes that we make it our aim to please God. That includes trusting Jesus, God’s Messiah, for salvation. But more is there. The “pleasing God” of 2Corinthians 5 puts to death the old, sinful desires, and walks in obedience to the Word, producing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. How does faith relate to obedience? It turns out that we obey when we believe that the reward of obedience is greater than the reward of sin.
You need to know that the world, the flesh, and the devil argue against such obedience. When you contemplate witnessing to your coworker or fellow student, the world condemns your narrow-mindedness and arrogance, the flesh cowers at the possibility of rejection or rebuke, and the devil convicts you of your lack of prayer to God and of love for neighbor. Together they promise great ease and comfort if you but remain silent. Only faith can taste the rewards of God: the comfort of the Spirit, the power of Christ, and the favor of the Father. Faith pleases God because it believes he rewards.