Summary: Unbelief is the root of our sins and the great threat to our souls.
Earlier this week I told my sister about my surprise that John Piper had invited Doug Wilson to speak at the Desiring God Conference. Nancy told me that others must have felt the same because Piper defended his decision on his web site. So I watched the video.
Dr. Piper gave an example of why he felt confident inviting Pastor Wilson. In a sermon on Romans, Wilson illustrated the difference between good advice and good news by saying, Many teachers give good advice to their students throughout the semester: study hard, memorize the paradigms, do your homework every night, take notes in class, and you will do well. All good advice. Now suppose at exam time, the teacher notices one fellow staring, frightened, at a blank paper. The teacher could say, “Johnny, relax, think about what we learned, remember what you studied, start writing something, and more will come to you – you can do this.” All good advice, no doubt. But good news is different. Good news is the teacher sitting beside Johnny and said, “Scoot over a bit, and I will take the test for you.” Piper then said, “Doug gets the gospel right.”
In Genesis four we meet Cain, a man who did not get the gospel right. We might not, at first, think to interpret these events from the perspective of faith, but Hebrews 11 tells us that is precisely the issue. Cain did not believe that he needed help, nor did he trust God to give it. He thus becomes a paradigm for the beginning of… unbelief.
[Read Genesis 4.1-8. Pray.]
He was 86 years old when they arrested him, thinking an old man would be easily persuaded to deny Christ. At his trial, the judge said, “Swear the oath and I will release you.” He answered: “For 86 years I have served him, and he has done me no evil. How could I curse my king, who saved me?”
The judge threatened to cage him with wild beasts unless he denied Christ. He answered, “Call for them!” Angered by this response, he said: “I will have you burned, since you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.” The man replied, “You threaten with a fire than burns only briefly and after a little while is extinguished, while you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Do what you wish.”
Eyewitnesses wrote: “As he spoke these and many other words, he was inspired with courage and joy, and his face was filled with grace, so that not only did he not collapse in fright at the things which were said to him, but on the contrary the [judge] was astonished….”
The crowd, however, thirsted for death. They grabbed wood, built a pyre, and tied him to the center pole, and burned him to death. Thus did Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, add his name to the role of martyrs for Jesus.
Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We do well to remember those who suffer for the Name. I think we also honor them by asking, “From where does the strength come to withstand persecution?” The Bible tells us that it is by faith that holy women and men stayed the course, even to death. Hebrews 11.39: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised….”
It seems unlikely that any of us will face such great trials; nevertheless, you will each know trouble and temptation. Will we believe God’s promises and walk in obedience? Or will we doubt and turn away? Cain knew God, and what he required. But he did not believe in the reward; he did not believe that God’s way was blessing and joy. He harbored sinful desires and nurtured them to the destruction of his brother, and of his own soul.
Faith is the means by which we come to God through Christ. We trust in his work and receive his grace. Faith, also, is the means of sanctification, the way we trust God’s promises and receive the power of the Holy Spirit to obedience. This is why, at its deepest level, all sin springs from unbelief.
Why do we so little obey God’s commands? Because we do not believe his Word is more precious that diamonds, sweeter than honey, and that by keeping it there is great reward.
Why are our own preferences so often more important than sacrificial love? We do not believe that fellowship with Christ means counting others more significant, and that those who make themselves slaves to all will be first in the Kingdom.
Why do we pretend we are better than we are? We do not believe that God exalts a broken and humble spirit.