Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, 'What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.'
Genesis 20:9 ESV
Dear ICB family,
One of the most helpful discoveries I've come across when it comes to living this Christian life is the connection that exists between sin and unbelief. When you peel back the layers that surround a person's sinful lifestyle, at the core you will undoubtedly find an unbelieving heart.
What's the connection between the two? You see, Satan has a single weapon in his arsenal. He wields that single weapon in so many diverse ways that we may be tempted to think he's got a lot more going on than he really does. The reality is, however, that Satan's sole tool is the same one he pulled out in the Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and it's the same one he's been using ever since with mind-numbing success. Satan's only tool is that slippery, shape-shifting thing we call a lie. (It is not without reason that Jesus called him the father of lies [John 8:44].)
Temptation, then, comes down to the simple question as to whom you're going to believe. Adam and Eve had to make a choice between believing what God had told them and believing what the serpent told them. In the exact same way, we face temptation today at the moment in which we are presented with two conflicting truth claims, one from God and one ultimately from the devil. God says one thing; the devil says something else. The question you must answer is Whom are you going to believe?
Satan's only tool is that slippery, shape-shifting thing we call a lie.
Why do people commit adultery? They believe the lie that an adulterous relationship will ultimately make them happier than were they to remain faithful to their spouses. They don't believe the promise that the house of an adulterous woman "sinks down to death" and "none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life" (Proverbs 2:18-19).
Why do people sell their souls to pad their bank accounts and labor their entire lives for that which does not last? They believe the lie that having their hands on stuff is more satisfying than anything God might have to offer them. They don't believe the hope that God puts more joy in a person's heart than others have when their grain and wine abound (Psalm 4:7).
Why do people in positions of power abuse that power for their own sake and in the process do great harm to those around them? They believe the lie that the greatest person is the one who can exert the most dominance over others and that life boils down to a zero-sum game, meaning my gain can only come at your loss. They don't believe Jesus' promise that "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35).
And on and on we could go. I can't think of a single sin that isn't ultimately rooted in unbelief. In each case, a person has bitten into—hook, line, and sinker—a fat wriggly lie, and Satan is sitting on the shore just reeling in his catch.
Temptation comes down to the simple question as to whom you're going to believe.
So in the story of Abraham from Genesis 20, we're confronted with a very fearful prophet. What is his problem? Ultimately, his problem—just like yours and mine—is unbelief. That is, he was believing an alternate version of the truth that ran counter to what God had clearly revealed to him.
At this point in the story, I see two different options that, I think, ultimately end up reaching the same conclusion. Here's what I mean: We don't know how much time passed between Genesis 18:14 where God repeats his promise that in a year's time Sarah will bear Abraham a biological son and Genesis 20:1 were Abraham traveled to Gerar, a city under King Abimelech. Perhaps Sarah wasn't pregnant yet.
If that were the case, then what was Abraham so worried about? God had just shown up in person and told Abraham and Sarah that he was about to finally fulfill the promise that he had made 25 years ago. Would God let Abraham die right before he fulfilled his promise to him? Had not God already shown himself faithful to do exactly what he had said he would do? The only reason Abraham would have feared for his life would be that he didn't actually believe God was going to do what he had promised. And there it is: His sinful fear was rooted in unbelief.
But there's another option. Perhaps Sarah was already pregnant by the time they went to Gerar, and perhaps they were well aware of the fact. Perhaps Abraham believed that God was going to fulfill his promise and that Sarah would actually bear them a son just like God had said; however, perhaps his fear was not rooted in his doubting God but in the fact that maybe he wouldn't live to see the promise fulfilled, even though he was confident that God would actually bring it to pass. As far as I can see in the text, God never promised that Abraham would actually live to see the birth of his promised son.
So you might say something like, "Now wait a second. You argued here, Eric, that biblical faith is always connected to a concrete promise of God. If God hadn't told Abraham that he would actually live to see the birth of his promised son, then how is Abraham's fear in that case an example of unbelief? Wouldn't he be right to be afraid that Abimelech might kill him in the absence of a specific promise from God that his life would be spared?"
I would still say, even in that case, that Abraham's fear is unbelief for this reason: Abraham knew God's character. Abraham asked God in Genesis 18:25, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And God's resounding answer (which we were reminded of in this sermon), was a resounding "Yes, he will!" Here God does not come right out and state, "Hey, Abraham, I promise you that I will always do what is just." However, God's demonstration of his character is just as sure as if he had made Abraham an explicit promise. Abraham knew (and therefore should have trusted) that whatever else God did, he would for sure do what was just, and that would be true even if Abraham died at the hand of King Abimelech just months before his promised son was born. Even if Abraham lost his life, God would be acting with perfect justice. So there, too, Abraham's problem boils down to an issue of unbelief. He was acting as if God wouldn't truly act justly in the situation, no matter what, and therefore did not entrust his and Sarah's wellbeing to God.
Not only that, God had explicitly commanded Abraham to "walk before me, and be blameless" (Genesis 17:1). Abraham's decision to deceive Abimelech reveals that in Abraham's mind, certain circumstances could demand the flouting of a clear command. Abraham thought that he knew better than to simply live a blameless life as God had told him, and that, too, is a clear demonstration of a heart of unbelief.
Abraham sinned due to the lies that he had believed despite the contrary truth that God had already revealed to him.
The way I see it, any way you slice it, Abraham's problem in Gerar was unbelief. He simply didn't trust that until God allowed Sarah to conceive a son by him, his life was guaranteed, and/or he didn't trust God enough to follow the clear command to live a blameless life and allow the Judge of all the earth to do what was just, even if that meant that obedience came at the cost of Abraham's life. In either case, Abraham sinned due to the lies that he had believed despite the contrary truth that God had already revealed to him.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free," Jesus said in John 8:32. Only when we know the truth and believe it will we be able to be free of the enslaving chains of the devil's lies. And to think we have a book whose purpose is to wash over our minds that have since our first breath been soaking in the lies of this world, lies which we so easily and readily and all too often willingly believe. May you find freedom from sin as you put sin to death by believing what is true in place of believing whatever lie you are currently holding onto.
Grace and peace,