When the Faithful Falter

Often in Scripture, the faithful falter. For example, Abraham is called “the man of faith” by Paul, and he is upheld as the model of justification by faith in all of the Bible. Yet, he sold his wife into defilement and adultery–twice. Or, consider the disciples. In the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they are hiding together in a room, terrified. What do we make of these things?

Semper Reformanda: The guys talk about preaching the Old Testament–and in particular, preaching on the lives of Old Testament saints. What are better and worse ways to do that? What are some common objections raised against redemptive-historical preaching?

Scripture references:Genesis 12:10-20John 20:19-23

Resources:Justin’s sermon: Faith, Fear, and God’s Faithfulness | Genesis 12:10-14:24Jon’s sermon: John 20:19-23 – When Jesus Says “Peace”

Giveaway: “Night Driving” by Chad Bird


Podcast Transcript

Justin Perdue: Hi, this is Justin. Today on Theocast, we’re going to talk about when the faithful falter. For example, Abraham is called by the apostle Paul “the man of faith”, and he is upheld as the model of justification by faith in all the Bible. Yet this is a man who, on two different occasions, sold his wife out to defilement and adultery. What do we do with that? Even the disciples, as they are sitting in a room, huddled up together, terrified in the aftermath of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection—what do we do with that account? Why are passages like this in the Bible? That’s what John and I are going to have a conversation about today. We hope that you leave this episode being encouraged in the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ and how he has you and has saved you. So stay tuned.

The title of the episode, everybody has seen it, is When the Faithful Falter. Why this topic today? I’m preaching through Genesis. This past Sunday Was in Genesis 12:10 and following all the way through the end of chapter 14. One piece of that section of Genesis is Abraham and Sarai in Egypt. Many may know that that’s the first of two situations where Abraham effectively sells his wife out to defilement, basically motivated by selfishness, self-preservation, and fear. Abraham, of course, has held up as the man of faith and the model of justification by faith in all of Scripture, but it’s quite clear that his faith faltered at points. In other words, his faith was like ours.

And then Jon, you are preaching through John’s gospel. Where were you this past Sunday?

Jon Moffitt: This is the disciples hiding in a room with the door locked. This is right after Jesus’ resurrection. He meets Mary, and John’s gospel sends Mary off to go tell the disciples that he is going to their God and to their Father. Then Jesus appears in the room. From the moment of Jesus’ arrest in the garden to the moment that Jesus is standing there in that room, you don’t see the strong disciples who said, “We’ll go with you anywhere. We’ll die for you.” All you see is the constant faltering of the disciples. We’re going to take both the New Testament and the Old Testament and show how the narrative seems to be the same.

Justin Perdue: Totally. So this is going to be a conversation about Genesis; it’s going to be a conversation about John. And then we’ll probably talk a little bit about redemptive-historical preaching, and that’s probably where we’re going to go in the SR portion, maybe in more detail. So get ready. If you like Genesis and John, today’s podcast is for you.

Let’s start out in the book of Genesis. If you have a Bible near you and you want to look along, you totally can. It’s Genesis 12:10-20. We’re not going to go verse by verse or anything, but if you want to read the account that we’re talking about, that’s where you can find it.

Basically the situation is there’s a famine in the land where Abraham is, and that famine drives him into Egypt to find food. This is going to happen again with Abraham’s descendants as we know. Jacob and his children are going to go down into Israel as well. Kind of cool how those patterns repeat themselves over and over again in redemptive history, but that’s another podcast for another day.

So as Abraham is driven down into Egypt for food, he’s faced with a decision. Because he’s going down there as a sojourner, which means that he doesn’t have rights, he doesn’t have legal recourse, he doesn’t have protection in those ways. He’s vulnerable as a Sojourner and he knows that. So as they’re going down into the land of Egypt, Abraham says to his wife, “Okay, look, you’re a beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you, they’re going to notice that. And they’re going to want to get rid of me because you’re so beautiful. They’re going to want to eliminate me from the equation so that they can do with you what they want to do.”

Jon Moffitt: At what point do you think she’s thinking, “Aww. This is a great compliment.” And then she goes, “Oh, he’s being real. He’s being serious.”

Justin Perdue: He’s like, “For real, for real.” Basically, he says this: they’ll kill me, but they’ll let you live. So in verse 13, he pitches the plan. This is what he says: “Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” So it’s very straightforward in terms of what his plan is and what his hopes are. Because Sarai is beautiful, she is going to tell them that she’s not Abram’s wife—she is his sister—so now they will treat Abram well Because of that. And in verses 14-16, that’s exactly what happens. They go into the land of Egypt and it all unfolds according to Abram’s plan. (I’m using Abraham and Abraham interchangeably—forgive me for doing that. The studious amongst us will know that he is not called Abraham until Genesis 17.)

Verses 14 to 16, the Egyptians see that Sarai is beautiful when they enter into the land. And then the princes of Pharaoh commend her to Pharaoh, Pharaoh takes her into his house to be his wife. He treats Abram well—verse 16, “And for her sake he dealt well with Abram,” and gives him a bunch of stuff. It’s all working out according to Abram’s plan.

But then in verse 17 is where it really takes a very interesting turn. We read that the Lord afflicts Pharaoh’s house on account of Sarai because of the defilement, the adultery that’s going on. Then Pharaoh, in verse 18, approaches Abram. It’s wild. This whole scenario is insane in how it unfolds. In this account, it’s almost as though Pharaoh is set up as the one who is the righteous man and Abram is the one who is the selfish liar. So Pharaoh confronts Abram in verse 18, “What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She’s my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife?” In other words, he wouldn’t have done that if he had known that she was married to Abram. “Here is your wife; take her and go.” And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

This is a remarkable account because Pharaoh is very upright in the way that he deals with Abraham here. When he finds out about the adultery, not only does he stop the adultery, he doesn’t continue, but he confronts Abraham and even rebukes Abraham for lying about it all. He doesn’t kill Abraham, which would have not been uncommon, and he had been giving a bunch of stuff to Abraham because of Sarah and he doesn’t demand any of that stuff back; he lets Abraham keep it all. Then he sends them away out of the country and gives orders to his men to make sure they get out safely. He is kind and merciful and all these things. It’s like the Pharaoh is more concerned for Sarah’s welfare than Abraham is. It is not Abraham’s finest day; he does not handle this in an exemplary manner. That’s very clear.

Let me just say this at the outset before we riff on this. Disclaimer—we’ve got to do this because we don’t want to be misunderstood: sin is wrong and sin is destructive; it ruins lives; we ought to flee from it; we ought to pursue righteousness. Nothing that we are about to say excuses, sin in any way. We are just going to have an honest conversation about the nature of life in this fallen world and the fact that God’s people still sin—sometimes heinously. What can we learn from these kinds of accounts about God, about ourselves, and about His ways with us? That’s the question.

Jon Moffitt: There you go. You have to make the observation that Abraham is one of the few men who had the privilege of speaking with the Lord, he has conversations with Him. We do know that Abraham believes in God. What his theology is at this point, I don’t know. Obviously, if Pharaoh knows what he’s doing is wrong, Abraham knows what he’s doing is wrong. So let’s just get this clear: it’s obvious Abraham knows what he’s doing is wrong and yet fear is what seems to be his reason.

Justin Perdue: Yeah. Self-preservation. Selfishness.

Jon Moffitt: Fear and selfishness seem to be his motivation. It’s a random story. Let’s just think about the narrative here for a moment: we understand that the story of the Bible is the unfolding redemption of sinners by Christ. What did this really add to the unfolding story of the redemption of Jesus Christ? We know that Abraham is in the line of Christ’s seed. It’s from Abraham we get to the Messiah. Why did the Holy Spirit find it necessary to put that in there? I think it’s very important because every word, according to Paul to Timothy, is profitable for reproof, for instruction, and in doctrine. I’m going to say very clearly for reproof, instruction, in doctrine, and for holiness; it’s obvious to see that men who are often raised to be faithful are the ones who Scripture describes as faltering. So if you want to talk about the faithful one, we’re going to have to point to Christ. But in this narrative, I can see very clearly why the Holy Spirit put this in here because one of the most famous important men in bringing us the Messiah faltered—not once, but multiple times.

Justin Perdue: Some observations here. What I said before I do think matters in terms of a pattern for Israel, because Abraham is going down into Egypt, has dealings with Pharaoh, is brought out by God into the promised land, and Israel will be, too. But I agree with you. Why all the details of his failure? This is one of the things, too, that people have said about Scripture for ages—and I agree; I know you do, too. One of the things that commends Scripture in terms of its truthfulness is the fact that it does not give a flattering presentation of its major figures. This is not a flattering presentation of Father Abraham, the man who is called by the apostle Paul “the man of faith”, who is the pattern for justification by faith in all of the Bible, and yet we see him doing this. I just want to be super clear: the point of none of this is that sin is no big deal. That’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely absurd.

Jon, I think to what you just said, the point of this is that God saves sinners, that God justifies the ungodly, and that he doesn’t just save upright, likable, virtuous people. The point is that he saves wretches in need of mercy and gives us the righteousness of Christ—a righteousness that we don’t deserve and could never earn. That’s what he did with Abraham.

Here’s the deal—and you pointed at this, too—as Christians, we all sin and some of us will commit sins as Christians that are shameful. But God will keep us through it all. People will then raise that we can’t be engaged in habitual sins. We’re doing something that’s heinous; surely we should learn from that first experience and never do it again. People would say that about Abraham here. After this and this whole thing and how it shook out, surely he’ll never do this again. Well, he does in chapter 20—and he does the same thing again. He’s going to sell his wife out to defilement again. Not excusing his behavior, but the point is that he is going to fall in the same way again, yet at the end of it all, he will be finally saved on account of the righteousness of Christ—and so will we.

Now, if you hear that and—in the face of that mercy, that grace, and that love—your immediate thought is, “Oh, good. Well, we can just go sin now,” I don’t know that you’ve understood the gospel. When we are confronted with that kind of mercy and grace, and that kind of love in the face of our sin and failure, our thoughts should be, “What a God. What a Savior. What good news. I want to go out of here now, love my neighbor, and pursue righteousness because of what God has done for me.”

Jon Moffitt: Outside of Christ, there are temporal consequences and there are eternal consequences. The world knows there’s temporal consequences. That is why things like AA exist. People don’t like the effects of sin; most don’t. Look at Pharaoh; he even knows this is wrong. He said, “Why are you doing this?” To think that to promote grace is to make sin acceptable is wrong. I will say that a lot of times I encourage men in my own church to say, “Hey, look, you need to take a long, hard look at your fight against sin and realized that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but the temporal punishment or consequence is you don’t want to go through that.” Justin and I both have had to walk people through absolute shattered lives. The scars they carry with them until death are horrendous. It’s disgusting.

Justin Perdue: A guy from my congregation and I were having a conversation after the service on Sunday. He was greatly affected by the sermon and the service in general. He was just astonished at thinking about Pharaoh and Abraham and all this. Abraham committed this heinous sin, yet God’s going to deliver him. That’s true. And at the same time, we’re not told all of the details in terms of the fallout that Abraham and Sarai and everybody had to go through. And there’s going to be more in subsequent chapters when he sleeps with Hagar, and then Ishmael was born, and all of those absolutely tumultuous stuff that occurs in his household as a result of that. In chapter 20, when he sells Sarai out again, we’re not told about all of the fallout in terms of their lives on earth. Our lives are wrecked by sin and we ought to flee from it for the good of our neighbor, for the good of everyone who loves us and is close to us, and we ought to pursue righteousness and flee from sin because it does honor the Lord.

One thing to comment on before we leave this Old Testament section and jump into John’s gospel—and we may pick up more on this later even in SR—something I said on Sunday is we would do really well to talk honestly about the lives of saints as they are described on the pages of Scripture. In other words, we would do well not to whitewash them. We ought not try to domesticate things and edit out the ugly parts in this kind of flannel board presentation of the lives of the saints. I am convinced that the Scriptures are such a tremendous gift from God to those who seek to be honest about our struggle with sin. We’re able to look at texts even like this and see how Abraham, this man of faith, sinned and struggled and yet is going to be finally delivered. We are able to see something there of how the Lord will deal with us.

Are there things commendable about Abraham’s life? Absolutely. We talked about some of those in our service on Sunday; we’ll talk about some of those things moving forward. But there are plenty of things about his life that are not exemplary, and this is why we don’t preach sermons on how to be like Abraham. We don’t preach a sermon series on “Dare to be a Daniel”, or “7 Ways to be Like David”, or a 31-part series on the life of Jeremiah. There’s a reason that we don’t do that. Abraham, if he were sitting here today, would be the first to say, “Be like me? That’s not a good idea.” Because seriously, Jon, you and I both have a number of godly men in our congregations who have not sold their wives out to defilement for their own protection and profit.

Jon Moffitt: Nope. 30 years of marriage. Never once.

Justin Perdue: Abraham, I think, would tell us, “Look, there’s really only one thing about me that you would want to imitate—and that is to believe God. Believe in the one who justifies the ungodly. Believe in Jesus, God’s promised One who has saved us from our sin.” Abraham’s best moments were when he took God at His word.

Jon Moffitt: To defend what you’re saying, let me quote Paul. In 1 Corinthians 10, he is describing the fall of Israel, and he describes a lot of falter. He says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” If you think that you don’t have the same capacity to fall as they did, you better take heed. When someone says, “Well, Jon, these are examples,” I’m like, “Yes. That you too can fall.”

Justin Perdue: In other words, that’s an example because you are just like Abraham and Abraham is just like you. You could end up doing the exact same thing that Abraham did, though you shouldn’t.

I don’t think it takes a lot from us to be able to look at our people and say, “You know, it’s probably not good to sell your spouse out to defilement.” If I need to open the Bible to convince you of that, we need to have another conversation.

Jon Moffitt: That’s called “the law in our hearts”.

Justin Perdue: For real. The law is written into the human heart and there’s a civil use of it where, like you even said, Pharaoh is clearly aware that to commit adultery or to take another man’s wife is inappropriate.

Jon Moffitt: Let’s transition to John. This is going to be a slightly different perspective but the same conclusion—it’s always Jesus—but let’s look at it from a different perspective.

Jesus recruits these men and in this narrative, someone even argued that maybe even Mary and some other people are in this room. Obviously Thomas is not because Thomas asked to see later. But at this point, the disciples have abandoned Jesus. Peter has denied him three times. It’s a mess of a story. Of course, Jesus told them this would happen. Some of the disciples here walk with Jesus and eat with him; they don’t know it’s him and they’re trying to figure it out. Then he appears in this locked room. John describes that Jesus appears within this locked room and uses a phrase that’s not uncommon: “peace be to you”. It’s a very common phrase.

I think John has an unbelievable sense of humor and he is very sarcastic and snarky at times, in my humble opinion. In Greek, Jesus magically appears and the words he uses are like, “Hey, guys!” To which Luke describes them as yelling out and saying, “It’s a ghost!”

John describes the very next thing that makes Jesus’ words come to life. It makes sense. It’s not just a simple, “Hello. Peace to you.” So in Jeremiah, twice Jeremiah yells out to the people—and I would never want to have to have Jeremiah’s job because all he did was preach doom and gloom and wrath upon Israel—and twice he comes after them and says, “The false prophets are saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. You better beware and you better repent because if you don’t, judgment’s coming upon you.” And of course, what ends up happening is judgment does come upon Israel and it’s a mess.

Jesus walks into the room of men who have abandoned him, who are afraid of being killed because they’re followers of Jesus, who are doing everything wrong. He appears before them and he says, “Peace be to you.” What does John say? Immediately, he showed him his hands and his side, and then said again, “Peace be to you.” Why do they now have peace with the Father? Jesus is showing them it is not their actions, it is not their faithfulness, it’s not their dedication; it is his scars in his hands and in his side. He received the wrath that Jeremiah was talking about that was coming because there was no peace between God and man, and now there’s peace between God and man.

This is where things are a little bit different. I want to talk about the motivation for obedience. Because in this same section, it says, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. And Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.'” I love this. This is their motivation. They’re all good because of Jesus. This is what he says: “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.'” Men who are locked in a room, afraid that they may be caught as a Jesus follower, Jesus comes in and uses what to motivate them? Not fear, not dread, not death, not warning. What does he motivate them with? “All wrath and anger and punishment has been put upon me. Here’s the proof. Now I’m sending you out to finish what the Father has started.” you want to talk about your motivation to obey coming from the gospel? What a point, right?

Justin Perdue: Yeah. I’m just sitting here listening to you talk about it. I’m looking at the text, I’ve got my Bible open over here, and it’s very clear. What is it that is to drive and propel and motivate the disciples? It’s peace with God that Jesus alone has accomplished.

Like you just said, all the wrath that is due sin, all of the righteous indignation that God has against all of the wickedness that all of His people have ever committed, all of his wrath against just our inherent corruption and rebellion against him and all of those things, all of His righteousness and holiness and everything that that requires, in one sense, in terms of His justice. All of these things have been poured out in full on Christ. His scars are evidence of that. It’s like Romans 5:1: because we have now been justified by faith, we have peace with God because of what Christ has done. It’s like what I was saying earlier: in the face of this astonishing grace and mercy, to be crushed by the Father is what we deserve, but instead Jesus was crushed for it. When we think about how we deserve that, but now we have peace and love and grace and fellowship and security and all of these things, now I get to go be part of what the Father is doing in this world through His Son.

Then the question is, “Why would we then want to go sin?” And the answer to that question is because the flesh is real. It is a reality where we are born again, we have been united to Christ, and his Spirit has taken up residence within us. And by virtue of that, we now have become obedient from the heart, we delight in God’s law in our inner man, and we want to obey. Because we hear the gospel and we see how good it is, and we’ve considered the mercy and the privilege and all that that is ours in Christ, we want to go and love and preach Jesus, flee from sin, and pursue righteousness. Yet the flesh remains, it’s real, and the flesh at times overcomes the saints. But yet the confidence that we have is that at the end of the day, Christ is victorious because he brings judgment to victory.

Jon Moffitt: Which is not a justification for sin.

Justin Perdue: No. That’s a huge disconnect and a non-sequitur.

I, for the life of me, don’t understand it. Because we’ve got to have this conversation when it comes to sin: what is your motivation to flee from sin and pursue righteousness? Is it fear? Is it dread? Is it merit? Because if you’re talking in those terms, those are legal terms where you still, in some way, are thinking that you’ve got something to escape or something to earn before the Lord. But God has told us that Christ has handled that. So the motivation has to be something else: and it’s love, peace, security, and knowing that the wrath that was due me, Jesus took it.

Jon Moffitt: As we’re talking through this, there’s been all kinds of failures in the last five years. My wife says it’s inevitable.

Justin Perdue: It’s never ending. From various theological streams.

Jon Moffitt: There’s a reason why Paul says, “Take heed lest you fall,” because it doesn’t matter what your theological knowledge is; if you find confidence in yourself in any part of your journey with Christ, whether it be your assurance or your fight against sin, you are priming the pump for Satan to come knock you off that stool, buddy.

Justin Perdue: What causes sin? The flesh and the tempter. It’s not theological positions. Granted, we care a ton about sound doctrine and theology. It’s why we do this podcast. Doctrine matters a ton for our peace before the Lord and for our lives in the local church and all of those things, but good theology has never made anyone immune to sin. And sin does not directly come—in every case—from bad doctrine. It comes from the flesh and the cravings of the flesh that overcome the saints at points. It comes from the work of the enemy, even, in his is battling and waging war against us.

Jon Moffitt: Dare I say, if you have good theology, you probably have a bigger target on your back because you’re doing greater work. You think about some of the things that Paul even experienced and suffered. If he wasn’t preaching the gospel faithfully, he probably would have been left alone. In some ways, you’re going to be targeted even more if your theology is correct. I just think it’s foolish to think your theology is what makes you immune to temptation

We have things in our lives—protections and fences and gateways—because we know that our flesh is weak. We can be Abraham. We can be the disciples. This is why Paul says these are examples for us. The strongest are the ones who fall the hardest, so don’t take your faith in your strength; you put it in Christ.

Justin Perdue: This is why we preach, on the one hand, our weakness and the strength and faithfulness of Christ: because it is the only hope for sinners. I imagine that every one of us have all done things that we swore we would never do, and we’ve all certainly thought things that terrify even us. Personally, I think that has to be true. It’s true for every Christian I know, and every member of our church, our pastors included. We all see this in ourselves and realize that were it not for the grace of God, there go I. But the point of all that is, my goodness, Christ is our only hope. This is why we need the church and we need each other, and we need to be in one another’s lives talking honestly about the cravings of our flesh and our battle against sin, so that we have people in our lives that can look at us and say, “That’s really hard, brother, but don’t go there. That will destroy you and it’s going to destroy all these people who love you. It will dishonor God. That doesn’t please the Lord. He has told you that’s terrible. This over here is a good thing—you know that. Keep pursuing this and let me help you walk that way.”

We come back to this: If we’re saved not only by our faithfulness, but even by the quality of our faith, may the Lord help us. This is a little teaser for what we’re going to talk about next week. We started by talking about Abraham and we mentioned how Paul calls him the man of faith and how he is held up as the model of justification by faith and Scripture. Yet his faith faltered big time at several points in his life that are recorded on the pages of holy Scripture. In light of that, I think the takeaway should be Abraham’s faith is just like mine and just like yours. It isn’t always strong. Sometimes it’s like we can’t even find it.

I said this in the sermon on Sunday, and I said this to you earlier: we need to talk honestly, and well, and accurately about faith. We ought not make too big a deal about faith itself because sometimes evangelicals, in wanting to not preach salvation by works, will emphasize salvation by faith—and that’s good, but you gotta gotta be accurate about this because faith has never saved anybody. Faith in and of itself has never saved anybody. That is the conversation that we’re going to have next week. It’s actually something else, someone else who saves us and we’ll talk about how faith relates to that.

Jon Moffitt: And what the confusion looks like.

Justin Perdue: What the confusion looks like and why it has everything to do with our assurance and our peace before God when our faith is faltering.

Jon Moffitt: In our next podcast, Justin will explain what that is. We should talk about some of the objections that we receive when it comes to Old Testament and even New Testament faltering, and how we, as Theocast, have tried to help people walk through these objections as it relates to preaching Old Testament saints.

Justin Perdue: And we may riff a little bit on Old Testament saints, redemptive-historical preaching, the “Dare to be a Daniel” kind of mentality. There could be some humor and some lightheartedness, but we hope to be helpful to the listener in trying to be precise about what we mean, and even, like you said, let’s respond to some objections that are really quickly thrown at us. For example: “Would you guys never want to make moral demands of any kind?” And that is not true. We’ll talk about why over on the Semper Reformanda podcast.

We’re going over to the Semper Reformanda podcast, sometimes shortened to just SR. What that is a podcast for those of you who have partnered with Theocast and have joined Semper Reformanda, and you have partnered with us, not only financially, but you’re supporting the ministry and wanting to be a part of this community that we are seeking to build where there are many of you who want to continue to be able to have conversations about the podcast, about this kind of theological stuff and the transitions that you’re walking through, and things that you’re learning. Semper Reformanda is a community being built to facilitate those conversations.

A piece of Semper Reformanda is this podcast that we record weekly alongside the regular episodes. So that’s where Jon and I are headed. If you want to find out more information about SR and how you could partner with Theocast in those ways, become a part of this pretty cool community of people, and help spread the Reformation, you can find that information over at our website, theocast.org

We appreciate all of you who have tuned in. We hope this has been encouraging to you. Continue to trust Christ, flee from sin, pursue righteousness.

We’ll talk with you again next week.

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