The Peril of Inconsistency
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The Peril of Inconsistency

Genesis 20:1–18  (ID: 1087)

To do anything well, consistency is key—and in matters of faith, inconsistency can be perilous! Succumbing to fear and faulty thinking, Abraham endangered his wife and others when he wavered from the path of faith. Alistair Begg warns us to consider the detrimental effects of such an inconsistent walk, urging us instead to guard against settling for anything less than God’s best for our lives.

Series Containing This Sermon

Venturing in Faith

A Study on the Life of Abraham Genesis 11:1–22:24 Series ID: 22101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our Scripture reading this morning is found in Genesis chapter 20:

“Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, ‘She is my sister.’ Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

“But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, ‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’

“Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, ‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, “She is my sister,” and didn’t she also say, “He is my brother”? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’

“Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.’

“Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all [of] his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, ‘What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.’ And Abimelech asked Abraham, ‘What was your reason for doing this?’

“Abraham replied, ‘I said to myself, “There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, “This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’”’

“Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, ‘My land is before you; live wherever you like.’

“To Sarah he said, ‘I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.’

“Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.”


Before we look at this portion of Scripture together, let’s pause for a moment in prayer:

“Break thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me, as thou didst break the bread by Galilee.”[1] Grant that in your sacred page we may see you that we may see ourselves and, by the Holy Spirit, our lives may be transformed for the glory of your Son Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Some time ago, in reading a book on golf, I came across this quote: “The key to being a good golfer lies not in the ability to make a few great shots but in the ability to make very few bad ones.”[2] Any of us who have ever got involved in that pursuit know what it is every so often, by some unbelievable chance event, to hit one that actually goes correctly. But that doesn’t make you a great golfer. The good golfers with whom you play are the guys who are able to be consistently good. And even when they’re consistently mediocre in comparison to you and me, they’re still great. In other words, in relation to doing anything well, consistency is the key. And whenever inconsistency creeps in, then we are not what we would desire for ourselves to be. And in relation to the matters of faith, we are not then what God intends for us to be.

Now, I mention that because here in Genesis chapter 20, as we come very close to the arrival of the birth of Isaac and the events that surround that, we find Abraham facing the peril of inconsistency. And sandwiched in between our study of last time, where we looked at his intercession on behalf of Sodom, and our study of next time, when we’ll consider the birth of his son Isaac, we have here in Genesis 20 the failure of a spiritual man.

Abraham was a spiritual man. Abraham was not a novice in the faith. Abraham was not a beginner. Abraham was not at the very outset of his spiritual pilgrimage. He had been on the pathway of faith for some time now. Back in chapter 15, we discovered the fact that Abraham had exercised faith in what God had said, and God had credited it to him as righteousness. In chapter 19, last time, we observed the success of his intercession. And as we’ve gone through these chapters, it has become very clear that in following the life of faith in an individual, there will be principles to apply, and there will be perils to avoid. And if last time, in looking at his example of intercession, we looked at a very real principle to be applied, then this morning, in looking at his failure, we look at a peril to be avoided. And on the outline which you would have received within the context of your bulletin, you will notice just three points to help us somehow to trace our way through the eighteen verses of this twentieth chapter.

The Environment of Abraham’s Inconsistency

First of all, I want us to notice the environment in which this failure, or this inconsistency, took place.

It’s become clear to us from our studies so far, and it’s underlined again in the opening verse or two of Genesis 20, that Abraham was well used to moving around. We’re told here that he journeyed towards the region of the Negev, and he was sojourning in Gerar, which was an ancient city south of Gaza in the Judean foothills. And there he found himself a new place with new opportunities, with new challenges.

Now, despite the fact that he was well-moved to this pilgrimage—that he did not have within his framework the fixed points that have become true for many of us—nevertheless, the territory in which he now found himself carried with it some real uncertainties. And on the basis of the uncertainties that he faced, his faith was challenged. And the challenge was this: “As I face this new chapter of my life”—for that’s what it was—“will I walk the path of faith, or will I walk the route of fear and seek to deal with it by my human ingenuity? Now, let’s say again: this is a spiritual man. This is someone who, in Hebrews 11, has made it into the portrait gallery of God’s kingdom, described for us there amongst many other great men and women of faith.[3]

Now, the fact of the matter is that a change of circumstances in our lives often brings to us the same kind of test. We’re continuing well. Things have got into a kind of routine. We’ve reached a certain stage in our life. We perhaps have had our first child, and they’re beginning to sleep through the night, and things are going fairly well; or we’ve moved on from that, and all our children sleep through the night, but they don’t come home at night; or our children are gone; or we have no children; or whatever it is. But by and large, the framework and the fabric of our lives has no change. It’s all kind of okay. Things are moving along all right. There’s nothing really to buffet us, destroy us, but there’s nothing, either, to lift us up onto the mountaintop of spiritual victory.

It is comparatively easy to trust in God while all is well. But in a time of disappointment, in a time of loneliness, in a time of uncertainty, in a new environment, the inconsistencies of our hearts may well be revealed.

But then a new set of circumstances arrive. Suddenly, we get news of our unemployment. Suddenly, a routine visit to the doctor turns out to be not so routine. Suddenly, our teenage children that we thought were absolutely rock-solid arrive home to tell us that they’ve been skating on thin ice for a long time. Suddenly, our husband or our wife, our closest friend, has failed us at some juncture along the way. Suddenly, our best friends move to Arizona, and we didn’t know how much we depended upon them to keep us on the path of faith. And now they’ve gone, and circumstances have changed. It’s a new environment. It’s a new challenge. It’s a new chapter. It’s a new day. What are we going to do?

Well, what Abraham forgot is what we often forget. Abraham forgot that God knows about every change. He knows about it before it even happens. He knows about all of our circumstances. He knows about all of the ebb and flow of our life. He knows “the end from the beginning.”[4] He knows the words of our mouths before we even speak them—Psalm 139. He knows when we sit down, and he knows when we stand up.[5] He knows us thoroughly. The psalmist says, “Such knowledge … is high, I cannot attain [to] it”[6]—that God knows me as intricately as that; that my name, as a believer, is graven on the palms of his hands;[7] that every hair of my head is numbered; that there’s not a sparrow falls to the ground “but, lo, O Lord, [you know] it altogether.”[8] “And if you know about sparrows dropping down in Cleveland, I’ve got to be dead sure that you know about the changing circumstances of my life. But why is it, Lord, that when these circumstances change, I find myself facing the peril of inconsistency?”

Abraham, you see, instead of looking at his new environment in the light of his friendship with God, he placed his confidence in an old scheme—in a scheme that he’d used many times before and once that we had noted before back in Genesis chapter 12, I think it was. Yes, in the second half of Genesis 12. He refers to it here, in 20:13, almost without comment: “And when God had made me wander from my father’s household, I said to her”—that is, “to my wife”—“‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

Now, that’s got to be one of the most unbelievable statements in the Bible made by a spiritual giant, isn’t it? He says to his wife, “This is how you can show your love for me: by putting our marriage relationship in jeopardy every time we move house.” Why? Why did he act that way? Because he moved—despite his desire to go forward with God—he moved constantly from the path of faith to the realm of fear. And inconsistency bedeviled him. The best of men, you see, are just men at best. And so he pretends that Sarah is not his wife but his sister. It’s a half-truth, and therefore, it’s a lie.

It’s interesting, too, isn’t it, that—I mean, she’s getting pretty old now. She was pretty old in chapter 12, if you recall. And, you know, there’s obviously a great difference between this patriarchal time and our own today, because I’m not sure that many of you men, or myself, we could, you know, have a great success passing off this ninety-nine-year-old lady as some surety for our safety within an alien country. But anyway, it seemed to work in this context, and Abimelech, for whatever reason, was quite happy to add Sarah to the crew. But anyway, there we have it. Obviously, the age difference clearly makes a considerable difference, doesn’t it? And it’s an interesting thing that people say, “Well, the ages in the patriarchal narratives are not true. You know, someone has fiddled with them.” But if you look at it, the ages in the patriarchal narratives tie in with the patriarchal narratives themselves. In other words, if there wasn’t the longevity that is written of in the early chapters of Genesis, then the notion of a ninety-nine-year-old woman being involved in this kind of situation would be absolutely ridiculous. But it isn’t ridiculous, because everything the Bible says is absolutely true. So this is what it says, and this is right.

Now, if you’re like me at all, already you find yourself sitting this morning, and you’re saying, “Boy, oh boy! Old Abraham, eh? I don’t feel so bad at all now. ‘The Peril of Inconsistency’? Hm! He made it to Genesis 11.” And maybe, even, you’ve gone beyond that, and you’re starting to judge old Abraham. “Look at Abraham! Imagine that. You’ll never catch me at that kind of thing. Oh no. When I get on the path of faith, that’s me. When I get it going…” Can you hear yourself think? Have you learned from every mistake you ever made? Have I ever made the same mistake twice? Twenty times? Fifty times? A hundred times? Despite all my longings after God, all my desires to walk in his way, when I look at this, I see myself. I see what it is to face the peril of inconsistency.

You see, the new environment and the stress of circumstance revealed what was in Abraham’s heart. And that is true. I used to think that life went on forever. And then, a few years ago—I think I said this to you on one occasion—I got this strange notion that somehow, I was going to die. And then, suddenly, I looked at life and death and everything that Jesus said about death from a peculiarly different perspective.

You see, it’s very easy to look at it in the circumstances of fit, healthy, running around, doing whatever you’re doing. And he says, “I will … receive you unto myself.”[9] That’s terrific, but we needn’t worry about that at the moment, because right now we’re jogging, or whatever it is. But you find yourself lying on a hospital bed with the uncertainty of the little huddle of white coats down at the bottom as they mutter to one another, and suddenly, what the Bible says about death and about dying, about life and about living, is altered in our perception, because our circumstances have changed—so that a change in circumstances reveals what’s in our hearts. That’s what show us up for what we are. And that’s what showed Abraham up for what he was.

You go forward into the New Testament, and you listen to these quite incredible words from one of Jesus’ followers. I’m going to quote from Mark, although you’ll find it similarly in Matthew and partially in Luke. But in Mark chapter 14, following the words of Jesus to his disciples, he tells them of some of the things that are about to happen. Mark 14:27. If you have a Bible, you may like to look at it. “‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’” So, who’s going to speak the moment Jesus stops to draw his breath? Peter is. So he does: “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” (“I’m not inconsistent.” That’s a joke in itself, isn’t it?) “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’” Now, that ought to have been enough. “But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’”

Now, turn over your page, if you’ve got the same Bible as me, and note the next phrase, so we don’t leave Peter out on his own. The very next sentence reads, “And all the others said the same.” Peter gets it in the neck for speaking up. If you speak up at all, you’ll get it—either the applause or the condemnation. That’s why if you’re like me, you long to be someone who could sit in a corner and let everyone else get it—where it’s coming from and where it’s going.

But anyway, Peter was always there, in feet first. He took one foot out of his mouth and put the other foot back in, and then he continued on his way. And then a few verses later, in verse 66, we now have a change of circumstances. This is the point I want to illustrate. On the Mount of Olives, standing next to Jesus, with all the cronies around him, it was “I’ll never do it.” Now verse 66. We’re now moving into the courtyard of the high priest. New place, new chapter, page has turned. And “while Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by.” Not one of the soldiers; a little servant girl.

When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

Now, we’re now at verse 71. Previously we were at verse 31. Okay? “He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about’”—the man that, forty verses before, he had rubbed shoulders with on the Mount of Olives and said, “I’ll never disown you. Even if I have to die with you, you can count on me, Jesus.” And “immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and [he] wept.”

I don’t want to overstress the simplicity of this point, but nevertheless, it remains true that it is comparatively easy to trust in God while all is well, but in a time of disappointment, in a time of loneliness, in a time of uncertainty, in a new environment, the inconsistencies of our hearts may well be revealed. It’s okay when the band is playing, and the music’s sounding, and it’s Sunday morning, and we’re all together, but it’s different in the office, it’s different in the college, it’s different in the classroom, on the school bus, on the factory floor. And it is there that we wrestle out the sinews of our faith.

The Effect of Abraham’s Inconsistency

Now, secondly, I want you to notice that inconsistency is not an isolational thing. And we notice the effect that his inconsistency had upon others.

Romans 14: Paul reminds his readers, when he speaks to them about debatable matters—things over which Christians have disagreed concerning food and drink and other things—he says in Romans 14:7, “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.” The tremendous challenge of this chapter to me is that whatever we do, for good or for ill, we will help or hinder someone on the pathway of faith. You’re either the kind of person in whose company it’s easy to be good, or you’re the kind of person in whose company it’s easy to be bad. We’re seldom neutral. You’re either the kind of person in whose company there’s always laugher, or you’re the kind of person in whose company there’s always criticism. So we’re either the kind of person that are leading people on in faith, or we were having a detrimental effect upon them. And the Scriptures make it clear that we will answer before God not merely for our failure but for the effect that our inconsistencies have had upon other people. That’s why James says—James 3—“Let not many of you become teachers, for he who teaches will be judged with greater strictness.”[10] So you will answer to God, as I will for the way I have taught—the effect of the teaching on the lives of others—and that starts in the tiny children right now that are in our nursery and in our Sunday school classes. Because we affect one another.

Now, when you examine this, you will discover that Abraham’s inconsistency, like a pebble in a pond, had ripples further than he realized.

Abraham was guilty of wrong thoughts, and wrong thoughts lead inevitably to wrong actions. Faulty thinking leads to faulty doing.

First of all, his inconsistency affected his wife. As we noted in chapter 12, Abraham put his wife in moral danger. As we’re discovering here, that was never entered into. God took care of that, and Abimelech had never entered into any physical union with Sarah. That’s not perfectly clear in Genesis 12. But nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that Abraham was prepared to jeopardize his wife’s chastity on account of preserving his own skin.

Now, this morning, as we look at this, we say, “Well, I haven’t done anything as dramatic as that.” But listen. Husbands, let me speak to you for a minute. The progress or the digress of your spiritual life, and mine, will affect our wives for good or for ill and then, in turn, our children. So if our affection cools for the Lord Jesus Christ, then that will have an effect upon our wives—upon whether we pray with them, upon whether we read the Scriptures with them, upon whether we are taking the initiative in worship and in prayer and in the activities of God’s people and whether we are exercising headship in our family in a spiritual dimension. And you cannot say—we cannot live with the luxury—that “my little inconsistencies are my little inconsistencies,” because they’re not! For our wives perceive them and will be jeopardized by them, and our children, also, will pick them up quicker than lightning. And the same is true for a single person here this morning, and you live in an apartment with three or four other people. The inconsistency of your walk with Christ will radically affect the nature of your enjoyment of the relationships within that apartment complex. So it affected his wife.

Secondly, his inconsistency affected the house of Abimelech. Although Abimelech was safe from adultery by the hand of God, as verse 6 make clear, we’re told in verse 18 that God had closed the wombs of the house of Abimelech on account of the action that he had taken. So in other words, in relation to these events, suddenly, in Abimelech’s harem and within his family structure, no one’s having babies anymore. And the reason is that Abraham’s inconsistency brought this about. Because in light of what Abraham did, God reacted in this way in order to preserve that heritage which was to come through Abraham and Sarah in the life of Isaac. And whatever might be said about Abimelech, it’s certainly clear from reading this that he had no desire to take another man’s wife. And so in verse 8, we discover him calling his servants and telling them the nature of these things. Incidentally and in passing, notice how much concern there is there on the part of the ungodly for the marriage bond and how little concern there is on the part of the godly for the very same area.

Now, the sad part of it is, when we look at it in relation to Abimelech, found in verse 9. Because Abimelech calls Abraham in, and he says to him, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.” You want to take that phrase and underline in it your Bible: “You have done things to me that should not be done.” Abimelech didn’t share Abraham’s faith. Abimelech didn’t share Abraham’s moral stance. Abimelech didn’t share the biblical absolutes that were to be the framework of Abraham’s life. But Abimelech, standing back from it, knew what ought to mark Abraham’s activity.

And isn’t that perfectly true of our friends and our colleagues at work, again? They will say to us, “I’m not a Christian. I don’t share your posture. But I am surprised to hear you speak that way. I am surprised to see you act that way. And you are doing things that you ought not to do!” Friends, it is a tragedy when the non-Christian world can define our ethics for us better than we can ourselves—that because we have grown happy with the inconsistencies, happy with living in a way that is wrong, it remains for a secular world to confront us with the necessity for change.

It’s like this: We come to church on Sunday, and as we study the Word of God together, and perhaps we meet in a Bible study, the Lord is speaking clearly to us about something. We know it is out of line. Let’s say, for example, that we’re involved in something that gives the appearance of evil, and the Word of God says that we should “abstain from all appearance of evil”[11]—not just the evil itself but giving the “appearance of evil.” And the Word of God is convicting us about it, but somehow, we’re avoiding it: “It’s just a little inconsistency. It’s a quirk in my personality. It’s the little thing that I… It’s just one of my little things that I’m dealing with.” We’ve all got them. We keep them. And we think it’s fine, because we’ve decided that “this is my little deal.” And then, Tuesday morning at the office, somebody who doesn’t share your faith, never attends church, says to you, “Hey, Bill? John? I’ve noticed something wrong with you lately. You never used to do that, and now you do. And it’s affecting me; it’s affecting the whole department. And I don’t share your faith, Bill, but I’ve got to tell you: you’re doing things you ought not to do.” And suddenly, the Word of God that has been coming to our hearts consistently now comes to us from a very different root and confronts us with the peril of inconsistency.

If I were pressed, I think I would say that probably the greatest threat to the Christian church in America as it faces the final part of this century could be defined in two words, and that is chameleon Christianity. Chameleon Christianity—the chameleon being that kind of lizard which can change its skin color according to its surroundings. And that, more than any onslaught from atheistic communism, more than any onslaught from Eastern mystical religions, more than any external attack on God’s people, has been and will be responsible for the degeneracy of the people of God: that we are prepared to live as white here but as black there; as gray here if it suits and as purple there if it demands. We are chameleons. I know! I have lived it, and I face the challenge of it still as I live my life—to go underground, to become covert in my faith, to cherish the illusion that I’m a secret disciple. Beloved, there’s no such thing as secret disciple! Either your secrecy will destroy your discipleship, or your discipleship will destroy your secrecy. It is impossible! You cannot love Christ and his Word and for it not to be known.

Paul, when he wrote to the Ephesians, he highlights this. He says, “For [once],” past tense, “you were … darkness, but now,” present tense, “you are light in the Lord.” Then he says, “[Walk] as children of [the] light.”[12] Resist chameleon Christianity.

Now, that was the challenge that confronted Abraham in light of his inconsistency.

The Explanation for Abraham’s Inconsistency

Finally—and our time is gone—what, then, is the explanation which Abraham gave for his failure? Abimelech asks him straight out in verse 10: “What were you thinking of that you did this thing?” “What was your reason for doing this?” And in verses 11–13, Abraham’s explanation is given.

Notice what he says: “I said to myself…” Now, I don’t want to build a doctrine on this, but it is interesting. The Scriptures say that in a multitude of counselors there’s good guidance.[13] Whenever we set ourselves up as an authority and just talk to ourselves, we’re in great danger. That’s why I’m thankful for the people that God has given to me, peculiarly within the leadership of this church, to whom I am accountable and who in turn are accountable to me. And in that sense, we’re all accountable to one another. So we’ve got to be careful of “saying to ourselves,” especially when what we say to ourselves proves to be faulty. Because most of us can convince ourselves of most things when we’re on our own. You can convince yourself that you have a thirty-two-inch waist, even though it’s thirty-eight, if you talk about it long enough and suck it in for long enough. But a tape measure will reveal the facts. “Abraham replied, ‘I said to myself, “There is surely no fear of God in this place.”’” He was guilty of wrong thoughts, and wrong thoughts lead inevitably to wrong actions. Faulty thinking leads to faulty doing.

He was guilty, at the same time, of misjudging others. Indeed, it’s very ironical that he should say, “There is surely no fear of God in this place,” in that, to a certain degree, Abimelech showed a greater fear of God than Abraham even did himself. “There is … no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” So he was guilty of selfishness; he wanted to spare his life, and the others were just used in this regard. He was guilty of fear; he was more afraid of Abimelech than the living God. And that’s what happens to us when we go underground. What we’re saying is we’re more afraid of what people will think of us if we act in a particular way than we are afraid of God, who called us to act in a particular way. So the question is: Do I care more about what God thinks about me than I care about what my friend or my neighbor thinks about me? Am I prepared to be called God’s friend and thought the neighbor’s fool, or would I rather be the neighbor’s friend and thought God’s fool? And Abraham was more afraid of what Abimelech can do than what God would do.

He was guilty of lack of faith. He’d obviously never thought of the fact that God might intervene on his behalf and do what was right. And so, as we read on, he has devised this little plan. A little grain of truth, a little bit of right, a little bit of wrong, and he’s off and running.

Can I ask you this morning: How often have you said, “I’m never going to do that again”? And then how long was it till you did it again? And are we going to settle down with some kind of complacency: “Lord, tolerate my inconsistencies”? Are we going to go for God’s best? Are we going to decide that somehow, there are various levels to the Christian life—there are different standards? You can get on the A-stream if you like—the honors roll—but if you don’t want to get on that, you can get a little further down, and then there’s another group at the bottom where you just drag your heels and do what you like, but you’ll be fine in the end? The Bible doesn’t teach that. It teaches that there’s only one standard, and that’s conformity with Jesus Christ. And when we are conformed to Jesus Christ, then inconsistency is gone.

Can I ask you, as I’ve asked myself this morning: What inconsistencies are there in my life? What is there that someone at my work, my wife, my children, could say to me, “Dad, I heard you say something, but then you didn’t do it”?

Do you know the kind of effect that you have on me? Do I know the kind of effect I have on you? As we spend time with one another, are we spurring one another on to love and to good works?[14] As people come around this place—and many more will as we face the future—and they ask the questions of us, and they see our lives lived, are they going to make it safely into the harbor? Or are they going to be wrecked along the shore because of the flickering light of our inconsistent testimony?

The Bible teaches that there is only one standard, and that’s conformity with Jesus Christ. And when we are conformed to Jesus Christ, then inconsistency is gone.

A man called Fullerton, who was a preacher here in America—and with this I finish—used an illustration many years ago now at the Keswick Convention in England. And he told the story of a lighthouse on the New England coast—one of those lovely, super lighthouses, with a beautiful glass light, and it had an octagonal shape, I think it was. And in the face of a storm, one of the panels of the glass was shattered. And because the lighthouse keeper couldn’t replace the glass with glass, he took a sheet of dull board, and he replaced the section. It so happened that a vessel making towards the port came at such an angle as to look for the lighthouse shining through that particular panel. But the glass was gone, and the board was up, and the light was shining fine out here, but it wasn’t coming out here. And the vessel was wrecked on the New England shore because of the inconsistency of the light that shone.

Friends, it might just take one little unforgiven sin, one little piece of pride held onto, one little half-truth in your life and in mine to find that when our days have gone and we no longer walk these halls, because the lighthouse keeper did not come and replace it in the way it should, many people were affected detrimentally. We cannot allow that. And we will not allow that. And I will not, as pastor of this fellowship, knowingly preside over it, and neither will the elders. And I want you to know that we’ll come to you to take down the boards and to replace the glass, even as, accountable before God, I expect you to come to me and to do likewise. For God’s glory is at stake. And that’s what Abraham forgot.

Let’s pray together:

O Lord our God, these words stir our minds to reflection, stir our hearts to repentance; they stir our will to obedience. Thank you that in the Bible, you have not left to us these statues of unreal individuals, some alabaster monument, but you have given to us, as those who have tramped the pilgrimage of faith before us, very real people, knowing the great heights of victory, knowing the depths of despondency. And Lord God, we pray today that we might learn from the principles that Abraham applied and that we might learn from the perils that he faced. Forgive us, Lord, our inconsistencies, and come and help us to deal with them by your Spirit, we pray, so that our light may shine before men, fueled by the oil of the Holy Spirit and uncurtailed by the boards of our inconsistency, so that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.[15]

Let’s stand together for the words of the benediction, shall we?

And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Father, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, today and forevermore.

[1] Mary A. Lathbury, “Break Thou the Bread of Life” (1877). Lyrics lightly altered.

[2] Tommy Armour, How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953), 12. Paraphrased.

[3] See Hebrews 11:8–12.

[4] Isaiah 46:10 (NIV 1984).

[5] See Psalm 139:2, 4.

[6] Psalm 139:6 (KJV).

[7] See Isaiah 49:16.

[8] Psalm 139:4 (KJV). See also Matthew 10:29–30; Luke 12:7.

[9] John 14:3 (KJV).

[10] James 3:1 (paraphrased).

[11] 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV).

[12] Ephesians 5:8 (NIV 1984).

[13] See Proverbs 11:14.

[14] See Hebrews 10:24.

[15] See Matthew 5:16.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.