Faith opens the door to the blessings of Christ (the related questions of grace and regeneration and order do not set aside the fact without faith, the human being cannot receive the gracious salvation granted by God in Christ Jesus; Ephesians 2:8-9):
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.Romans 5:1-2.
Now as all blessing comes through the door of faith, so whatever does not come by faith is sin, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
Therefore, the movement toward sin does not begin directly with the object of sin but rather through damage to faith. The first temptation begins with an attack upon faith,
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
Genesis 3:1. Knowing this, Parson rightly notes that faith — and unfaith– must be understood to understand the work of our adversary:
The Scriptures teach that salvation is by faith alone. “He that believeth shall be saved.” “He that believeth not shall be damned.” “Whatsoever is hot of faith is sin.” “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent.” Christ is the ” author and finisher of faith ;” the adversary, in a similar sense, doubtless, is the inspirer of unbelief. In order to understand Satan’s power of evil in this capacity, we need a distinct conception of what are the elements of faith and unbelief.
William Leonard Parsons. The believer’s victory over Satan’s devices.
Parons first explains — contrary to the common cultural understanding — faith is not “blind” nor does it lack content. Rather, faith is the trust which one places upon a known object:
Faith, then, implies an object. Without this, there is nothing on which the mind can repose its confidence, and faith will be naturally impossible. This object must be revealed to the mind, the intellect must see it, or faith can not be. To trust in a person of whom you have no knowledge is impossible.
Yet faith does not end with an intellectual acknowledgment. There must be assent of the affections which compell the will:
Again: the object of faith so presented to the mind must be closed in with by the will. To see the truth and enthrone it as the law of our voluntary being, is to believe unto life. To see the truth, approve it with the reason, and to refuse, by the soul’s voluntary act or state, to enthrone it as our law of life and conduct, is to be guilty of fatal unbelief. The voluntary element, or the want of it, in our faith, makes all the difference between a living and a dead faith — between a religion of forms and one of life and power. To see the truth on which our faith must repose in order to salvation, is not virtue; but, seeing it, to will it. The devils see it, and, rebelling against it, tremble in their guilt before its majesty. To see the truth does not save. To see it is condemnation; but seeing it, and welcoming it to perfect lordship over us, is to unite the soul to its Redeemer, and make it a joyful partaker of his life.
Thus, it is at this point that Satan attacks. While an outright denial of the object of faith may be an option for some, for the believer, Satan cannot deny God in toto. Thus, as he did with Eve, he aims for trust rather than knowledge. A knowledge of the true God coupled to an arrested will can bring on sin as easily an outright denial of God. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Sin makes one untrusting of God:
Man, by sin, has lost his confidence in God — not the sentiment that God is worthy of confidence, not the knowledge of his truth absolutely and entirely, for the law is engraven on the reason — but that living faith, the essential element of which, after the truth is seen, consists in its enthronement in the will, as the all-governing law of life and duty
Here is the paralysis of sin: We cannot utterly erase the law, but we will still fall into sin because we lack the faith to trust God on the matter. The will stumbles at trust.
(John Piper draws this point out at length in his book “Future Grace” — where he explains that all sin derives from the tacit (at least) belief that God’s offer will not satisfy as well as sin.)
Thus Satan seeks to stymie faith at every point — with some he stops up knowledge, with other he poisons trust or corrupts the will:
On the other hand, Satan becomes the author and ‘finisher of unbelief, by hiding from the mind the true object of saving faith, and thus he renders its exercise impossible. When the truth reaches the intellect, he will obscure, pervert, and distort it, and bring all possible influences within his reach to bear upon the mind to prevent the will from so closing in with it as is indispensable to a vital and saving faith.
What can we draw from this knowledge? That our efforts must be directed at the point of attack. Note that our response to sin is a sort of indirection. Rather than concern ourselves primarily with fruit upon the tree, we must look first to the to the roots, to the heart.
Sin finds its spring in the heart (Mark 7:20-23). The heart faithless toward God will breed sin. Thus, Satan seeks to draw off the heart from a faithful sight of Christ. Therefore, we must keep our sight focused firmly upon our hope:
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,
23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.