17 - How Temptation Attacks God's Truth
How Temptation Attacks God’s Truth (Gen 3:1-6)
Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church, November 4, 2007
This past Wednesday was Reformation Day (Oct. 31), when exactly 490 years ago a German monk named Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, which before long would spread the recovered gospel through Europe and turn much of the Christian world upside down.
For centuries God’s truth had been attacked in many ways:
- keeping people from it (not available or in their language)
- only super clergy had access to it or could study it
- tradition and ceremony were on par with it and had even replaced the Word of God; this showed doubting that the Scripture alone was really sufficient for God’s people
- they moved from doubting to distorting scripture, twisting it to say things it did not say, taking away from things it did say (commandment against graven images), or softening its strong statements that interfered with their establishment; they added to it teachings like purgatory or indulgences by their dogma and canon law and papal decrees and even adding apocryphal books officially in the 16th century
- what began with doubt and distortion now moved to actually denying what scripture says (Christ our only mediator, His sacrifice was once for all - not continual, Mary herself said she needed a Savior, after man dies he faces judgment rather than purgatory, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, etc.)
- they moved from denying scripture to defying the author of Scripture, with blatant idolatry and sacrilege and blasphemy and worship of images and saints and relics and praying to Mary rather than God, and on it went (and still goes)
By the way, we will see the same pattern and progression in basic form in Genesis 3.
It was against the empire of Rome that Luther stood his ground and said his conscience was bound by scripture alone, and that his arguments could only be silenced by scripture, as his conscience is bound to the Word of God, not the words of men and councils.
He was greatly concerned that God’s truth not be treated as a “wax nose” which people could shape and mold to fit their preferences. The glory of the Incarnate Word was at stake, and Luther’s weapon was the written Word of God. The Reformers were willing to die for truths that the Christian church in our lifetime has given up without a fight, sacrificing God’s truth on the altar of pragmatism.
From the beginning, God’s truth has been under attack. And the serpent of old has been using the same strategy that:
- he used in the garden, as we’ll see today
- he also used in the lives of the original readers of Genesis
- he uses the same strategy on all God’s people
- he even tried it on our Lord Jesus Himself here on earth
- you heard how it played out in Roman Catholicism
- you see how it plays out in the modern world and church
- you felt how it played out in your life this week
The basic strategy hasn’t changed – the main difference is that Adam and Eve didn’t originally have a sin nature whereas we do, and the devil’s had a few more thousand years of practice today. So we have all the more reason to read and heed this passage intently and to plead for God’s help in fighting temptation in our daily lives
The New Testament reminds us that our ultimate struggle is not against flesh and blood, it is spiritual warfare with our spiritual arch-enemy and his invisible army. We have to take every thought captive because the battlefield is our mind. We must not be ignorant of his schemes as the New Testament says.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.
It’s true the actual word “Satan” does not appear anywhere in this passage, and neither does the word “sin” or “the fall” but this passage has been rightly understood as being all about those things, the first temptation, and the first appearance of Satan who has been trying to draw people away from God and His Word ever since
2 Corinthians 11:3 (NASB95)
3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
… 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
Satan doesn’t come with a pitchfork and horns and a red felt suit, he comes as something attractive and beautiful and seeming to be knowing what’s best for us, as our friend who loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life. But the truth is he hates us and God, and Satan has a hellish plan for our life. Satan is not an “it” – the Bible describes the devil as a person, he is not a force.
How do we know who this serpent in Genesis 3 is?
Revelation 12:9 (NASB95)
9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Matthew Henry writes: ‘Multitudes of the angels fell; but this that attacked our first parents was surely the prince of the devils, the ring-leader in the rebellion: no sooner was he a sinner than he was a Satan, no sooner a traitor than a tempter, as one enraged against God and his glory and envious of man and his happiness.’
“the serpent” in Genesis 3 was a likely a literal serpent, but more than just a serpent – this creature was an instrument of Satan who speaks through it. We have other occasions of fallen angels possessing bodies and speaking through them – we even have another occasion in scripture where an angel causes an animal to speak (Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22).
There’s also another occasion in the Bible where animals are possessed by demonic spirits – in Luke 8, demons are cast out of a man, and they beg the Lord not to cast them into the abyss but to instead give them permission to enter some pigs. He does and they enter the pigs, and immediately they rush the whole herd into the water and drown them. This shows the deadly nature and desire of demons if they are let to have their way, and of course the devil is called by Jesus “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44)
We don’t have a lot of details given to us in scripture about how demons work, or the origin of evil or even much on Satan’s fall
- arguably Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer at least indirectly to Satanic attitude and fall
- Rev 12:4 suggests 1/3rd of angels were led astray by Satan
- Jesus said He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Lk 10:18)
That’s all the information we need to know (we are not to obsess about Satan) but if he can that quickly influence that many perfect angels to rebel against God, if he can this quickly influence originally perfect man and woman in the garden to sin, we need to take heed lest we fall!
HOW TEMPTATION ATTACKS GOD’S TRUTH
For God’s people, temptation does not succeed necessarily because of an absence of God’s truth, it’s how God’s truth is handled.
Now the serpent was more crafty
NKJV uses “cunning” (KJV has “subtil”), idea of shrewd or clever
The clever strategy of Satan is revealed in 4 parts, all of them begin with “D” to help us remember them, and all relate to God’s Word
- ___Doubting___ God's Word – v. 1
And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
He does not begin by saying brazenly “there is no God” – he is not that foolish, he is much more subtle, cunning, and crafty and clever
He comes like a fellow believer in God seemingly seeking the truth by means of dialogue (sound anything like liberals / false religion?)
The devil believes in God. In fact he believes more strongly than most humans – it even has a strong effect on him. Of course that doesn’t mean he is saved and going to heaven in the end.
James 2:19-20 (NASB95)
19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
The devil and his demons not only believe in God, they believe Jesus is the Son of God (we hear them exclaim this in the gospels numerous times). Based on Genesis 3:15, some would argue that Satan knew the coming Messiah would be born of a virgin. Demons in the gospels clearly believe Jesus is Almighty God and has all authority and that judgment is coming and he could take them out at any time (ex: the demons beg Jesus not to send them to the Abyss before the time).
Demons go to church – did you know that? Read Revelation 2 & 3 and 1 & 2 Corinthians and you can see that Satan and his demons are at churches. Jesus sometimes was preaching when a demonic encounter took place. Paul’s letter to the churches warn against Satan’s subtle infiltration and temptation in their midst.
The devil can even quote the word of God with the best of them. We see this here and we also see this when he tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he quotes Bible verses.
Before we go any further in this text, let me remind you that if you believe in God, and if you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saved and on your way to heaven. You can believe in God, know exactly who Jesus is and that He was born of a virgin, have a right theology of the Trinity and end times and future judgment, you can believe in God strongly enough that it makes you shudder in fear, you can go to church not just on Easter and Christmas but you can go to a good church every week where the Bible’s taught, you can memorize all kinds of Bible verses and even be able to quote them; you can do all those things and not be going to heaven. To do all of those things doesn’t make you any better than Satan, and knowing and believing those things may only qualify you to go to the place where he’s going. To know and believe the right facts and doctrines about God doesn’t make you any better than a demon, according to the book of James.
Faith that has no works is useless, it’s dead - it is not true saving faith. As we heard last week, not everyone who “says Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will tell Jesus on that day all these things that they have done but Jesus will tell them he never knew them in a saving way and they will spend eternity apart from him. But Jesus began that same sermon talking about repentant people who are poor in spirit, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Forgiveness is for those who repent, turning from their sins and following Jesus as Lord and who have fruit in their life evidencing true salvation. Salvation is by faith alone, not a so-called faith that is alone. Don’t ever think for a moment that merely believing the right things about God and Jesus is enough
Now the serpent here, doesn’t begin with a lie from the pit of hell, he begins by talking the talk about God, but with a clever strategy that he’s been using ever since.
Notice how he casts doubt on God’s Word:
NIV “Did God really say?”
ESV “Did God actually say?”
He acts like he’s sincerely interested in the truth, and wanting to verify what he’s heard, but those few simple words start things rolling down a path that would eventually snowball and become nearly unstoppable. That’s what temptation can do.
The serpent misquotes God ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
If you read Genesis 2:16 God tells man he may eat of “every tree freely” except for one – God’s overwhelming generosity has been undermined as this question suggests instead that God has overwhelming stinginess.
Eve knows he doesn’t have it quite right, but her attention has been drawn to the fact that God did make a prohibition, and this gets her mind processing.
The subtle assumption is that God’s Word is subject to our judgment, that our sense of how things should be legitimizes our questioning of God, and He owes us justification for whatever He does. The temptation casts doubt on the Character of God. At this point only a seed of doubt is cast, but it will soon bear fruit.
Implied question: Why is God holding back on you? Why would he do that?
He doesn’t have to say it out loud, because he knows the human mind can take the next step to begin wondering, “yeah, why is that?” If we don’t take our thoughts captive, before long we may find ourselves wondering if God is obsessive and oppressive and that He really doesn’t care about her like this serpent does.
Idea: God’s not as good as you think. Why do you think He would withhold from you something like that? What’s he trying to hide? Why is He so restrictive? Why is He such a legalist and a kill-joy?
Sin always begins with questioning the Word of God or the goodness of God (or both).
Allen Ross writes about God’s goodness: ‘How can anyone eagerly obey the commandments of God unless it can be demonstrated that his laws are good for the people? An appreciation of God’s goodness is essential to the keeping of the law.’ (p. 131)
- Distorting God's Word – v. 1-2
2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ ”
The Serpent began by misquoting God and Eve is falling into the same trap – the fact that it’s not as extreme as the serpent’s misquoting doesn’t make it right, in fact being a little off is sometimes more dangerous because it’s not as obvious. It’s not what Eve says that is so wrong, but it’s what she does not say that is problematic and shows the tactic is already beginning to work.
- Subtracting from God’s Word - v. 2
Eve just mentions “the trees of the garden” but God said “from every tree of the garden” (except one)
Eve says “we may eat” but God said “you may freely eat”
God’s abundant goodness and generosity are not given their due. Eve hasn’t sinned yet, but she’s on a slippery slope.
- Adding to God’s Word - v. 3a
Eve says “or touch it” (which God did not say in Genesis 2)
Again, she has not committed a sin yet – it could be that Adam told her not to even touch it so she would stay away. She could be using the word “touch” the way it’s used in Genesis elsewhere to refer to taking unlawfully what is not yours, taking it as if you own it to use for your pleasure. I don’t want to make too much of this point.
But we need to be very careful in our thinking and speaking that we do not take away or add to God’s Word even a little. We may exaggerate what we don’t like about God’s word by adding to it. Satan’s tactic in his question was to make it sound worse than it is or to paint God in a different light. Satan wants us to do the same.
Henry Morris writes:
‘It is always dangerous to alter God’s Word, either by addition (as do modern cultists) or by deletion (as do modern liberals). God, being omniscient, can always be trusted to say exactly, and only, what He means (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5; Revelation 22:18, 19); and finite man is inexcusable when he seeks to change God’s Word. Such will lead either to divine reproof (Proverbs 30:6) or death (Revelation 22:19).’ (p. 111)
- Softening God’s Word - v. 3b
Eve responds with “God said” whereas in Genesis 2 God commanded
Instead of the title “LORD God” used repeatedly in Genesis 2-3, she refers to the LORD simply as “God” – adopting the snake’s generic description of Him apart from His covenant relationship name. This is a small note but perhaps the woman is already moving slightly away from God toward the serpent’s attitude.
When Eve talks about the penalty for eating, she slightly diminishes the threat by merely saying “lest you die” (NKJV) instead of 2:17 “you shall surely die”
When we are talking with those who don’t believe the Bible as we do, there’s a real temptation to soften what God has said. This is another subtle way God’s Word is distorted in this process.
- Denying God's Word – v. 4
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!
Once there’s been sown some seeds of doubt, once there is any level of distortion of scripture, Satan has us right where he wants us. When scripture alone is no longer our authority, he’s got us in his sights and he’s bringing out the big guns – denying scripture.
“Not” is emphatic position, first in the Hebrew, a very unusual Heb. Construction, i.e., “NOT true that you’re gonna die!”
God does NOT mean that! Not true! God’s Word does NOT mean that.
Few of us would ever say that out loud, but we think it in our heart of hearts: “Sin is not that big of deal – I know the Bible says it is, but come on, nobody’s perfect. Just do it. No one will know.”
“You’re not going to die. Your sin will not find you out. You can get away with it. It’s not your fault. You deserve better.”
Notice the first doctrine to be denied is judgment for sin.
In our day: “There is no literal place called hell – how could a loving God really create a place called hell? If there was a hell, you’re not going there because you’re a good person.”
That’s a bold lie from the pit of hell that unfortunately has brought countless millions with it to the pit of hell.
It’s one thing to be a liar – it’s another to call God a liar.
But that’s what our actions are doing when we deny and diminish what God has said.
The book of James calls God “the Father of lights” but Jesus calls the devil “the father of lies” and says when Satan lies, he’s speaking his native language
In the first 2 chapters the Word of the Lord brings life and order and now in chap 3, the words of Satan will bring chaos and death.
- ___Defying_________ The God of the Word – v. 5
5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
You see defiance in children, when they look right at you and know what you said, and then they decide you don’t know what’s best and they do, and they’re gonna do it their way no matter what. That is the defiance of sin – I’ve seen this depravity in my own kids – they get it from me!
In the garden the temptation moves beyond the Word of God to actually defying of the God of the Word Himself. Not satisfied with attacking God’s word, now we see a frontal attack on God’s character. It’s not just God’s message, now it’s His motives that are under attack.
“Here’s the deal Eve, God knows that you’re going to be just like Him and He hates competition.”
The subtle power of sin is power - you can be God (similar to Mormonism and many false and quasi-Christian religions that deify man)
Satan’s lie is still the same today: “You can be free. Do whatever you want. It is your life. No one can tell you what to do. Who are they to judge?
“Listen Eve,” he insinuates: “God wants to keep you down because He’s jealous, He wants to hold you back from your destiny. Throw off the shackles and say ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’”
One way to defy God is another word that’s almost spelled the same – to deify us. Self is maximized and God is minimized. John the Baptist said of our Lord “He must increase, I must decrease” but when we sin, we are in our mind making God decrease and we are making ourselves increase. As an old Puritan said when we sin defiantly and pridefully we are “contending for supremacy with the Almighty.”
“You will be like God” appears to be at the core of sin. Ascending to heaven sounds a little like Lucifer’s ambition, it sounds a lot like the ambition of those building the tower of Babel, it sounds a lot like the root of pride whose fruit is all sorts of evil.
Sounds a little like the temptation of Christ; “all these things I will give you”
It promises big, but delivers little. Notice also there is truth mixed in with his error, that’s what makes it so dangerous – what he says is sometimes partly true
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
The Bible nowhere says the fruit was an apple – this old tradition may have come from the common sound in Latin malus (evil) and malum (apple)
‘Eve listened to a creature instead of the Creator, followed her impressions against her instructions, and made self-fulfilment her goal.’ (Kidner, 68)
You might ask where Adam is, why is he not protecting his wife and defending God and His Word? The end of the verse says she gave to him “with her and he ate.” It may very well be that he was watching a good portion of this drama, curiously wanting to see if she would die when she took a bite before he decides to go for it. The Old and New Testaments hold Adam more responsible for this sin as the head of his wife and federal head of the human race.
It’s interesting that their eyes are not open and made aware of their nakedness until verse 7 after Adam eats. The N.T. says “in Adam, all die” (first spiritually then later physically and eternally). It’s through one man that sin entered the world, death came through sin and spread to all men. We will see again next week how God calls Adam to account first even though Eve sinned first.
‘the authority structure of Genesis 2-3 rests on the careful order of God, the man, the woman, and the animal (serpent). This, of course, was tragically reversed by the fall, as Kenneth Matthews points out: “The woman listens to the serpent, the man listens to the woman, and no one listens to God.’ (Kent Hughes, Genesis, 65)
By boldly eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were declaring they would autonomously decide what was right and wrong, man makes the rules, we can do it our way.
I read one commentator who said one of the favorite funeral songs for unbelievers is “I did it my way.” More than one funeral director has confirmed this, in fact one shared that Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way” was used as the musical motif for a Communion service at a funeral!
Jesus, however is our model when He prayed that night “not my will, but thine”
The first Adam and his wife in contrast said in essence to God “not thy will, but mine”
Our first parents partook of a tree that brought death to all their descendants, and Jesus hung on a tree that brought life to all of His descendants who trust in Him.
Man’s free will does not save him, our only hope is God’s free grace. If you say in the end “I did it my way” you’re on a highway to hell. Jesus is the way, the truth, the life – come to Him today.