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’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Jesus was asked a question once. “Good Sir, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He answered this question with a question of His own. “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.”
In the text from the book of Genesis we find the serpent, that is Satan, challenging this truth that only God is good. He begins by telling the woman that God has lied. Lied about what, you might ask?
To answer that question, consider that God had commanded the woman and her husband to steer clear of eating from the tree that was in the midst of the garden. In fact, what He specifically told them was, “in the day you eat of the tree you shall surely die.”
Here in our text we now find the serpent telling the woman this is a lie. You will not surely die. In fact, the only reason God even you this in the first place is because He’s trying to keep you and your husband from reaching your full potential.
What might this full potential have been?
Consider the truth God is good. This means He is just, He is right, He is holy, He is honest, He is forthright, He is without change. He never lies, He never betrays, He is good. God is good means all His attributes are good. It means His character is good. It means all His commandments are good.
We’ve talked before about the fact that of all God’s attributes, Scripture assigns only one to triple repetition thus marking it out as the most important of all His attributes. The Bible does not say God is love, love, love, or He is mercy, mercy, mercy or even that He is just, just, just. No, the Bible tells us that holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.
This means that all of His attributes are holy. His mercy is holy. His compassion is holy. His power, His wisdom, His justice, His anger.
Holiness is a reference to the word wholeness. Imagine a pie, if you will. There is not a single slice or piece of that pie missing. There is not a single slice or piece that is not the pie.
So it is with God that not a single shred of evil is found in Him. He is wholly holy. All His attributes are only righteous; righteous meaning good, just, logical, and perfect.
Now here comes this friendly little snake in the garden though, and the first thing he says is God is not good. His commandment is not good. In fact, His commandment is a lie. You will not surely die.
“You will not surely die,” he says, “For, or because, God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
I want you to understand what he’s doing here. He’s being very deceptive.
The first thing he’s saying is God is not good. Therefore what God commands cannot be trusted, because God is not good.
In addition, God’s motivation for forbidding you to eat from the tree is selfish. He just wants to keep you from becoming what you are truly capable of becoming.
This is not the heart of the serpent’s temptation though. He’s just setting up a reason for the woman to agree with what he’s about to say next.
What he says next is even though God is not good, you can be. You can learn what is good. The tree’s fruit will teach you. You can then use that knowledge the fruit will give you to decide for yourself what good is. You can be good by doing the good the fruit will knowledge of.
Here’s God’s law. He says do not eat from the tree, for in the day you eat from it you shall surely die. It’s a trustworthy commandment, because God who commanded it is good.
But if God is not good, then the commandment cannot be trusted. In that case, you need a new commandment from someone else. That someone else can be you. All you need is the knowledge of what good is. The tree God which forbade you to eat from will provide you with that knowledge.
The serpent wants the woman to declare her independence from God; to tell God she is capable of creating her own law, because she now has what He has –knowledge of good.
Commenting on this very passage in Genesis, the apostle Paul states in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans that . . .
18 the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
The woman knew God is good. God had made this knowledge plain to her. She had clearly perceived His divine nature and eternal power in the things He had made. She could even take a look at herself and clearly see that she had wonderfully and fearfully made. She was without excuse then for doing what she did.
Here she stands, turning her head again to take another long, hard look at the forbidden tree. God had forbid us to eat from the tree lest we die, and I can tell from everything He has made that He is holy and good, but now that I study the fruit a little closer, it sure does look tasty, and I can see now what that friendly little snake meant when he said it would make me wise with the knowledge of goodness if I ate it.
And with that the woman succumbs. She buys into the serpent’s lie. She takes some of the fruit and then eats it, then gives some to her husband who eats it.
The text then tells us that upon eating from the tree God had commanded them not to eat, their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. They then sewed fig leaves together to make themselves loincloths.
Now what is that about? Why would they sew fig leaves together? I mean, they are husband and wife living alone in a tropical garden, right. Why would they care they were naked?
They cared, because for the first time in their lives they are both embarrassed by what they see.
You see, if I am now free to establish myself in righteousness by doing what I decide in my own eyes is good, then what is in my own eyes good might not be what is in your eyes good. My good might not be your good. And if my good is not your good, then guess what that makes me in your eyes. It makes me evil in your eyes.
Here is the woman saying to herself, I have done what I have decided in my own eyes is good, therefore I should now be established as a person who is righteous. But my husband keeps looking at me with condemnation instead. It embarrasses me. I’m ashamed. Maybe I haven’t done enough good.
It was right here that false religion was born. After all, this is the conceit of all false religions; that we can establish ourselves in righteousness by doing what we decide in our own eyes is good.
Just what exactly this good is varies from religion to religion and denomination to denomination, but it is always a good that is good in one’s own eyes.
Maybe feeding the hungry and clothing the poor is the good that I’ve decided will make me righteous. Or maybe it’s catechism classes and a baptismal fount. It could the repetition of a prayer instead, or the confession of a failure to obey the rules.
It doesn’t matter, because in the end it’s all part and parcel of the same lie; you can establish yourself in righteousness by doing what you decide in your own mind is good.
This lie has not only spawned every false religion, but it also pervades every facet of man. His philosophy, his science, his art, his politics, his entertainment, it’s all eaten up with it.
For one group of people, political correctness and liberal politics are the good that makes them righteous; while for another group of people apolitical correctness and conservative politics are the good that makes them righteous.
I am no philosopher, scientist, politician or artist. I am not even a farmer. What I am instead is religious. And so while I am aware how this faith in the serpent’s lie pervades every facet of mankind, the one area I notice it the most in is in the area of his religion.
And when I say religion, I do not mean only those religions that do not go by the name of Christian either. No, in fact, I specifically do mean those religions that do indeed go by the name of Christian.
I say this, because as a Christian I am sensitive to those who call themselves Christian but who are in fact, not. There is a Christianity that is not true Christianity. It has never been true Christianity, it will never be true Christianity. But boy is it ever popular.
As a Christian I watch people I care for come under the influence of this false Christianity and it grieves me, because they are only being deceived. What they are getting instead of God’s truth is just more of the same of what they could be getting from politics, philosophy, science or entertainment. Or even any other non-Christian religion, come to that.
This false Christianity begins at the same place all false religions begin, with the firm conviction that we can establish ourselves in righteousness by doing something that we decide is good.
Let me give you an example.
Most of you know that I came out of the so called
emergent church movement. The church I used to attend was one of those huge, mega church places with the big theater screens, the electric guitars, and the free donuts and coffee in the atrium.
This church had decided in their mind that loving their community into a relationship with God is what good is. They believed they could establish themselves in righteousness by doing this.
And so everything that church did revolved around this. Their doctrine, what little doctrine they had, revolved around it. This is why their doctrine began with the tenant that God loves everyone, because heck, if God doesn’t love everyone, then loving our community into a relationship with God wouldn’t be possible and wouldn’t be good.
The guitars, the movie screens, the free coffee and donuts, these all flowed forth from the lie they had created. It was all done in the effort to make visitors feel warm and invited; all as part of the effort to love their community into a relationship with God.
This doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong in and of itself with electric guitars and big movie screens, or even with free coffee and donuts. The problem is not so much what we do, but rather why we do it.
Back when I was a kid, my mom made my brother and sister and I attend a Church of God service every week. If you’re unaware of what a Church of God is, then know that it’s a so called holiness denomination where strict obedience to the rules is taught and enforced.
These guys, unlike the emergent church I later attended, had decided in their minds that good is pretending they had obeyed God’s law. They counted their failed attempts as perfection.
Everything they did revolved around this. They made a habit of comparing themselves to other men whom they counted as less worthy than themselves, and then using this comparison to judge themselves righteous. I mean, after all God, I am better than that guy, right; so I must be good then.
They loved to give their god the glory for enabling them to not be as sinful as other people, or so they thought.
Both of these churches are part and parcel the same false religion. They don’t appear that way on the surface, and yet they are. This is what makes them so deceptive. They don’t look the same, but they are. They both believe the serpent’s lie.
It isn’t doctrinal teaching or exegetical study that makes a man righteous, anymore than it is loud guitars and giant movie screens that makes him unrighteous.
No, what establishes a man in righteousness is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither of these churches believe this gospel, and neither of them taught it.
The fact is, we are not good. No one but God alone is good. None of us are born righteous. We are all born evil, and this cannot be changed by anything we do, by any choice we make, by any sacrament we take, by any lifting of a hand or repeating of a prayer.
Psalm 51 verse 5 says,
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
I was conceived in sin. We all were. We all began life guilty of being evil.
The reason it is this way is because God imputes Adam’s disobedience to the rest of Adam’s posterior, meaning us, all of mankind.
Impute here is a word that means God credits to our account. God keeps books, you see. He’s like an accountant. He credits and debits to each man’s account. What He credits first to every person’s account is Adam’s disobedience. Adam disobeyed and now we each and every one of us get the bill.
What was the command Adam disobeyed? I just mentioned it a moment ago. Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day you eat of it you shall die.
Wait a minute, die? Did you say die? You shall die? You mean Adam disobeyed and now we each get stuck with a bill demanding our death as payment?
That’s exactly right. The wages of sin are death.
Someone reading this might protest. After all, they might say, I’m not the one who disobeyed. It was Adam who disobeyed. Why then do I get stuck with the bill for something he did?
We get stuck with the bill for what he did, because this is what God predestined in His eternal purposes for the salvation of His elect.
You see, God chose from eternity; that is, before He created anything else, He chose, He decided in His mind to glorify His goodness by choosing to save a particular people from their sin. He decided who these particular people were long before He created the universe.
These people He chose had nothing to do with His decision. In other words, He did not take into account anything they would do or might do at any point in the future. No, His decision had nothing to do with them.
Now right here false Christianity does not like this. It tries to get around it by insisting that God chose those people who He knew would choose Him. They describe it as God peering down the corridor of time into the future to see who would choose Him before He chose them.
No. This is false. First of all, evil people cannot choose God. Second, God choosing them because they chose Him would make God’s decision dependent on the desires of evil people. And third, no one’s choice has ever saved them.
People are not saved by a decision to believe in Jesus, whatever that means. I know lots and lots of false Christian churches love to teach that, but it is just plain false. No one is saved by their decision. Everyone whom God chose to save have already been saved by Christ’s decision at the cross. This is why He will cause them to believe Him.
God’s decision had nothing to do with the people He chose. His decision was solely in accordance with His own good purposes and will.
And God was not wrong to do this. He was not unjust. There is nothing unjust and unfair and wrong about it. After all, He is good and He is the Creator. Does not the good Creator have the right to create however He sees fit?
Did God not have the right to say I am going to create some people to love and for this reason save from their sin? And did He not also have the right to say I am also going to create another people whom I will condemn in order to glorify My holiness?
Did He not have the right to do both these things in order to glorify His power and mercy and justice?
Of course, He has the right. He would only be unjust if He had later lied about doing this. He has not lied though. It is unrighteous men instead who have lied about it.
Romans 9 says,
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
For those people whom He had chosen to love, God also decided in His mind, again long before He created the universe, that He would save them by sending His Son to die for them.
His Son would redeem them; that is, He would pay the bill they would owe to God for their disobedience and also for Adam’s disobedience. He would do this by offering His own death to God at the cross in lieu of theirs. They would contribute nothing to the paying of this debt. Christ would instead pay it all Himself.
As a consequence of this payment that Christ would make, God also decided in His mind that He would send His Spirit to radically change these people’s minds about Him. Even though they would be born agreeing with the serpent who they had never even met and maybe had never even heard about, His Spirit would yet make them want to change their mind about this serpent’s lie. They would flush their former opinion of God and of themselves, and they would instead turn to agree with God.
This means they would immediately come to understand and agree with God that they were not good people. They were never good people. They had always instead been evil people. And because they were evil people, everything they did therefore was evil, even the things that they had decided was good.
They would also immediately come to understand and agree God was right and just to demand their death both for Adam’s disobedience and also for their own. After all, this is how God establishes His people in righteousness. Not by giving them a new set of commandments to obey, but rather by imputing Christ’s own obedience to them.
In addition, they would also immediately understand and agree with God that Christ has paid the bill for them, and that for this reason alone God is right and just to now count them as righteous people. Not because of anything they have done or will do, but rather because He has imputed Christ’s obedience to them.
Lastly, they would also come to understand and agree with God that as a consequence of Christ’s obedience imputed to them, they will now not die and stay dead forever as everyone else will. Instead, the Spirit would make them to understand and agree with God that since Christ was perfect and had never disobeyed God, He therefore did not stay dead forever. And because God had now imputed Christ’s obedience to them, they too will not stay dead, but will instead be raised from the dead just as Christ was.
God decided all of this without asking them. He did not consult them. And He accomplished it and made it happen without their assistance and without requiring they do something first to deserve it or to keep it.
This is the meaning of grace. This is the good news. It is the only true good news, and it is the only true Christianity. All other Christianities are a false Christianity. They are of the serpent’s lie.
In closing I want to mention something. In addition to the many versions of false Christianity I have encountered, there are at least two versions that are far more subtle than all the rest.
This more subtle version of false Christianity will agree with everything I just said, but it will then add something to what I just said that will render everything I just said obsolete.
This more subtle version of false Christianity claims that a person who has been imputed with Christ’s obedience and thereby is now established in righteousness, nevertheless cannot know for a fact that he has been established in righteousness until he first begins to do God’s good commandments.
What? I want to say to these people, did you not hear anything I just said? Apparently not.
I just said that God did all of this without first consulting His people or demanding that they do something to earn it or keep it. This subtle form of false Christianity turns this on its head and claims, “That may be true, Dave, but we all know you can’t take God at His word. You can’t trust Him. I know He said bookwork is how He establishes His people in righteousness, but we both know “mere” bookwork is not enough. Mere bookwork is just fiction. What we need in addition to bookwork is a new nature that enables us to do His commandments. So unless you got that new nature, well then, you ain’t righteous.”
What are these people saying? They’re repeating the serpent’s lie. God is not good, therefore what He said is true is not good. You can’t just be made righteous by mere accounting. No, we know what good is, because we ate from the tree. Good is God making people righteous through their behavior. That’s what good is.
This is an abomination. It is a lie.
Scripture often uses the word “flesh” to describe self righteous religion. It also uses the word “spirit” to describe righteous religion. Scripture often contrasts these two polar opposites.
What does flesh mean? Flesh is a reference to the serpent’s lie. All those people who believe the serpent’s lie look for righteousness in what their own created bodies and brains can do and decide.
As for all God’s chosen people who have been made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s obedience to their account, the Bible calls them “of the Spirit.”
Why Spirit? Because they look to God alone for their righteousness. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit.
All those who are in Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passion and desires.
What is the passion and desire of the flesh? The passion and desire of the flesh is to establish itself in righteousness by doing what it decides in its own mind is good. Of course then this leads directly to things like sexually immorality, greed and theft, witchcraft and sorcery, and so on. After all, one who seeks to establish himself in righteousness by doing what is right in his own eyes is very likely going to decide that sleeping with everyone he can is right in his own eyes.
In contrast to this, the fruit of the gospel is joy, peace, patience, self control . . .
Of course it’s joy. Duh. I’m not going to die and stay dead forever. God now accepts me as righteous. Of course I’m going to be overjoyed with this.
And peace. Absolutely. Peace with God.
Patience. Definitely. I now understand not only is
God in complete control of all things, but I now also understand that He has decreed all things for the good of His people. So when something happens to me that I don’t like, I understand why God has decreed it. He has not decreed it in order to punish me.
I had a bill that I owed to God. The payment for that bill was my permanent death. Incredibly, by His grace alone, Christ paid that bill for me. He credited to my account His own perfect obedience, thereby forever more making me as righteous as He is. Because of this I now have free and unfettered access to Him. I know He hears my prayers.
Not everyone understands they also have a bill they owe to God. Not everyone understands the payment of their bill is also death. And Christ has NOT paid that bill for everyone.
I pity those people. After all, I am no better a sinner than they are. I haven’t been made righteous by behavior. I’ve instead been made righteous through bookwork. This means I still have all the same bad behavior I’ve always had.
Yes, God has commanded His people to behave a certain way. Some people don’t like to hear that, but it’s true.
Jesus, for instance, told us that if someone punches us in the face, don’t go and punch them back. Instead, turn the other cheek. In so doing you will show them how gracious your God has been to you.
But this doesn’t mean my paid in full receipt suddenly reverts back to unpaid bill if I do punch back.
I’ve been catching a lot of flack on Facebook recently from a certain person who shall remain nameless. This person has been accusing me of being a legalist, because I said Christians are to strive to obey Christ’s law.
Understand, if Christ’s law makes me angry, then I have not been converted. If Christ’s law makes me angry, then I still believe the lie! If Christ’s law makes me angry, then I still believe that God’s commandments cannot be trusted; they are not good.
Just because God justifies His people through an act of accounting does not mean they now have the right to decide for themselves what is good.
Christ’s law does not make me angry. What makes me angry are those people who insist Christ’s law is how God’s people are made righteous. And what also makes me angry are those people who insist there are no commandments now for Christians to obey, because they have the power to do whatever they say in their own mind is good.