On Monday we looked at the role isolation can play in our battles with sin. We also explored how God has provided Church as a means to counter this. In today’s post we’re going to consider the other elements at work in mankind’s battle with temptation.
Temptation is complicated, as is most human behaviour. There are often many factors at work, many reasons behind the things that we do. Motivations both good and ugly. Physiologists Freud and Jung would probably blame our parents, Sociologists would blame our communities, the Left blaming the Right and the Right blaming the Left. Adam blames Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and both of them blamed God.
So how does temptation work, how does it get us to a point where we willingly conspire against God, seeking to disobey His law, to hurting each other and ourselves? Genesis 3 has some answers:
(I understand this is a longer post than usual, hopefully the sub-headings will allow quick transit between ideas.)
Temptation Twists Truth
The first thing the snake asks is, ‘did God really say, “you must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ (V1). In fact, God had said they could eat from any tree, except one! Temptation twists truth. It adds from God’s words, takes from them and can even distort them. We see Satan follow this pattern when he attempts to trip Jesus in Matthew 4.
Since temptation twists truth, holding onto truth, knowing it and believing it is essential for the Christian. Perhaps this is why Jesus promises to his disciples, those who listen to his teaching, would know the truth and the truth would set them free (John 8:31-32)
Temptation Begins with Trivia
How can it be that so great a fall can begin with so small an incident: eating fruit? Surely the whole world will not fall apart for such a trivial thing? Yet, this is where the snake goes on… ‘surely, you will not certainly die’ (V4). We must surrender to God everything in our lives even the most seemingly trivial. One commentator put it like this:
“Some habit, some possession, some secret sin, some bitter resentment – in the context of our whole life, it seems so small, and yet it is at that one point that our trust in God is tested. If we will not let God be God at this one small, trivial, yet so crucial a point then we really do not trust him where it matters at all.” – David Atkinson (The Message of Genesis 1-11).
Since temptation starts with trivia, it is so important that we ‘nip it in the bud’. Perhaps this is why the Lord’s Prayer includes ‘lead us not into temptation’. Let us not play with fire.
Temptation Drives a Wedge Between Faith and Reason
Temptation oozes into the crevices between faith and reason, it erodes their oneness. The snake attempts to cause Eve to doubt the goodness of God’s word. Where God had said ‘don’t eat’, the snake implies ‘why would God say that?’. And so Eve begins to doubt her reason for believing God’s words.
Reasoning faith acknowledges that in the space between heaven and earth, there are secret things which belong to the Lord. Reasoning faith causes gratitude, rather than doubt. Reasoning faith knows God by trusting Him, by experiencing His loving-faithfulness. Reasoning faith can say: ‘This is a trustworthy saying…if we are faithless, He remains faithful’ (2 Tim 2:11&13).
Temptation seeks to come between reason and faith.
Temptation Suggests Benefits to Us
Once the snake has disarmed/trivialised the cost of disobedience, (‘surely you won’t die’) he promises benefits. It is important to note that the Hebrew word for ‘die’ in verse 4 is ‘Muwth’ and according to one count it appears in the OT 835 times. ‘Surely you won’t die’, surely?
Obviously, we are tempted because we think we will gain through sin. In this passage the snake promises that they will be like God, their eyes will be opened, they will gain knowledge about good and evil (V5). After lying about the cost (‘surely you won’t die!’) the snake seeks to promise blessings for disobedience.
And is this not the case with our temptation and sin? We lie because we think it will be easier than telling the truth. We steal because we will get what we want without working for it. We lust and covet because we think we will be satisfied or empowered. We are tempted by the apparent gains we hope to make.
Temptation (seeks to) Insult God and Us
Perhaps most significant is that temptation attempts to insult, and offend! It seeks to reproach God’s goodness, by questioning whether a good God would really deny us eye-opening, knowledge-giving fruit. “Surely God cannot be good if He is denying you these things”.
We see that the snake drops the intimate name of ‘LORD God’ (aka: Jehovah) and Eve follows suits, referring to God as ‘God’. But notice how many times, after this conversation, that Genesis 3 refers to the ‘LORD God’ – over and over again! It becomes so obvious that the tempter is seeking to insult God’s relational-goodness.
But it’s not just God who is insulted by temptation, it is also us! You see when God first made human beings, He made them in His image and likeness (1:26,27). When the snake tempts Eve and promises that by eating the fruit she will become like God, he is saying “look, you’re not like God enough, you are not significant enough etc”.
Perhaps this is one reason why we sin, because we want to fight back against this insult. We want to prove we are strong, powerful, able to make ourselves god-like and hence we rebel against God. Perhaps we need to turn to the promises and truth that God offers about our value and importance. That we are made in His image, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that He has got good plans for us, that we are His workmanship created in Christ for good works. That He does already take great delight in us. That we are His beloved Children. That He died for us, because He loved us. That we are new creations, kings, priests and prophets of a Kingdom about to come!