The statistics are daunting. More and more young people raised in Christian homes abandon the faith when they leave for college. Growing up, they quoted Bible verses, worshiped every Sunday, and knew all the right things to say. So what went wrong? It’s because they’ve been living on a borrowed faith instead of making it their own. They had religion, but they never had a relationship with Christ. What about you? Is your faith your faith, or is it a borrowed faith?
Flirting with Temptation
God created the perfect world for man and woman to enjoy, along with everything they could ever want. But He also gave them the freedom to choose whether or not they would obey Him. Sadly, they abused this privilege by choosing to sin, and soon found their entire world collapsing around them. We, too, have the choice of following God’s commands and enjoying His pleasure, or pursuing temptation and suffering the painful consequences. What choices are you making today?
As you’re taking your Bibles and turning to Genesis chapter three, you can hold your place in Genesis three, we’re actually going to have to jump back to Genesis two for a moment to pick up some of the verses that we intentionally skipped over last week that tie directly into Genesis chapter three. As you’re doing that, I want you to try to imagine something really far-fetched for a moment. Imagine that there was a well-known billionaire who was known for being extraordinarily kind and generous, and he chose you and your family for no reason, other than that he was kind, to give to you a $50 million estate in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and it had hundreds and hundreds of acres of woods and lakes and this long winding brick driveway up through the woods to this massive, massive mansion with a four car garage, one of which contained a red Ferrari. The other three, you can fill it with whatever you want.
It was just a spectacular place and you were overwhelmed with his generosity. And on top of that, he said to you, “I’m here for you. If you ever need me, here’s my cell number. You call me anytime day or night.” You and your family move in and you’re overwhelmed. It’s like a 60-room mansion. It’s a gorgeous place and you live in it for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, and then all of a sudden you just begin smashing the windows out and you take a sledgehammer and you smash through the walls, and then you set fire to the place and you burn it to the ground. After it burns to the ground, you go sifting through the rubble and you pull out some boards and you build for yourself a little shack and you move your family into the shack and you live there in the shack. And you think to yourself, “Boy, we have got it made.” Well, obviously we’re all sitting here thinking, “That’s a dumb story, Phil. Nobody would ever do that.” And you’re right. It’s a dumb story. Nobody would ever do that, except somebody actually did. But they did something far worse than that, something far more serious than that. As we come today to Genesis chapter three, we will see that unfold in far more significant ways than simply burning down a $50 million mansion.
Last week, we were in chapter two as we are in our series through the Bible called “Unravel” as we are going through the entire Bible, attempting to unravel some of the tangled pieces that exist for a lot of folks when they think about the Bible. We’re trying to untangle and unravel some of that and put the Bible into place in people’s minds to help us gain an understanding of this amazing book.
Last week, we saw in chapter two how God created Adam and Eve and God made the perfect partner for Adam and He gave them a perfect world to live in—everything they could possibly want and need. They lacked for nothing. I told you last week, we were skipping over verses eight and nine in chapter two. Let’s take a look at those verses now. Genesis chapter two, verse eight: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, where he placed the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” That statement just amazes me. The God of the universe cares about us so much that He created things that we would enjoy looking at. It just astounds me, His care for us. He created food that we would eat and go, “Wow, that’s so good,” Things to look at that we would just stop and stare at and think “Isn’t that beautiful?” Like my wife thinks that when she looks at me all the time. Wow. You’re dismissed.
“Now in the middle of the garden were,”—and here we go, this is key—”in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And then the next few verses, you’ll see, it talks about the one river that came in and split into four rivers that watered the garden. Then we pick up in verse 16—a very important verse to help us understand chapter three: “The Lord God commanded him”—or yours may say, “the man.” Underline that. The Lord God commanded who? Him, the man, saying, “from any tree of the garden, you may freely eat.” You hear God’s wide open offer? God is not restrictive, He’s not unkind, He’s not limiting, He’s not trying to stop your enjoyment of life. “From any tree of the garden, you may freely eat, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat. For in the day you eat from it, you will surely die.” Underline that phrase: “surely die.”
I’m going to look at four things with you this morning. The first thing I want us to consider is the gift of choice that God gave to Adam and Eve and to all of us. God not only gave Adam and Eve everything they needed, but He gave to them a wonderful, extraordinary gift that He did not have to give to them. He gave them and to all of us the freedom of choice. He allowed them to choose whether or not they were going to love Him or reject Him, whether they were going to obey what He had asked them to do or whether they were going to disobey and turn their back on Him. Why in the world did God do that? It’s because God wanted relationships, not robots. Some people think that God created the world and then He kind of wound it up like a toy and then He went off, and He’s been doing His own thing ever since, completely disconnected from all of us. Well, if you’ve read any of the Bible, you know that’s not true. God is intimately involved with His creation, right up to this moment. God did not want to create a bunch of robots walking around who were forced to love Him. It would have been so much easier for Him to do that, so much less of a headache if He had done that, if He had created mankind without the freedom to choose, just simply to force them to love Him. But listen, to remove the choice is to remove love. If there’s no choice, there’s no real true love. You can’t force anyone to love. You ever seen a mother saying to her child, “Billy, you play nice with Jimmy. Billy, I’m warning you. You better play nice with Jimmy.” And Billy goes, “Oh, all right,” and he stomps off. Boy, there’s a real budding friendship right there, huh? You can just feel the love. No, you can’t force someone to love someone. We see this in a very dark, heartbreaking way when you see those news stories about someone who has abducted a woman or a girl and has kept them prisoner for weeks or months or even years, and in some sick way in that man’s mind, he is actually thinking that he can, in time, force this woman to love him. It’s impossible. You cannot force anyone to love you.
So God gave us the choice to obey Him or not, not so that He would know whether or not we love Him, but so that we would know whether or not we love Him. We see this many times throughout the Bible. For example, here’s a choice that God gave to His people through Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 30, verses 19 and 20. God said, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today.” Boy, when God opens a paragraph like that, you kind of want to sit up and take notice. He says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life.” It’s like He’s giving you a test with only two possible answers, and then He gives you the answer to the test, and they still chose the wrong answer. Astounding. Yet we do the same thing all the time. God says, “Here’s the test: life or death. Choose life.” And they go, “Eh, I think we’ll choose death.” He says the reason I want you to choose life is “so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.” God wants obedience from us.
Jesus told us when He was here on Earth, He said, “You guys think you know what love looks like? I’m going to tell you what love is.” He said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” You can talk about love all you want. “I love, love, love, love.” Nope. Same thing with not only our relationship with Him, but with others. “I love you, I love you.” You see these young people, “I’m in love,” and you just kind of go, “You don’t have a clue what love is.” It’s not until about five years in that you start realizing, “Ooh, this love thing is pretty hard work.” God doesn’t want to hear from our lips, “I love you,” and then we go out and we do our own thing. He wants obedience, because that speaks louder than words.
1 Samuel 15:22 says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen to Him is better than the fat of rams.” I don’t have time to pursue that, but that’s really an astonishing statement to be made in that time considering, for example, the Book of Leviticus and all the stringent, sacrificial requirements that God placed on His people that they had to go through. “You got to follow all these rules to bring sacrifices to Me at all these irregular times,” and then God says, “Oh, by the way, I’d rather have your obedience than any of that stuff.” It’s a strong statement.
Last week, we looked at chapter two, verses 18 to 24, and I intentionally left out the very last verse of chapter two: verse 25. I want us to take a quick look at that today right before we step over into chapter three. This is our second point and I’ve called this “The Last Innocence.” Verse 25 of chapter two: “And the man and his wife were both naked and they were not ashamed.” We read that and go, “What a bizarre thing to put in the Bible. Why does that even need to be in there? It’s just so strange.” Just hold on to that verse for a second, this is really important. Genesis, as I told you a few weeks ago, is a book of firsts. I listed 20 or 30 of them, the “firsts” of things that we see taking place in the world. But right here in verse 25, is the last of something. What we see right here at the end of chapter two, is the last moment of true, sinless innocence that human beings have ever known, right here. This is not only the end of chapter two, it is the end of a chapter in humanity. Sadly, chapter two finishes with such a pure, innocent statement, and you turn the page into chapter three, and the dark clouds begin to roll in. Chapter three, verse one says, “Now the serpent was more crafty,”—which means subtle or cunning—”than any of the wild animals Lord God had made.” It’s always intrigued me how there’s no build up. There’s no lead in to the serpent. It just goes from this pure picture of innocence to, bam! The serpent is there. There’s a lot that could be said about that, I think. “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “you must not eat from any tree in the garden?”‘” Let’s stop there for just a second because surely we have to be asking the question, “Who or what is this serpent?” We have this thing talking to Eve. And again here, some of our friends in the world look at us and go, “You Christians are kooky, man. You believe that snakes talk to people and donkeys talk to people and all this stuff, right? Man, y’all are way out there. I thought people who believed in UFOs were weird, but y’all, you’re crazy.” Again, I point you back to Genesis 1:1. You got to start there. You got to believe God created everything. You got to filter everything through that.
So we hear the word “serpent” here, and we picture a snake slithering on the ground. Well, according to the verses that we’re going to see next week, he wasn’t slithering yet. Apparently, this was some kind of beautiful, appealing creature that Eve was not afraid of at all. Apparently, he walked upright, or to some degree at this point, and we’ll see that next week. Satan either took on the form of this creature, or he entered into this creature, I don’t have the details of that for you, sorry, and I’m not going to try to say things that the scripture doesn’t say. I believe what the scripture says here in chapter three. I can’t explain all of it, or hardly any of it, frankly, but it says that this creature spoke to Eve, and I don’t have a hard time with it because we see examples of both of these possibilities throughout Scripture of Satan or his demons inpersonating other forms, and we see them entering into people or animals. Remember in the New Testament when Jesus cast the demons out, and He sent them into what? Pigs. And the pigs went crazy, and they ran off a cliff into the sea, and they were drowned.
We also know that Satan has the ability to appear in different forms. 2 Corinthians 11:14 tells us that Satan comes and appears “as an angel of light.” The world has done us a great disservice by painting Satan as a red guy with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. That’s not comical. What that does is it causes us to forget that Satan may come to us as the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen. The most appealing, alluring attraction we’ve ever seen. We need to be alert. We better be on guard. We probably won’t recognize it as Satan when it comes. Now remember, I told you back in chapter two, verse 16, to underline “the man.” “God commanded the man not to eat of the tree,” but here, the serpent knows all about this command. He quotes it back to Eve. Same thing he did to Jesus in Matthew chapter four. Right after Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, He comes out and the first thing that happens is Satan comes to Him and begins to tempt Him at his weakest point physically. And how does Satan tempt Him? With total lies? No. By quoting the Word of God.
Listen, folks, it’s important that we all remember that lies rarely come our way as 100% lies. Lies usually come wrapped in truth. We need to recognize that. It’s not until the fish bites the worm that he realizes there’s a hook inside. The worm looks lovely. Not to me, I don’t mean that as a general statement, but to a fish the worm looks appetizing, and he bites into that worm, and then all of a sudden he feels the piercing pain of that hook going into his mouth. Same thing with us. Satan comes along. There’s no chance he’s going to entice us with 100% lies, we’ll recognize it right off the bat. No, he comes and whispers some truth to us, and we go, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That sounds good.” And then mixed it there, he’ll begin to twist God’s word a little bit and we’ll start to go, “Huh. I never thought about it that way. I wonder if God really does love me the way He said He does. I wonder if His promises really are true.” He begins to weave his way into our mind very, very subtly. Satan comes and he mixes just enough lies with the truth to deceive people, and he’s still doing the very same thing today.
I mentioned 2 Corinthians 11:14 earlier, where Satan masquerades as an angel of light. I want to kind of give you the bookends to that verse now. Here it is: Paul is writing to the church—could well be writing to us—and he says, “I’m afraid,”— Now this is thousands of years later—”I’m afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s subtlety, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” So Satan’s still on the job. All those years later, still doing the same old thing. Paul writes, and he warns them. He’s saying, “Guys, there are false teachers out there and there are even false teachers among you.” He goes on in verse 13 to say, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.” Remember the end of Matthew 7? Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did not we prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name do many wonderful works?'” And Jesus said, “And I will say to them, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.'” Paul says, “These people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It’s not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Wow. And you want to read what Peter says in 2 Peter about this. He says, “the blackest darkness is reserved for them forever”—for people who twist God’s word, and are false teachers. This is why Ephesians 6:11 warns us “to put on the whole armor of God, that we might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil”—the tricks of the devil, his deceitful lies coming against us. And to see just how clever his schemes are, look at the specific words he spoke to Eve there in Genesis chapter three, verse one: “Did God really say? Eve, did God really say?”
Now how did Eve find out about this command? Remember, back in chapter two, I said, underline “the man.” God commanded the man. Eve wasn’t even created yet at that point, in chapter two. “God commanded the man.” So either Adam updated Eve on the command, or God told Eve about the command, because Eve knew exactly what was going on here. “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” I want to tell you, this is one of Satan’s greatest and most used and most effective tools that he has against you and me as followers of Christ. He comes to us and he says, “Has God really promised that if you put your faith in Him, He’s going to save you? Are you sure? Because, boy, your past is a whole lot worse than the rest of the people at LifePoint. I don’t think His word really applies to you. Did God really say that? Did God really say that once you’re saved, your salvation is secure, that it’s held secure by Him, you have a deposit in the Holy Spirit guaranteeing your inheritance? Did God really say that? Did God really say that He will judge sin? Or is that just an old-fashioned idea? Did God really say?” And we begin to doubt, we begin to question, begin to wonder what’s true and what’s not true. This is why I encourage you, over and over again: get to know this book. Soak yourself in the Word of God, let it fill you so that you know it, so that when that deceit comes your way, you’ll be like a bank teller who has been trained, just by feel, to know the difference between a real bill and a counterfeit bill. We’ve got to be able to know the difference between his lies and the truth. “Did God really say?”
That moves us into the fourth point and the final point: The Missed Opportunity. I want you to know here that the temptation that we see taking place here with Eve, the temptation is not the problem. We’re all going to be tempted for the rest of our lives. By the way, young Christians, you will never outgrow that. You’re not going to wake up one morning and, like in an Atari game, you reach the next level. Ding! You get the gold coin, and “Whoo! Finally done with temptation.” Doesn’t work that way. We’re all going to be tempted. The temptation part here is not the problem. The problem is that Eve didn’t run from temptation. Instead, she stood there and she chit-chatted with temptation. She decided to stand around and have coffee with it, and chat for a while with it, and entertain it. That’s when the trouble starts. We see it in verse two: “The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You must not eat of it or touch it, or you will die.”‘”
Now let’s put our thinking caps on here for just a second. Back in chapter two, verses 16 and 17, when God gave that command, first of all, as I told you, Eve wasn’t even created at that point, so this command was communicated to her. We know if God gave her the command, it was given correctly, so either Adam gave the command and he added something that God didn’t say, because when Eve spoke this here, she added a little something—I don’t know if you saw it—that wasn’t in the original command, so maybe Adam added that, or perhaps Eve is just being super cautious about this, and she doesn’t want to go anywhere near this. But somewhere between then and now in Genesis 3:2, Eve added a line to the original command. God never said, “Don’t touch it,” or we at least have no record of that, but Eve said, “Don’t eat it, and don’t touch it or you will die.” So again, as I said, we must not miss what Satan is doing here. He is coming to Eve and he’s so sly that he is quoting God’s words back to Eve, but he’s twisting it just enough to put doubt in her mind. “Did God really say that?” Verse four says, Satan just goes right at it now: “You will not surely die.” Now he’s moved past just the twisting of the truth. Now he’s going for a direct attack. “Eve, listen, you won’t die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be open, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.” So first, Satan attacks God’s word, and that apparently didn’t get him where he wanted to go, so next, he attacks God’s integrity. He’s calling God a liar. He says, “Eve, listen, you’re fine. God’s lying to you, you’re not going to die. He’s withholding something from you. In fact, He hasn’t told you the whole deal. In fact, if you do what He told you not to do, your life’s going to get better. You’re going to have more enjoyment than you have, because God’s a killjoy, and He’s keeping the best from you.”
You and I need to take note of what Satan is doing here to Eve. We need not forget, because he’s still doing the same today. I mentioned at the end of the service last Sunday, just in passing, and again, I don’t have time to really go into this, perhaps I don’t even need to here, in this setting, but what I mentioned was, one or two of the specific ways we see Satan taking God’s word and trying to dismantle it right before our very eyes in our culture today, and that is in the area of what we’ve studied so far in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, the Bible says, “God created male and female.” There’s no dot, dot, dot after that. There’s a period. “He created male and female,” like, how clear is that? And yet, in our culture today, Satan is intentionally, deliberately attacking the foundation that God put in place in Genesis 1, trying to twist that all around, trying to blur the lines and say “Oh, there’s no such thing as just male and female, it can be anything you want it to be. If you want to identify yourself as a purple unicorn, hey, that’s fine with us. Whatever is good for you.” We see that happening before our eyes.
Do we know why we believe what we believe on that? Is it just because mom and dad told us that? That’s not good enough. Mom and dad might be wrong. And the other area, of course, is the whole marriage issue. We see in chapter two, we saw last week, that God instituted marriage, and it was between one man and one woman. Period. It’s not between a man and a man. It’s not between a woman and a woman. It’s not between a man and a tree. Listen, I’m telling you, people are getting out there, and I think we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg. Satan is blinding the minds of those who don’t believe, and what’s worse is, he is blinding the minds now of many who do believe to the point where—I think it was a year ago, somewhere around a year ago—a very large church right here in Greenville was in the news, I shared it with you one morning, they came right out and said, “We endorse homosexuality. We embrace it. Even on our church staff.” You just read that and go, “Are you kidding me? What Bible are you teaching from?” Satan is doing a brilliant job of blinding people’s minds to the truth.
If we bring that down now, as we close, to a personal level for us, I mean, we could spend a lot of time talking about things on a national level, government level, the laws of the land, and so on, a lot of that is truly heartbreaking, what we see taking place. But I want to close by just sort of funneling all of that down to your life and to my life, and close by asking, is there any area in your life right now where you would have to honestly say, just between you and God, that you have been lingering with temptation, you have been lingering with twisted thoughts about God, about His Word, about His promises, rather than running from them. You’ve been either entertaining them, considering them a little further, or you have been overcome by them. You find yourself now in a place where you’re either completely underwater, and don’t know what to do, or you’re in a place where you’re just questioning things that you never thought you would question about God. Is there any area in your life, where you would honestly have to say, “Man, Satan is wiping me out here.”
He doesn’t have to. I want you to know, Satan has no power over you if you are a child of God. Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. Now make no mistake, we better not go around making light of Satan and his realm. I can tell you some stories that would curl your hair—if it’s not already curled—about things that I have seen personally, that Satan can do, and it is terrifying. It is a powerful, powerful realm of darkness. But even so, he has no authority over your life, your family, your thoughts, your past, your present, or your future. None. When Christ died on the cross, and rose from the grave, the Bible says He conquered hell, and death, and the grave. He triumphed over them, made a public spectacle of them. I love that. And once and for all, He put an end to Satan’s ability to conquer us. We’ll see, maybe next week, I think in chapter three, verse 15, where Satan gets crushed by the one who hung on the cross, and if we are in Him, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us so.
I want to close by encouraging you today. This is kind of a dark message today, in the backdrop of all the weeks we spent in Genesis 1 and 2. It’s rare to be able to teach for so many weeks on two chapters like Genesis 1 and 2, they’re just glorious chapters. There’s no sin in Genesis 1 and 2, it’s just all God’s glory and power and beauty and majesty, and so today, it’s just heavy and dark, but this is the reality that we live in. We’ve all been plunged into this world, and we live in it daily, and the fact that we have been saved, not only does it not exempt us from this bombardment of sin, it throws us into the middle of it. So where are you in this? Would you say that, first of all, “Yes, I know, Phil, I know that I’m saved, but I’m just getting beaten up left and right by the temptation and the attacks of Satan, and I need help.” If that’s you this morning, I encourage you to take a step today, and ask someone here to pray with you and get help. We have people here who can do just that, and they would love to do so. Don’t leave here today under the threat, under the supposed control of the enemy when you don’t have to live that way. You don’t have to be like Eve. You don’t have to give in to this temptation. You can, through Christ, live victoriously, and we’ll see that next week. We’ll see the wonderful grace that God has provided even in the face of our failures even in the face of temptation.