Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Tempter and His Schemes

Last week we looked at the first temptation, and I focused on Eve. This week we're going to be looking at Satan and at the schemes that he used on Eve. As I do that you're going to see that he mounted two kinds of attacks to get at Eve. My goal is for you to understand that he is doing the same today with you.

Here's Satan's first attack.
Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? Genesis 3.1
What's he doing here? For one thing, he's engaging Eve in conversation. That seems innocent enough. And Eve answers fairly well in reporting what God did say, correcting Satan. But there is a subtle undercurrent that becomes obvious in the next thing he says.
You will not surely die.
Satan's first attack is aimed at God's Word. He challenges what God had said and gives his own interpretation of reality. So, he tells Eve that what God said was wrong. There will be no death. First attack.

Right on the heels of that Satan launches his second attack. A goal of the first was to introduce enough doubt so that the second attack would find some traction in Eve. Here's what he said.
For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
Satan explains what's really going on. God knows what will happen once that fruit is eaten. Eve and her husband will be like God. They will know good and evil. And God doesn't want that to happen. According to Satan, He wants to have that kind of power all to Himself. 'He's not what He seems, Eve. He's being selfish, keeping from you what you deserve, what you have a right to. So, don't put up with it. Eat the fruit.' Satan is attacking God's character. Second attack.

It's helpful to note that Satan actually uses a little bit of truth. Listen to something God said after Adam and Eve ate and were condemned.
Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.
So, it's true that God knew that eating the fruit would result in their knowing good and evil. And it's also true that in this they would be like God. Satan actually spoke some truth. But properly understanding God's words depends on seeing them in the right context. As a result of the test at the tree Adam and Eve would come to know the difference between good and evil. That was assured regardless of what happened. But the real issue was how they would learn this difference.

If they had not eaten they would have still been confronted with evil in Satan’s temptation. But they would have come to know good by doing it and rejecting evil. And in making this choice they would come to understand the difference between good and evil. They would come to understand the difference by experiencing the good.

On the other hand, by eating they would also come to understand the difference between good and evil. But they would come to understand the difference by experiencing evil.

So, you see, either way, they would come to know the difference between good and evil. But the real issue was how they would learn this difference.

So, contrary to what Satan had said, God wasn't being selfish. He really did want Adam and Eve to know good and evil, but He wanted them to come to know it in the right way that they might live well and not die. His command not to eat was an expression of His love. But Satan twisted it all up. He re-interpreted God's act of love as an act of selfishness. He used some truth to advance his lie.

So, do you see what Satan did back in the Garden? He attacked God's Word, and he attacked God's character. And he used a bit of truth to do that.

It's important that you see that he hasn't changed his tactics. There is one particular way in which Satan is doing this today that I want to talk about now.

There is a certain opinion about God that is becoming increasingly popular in American churches. If you ask your average evangelical Christian to describe God, the first thing that I suspect most will say is that He loves. And they may wax eloquent about that. And the fact of the matter is that there is much to wax eloquent about when it comes to God's love. But there is a problem here. And it isn't that love is on the list of characteristics of God. The problem is that all too often it's the only characteristic on that list. Are there no other aspects of who God is? Practically speaking, in terms of how people live, for so many Christians these days, the answer to that question is, 'No'. But there are serious problems when you understand God only in terms of love.
So, does God get angry? Can we talk about His wrath? One popular response is to say that thinking that God gets angry at people - that He expresses this thing called wrath - is so primitive. We know better now. So, no, God doesn't get angry. It's not loving.

Does God actually change anything? Well, you can answer that with a 'Yes' as long as you're careful. God can change things, but because of His love He won't impose His will on anyone. So, the range of things that He can change is quite limited. He can change what someone gives Him permission to change. But He won't go beyond that because it's not loving.

Does God care about how we live? Or to use an old church word, does God care about holiness? I suspect that many would respond by saying something like, 'I don't know. I never thought about it.' But when you get down to the details of how people actually live, that answer, in effect, becomes a clear 'No'. To demand holiness of us is not loving.

So, what do we have? We have a God who loves with great sincerity but without getting angry at anyone. And because of that, He really can't change much in our world. And while there may be some theoretical concern about holiness, this God doesn't insist on it in His people. What do we have here? This God is a kindly, but aging, grandfather who listens to your stories and gives you hugs and treats, but who can't really do anything.

Those who fall into this kind of thinking would react to my comments here. They would strongly affirm God's love as biblical. And they would back it up with something like this from 1 John: 'God is love.' And what can you say?

But what is this but Satan doing his best to ensnare modern Adams and Eves - and having a good bit of success. How did he do it?

Nothing has changed. Satan still attacks God's Word. In what I have described he doesn't directly challenge what God has said. He just quotes it apart from the rest of the Bible. 'God is love.' People hold on to that verse but reject the one that says, 'The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men...' He attacks God's Word by using a bit of truth but twisting it.

But then note that in doing this he is also attacking God's character. Again, he doesn't directly challenge it. He just re-defines it. He re-defines what it means that God loves. And out of this we have a God who is a kindly old grandfather.

But is that who God really is? I hope that it's clear that it isn't. Ours is a God who really does love. But He also gets angry. He hates sin and is enraged by it. And the reason for that? He is deeply committed to holiness, not just in Himself but also in us. And because of all of this, He is intent on change, and He pursues that change unafraid of imposing His will. So, some He will bless and others He will curse.

When Christians understand the true character of God something develops in their souls, something that knowing a kindly old grandfather will never produce: awe, a sense of wonder. The majesty of this God overwhelms those who know Him. And that is why the thought that such a God loves them is almost beyond belief. Why should a majestic, holy, sin-hating God love puny, sinful me? But He does. How amazing! Awe develops in the soul of those who are getting to know the real God. And there's also this. Those who know God are able to stand before any of Satan's demons or their human allies. To quote Daniel,
… the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.
And the ability of Christians to stand firm and act for the sake of Jesus is becoming increasingly important in our world, and increasingly lost. Knowing God as He really is makes the difference.

So, you see, this is not some abstract theological debate about how best to understand the attributes of God. It's about life and death because it's about being able to faithfully follow Jesus, to endure to the end and thus to be saved. Do not be fooled by the schemes of Satan. Your eternal destiny is at stake.

The question to ask now is simply this: How do you defeat Satan's temptations that attack God's Word and His character?

Let me tell you a little story that fits here. When I hit this point in writing the sermon I wasn't exactly sure where to go next, how to answer that question. So, I stopped typing, got up out of my chair and was going to pace a bit. I sometimes think well when I pace. And before I took even one step I said, 'Okay, Father, what do You want me to tell them?' I didn't tell myself, 'Oh, it might be good to pray now'. I just did. I've gotten to the place where I am so convinced that the Father is with me and that He is so involved in my life that I find that I have a running conversation with Him throughout each day. As I deal with life, including writing sermons, I'm discussing it all with Him.

If you've also gotten to that place then you know how to respond to Satan's attacks on God's Word and character. You discuss them with Him as they happen. But, if you haven't gotten there, you need to. It's just an application of the Immanuel principle: God with us. Isn't that what Jesus has accomplished for us, a sense of God's nearness? Knowing God well, knowing Him as the amazing God who is near, is your best defense against Satan. Knowing God like that will mean that when Satan tries his tricks on you, you are more likely to respond, 'Okay, Father, so what do I do now? How should I respond? You need to help me here.' And that is exactly what He will do.

However, (and please listen carefully to what I say next) being able to know God well, getting to know Him in the way that I've just described, is not something that you can achieve. It's not the result of doing some list of three or five or twelve things. It's just not something that you can make happen. Getting to know God is a gift that He gives. It's an expression of His grace. And He uses His Word, the sacraments and prayer as the means to give that gift to you. While knowing God well is not something you can achieve, if you give yourself to these means He will, by the Spirit, bless you with what you desire: To know the true and the living God. And knowing Him is the only defense against our ancient foe.

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