Things Fall Apart Back to all sermons
Date: February 11, 2011
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Series: In the Beginning
Scripture: Genesis 3:1–3:13
There is a classic novel written by the West African novelist, Chinua Achebe entitled, Things Fall Apart. That would also make a pretty descriptive title for the events of Genesis chapter 3.
In our last message, we left off with Adam and Eve on their honeymoon. Perfect paradise: a perfect man with a perfect woman in a perfect environment. I have often wondered how long their honeymoon lasted. How long did they enjoy their perfect life, in perfect harmony with one another and with God? We do not know for sure, but most Bible scholars agree that it probably was not very long, based primarily on the fact that Eve never conceived or bore any children in the Garden of Eden.
Whatever the case, Genesis chapter 3 opens ominously: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. The first question we need to address is what, or whom are we dealing with here? In this chapter, he is only referred to as “the serpent.” But parallel Scriptures spell out his identity clearly. In Revelation 12:9 we read:
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
In that verse, and in another reference in Revelation 20:2, the serpent is clearly identified as the devil, or Satan who leads the whole world astray. We do not have a total or complete biography of this being called Satan, but if we put together what we do know from Scripture, we find that he was originally called Lucifer and he was an angel created by God; a very powerful and beautiful angel. But in his beauty and his power, he became proud and lusted for the power of God himself. He led a rebellion of other angels, and as a result, God cast him out of heaven. This much is clear, as is his ultimate defeat and judgment. What is not so clear is how the chronology of events in the spiritual and heavenly realm corresponds with the chronology of events on earth.
What is also less than clear is the relationship of Satan with the serpent in Genesis 3, which is identified as the most “crafty” or clever of the wild animals. I believe that the most logical explanation is that Satan, as an angel and therefore a spirit being, used the serpent by indwelling it, to allow him to appear to Eve and to speak to her.
The second and more difficult question before us in this chapter is why God allowed this temptation to take place. As a sovereign God, he surely could have prevented it. And as an omniscient God, he surely knew what the outcome would be. As always, when we seek to reconcile the issues of God’s sovereignty and of man’s responsibility, we are left with a sense of mystery and of paradox. But what we can discern is that God made the first man and the first woman with the capacity to choose. He made them free moral agents. He did so because God recognizes that behavior can be recognized as truly moral only if it is freely undertaken and freely maintained. And it can only be free if the possibility of choosing wrongly exists. As H.C. Leupold states, “To do what God desires merely because one cannot do otherwise, has no moral worth.” He adds: “To do the right where there has never been an opportunity of doing wrong is not moral behavior.” God was not interested in creating a race of moral robots, like so many wind-up toys. It is the opportunity of making wrong choices that proves moral worth. It is also that opportunity which constitutes the essence of temptation.
There are different ways to approach Genesis 3. One is to approach it as a case study in Satan’s strategy and the dynamics of temptation. The other is to study it as the account of the Fall of man and the consequences of that Fall on all mankind and on the Creation as a whole. We are actually going to do both but in two messages. Today we will take the case study approach. In the next message (which will not be for several weeks) we will look at the Fall and its consequences.
So what we are going to do today is to identify Satan’s strategy in his temptation of Eve. The reason for doing this is that his strategy worked so well, he has been using it ever since. And if we know how Satan works, we will be better prepared to withstand his temptations when he attacks us.
The first thing the serpent did was to question God’s character. He poses a question. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” It is subtle, but clear. God had actually told Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Satan immediately takes Eve’s eyes off every other tree in the garden which she is free to eat from and causes her to focus on the only prohibition, the only negative commandment God gave them. And the subtle implication is: Would a really good God actually keep anything back from you? Did God really say that? Would he have said that if he truly had your best interests at heart?
He continues to question God’s character in verse 5: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Do you see what he is doing there? He is suggesting that God is jealous of Adam and Eve. God is withholding something good from them because he wants to keep it for himself. He doesn’t want them to know what he knows or to become like him in knowledge and authority. Above all, God is being selfish. The serpent is not only questioning God’s character. He is questioning God’s motives.
The second thing the serpent does is to challenge God’s truth. He blatantly denies God’s words. “You will not surely die.” The wording here could actually be translated more strongly: “You certainly will not die.” God told Adam (and Adam had told Eve) that if they ate from that particular tree, they would die. Satan says, “No, you won’t. God is lying to you. You won’t die.”
Jesus describes the devil this way in John 8:44:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
So, the first thing Satan does is to call God’s character and motives into question. The second thing he does is to lie to Eve and challenge and contradict God’s truth.
The third thing he does is to offer an illegitimate shortcut to a seemingly attractive and legitimate goal. The goal he offers her is to become like God, knowing good and evil. What is wrong with becoming like God? After all, weren’t Adam and Eve created in the image of God? Would this not be simply a fulfilling of their destiny? What is wrong with being wise and understanding good and evil? Are these not legitimate goals? Well, leaving aside the legitimacy of the goal for a moment, look at the essence of Satan’s strategy. He is offering her an illegitimate shortcut to the goal. What makes a shortcut illegitimate? An illegitimate shortcut is one that requires us to disobey God’s commands or to act independently of God’s authority to achieve our goal. God’s command was clear. “Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Whether or not the goal was attractive or even legitimate, the shortcut Satan offered required Eve to break God’s command.
That is all the serpent says to Eve; at least it is all that is recorded. The seeds of temptation and doubt have been planted. In the next verse, we see Eve’s thought process as she weighs her response: When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.
When I read those words, the thought that comes to my mind is that of a fish hook and bait. Satan is the fisherman. He has baited the hook. Eve is the fish, swimming around, looking at the bait. We see that the bait appeals to her on three levels. It was good for food, it was pleasing to the eye, and it was also to be desired for its potential for making her wise. It is instructive that when the Apostle John warns us about falling prey to the allure of the world, he warns us against three things in I John 2:16 which the King James Version translates: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Are these not the three elements that Satan appeals to in the very first temptation? It was good for food, it was pleasing to the eye, and it was to be desired to make her wise and thus elevate her status and place in the world. Satan has been baiting his hooks with the same bait ever since.
The next words in the story are the saddest in human history. She took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
They broke the clear command of God. The consequences of that act of disobedience were absolutely devastating. We are still living daily with the results today. In our next message, we will explore the effects of their sin on the human race and on the rest of the creation.
In this message, I just want to focus briefly on the immediate consequences as experienced by Adam and Eve themselves. The first thing they experienced was shame. In Genesis 2:25, we read that, The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. How sadly we read the words in Genesis 3:7: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Their innocence was lost. They experienced shame. Their first impulse was to cover themselves. What pathetic coverings they fashioned for themselves with fig leaves from the garden. Aprons, to cover their nakedness. What they were, by virtue of their disobedience, was guilty. What they felt was shame. They felt shame with each other. But it went further. In the evening when God came to walk with them in the garden, they were ashamed to meet him. They ran and hid among the trees of the garden. Shame is what we feel. Hiding is what we do to cover our shame. Their innocence with each other was lost. Their innocence and fellowship with God was lost.
God called out to the man: Where are you? In the following interactions we see another result of their sin.
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
First came shame. Then came blame. Did you see that? Adam is quick to cast the blame. He not only blames the woman. He actually casts the blame back on God as well: “the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit.” The woman, whom he had received so joyfully in chapter 2 as a priceless gift from God – “It’s her fault! And God, you are the one who put her here with me.” Blame. And when God asks the woman, “What have you done?” she quickly passes the blame on as well: “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”
It is one of the most universal tendencies of fallen human nature; the tendency to blame others when confronted with our own sin and wrong-doing. Shame, blame and then death. No, Adam and Eve did not fall down dead on the spot. But they died that day nonetheless. The essence of death is separation; their relationship with each other was broken that day, as they covered their nakedness to hide from each other. They experienced separation and alienation from God as they ran to hide from him in the garden. And they began the long slow process of physical death that we know of as aging, and which culminates finally in the separation of the soul and the body. We will look further at the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin and the Fall in our next message.
What applications can we take away from this message? Let us look quickly at the solutions to the Fall of man and man’s sinfulness. It will be several weeks before we will be returning to this series of messages in Genesis, so I don’t want to leave you without answers in the meantime. The ultimate answer to the guilt of Adam’s sin and our sin is the death of Christ as the sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Paul says it this way in Romans 5:17: For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross is the only solution to our sin problem.
Jesus’ death on the cross is the answer to the penalty of our sin. And it is only by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us that we will be able to resist the temptations of Satan and live lives of holiness and victory over sin. We must learn to yield to his voice and to keep in step with his leading. But one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us is to bring the truths of Scripture to our minds. I believe the understanding of Satan’s strategies in Genesis 3 is a very helpful truth that the Spirit will use to help you and me resist the temptations of the Evil One. As the saying goes: Forewarned is forearmed.
As I said before, Satan found his strategy to be so effective that he has been using it ever since. When you think of Satan and his strategies, it may help to keep these three things in mind: lies, shortcuts, and a baited fishhook.
LIES. Satan is a liar. He tells lies. He plants lies in our minds. He lies to us through the mouths of other people; sometimes even through the lies of other Christian people. He creates doubts with his lies. In his lies, he primarily attacks the character and motives of God. In my experience, he particularly attacks three attributes of God. God’s power. He causes us to question whether God is really strong enough and powerful enough to help us and keep us and get us through the problems and the situation we are facing. God’s wisdom. He will call into question God’s wisdom and knowledge to sort out a situation. After all, if God were wise enough, why did he let the problem develop in the first place? So I will have to find my own solution to the problem (or follow a solution suggested subtly or not so subtly by Satan). Finally, and most devastatingly he will cast doubts on God’s love. Is God really a good God? Does he really care about you? How often God is portrayed as a cosmic killjoy, and his commandments as totally restrictive and punitive and contradictory to our happiness and best interests. If God really loved us would he withhold from us this pleasure or fail to fulfill that desire?
Here are the three questions that Satan will raise in almost every temptation: Is God strong enough? Is God wise enough? Does God care enough? To every one of these questions, Satan answers, “No!” But the Bible and faith answer, “Yes!” And the better you and I know the Scripture and the more we know about the character of God revealed in Scripture, the better equipped we will be to recognize Satan’s lies and withstand his temptations. The best way to counteract lies is with the truth. This is God’s truth. Study it. Know it. Memorize it. Quote it. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
SHORTCUTS. I am amazed how consistently Satan uses this strategy. Remember what we said: He offers an illegitimate shortcut to a seemingly attractive and legitimate goal. To see this strategy in action in another Biblical account, just think about the temptation of Christ recorded in the gospels. In each of the temptations he offered a seemingly attractive and legitimate goal. In the first temptation, Jesus was hungry. Satan enticed him to turn stones into bread. There is nothing wrong with being hungry. And there is nothing wrong with satisfying that hunger. But remember how we defined an illegitimate shortcut: An illegitimate shortcut is one that requires us to disobey God’s command or to act independently of God’s authority. In this case, turning the stones into bread would have meant Jesus acting independently of his Father’s authority.
In the second temptation, Satan took Jesus up onto the high point in the temple and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down and let the angels catch you.” What would the outcome of this action have been? The glory of God? Instant acclaim for Jesus? Possibly a move to make him the Messiah? After all, it would have happened in the precincts of the temple itself. All of these might have been seemingly good, even legitimate goals. But it wasn’t God’s way. It was not in keeping with his commandments. It involved a step that was independent of the Father’s will and involved forcing the Father’s hand to work on Jesus’ time table. Jesus said in his prayer in John 17 that he had glorified the Father on the earth by completing the work the Father had given him to do. God’s work done in God’s way. No shortcuts.
The third temptation is the clearest use of Satan’s shortcut strategy. Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, “You can have it all. You can be ruler over all the kingdoms of the world.” An attractive and even legitimate goal; after all, Christ will one day rule over all the kingdoms of the earth. Then came the catch; all you have to do is bow down and worship me. The illegitimate shortcut. Satan offered Jesus a crown without the cross. The Father’s will specified that the cross must precede the crown. And the shortcut required a direct violation of the command to worship God and God alone.
Shortcuts. Over and over again, Satan offers us a seemingly attractive and legitimate goal: happiness, friends and popularity, good grades, sexual fulfillment, business success. These are not bad things or unworthy goals. But then comes the offer of the illegitimate shortcut. Happiness…take drugs and you can be happy instantly. Friends and popularity… by compromising your standards of behavior or language or dress. Academic success…by cheating on an exam. Sexual fulfillment…why wait until marriage? Business success…by padding that contract and bribing the appropriate people. Do you see how pervasive his strategy is? Every shortcut involves a breach of God’s commands or requires us to act independently of God and his will for us.
Let’s come back to the antidote to Satan’s strategy. Do you remember how Jesus answered the Devil? In each case he quoted Scripture. He knew the truth. He knew God’s commands. He recognized the fact that the shortcuts were illegitimate because he knew that they required him to break the commands of God or depart from the Father’s will. The better we know this book, the better equipped we will be to avoid Satan’s temptations.
Finally, think of A BAITED FISH HOOK. It is important to keep both parts of the image in mind. I have occasionally caught fish on a bare hook, but you only catch stupid and desperate fish that way. Most fish get caught because they are attracted to the bait. They bite on the bait, and only afterwards realize they are in trouble when the fisherman sets the hook and begins to reel them in. There are always hooks in Satan’s bait. There is always a price to pay. Think of the consequences the serpent failed to mention to Eve. Shame. Blame. Death. Maybe another way to remember the fish hook is to think of it as the “small print” in Satan’s contracts; the unspecified and hidden consequences of shame, guilt and broken relationships that follow our acts of sin and disobedience.
As I said before, the only answer to our core sin problem is the blood of Christ. The only way, even as redeemed sinners, that we can hope to live righteous lives before God is by reliance on the Holy Spirit and his sanctifying work within us. But part of that sanctifying work may well be to keep us alert to the strategies of the Evil One. Maybe now would be a good time to spend some time prayerfully examining your heart and life before God. Have you been listening to some of Satan’s lies, questioning God’s power, his wisdom, his love? Have you taken or are you tempted to take one of Satan’s shortcuts? Are you eyeing a particularly delicious bait on one of Satan’s hooks? And as you examine your heart, keep the words of James in mind: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:7-8)
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
You shouldn’t have trouble finding things to discuss from this passage or message. But here are a few questions to get you started.
- Give examples of ways that Satan has tempted you to:
- Doubt God’s power
- Question God’s wisdom
- Doubt God’s love
What are some seemingly attractive or legitimate goals Satan offers people? Share illustrations of how Satan offers “illegitimate shortcuts” to those goals. (These can be theoretical or actual experiences.)
After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve experienced shame, blame and death. Give some examples of the “hook” in Satan’s bait (or the “small print” in his contracts).
How can understanding Satan’s strategies help us to avoid his traps? What is the role of Scripture and Scripture memorization in this process?