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Don't Doubt God's Goodness

Satan comes in disguise and attacks God’s character so that we doubt God’s Word and his goodness.

One of the more difficult responsibilities I have as the president of Denver Seminary lies in reading my morning mail. A few months ago I received a letter from a young man in a penitentiary in Texas. He is serving from ten to twenty years for attempted rape. He was a Christian, and he asked if I would send him a book that was not available for him in the prison. I gladly responded to his request. But his letter deeply disturbed me, because the young man had been a student of mine when I taught at Dallas Theological Seminary.

When he left the seminary, he left with great gift and great vision. He pastored two different churches, and both of them, humanly speaking, were successful congregations. In the second church, which I knew better, he demonstrated the gift of of the people in that church were led to Christ as a result of his witness. He was a careful student of the Scriptures, and there were those in the congregation who testified that again and again as he stood to speak they could sense the power and the presence of God. He had a discipling ministry; he left his thumbprint upon the men in that congregation. In fact, when his crime was discovered and he had admitted his guilt, men in that congregation raised over $20,000 for his legal defense. And now he is a prisoner in a penitentiary in Texas. In one dark hour of temptation he fell into the abyss. He ruined his reputation, destroyed his ministry, and left an ugly stain on the testimony of Christ in that community.

When I read that letter and knew what had happened, I found myself wrestling with all kinds of questions and emotions. What happens in a person's life who does that? What went through his mind? What was it that caused him to turn his back on all that he had given his life to?

I realized as I was asking those questions that I was not simply about asking about him, but about myself. I was asking about men and women who have graduated from this seminary who in some act of disobedience have destroyed the ministry to which they have given themselves. What is it that causes someone to mortgage his ministry to pay the high price of sin? What is it that lures us to destruction?

It's a question you face. You're a Christian; temptation dogs your path and trips you at every turn. The question you must face someplace in your life is, "How does the Tempter do his work? How does he come to us? How does he destroy us?" Here, early in the ancient record, we have one of the themes that is woven again and again throughout the Scripture, the theme of sin and its destructive power.

What we have here in Genesis, chapter 3, is a case study in temptation. As a case study, what you want to do is to get rid of the independent variables to study the thing itself. And certainly as Eve is approached by the Tempter, there are many things that were not true of her that might be true of us. For example, she has no poisoned blood in her veins. She does not have a heritage on which she can blame her sin. Eve comes, as Adam did, from the direct creation of God, and when God created Adam and Eve, God declared that the creation was very good. Unlike people today, she was not in her birth. What is more, Eve and Adam live in perfect environment. There is nothing in the pollution of that atmosphere that would lead them away from God. She stands there in the morning of creation, a creature of great wonder. No sinful heritage, no sinful environment. We have a case study in temptation.

As we watch the way the Tempter comes to Eve, we recognize that while this story comes to us out of the ancient past, it's as as the temptation you may be facing this temptation you faced last temptation you face in your study, in your home, in your ministry, in your life. The scene has changed, but the methodology has not.

How does Satan tempt us?

As you read this story, one of things you discover is that when the Tempter comes, he comes to us in disguise. The writer of Genesis says that the serpent was more crafty than all of the wild animals the Lord God had made. I gather that he is telling us that when the serpent came, he did not come as a thing of ugliness. This scene happens before the curse. This happens before the serpent crawls on its belly upon the ground. There are no rattlers here that warn of an approaching poison. There's nothing here that would make Eve feel alarmed.

When Satan comes to you, he does not come in the form of a coiled snake. He does not come at the roar of a lion. He does not come at the wail of a siren. He does not come waving a red flag. Satan just slides into your life. He comes and seems almost like a comfortable companion. There seems to be nothing about him that you would dread. The New Testament says that he comes as an angel of light, as a minister of God. Sometimes as a minister of righteousness. One point that's quite clear is that when the Enemy comes to attack you, he comes in disguise. As Mephistopheles says in Faust, "The people do not know the devil is there even when he has them by the throat."

Not only is he disguised in his person, he is disguised in his purposes. When he comes, he does not come to say to Eve, "I have come to tempt you." What he does it to come to have a religious discussion. He wants to talk theology; he doesn't want to talk sin. He begins his temptation by saying, "Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?" You can't argue with that. Satan comes and says, "Look, I just want to be sure of the exegesis. Just want to be sure of the idea God was trying to get across. Did he really say you can't eat of any of the trees of the garden?" You see, he is a religious devil. He doesn't come to you and knock on the door of your soul and say, "Pardon me, sir, give me a half hour of your life. I'd like to damn you and destroy you." No, all he wants to do is talk a bit of theology. He wants to be sure he understands the Word of God. It is possible, isn't it, to discuss theology to your peril? It is very possible to get into those kinds of discussions in which you talk about God in a kind of abstract way, like a mathematical formula, so that you can construct a theology that leads you to the disobedience of God.

You're big on grace, very strong on Christian liberty. You know the freedom of the sons of God and you will debate that with anyone who comes along. You can do anything you want, at any time you want, with anyone you want. No restrictions, no hangups; you're free, you know God's grace. Every man who's ever turned liberty into license has done it on a theological ground. You can get to the place where you decide, "Even when I sin, God's grace abounds. Isn't it wonderful that I am serving God's grace because I show His forgiveness?"

You can be big on God's sovereignty. No one will outpace you when it comes to a doctrine like that. God is sovereign over the affairs of men and nations. God's eye is not only over history, his hand is on history. His hand is upon your life, and before long God is so sovereign that you have no responsibility. After all, in a sense "all the world is a stage, all the men and women merely players." God maps out the action, plans the dialogue. You go through your paces, but it's all of God. Even your sin. And out of that discussion you come away finding good, sound reasons that sound disobeying God, all because you want to discuss theology with the wrong motive. One advantage of coming to seminary is you can find a lot of reasons for doing wrong and you can sound theological in your disobedience.

Another thing that Satan does in this conversation, this discussion about God, is focus Eve's attention on that single tree in the center of the garden. He says, "It seems to me a thing inconceivable that God wouldn't let you have any of these trees," and now Eve comes to God's defense. She's a witness for God. She says, "No, we can eat of all of the trees of the garden but that one tree there in the can't eat from that, we can't touch that tree." God didn't say that. He didn't say anything about touching it. But one of the things people do in defending God is become more righteousness than God, become stricter than God. It is one of the problems that people often have on the religious right. They not only look at God's commands, but they think they are holier if they go beyond God's commands, and there is destruction in that. Eve makes it a point to say, "You know we can't taste it; we can't even touch it." What Satan has done, of course, is to focus her mind on that single tree, the one thing prohibited.

Sometimes you wonder how people could turn their backs on all the good things, all the blessings, that have been poured into their all that away for that single sin in their lives. And the answer is, they don't see the blessings. Satan shifts the focus, and there is that one thing you want so desperately you'll do anything to get it. It becomes the focus, of your life and everything else God does, you forget. So Satan comes in disguise. He conceals who he is. He conceals what he wants to do.

The second thing you discover is that in his attack he attacks God's word. Eve responds, "We may eat from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat the fruit from the tree that's in the middle of the garden. You must not touch it or you will die.'" Then Satan throws his head back and with irrepressible laughter says, "Surely you don't believe that, do you? That you will surely die? Oh, come now. A bit of fruit? Surely die? That's just a bit of oriental exaggeration that God's using to get your attention, but he doesn't mean that. Surely die? Come now, you're too sophisticated. You're too aware to believe that God who gave you this marvelous garden, and all these trees, and that bountiful fruit, is going to be that exited about your taking that one piece of fruit from the Surely die? You don't believe that, do you? God doesn't mean that. God certainly doesn't mean that."

How easily we fall into that. How easily we can come to believe in some doctrine of inerrancy about the Bible as a whole, but on this particular issue that is an issue between me and God; he doesn't mean it when he says, "You will surely die."

For thousands of years Satan has repeated that. It is the idea of many modern novels, where the author is able to so move the plot that people live in deep disobedience to God, but come out at the end and everything has turned out well. It's the theme of modern movies in which the characters live a life of rebellion against God but live happily ever after. It's the word from the sponsor on television. You see it in ads. There's a 's been on the market for a long 'My Sin.' The huckster on Madison Avenue who named that bottle of fragrance chose the label because he said, "Here is a fragrance that is so alluring, so charming, so exciting, so harmless, you can call it 'My Sin. '" And that fragrance is a stench in the nostrils of God.

How do you feel about these warnings about disobedience that fill the Bible? How do you feel about them? Does God really mean it when he says that they who live after the flesh shall die? Does God really mean it when he says, "If you sow to your flesh, you will reap corruption?" Does God mean it when he says, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." Does God mean it when he says that the eye of the Lord is against the wicked? Does God mean it when he says, he shall judge his people? Does God mean when he says, "Fornicators and adulterers God will judge?" How do you feel about it? Does God mean it when he says things like that?

God is serious about sin because God is serious about you. God is serious about sin because God loves you and God knows the devastation that sin can have in your life, in your relationships, in your character, in your ministry. God is serious about sin as a loving parent is serious about fire and warns a child about it, knowing that it can maim that child for life, destroy the home he lives in, and do untold damage. But how do you feel about it? Does God mean it when he says those things?

Not only does Satan attack God's Word, but he goes deeper and attacks God's character, which lies behind his Word. For the serpent said to the woman, in verse 5, "For God knows that when you eat of that tree, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." What Satan is doing is attacking God's goodness. What he is saying is, "You know why God gave you that command? He gave you that command because he wants to spoil your fun. The reason he gave you that command is he wants to keep you on a tight leash. He doesn't want you to be free. He doesn't want you to really experience the abundance of life. He wants to deny your pleasures. He wants to show you he is in control. He wants to keep you down. He doesn't want you to have the excitement that life can offer other people. He knows that when you eat it you'll be like him and you'll know good and evil. You'll have experiences you can have in no other way. God's got an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda, and it's an evil one."

Once the well is poisoned, all the water is destroyed. For example, probably one of the most beautiful confessions of love and faith in the Bible is the confession Ruth makes to Naomi. June embraces November. And she says, "Entreat me not to turn away from you. Where you go, I will go. Where you abide, I will abide. Your people will be my people, your God will be my God. Where you die I will be buried." Beautiful.

But suppose someone came to Naomi and said to her, "Naomi, listen. Ruth's a gold digger. She's a manipulator. What Ruth really wants to do, this Moabitess, is get back into Israel to marry a wealthy Jew, and she knows her passport home is with you. She'll tell you just about anything to get a free pass into Israel." If Naomi believes that, then the well is poisoned and every good thing Ruth does, Naomi will suspect. Every kind word Ruth will speak, Naomi will reject. When you poison the well, all the water is poisoned. When you come to the place where you doubt God's Word because you really doubt God's goodness, then Satan has done his work. How easily we do that. All of us have served the Prince of Darkness and lived in his realm, and when we come to the kingdom of God's Son we have a way of bringing our doubts and suspicions with us. Something happens in your life that is difficult, and you find yourself asking why, and that question mark is like a dagger pointed at the heart of God. How easily we begin to suspect that what happens in this particular case in our life is really a demonstration that God is against us. We suffer such a twisted will that even when good things happen to us we doubt God's goodness. Something marvelous comes into your life, something unexpected, and you're delighted. Then all at once there is that shadow that crosses your mind that before long it will be taken away. That God doesn't really want me to enjoy the expansion of his goodness; just as I get to enjoy it, he'll snatch it back like some cruel, sadistic parent. So we knock on wood and smash at the heart of God. When you doubt God's goodness, you'll doubt his Word and you will see God restricting you and holding you back. The work of temptation is done.

And so the writer tells us that at that moment, in verse 6, "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, she took some and ate it." It now becomes pleasing to the eye. It becomes desirable because now she has listened to the lie of the Tempter and her senses take control. When you get God out of your life, when you come to question God's Word and God's goodness, then suddenly your senses come alive to what is evil and what was once out of bounds to you becomes the thing you desire and often the thing that will destroy you.

"Piece of fruit?" someone might say. "Surely not a piece of fruit. You're not going to tell me that Eve sinned with a piece of fruit in a fruit orchard. You're not going to tell me that's why Adam sinned and that's why murder came into their family. You're not going to tell me a piece of fruit damned the race."

No, not a piece of fruit. A disobedience to God's Word, a distrust of God's character. The fruit is out at the periphery; the sin is at the center. Whenever you come to deny or doubt the goodness of God, then at the point in which you struggle in your soul you'll come to deny his Word.

If Satan had come to Eve in that early morning and said, "Look, sign this paper. Say that you are done with God," she would never have signed it. When Satan comes he never comes dragging the chains that will confine us. He comes bringing a crown that will ennoble us. He comes offering us pleasure, expansiveness, money, popularity, freedom, enjoyment. In fact, he never really says there are any consequences at all, just that we will fill all the desires of our hearts. It is there we are destroyed. That's the lesson: the temptations that destroy us strike at the heart of God, at God's integrity and God's goodness. When we deny his goodness, we reject his Word. When we reject his word, we do so at our peril.

Hear me well this morning. I do not come to you to bring some kind of tight religion. Christianity is not mere morality. It's not a matter of toeing the line and keeping the rules. Christianity is a relationship with a God who loves you so much that he gave you his child, and every gift from God is good and perfect. But we sin and fall when we doubt his goodness and thus disobey his Word.

Dr. Haddon Robinson is Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at GConwell Theological Seminary and author of Biblical Preaching (Baker).

Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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Sermon Outline:


I. How does Satan tempt us?