Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'" And the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Gen 3:1-5)
God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He also made it clear that the consequence of eating from the tree was death. This command established the proper relationship between God and man. As long as man honored God's authority, he could live to enjoy the Lord's rich blessings.
All was going well until the serpent came along and spoke with Eve. This short conversation did enough damage to sever the loving relationship between God and man, as it led Eve to choose to rebel against her Creator. Why was this conversation so deadly? Where did things go wrong?
The serpent didn't simply say to Eve, "you should disobey God and listen to me. Go ahead and eat from the tree." Instead, the serpent played tricks with Eve's mind and removed her reasons to obey God. Likewise, today, if the devil just appeared to us and told us to break God's commandment, we would surely rebuke him and drive him away in Jesus' name. If he tried to lure us with attractive offers, we would also turn away in disgust. But Satan has a much more effective tactic-deception. It has proven to work ever since the beginning of human history, and he still uses it today. By his crafty persuasion Satan has fooled many people into rebelling against God. As believers, we must learn to perceive Satan's schemes, for only if we have spiritual discernment can we remain faithful to God and withstand Satan's attacks.
The Genesis account reveals to us the nature of Satan's cunning. It shows us how Satan tries to set us off guard, damage our relationship with God, and convince us to rebel against our Lord. By studying the four tricks that the serpent used to lead Eve to contemplate sin, we can strengthen our own resistance to his deceptions.
Trick 1: Challenging God's Authority
The serpent started out with a question: "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'" By beginning with a question, the serpent made the conversation seem harmless. After all, what could be so harmful about such a simple yes-or-no question?
The serpent's misquotation of God's command shows that his question was a test. God's word was final-there was no need to bring it up for reexamination. But the serpent hoped to "revisit" God's command in order to challenge it. The tone of his question was sarcastic. Looking at the whole conversation, we can see that the question itself implied that God's word was absurd.
Likewise, Satan may tempt us through our school, through our friends, and through the mass media. God's commands often come under the attack of scoffers who challenge the teachings of the Bible. By making fun of our beliefs, these people encourage us to question God's word. More and more, believers have to withstand the ridicule and slander of the godless for upholding God's word. Concerning the insults that Christians would undergo, Peter wrote: "They think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you" (1 Pet 4:4).
These days, it is no longer "politically correct" to believe that there is an absolute moral standard. Your high school friends may laugh at you if you are still a virgin, and people will protest if you say that abortion is wrong. Satan tries to make believers look like fools for obeying God's commands. He bombards us with secular ideologies and philosophies in order to weaken our conviction in God's word.
Even more subtle is how Satan works in religion. People will constantly challenge our belief in salvation through Christ alone: "Would God really be so narrow-minded to save only Christians?" "Has God indeed said that there is only one gospel of salvation?" It is also more and more difficult to preach that there is only one gospel and one true church. More than ever, many people today are willing to condone false religions and doctrines in the name of unity and Christian love.
In the apostolic period, false teachings arose to challenge the true gospel. In the epistles, time and again the apostles warned the believers against the deception of false teachers. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning the threat of false doctrines: "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Cor 11:3).
Notice that Paul quoted the serpent's deception when warning against false doctrines. Satan can lead us into misbeliefs in the same way that the serpent led Eve into sin. Like the Corinthians, who faced the threat of heresy, we today are also living in a time of great apostasy. Just as Satan is able to transform himself into an angel of light, false teachers and prophets will come in sheep's clothing, preaching misleading doctrines to believers. We must remain steadfast to the true gospel in the midst of these great deceptions.
Sometimes it is tempting to try to enlarge the narrow gate of salvation, in order to let more people in. It may appear more in line with the Christian spirit to include people of different faiths. But when we think that we know better than God's command, we are likely to disobey His word. God wants us to obey Him with simple faith. We should preach only what the Bible preaches, even if some people feel that it doesn't seem very logical or fair. We have no authority to change God's standard. Our job is to bring people to the narrow gate, not to widen it so that it looks more appealing. If we remain faithful to God's word, we will not be led astray by Satan.
Trick 2: Reducing Sin's Seriousness
When the serpent spoke to Eve, instead of denying God's word outright by saying, "You will not die," he reduced the seriousness of God's warning by saying, "You will not surely die." This statement is ambiguous, because it contradicts God's command in a subtle way. In other words, "God said that you will surely die, but the fact is that you probably won't die." The serpent offered Eve the false promise that she might be able to eat from the tree and not suffer the consequences.
In a world where evildoers and the ungodly prosper, it may seem as if the warnings of the Bible are not all that serious. During the time of Malachi, when injustice was rampant, the people said to themselves, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, And He delights in them." They also asked, "Where is the God of justice?" (Mal 2:17). The line between right and wrong was blurred. God's justice was scorned.
Today, Satan tries to remove the seriousness of God's commands and imply that God's warnings are just meant to scare us. He deceives believers into thinking that God doesn't really mean what He says. "It won't be that bad. You are not going to die. Why should you be scared?" Satan knows that if a person no longer takes God's word seriously, he will much more readily choose to disobey God.
In the end time, when there seems to be no sign of impending judgment, mockers will taunt believers who still hold to the true faith: "Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation'" (2 Pet 3:3-4).
Satan hopes to make us see God's word as a lie. He wants us to believe that no one will ever suffer in the lake of fire. He gives people the false hope that they can somehow escape God's terrible judgment, even if they live in sin. Such a misleading message is very appealing. "You will not surely die"-that's what people like to hear. They don't like to hear about hell, or about God's just punishment. People like to be told that no matter what they do, God will always accept them.
Paul warns us against such deception: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal 6:7). God's word is absolute. He means what He says. Let us take every word of God seriously and not fall into Satan's trap.
Trick 3: Questioning God's Love
The serpent asked Eve: "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" It seems as if the serpent was quoting God, but actually he was misrepresenting His words. God commanded: "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat." The serpent changed God's word, portraying it negatively.
In the same way, Satan today tries to make God's word seem unreasonable. He wants us to question God's love for us. In today's society, God's command is often twisted and misrepresented as nothing but rules. Many refuse to accept God because they think that if they follow Him, then they will be deprived of all pleasure with an endless list of do's and don't's.
The serpent also deceived Eve into thinking that God is not as good as He appears to be: "If God is good, why does He keep you from having knowledge? He is afraid that you would be as wise as He." The serpent made it seem as if God was keeping something good from her, and he challenged her to make the decision for herself rather than listen to God. Likewise, Satan makes us question God's intention. When we begin to doubt God's wisdom or the good intentions behind His commandments, we begin to slip into sin.
If we suspect that God is withholding something good from us when he tells us not to do certain things, then we are all the more tempted to do them. For example, God told the Israelites not to keep any extra manna overnight. Some didn't listen. Perhaps these people thought that God wanted them to suffer by making them go out every morning to gather food. They decided to keep some food for the next day, but it spoiled. God also told them that they didn't have to gather manna on the seventh day, but again, some didn't listen. Perhaps they thought that God intended to starve them on the Sabbath. They went out, but found nothing (Ex 16:19-30).
Because of our rebellious nature, we tend to do the very things we are not supposed to do, while refusing to do the things we are commanded to do. For example, we know that we are to rest on the Sabbath. But we may think that by doing so, we are losing out. So we may decide that it's all right to continue with our business, personal plans, or studies on the Sabbath. But in the end, like the Israelites who disobeyed God, we often find ourselves wasting much time without getting anything accomplished.
When the Israelites were in Egypt, they groaned in their slavery. So God delivered them out of Egypt with His mighty arm. But in the journey through the wilderness, they often complained and asked God why He had led them out to die in the desert. Before they went into Canaan, they sent spies to find out about the land, but the spies who were without faith reported bad news and weakened the people's heart. Then the assembly complained against God and demanded to go back to Egypt. They even wanted to stone the two faithful spies who tried to dissuade them. These people exhausted God's patience. If it wasn't for Moses' intercession, they would all have perished.
As punishment, God swore that they would not enter the promised land. When the people realized their great sin and its serious consequence, they mourned and asked to go up to possess the land (Num 13:31-14:45). Moses disapproved of their proposal, knowing that the Lord would not fight for them. But again, they refused to listen to Moses and attempted to confront their enemy. The Amalekites and Canaanites attacked them and utterly defeated them. What a tragic end for that generation of Israelites! All of this happened to them because they failed to believe and trust God.
When we grumble, we show our suspicion of God's love, just as the Israelites did. Although they could not trust God's love, we must be careful not to make the same mistake (1 Cor 10:10). Even when we do not understand the purpose of God's commands, we must first of all trust that God is good. He will not give us commands for no reason, or to make our lives miserable. When we trust God, we will not complain when adversity falls on us. Rather, we will always be full of hope and thanks.
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?" (Deut10:12-13)
All of God's commands are for our good. He does not withhold from us anything good (Ps 84:11).
Paul was fully convinced of God's love for him. He trusted that God would surely give us His best: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32). God demonstrated His ultimate love for us through the cross. Why would He hold back anything good from us? Why should we try to seek anything good beyond God's commands? Even when we suffer for the sake of keeping God's word, we must learn to trust that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Rom 8:28). If we have complete faith in God's love, Satan will never be able to come between us and God.
Trick 4: Justifying the Wrong
By giving Eve a very logical reason to eat from the tree-to gain God's wisdom-the serpent made it seem legitimate to disobey God. Justifying sin is perhaps Satan's deadliest weapon. The devil knows the Scripture, but he distorts it to tempt us. He gives seemingly "biblical" reasons for breaking God's commands. For example, when Satan tempted Jesus, he misused God's word as an opportunity for self-gratification. He asked the Lord to turn stones into bread to show that He is the son of God. He challenged Him to throw Himself down from the temple to demonstrate that God would save Him. In both temptations, Satan offered some justification for submitting to his demands.
Throughout history, people have done terrible things in the name of God, misusing His word to support and justify their lusts. Why did the Pharisees slander the Lord Jesus? They thought that they were keeping God's commands, but their motive was selfishness. They were jealous of Jesus when they saw that He was gaining popularity, and they often accused Him of breaking God's law. They sought ways to entangle Jesus with His own words by asking Him questions. In the end, they put him to death. They did all this evil, they felt, in the name of God (cf. Mt 26:59-67).
Like the Pharisees, if we are not careful, we may sometimes distort God's word to suit our own needs. One warning sign is when we try to look for "loopholes" in the Bible in order to satisfy our own desires. Believers with selfish ambitions may sometimes use "doing it all for God" as a justification for seeking after the things of the world. They may say, "I will donate a million dollars when I become rich," or "God's name will be glorified when I earn three PhD degrees." But deep down inside, they are seeking vain glory and self-gratification. Then there is the example of "missionary marriages." Believers may sometimes claim that they are trying to win another soul to Christ by marrying someone of a different faith, when their real intention is simply to justify their own desires.
When we become spiritually blind and believe that our wrongdoing is justified, there may be no turning back. Sin's deceitfulness can harden our hearts (Heb 3:13). By fooling ourselves with false justification, our ears become dull and our eyes become blind. We will be guided by our lusts rather than God's commands, and we will continue in the path of sin without feeling any remorse.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Tim 4:3-4). Rather than looking to God's word for instruction, people will listen to false teachers who tell them what they want to hear. People enjoy listening to words that justify their desires, because such false teachings remove the sense of guilt in the listeners and encourage them to continue living in sin.
As true believers, we must learn to approach God's word with the sole purpose of learning from it and seeking God's will rather than our own. Instead of searching for verses to justify our sin, we need to be taught, rebuked, and corrected by God's word and let it act as a mirror to reflect our shortcomings and blemishes (cf. 1 Tim 3:16). Only then will God's word take its effect in our lives. Only then will we not be blinded by Satan's trickery.
Overcoming Satan's Deception
The nature of Satan's deceptions has not changed since the days of Eden. Our study of the Genesis story helps us recognize his age-old tricks. Being aware of Satan's tactics enables us to guard ourselves against his schemes.
But as we keep a constant watch for Satan's deception, we must also actively seek to draw closer to God (Jas 4:7-8). The story of the serpent teaches us that Satan's first line of attack is to weaken our relationship with God. Just as the serpent planted doubt and error in Eve's mind to lure her away from her Creator, Satan likewise hopes to pull our hearts away from God with his deceptions. When our relationship with God is weak, we are vulnerable to sin. When God's word loses its authority in our lives, we obey our own desires rather than God's will. When we feel that God's commands are burdensome, sin becomes more attractive.
Therefore, the best immunity against sin is a strong relationship with God. Whoever abides in the Lord does not sin (1 Jn 3:6). We need to spend more time with God's word than in front of the TV, more time speaking with the Lord in prayer than chatting with friends, and more time seeking to do God's will than seeking for pleasure. We should be filled with God's word, His Spirit, and His love. As the hymn goes, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace." If we are always deeply in love with God, we will show no interest in sin. If the Lord is constantly present in our lives, Satan's temptations will become completely powerless.
1. Helen H. Lemmel, Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus