Back at the Tree — Did God Really Say?
Four Lenten Devotionals
Lent is a time of repentance. Repentance requires us to name and confess our sin. Naming sin is the first and perhaps most transformational step in our Lenten journey. It is not enough to say, ‘I am a sinner.’ We must go further and say, “I am a sinner because I…” It is only in naming sin that it is exposed, brought out into the light where the power of God’s grace can obliterate it. Nothing is more freeing than when we name the sin in our lives and, through confessing it aloud, experience God’s forgiveness wash over us. Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship said, “Lent affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God’s love.”
We are in a day where the very concept of sin is anathema. In response, we as followers of the Jesus of the cross, must not be conformed to the standards of this world. The church of Jesus Christ must continue to be a confessional church, or it is not worthy of the name it bears.
To help us on this journey of confession and repentance, I will use the four remaining weeks in Lent to take us back to the scene of the original sin and consider where and how we might be reenacting that sin in our own lives. Here is our text for these four lessons.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)
From this text, let us focus us on four statements the enemy made that led to this catastrophic failure on behalf of the first couple:
- “Did God really say?”
- “You will not certainly die.”
- “Your eyes will be opened.”
- “You will be like God.”
Week One – Did God Really Say?
The enemy starts his assault with a simple question, and in that question, he twists what God had actually said. Look at God’s command and the enemy’s question side by side.
God: And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
The enemy: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
When Eve responded, she misquoted God: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” (Genesis 3:2-3)
Of course, God said nothing about touching the tree, and in this little exchange we see the root of one of the most grievous of sins. We recommit the sin of Eden when we buy the lie of the enemy that God’s word, as it is, is not enough.
The Bible is not an easy book to read, nor is following its teaching a path for the timid. This Lent, I want us to consider what role the word of God plays in our lives. Here are three questions to ask ourselves when we consider our respond when the enemy asks us, “Did God really say?”
1. Is the word of God authoritative?
At the tree in Eden, the enemy was successful in driving a wedge between God’s simple command and Eve’s trust in it, which compelled her to add to it. As we will see in subsequent weeks, once that door is opened, once the full authority of scripture is questioned, we can be led down the path of believing the most shockingly unbiblical teachings. Eve needed only to repeat exactly what God had said to her. God’s word stated accurately was all she needed. Instead, she considered it somewhat inadequate to address the serpent’s question. His simple question, ‘did God really say?’ needed an equally straightforward and simple reply. Instead, she embellished her response because the authority of God’s words was not enough.
How about for us? Does God’s word carry for us the full authority just as it is written? Or must we find ways for its message to conform to other standards? The real issue here is what we believe is normative for our life and what is relevant. Do we read the values of our culture through the biblical lens, judging these values by its standard? Or do we seek to make scripture more ‘relevant’ by questioning its authority when Biblical teaching comes into conflict with our culture? What is unequivocal and what is malleable? What source of truth modifies all others?
In this season of Lent, let us confess and name the sin where we have allowed the values of the world to dictate how we read the Bible. Let us repent for every place we have we replied with Eveby prevaricating when asked, “Did God really say?” Let us repent wherever the Bible has ceased to be the standard by which every other word must be measured and evaluated.
2. Is the word of God sufficient?
Eve’s response also tells of a lack of belief that what God says is sufficient. We, too, can be easily tempted to believe in the word of God and... The words of scripture are becoming more radical in their departure from and condemnation towards our growing cultural moral depravity. The Bible can be embarrassingly pointed and shockingly clear on issues where we want gray, flexibility, options and wriggle room. To create this hermeneutical maneuverability, we search (think Google) for commentators, expositors and theologians who will provide us with enough reasonable doubt to confirm our conviction that we need not really take God at his word. And there are plenty of voices out there who will affirm our desire for compromise.
One author lamented, “the church as a whole desperately needs to recover Scripture’s sufficiency. Too many pastors and their churches have adopted the culture’s consumeristic mentality. The Bible is not the priority but pragmatics. Who the church is and what the church does are not decided according to the Word of God but are determined according to the felt needs of the surrounding culture. Whatever will keep visitors coming back for more, whatever will give the appearance that the church remains relevant, these become the rule for worship and ministry. As a result, the church sells its soul to the culture, desperately trying to entertain to give those in the pew the experience they want.”
Two of the great Reformers spoke passionately about the sufficiency of Scripture. John Calvin said, “Today many claim authority for charismatic experiences and others posit authority in some philosophy or psychology other than the Word. It needs to be stated again that the Word is sufficient. It needs no supplementation from popes, theologians, councils, or bureaucracies. It needs no supplementation by enthusiastic fanatics who entertain their own private revelations and visions. It needs no supplementation by scientists, psychologists, or philosophers. The Scripture is sufficient.”
Martin Luther said, “Scripture alone must reign. Our consciences are not captive to any other authority than the Word of God.” His sola Scriptura meant that the Bible was the sole authority and the ultimate determination of our doctrine and our practice.
The enemy’s question is put to us this Lent. Is the word of God enough, or do we fall to the temptation to add, amend, subtract, modify, explain away, or ignore the parts of it that are less culturally sensitive or intrusive to our lifestyle? If we are to name and confess our cavalier handling of the word of God, here are a few questions the enemy may be asking us.
- Did God really say we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (e.g., Matthew 5:43-45, Luke 6:35)
- Did God really say if we want to follow him, we must take up our cross? (e.g., Luke 9:23)
- Did God really say if we are to find the life he wants for us, we must lose our life first? (e.g., Matthew 16:25)
- Did God really say that if we follow him the world will hate us?(e.g., John 5:18-19)
- Did God really say that if we are friends of this world, we are enemies of God? (e.g., (James 4:4)
- Did God really say that marriage is between a man and a woman? (e.g., Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31)
- Did God really say that he formed us in the womb as the author of life? (e.g., Isaiah 44:2, Isaiah 49:5, Jeremiah 1:5)
- Did God really say that no one comes to the Father except through faith in Jesus? (e.g., John 14:6, Acts 4:12)
3. Is the word of God final?
Lastly, are we willing to stand on what the word of God says as our final authority and all sufficient guide in life? Imagine if Eve had responded, “Yes, God said these things, and we believe them to be true, not you. So beat it!” Is God’s word unchanging, speaking truth to a changing world? Or is there a need to change scripture to accommodate our changing cultural mores? Is the bible out of date? Have we discovered some new interpretations that can make it more palatable?
This Lent, what confession do we need to make for the ways we have responded to the enemy’s question, ‘Did God really say?’ with a response of “well, yes, back then. but today I’m not so sure.” Such a good confession will lead us back to the cross, back to God’s self-revelation to us in Jesus Christ, and back to the word of God that bears witness to the Truth.
May we find our firm footing on the word of God this Lent, rejecting every temptation to exchange the truth of God for a lie, and holding fast to what God truly said, a word that is as powerful and true today as the day he said it.