Pastor David B. Curtis


Dealing with Temptation

Genesis 3:1-6

Delivered 09/01/1996

Temptation is something that we are all familiar with. We have seen the pain and destruction that it causes as people secumb to its deadly lure. Not long ago a pastor of a large and growing church was in a tanning booth and decided to look over the wall. He saw a naked woman, and she saw him. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to community service. He had to resign from the church and leave the ministry.

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. What was it that caused him to turn his back on all that he knew was right? 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?

You're a Christian; temptation dogs your path and trips you at every turn. Temptation is something that we are all to familiar with. 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?" In the third chapter of Genesis we find the answer. There is no chapter in the Bible that is more up to date and more pertinent to our own situation than this chapter of Genesis. What we have here in Genesis, chapter 3, is a case study in temptation. It reveals to us the strategy which the Tempter uses, that which he used in the garden and which he still employs with everyone today.

The most striking thing about this chapter is that we find ourselves here. You can't read through this story without feeling that you have lived it yourself because, of course, you have. This account of the temptation and the fall is reproduced in our lives many times a day. We have all heard the voice of the Tempter. We have all felt the drawing of sin. We know the pangs of guilt that follow.

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 is as up-to-date as the temptation you may be facing this morning--the temptation you faced last night--the temptation you face in your study, in your home, in your ministry, in your life. The scene has changed, but the methodology has not.
The Tempter is introduced in the first sentence of verse 1.

Genesis 3:1 (NKJV) 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'?"

It is very unfortunate that this word in the Hebrew was ever translated "serpent," because it has given rise to a very false idea about this story-that there was in the Garden of Eden a talking snake. Would any of you ladies listen to a snake? The Hebrew word here is Nachash (naw-khawsh) which means literally "to shine," or in the noun form here, a "shining one." If you read it that way, an entirely different being emerges. "Now the shining one was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made..." Among the beasts of the field was one whose coloration was bright and beautiful and whose movements were smooth and graceful, this was a most attractive animal.

As you read this story, one of the things you discover is that when the Tempter comes, he comes to us in disguise. When the tempter 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 as the roar of a lion. 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.

You will recall that Paul in his second Letter to the Corinthians speaks of the serpent that tempted Eve and then goes on to speak of him as "an angel of light." So it was the Nachash that appeared, the shining one. He is also called in the Book of Revelation that "ancient serpent," i.e., the original serpent, the Devil. There is thus no question about the identity of the one who suddenly appears here. It is the Devil in his character as an angel of light, a shining being, all glorious to behold, who now confronts the woman in the Garden of Eden.

Lucifer, was evidently the greatest of the created spirit-beings. And sometime after the creation of man, Lucifer's "heart was lifted up" because of his beauty and somehow he began to doubt God's word and deceived himself into thinking that he, himself, could be God.

Isaiah 14:14 (NKJV) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'

Here we see Satan indwelling and using the body of this animal, this shining one.

The word subtle means crafty or cunning. He had a craftiness about him greater than any other living creature. The approach of Satan to the woman was a masterpiece of effective subtlety. He caught her when she was alone, without Adam to counsel and warn her. I'm sure that you realize that you are more susceptible to temptation when you are alone. It's probably not too often that you sin in church. Most of us behave in public. It's when are alone, when there is no accountability that we are in trouble. Young people, if you date in a group you won't have to worry about sexual temptation but if you go out alone with your date you could end up in big trouble. Achan, David, and Christ were alone when tempted.

Satan comes, as he always does, in disguise. He never appears with horns and hooves and a tail, announcing that he is Satan. If he came that way, everyone would reject him. But the devil appears in disguise as he does here, as an angel of light, appearing not to be bad but good, a shining being of wholesome character and benevolent purpose. This is the one of whom Martin Luther properly said, "On earth is not his equal." He is a master of deception.

Are you familiar with the ads for alcohol? "Men prefer Black Velvet." They portray a beautiful woman in a black velvet dress and imply that happiness and romance will come from the use of their product. Do you think you will ever see a testimonial advertisement like this in your evening paper: "Friends and neighbors, I am grateful for past favors and have supplied my store with a fine line of choice liquors. I must inform you that I shall continue to make drunkards, paupers, and beggars for the respectable people of the community to support. My products will incite riot, robbery, and bloodshed. They will diminish your comfort, increase your expenses, shorten your life, and multiply fatal accidents and incurable diseases. They will deprive some of life, others of reason, many of character, and all of peace. I will thus, however, accommodate you, the public. I must face the reality that I have a family to support, that the business pays, and that your attendance encourages it. I have paid my license, and the traffic is lawful! If I don't sell it, someone else will. Please give me your patronage, for as you can see, I am a frank and honest man"? You won't see an advertisement like that because Satan comes in disguise. Let us move on to consider the strategy which the Tempter employs. This is most instructive because it is exactly the strategy he employs when he comes to tempt us.

The apostle Paul said that he was not ignorant of the Devil's devices. If we learn how he works, we can easily learn to detect and resist him in our lives. 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 is 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?" Let's talk theology, let's talk about God's Word.

With that question, he plants a seed of doubt in the woman's heart. This is his first step, to implant distrust in her heart, a distrust of God's character, here His goodness. He is seeking to alter the image of God in her thinking. He raised the question, "Did God say you shall not eat of any tree of the Garden?" He is saying, in effect, "Either you misunderstood him and he didn't really say that; or if he did say it then obviously he is not quite the kind of God that you have imagined him to be." With this single question he casts a small cloud of doubt over Eve's trust in God, and the response of love in her heart. Do you think that a God who loves you would say that kind of a thing: ask you not to eat of a tree of the Garden? Why do you suppose He is withholding something from you like that?" Have you ever heard this question? "If God really loves you why does He ask you not to do this or that?" Or "Why does he withhold things from you? Why doesn't He give you what you want?"
If you study each situation closely enough, you will find that sin always begins by a questioning of God's character, particularly His goodness and his severity. This is the age-old lie of Satan, the lie with which he deceived himself in the first place, and which succeded so well with our first parents that he has used it ever since.

The answer the woman gave revealed that the arrow had found a target.

Genesis 3:2 (NKJV) 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.'"

What she actually says is that it was possible that they would die, rather than God's positive declaration that they would surely die. God promised that death would follow disobedience; Eve implied only that death might follow. Satan's question already seems to have aroused doubts in Eve concerning God's character.

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, 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 lives--throw 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 that you are willing to do anything to get it. It becomes the focus of your life and you forget everything else that God does. We see this in the temptation and sin of King David. He had everything he could possibly want, but his focus was on the one thing he didn't have, Bathsheba.

It is instructive also to notice that temptation always comes to us at this point. God said to the man and the woman, "Here is something in which I must limit you. The whole world is yours, the whole planet. You may eat of any fruit, any tree, anywhere, except for this one tree." This is highly significant because we discover that God is forever saying this to us in one way or another. Have you noticed this fact? In this sense, the tree of good and evil is still right in the midst of the garden of our lives. Wherever we may turn we are confronted by the fact that we are limited in some way. The testing of our humanity is whether we are willing to accept and abide by the limitations that God chose to put upon us. There is always something that we do not have. Satan always tries to focus our attention on that one thing and, instead of counting our blessings, we lust for what we don't have.

Now in the fourth verse the Devil comes right out and attacks the character of God. He says, "God is lying to you."

Genesis 3:4 (NKJV) Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die.

Satan denied God's promise of punishment: "ye will not surely die." The Hebrew construction is extremely emphatic, just as emphatic as that of God's promise to punish disobedience.

It is instructive that the first doctrine to be denied was that of judgement. Notice his cleverness here. "It is not going to happen as God says. Don't take God so seriously. Surely these issues are not that important. If God is a God of love, then this can't be a life or death matter. After all, it is really rather trivial. It can't be that important." "Surely you don't believe that, do you? That you will surely die? Over a bit of fruit? 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 us and God; we think 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. "Little Mermaid"- You can disobey your parents, do your own thing, be selfish ( "I want more"), and in the end it will all turn out good. "Bridges over Madison County,"- could be entitled, "The Joys of Adultery," or "The Miseries of Monogamy." Its theme was about as ungodly and unchristian as a movie could get.

How do you feel about these warnings about disobedience that fill the Bible? Do you believe in the severity of God?

Romans 11:22 (NKJV) Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

This word severity is the Greek word apotomia, (ap-ot-om-ee'-ah) It is used only here in the NT. It means, severity, roughness, cutting off. It denotes the decisive withdrawal of His goodness from those who have spurned it. It speaks of His wrath and retributive justice. This is an attribute of God, it is part of his character. The idea of God's severity, his wrath is clearly seen in the Bible.

Jeremiah 21:3-7 (NKJV) Then Jeremiah said to them, "Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, 4 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel: "Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, with which you fight against the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans who besiege you outside the walls; and I will assemble them in the midst of this city. 5 "I Myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger and fury and great wrath. 6 "I will strike the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they shall die of a great pestilence. 7 "And afterward," says the LORD, "I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, his servants and the people, and such as are left in this city from the pestilence and the sword and the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who seek their life; and he shall strike them with the edge of the sword. He shall not spare them, or have pity or mercy."'

Zedekiah was the last king of Judah (596-586 B.C.). He was made king in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:17). When he rebelled, the Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem and destroyed it.

Jeremiah 39:6-7 (NKJV) Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes in Riblah; the king of Babylon also killed all the nobles of Judah. 7 Moreover he put out Zedekiah's eyes, and bound him with bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon.

Zedekiah witnessed the execution of his sons before his own eyes were blinded (25:7). Then Zedekiah was taken to Babylon. He apparently died in captivity. God is a God of severity, wrath, and to disobey him is to incur his wrath.

Do you question the severity of God? Does God mean it when he says that they who live after the flesh shall die? Does God really 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 he shall judge his people? Does God mean it 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? Has Satan gotten you to doubt the severity of God?

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? Then why do we so often disobey?

Satan not only attacks God's word, but he goes deeper and attacks God's character, which lies behind his Word What Satan is doing is attacking God's severity and His 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 that 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. Satan attacks God's goodness.
The Bible also clearly teaches that God is good.

Exodus 34:6-8 (NKJV) And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7 "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." 8 So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.

These things together make up God's goodness, in the overall sense of His revealed excellences. The goodness of God is that essential perfection of the divine nature which inclines Him to deal bountifully with His creatures.

Nehemiah 9:16-17 (NKJV) "But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments. 17 They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them.
Psalms 107:1 (NKJV) Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Psalms 107:8 (NKJV) Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!

Mark it down, God is good, gracious, merciful, longsuffering. But most people don't see God as being good. Most people wonder how God could be so bad as to allow bad things to happen to them. They believe the lie of Satan that God doesn't want them to be happy. He doesn't want you to really experience the abundance of life.

Once that 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. 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." That is an expression of love.

But suppose someone came to Naomi and said to her, "Naomi, listen. Ruth's a gold digger. She's a manipulator. What Ruth, the Moabitess, really wants to do is to 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, where you question His goodness or severity, then Satan has done his work.

How easily we do that. 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. 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.

Genesis 3:5 (NKJV) "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."

Again the lie of Satan is that God is holding out on you. He doesn't want you to be like Him. This was the same temptation that led to Satan's downfall. In effect, as soon as one begins to question God's character, he is really setting himself up as his own god. And as your own god, you make your own rules.

Genesis 3:6 (NKJV) So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

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. The fruit is not the issue. The issue is disobedience to God's Word, a distrust of God's character. The fruit is out at the periphery; the sin is at the center.

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 that there are any consequences at all, just that we will fill all the desires of our hearts. It is there that 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.

What went wrong? How could she have avoided this? Where was the battle lost? As you look through the account you can see that the battle was lost right after the first sentence, when the Devil raised the question, "Did God say...?" When she accepted mentally the idea that God's goodness and severity could be doubted, from that moment on she was whipped, she had lost.

Have you experienced this kind of thing? This is the process that is followed when the Tempter tries to get you to have an affair with another man's wife or another woman's husband. This is the process he follows when he wants to get you involved in a shady business deal, or to cheat on an examination, or simply to tell a lie in your relationship with others, or whatever else it may be in the manifold ways by which temptation comes.

Let me ask you a question as we close this message. You are being tempted, some of you, right now. Young and old alike, you are being tempted to do wrong, take a course that is wrong, make a decision that will lead to death or disaster down the line. Well,ask yourself these questions: Do I feel cheated, deprived, or limited right now? Do I feel as though God is somehow holding out on me, that I am not being given all that I ought to have, that my rights are being violated, that I am being cheated of something life should give me? Or do you feel you can sin and get away with it? Well, then you are listening to the voice of the Tempter. That is his first approach. "Did God say this? Would a God who loves you say a thing like that? Would he hold out on you? Would he postpone the blessing he wants you to have, or would he really discipline you?"

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 Son, and loves you so much that he has made you his child--a God whose every gift is good and perfect, a God who loves you too much to let you sin and not punish you.

We yield to temptation and sin when we listen to the tempter and begin to question God's character. We begin to doubt the goodness and severity of God and then we disobey his Word.

Romans 11:22 (NKJV) Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

Consider is eido, (I'-do) to know:--be aware, understand. As we understand and consider God's goodness and severity we will resist temptation in our daily lives.

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