Identifying and Resisting Satan’s Attack | Part 2 of 5
This second part of our series will look at Satan’s method of attack: undermining our trust in God’s word. Once we grasp this method, we’ll identify false teachers who attack core Christian doctrines the same way. This is how we can protect ourselves and others against those who would rather tickle ears instead of teaching the truth.
When the serpent deceived Eve in the garden of Eden, he began with a loaded question, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
We can learn much by examining the structure and content of this thoughtfully composed, yet terribly destructive, question.
The first half of the serpent’s question, “Did God really say…?”, isn’t asking Eve to refresh his memory. It’s a trick meant to accomplish a specific purpose: skepticism. If Eve answers “Yes”, Satan can use that to make her doubt God’s goodness. If she answers “No”, Satan can use that to make her skeptical of God’s word.
The second half of the serpent’s question misstates God’s warning, “You can’t eat from any tree in the garden”. God never said that! He said, “From any tree of the garden you may surely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat from it; for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Satan’s misquote is a blatant exaggeration of a very simple, reasonable command.
What exactly was Satan hoping to accomplish with this exaggeration? To make God look cruel for giving Adam and Eve hunger and then prohibiting eating the food in the garden.
So in two crafty ways, Satan’s question undermines Eve’s trust in God: by inviting her to think skeptically about God’s word and by exaggerating what God has said to make him look cruel.
Why are skepticism and exaggeration choice tools for Satan? They remove the authority of God’s word and transfer that authority to human beings. Once a person becomes a judge of God’s character and God’s word, that person makes himself an authority above God. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what Satan got in trouble for: trying to raise himself up to a position of power above God (Isaiah 14:12-15).
James 4:11 specifically warns of the danger of becoming judges of God’s law, rather than humble followers of it, “…if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.”
Key point: Satan wants us to look at God’s commands judgmentally so that we stop thinking about our duty to obey it.
In nearly every issue where the church is at odds with the culture, you will find a bad Bible teacher who chooses to stand with the world and scratch its itching ears. And they consistently do it by showing skepticism of God’s character and exaggerating God’s word.
To see Satan's method in practice, let's examine two of the most popular heresies in the church today: Open Theism and Universalism.
Open Theism - The Bible teaches that God not only knows all things (1 John 3:20) but that he also decrees all things which come to pass (Isaiah 46:9-10). This concept of God’s sovereignty over his creation bothers many people and some, known as “Open Theists”, reject it entirely. They would rather think that God is “open” (i.e., blind) to the future, rather than “sovereign” over it.
Among Open Theists, no one is more popular and outspoken than the pastor Gregory Boyd. In his book, God of the Possible, he states, “It takes a greater God to steer a world populated with free agents than it does to steer a world of preprogrammed automatons” (31). This statement invites skepticism of the truths in God’s word by exaggerating the doctrine of God’s sovereignty to make it mean that human beings don’t make real choices and are, as he puts it, “preprogrammed automatons”.
In other words, he’s asking, “Did God really say that all people are just algorithms that operate in the computer of the universe?” No, the Bible doesn’t say that at all; but if we take Scripture at its plain meaning, we recognize that it tells us that God’s will is primary and ours is secondary. God is God and we are not.
Universalism - The Bible teaches that God hates sin (Leviticus 20:23), cannot stand evildoers (Psalm 5:5; 11:5), and won’t accept them into his presence (Isaiah 59:2). Consequently, those who die in their sins will be punished by God eternally in hell (Matthew 10:28; 25:46). Jesus also taught that “many” go there and “few” enter into the kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).
I think Scripture tells us those disturbing truths so that we will be active and intentional to share the gospel. But others who call themselves Christians simply respond by denying it. They believe that, eventually, everyone ever born will enter into God’s kingdom. These are called “universalists” because they believe that everyone in the universe will be saved.
To challenge this doctrine of hell, former pastor Rob Bell, in his book, Love Wins, offered these questions, “Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life? This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves. What kind of faith is that? Or more importantly: What kind of God is that?”(2-3).
Those questions are eerily similar to Satan’s. Rather than starting with the clear statements of Scripture as a foundation, Bell’s questions make the reader the judge of whether God would be just to punish people as Jesus said he would. He blatantly imposes skepticism about God’s goodness when he asks if God can be loving if he punishes eternally. He also exaggerates the importance of preserving our pre-existing ideas about love. The fact that God's love might be different from ours should have us raising questions about ourselves, not Him.
The real problem with Open Theism and Universalism isn’t God; it’s us. Open Theism affirms our egotistical sense of autonomy rather than God’s. Universalism validates our warped concept of love rather than God’s. Eating that fruit affirmed and validated Adam and Eve's lust rather than God's will.
When you step back for a second, you can see a pattern in these heresies: it's all about you.
If you search the internet to understand any core Christian doctrine, you will find supposed Bible teachers who deny the clear teaching of God’s word in order to scratch itching ears. You will often find that they deny God’s word in ways just like Satan. These aren't good guys who got tripped-up on an obscure Greek word; they are false teachers.
In the next post, I’ll share more about the ways modern teachers use the Satanic method to try to undermine Jesus’ death on the cross. In the meantime, be discerning. There’s a lot of heresy out there. And be truthful. Share the gospel like Paul (1 Cor 15:1-5), not Rob or Greg, so that people can be genuinely reconciled to God.