Identifying and Resisting Satan's Attack 5 of 5
The Lust for Unaccountability
In this series, we've seen how the serpent undermined Eve's trust in God through skeptical questions that exaggerated God's word (Genesis 3:1). We've also seen modern pastors and activists who use the same tactic: exaggerating biblical doctrines and then asking skeptical questions to undermine the church's confidence in those doctrines. We've seen how they use this tactic to dismiss key doctrines, including Christ's penal substitutionary atonement.
Now in Genesis 3:4-5, the serpent made his final attack: confidently dismissing God's warning. Consider the serpent's crafty response to Eve, "No! You will certainly not die. In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This two-part reply conveyed to Eve that after she eats the fruit God will not punish her and the fruit will enlighten her.
God's punishment is the most terrifying idea in the universe. Many people want to believe that it is merely an invention of fundamentalists. False teachers, portraying themselves as academically superior, gladly affirm those people as they ride the coattails of their forefather, the serpent. And just like the serpent, they promise all whom they deceive a wonderful new enlightenment once they have abandoned the disturbing doctrine of hell.
David Bentley Hart, a fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Studies, argued for exactly such an abandonment in his 2019 book, That All Shall Be Saved:
"How viciously vindictive the creator of such a hell would have to be to have devised so exquisitely malicious a form of torture and then to have made it eternal, and how unjust in condemning men and women to unending torment for the “sin” of not knowing him even though he had never revealed himself to them, or for some formally imputed guilt supposedly attaching to them on account of some distant ancestor’s transgression." (11-12)
Hart's brash dismissal of hell indicates the level of growing confidence amongst universalists today. I would point the reader to this list of several universalist books published in the last 20 years (https://3.ly/ahKTi). While many false teachers write and speak using a pondering, questioning tone, most of them are not genuinely questioning; they have a bold agenda of reshaping the God of the Bible into their own image. And the chorus of professing Christians in America who argue that all will be saved is growing more bold and more popular.
I first observed the popularity of universalism on the evening of November 12, 2013. I attended a lecture by N.T. Wright with some of my friends at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. During the Q&A, one of the students asked Dr. Wright about the possibility of universal salvation. When Wright answered that there are real consequences to rejecting Christ and that not everyone enters God's new creation, the room (full of Christian pastors, psychologists, and counsellors from the Seattle area) went completely silent. The questioner and many of the attendees seemed disappointed that Wright, a very popular theologian, wasn't a universalist.
That evening, my friends and I discussed how popular it was becoming to reject the idea of a God who punishes sin and condemns to hell. It's popular because people want to do whatever they want without fear of consequence. Even professing Christians are falling into this trap.
In the apostle Peter's last words to the church, he warned about exactly such a time:
"Above all, be aware of this: scoffers will come in the last days scoffing and following their own evil desires, saying, 'Where is his ‘coming’ that he promised? Ever since our ancestors fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.' They deliberately overlook this: by the word of God the heavens came into being long ago and the earth was brought about from water and through water. Through these the world of that time perished when it was flooded. By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." (2 Peter 3:3-7)
Peter is prophesying that, just like in the days of Noah, the church in the last days will need to hold firmly to the doctrine of "the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly". Many scoffers will come who deny that this day of judgment is coming. Just like Eve, many will be seduced by that lie.
It bothers me that while Eve struggled with the serpent, Adam stood by silently. We read in Genesis 3:6, "So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it." Adam was passive and silent as Eve fails to discern and reject Satan's lies.
In Romans 5, God holds Adam completely responsible for the first sin, despite the fact that Eve technically ate first. Why? Adam received God's word directly. He knew the truth and he was directly accountable to God for it. Rather than reminding his wife of the truth, he sinned passively and knowingly.
What does that tell us about our response to Satan's lies?
Our job is to speak up. If someone, especially a professing Christian, is deceived about the truth of the gospel, we shouldn't stand by passively waiting for the topic to change.
We also shouldn't compromise on the hard truths of the gospel. The gospel has never been a popular message; but it is the only message we have. The message of every prophet from Noah to the apostle John is essentially the same: repent and believe or you will perish under God's judgment. As Jesus put it, "Unless you repent, you will all perish as well." (Luke 13:3)
We need to be faithful to proclaim and defend the gospel in and out of season.
We also need to live in a righteous manner. This shows that we actually believe what we say we believe. If we believe God sees all things and brings all works into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14), it should change the way we act. When the world sees the harmony of the Bible's teaching, the gospel's message, and our manner of life, we have a genuine testimony that God will use to bring the lost to salvation.