Recently, during my daily Bible reading, I came across a familiar section in Genesis that caused me to reflect on some common problems in today’s churches. Both observations occurred in Genesis at the fall of man in the Garden:
“3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Note that God’s Word begins here by telling us that Satan, the serpent, was more crafty, i.e., deceitful, than any other beast of the field and we see that certainly played out in his interaction with Eve. His first words really give us a clue to how he operates even to this day, “Did God actually say?” This presupposes that God’s Word is spoken (or read) and then Satan cleverly interjects doubt into the truthfulness of God’s Word. This first subtlety that he uses, creating doubt into God’s Word, has done nothing but increase since then, particularly post-Enlightenment (~1650-1800). We see it played out in everyday life when people doubt God’s stance on marriage between a man and a woman as He has revealed in His Word. We see it through the promotion of science and evolution to the exclusion of the Bible, doubting then the truthfulness of God saying it is He that has created and sustains the earth. But we also see it in our churches. Multiple mainstream “pastors” have created doubt over the existence of Hell, the aforementioned forbiddance of homosexual marriages and relationships, even doubting what the Bible says about Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Satan’s real subtlety isn’t operating outside our churches, it’s operating within.
But note in this passage a second subtle way that Satan works, “‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Where did Satan get this statement? Whom is he attributing this quote to here? He follows up his doubt of God’s Word with a distortion of what God actually said. Note carefully how he tries to quote or paraphrase what God told Adam in the previous chapter, “16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). God’s command was that Adam (and Eve) could eat of every tree except one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But Satan, in his deceitful way changes that and asks did God really say (the doubt) that you couldn’t eat of any tree (the distortion) in the garden. Interesting isn’t it. A subtle creation of doubt followed by a twisting of words can steer someone completely away from what God has actually commanded. Despite the numerous false religions in the world today which have certainly blinded the eyes of many, the closer one gets to truth, the more difficult it is to spot the deception and the more easy it becomes to be lulled into a false sense of truth and security. This can be illustrated by the graphic below.
When you start at a known point of truth and begin to deviate from it, before you know it you’re on a trajectory that leads to miles away from the truth, even though it hasn’t seemed like that drastic of a shift. Thus, the subtlety of Satan. See, Satan’s best work isn’t done through the promotion of secularism, or false religions (though make no mistake he is working very successfully there), it’s done through deception on the inside of churches. Just think strategically about this brethren. If he can create doubt and distortion among the people who have the most access to the truth, then who will be left to point those on the outside toward the truth? It then becomes increasing important for professing Christians to know their Bibles and diligently hone their gifts of discernment in order to recognize error, not primarily outside their churches, but inside. The Apostle John makes this exhortation very clear in his first epistle, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1