Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Temptations of Christ: Self-Empowerment
Tempting God

In this installment of our Lenten Series, let's look at the second temptation of Jesus:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'."

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'."
(Matthew 4:1-7)

In an earlier post, we examined how each temptation falls into one of three categories:

Lust of the Flesh (self-gratification)
Pride of Life (self-empowerment)
Lust of the Eyes (self-promotion)

Adam and Jesus faced these temptations head on. Our human forefather failed; Jesus--both man and God--won the victory, thereby breaking the curse of  spiritual death over us and regaining our authority in the earth.

Although temptations continue because satan has yet to be literally bound, he has nevertheless been legally stripped of his authority at the Cross. Any success he garners with mankind must be done through cooperating vessels.

Our key is not in resisting temptation by ourselves, but remaining in Christ...abiding in the One who already faced the devil and triumphed over every temptation!

Any time we step outside of Christ to act upon a temptation, we step away from our protection and power. This is another way to look at "sin"--anything we seek to fulfill outside of God's Will (the what) and Way (the how's and when's) for our lives.

The Pride of life causes us to act presumptuously. We become so full of ourselves that we rarely consult God for direction. Highly intelligent and talented people fall easily into this trap. Many anointed men and women with great ministries have become enamored of themselves and run aground.

"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith."

Pride was the original sin:

"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations.

"For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High."
(Isaiah 12:12-14)

How many "I's" of Satan do you count ?

Satan was the covering cherub over the Throne of God. He was called beautiful and stunning as the light bursting through at dawn! His name meant "Day Star" or "Shining One".

But what cut him down? Pride.

He was THE Archangel over all the angelic host, yet that wasn't enough. He wanted to take God's place. Pride blinded him into thinking more of himself and his much so that he actually thought he could defeat God and seize Heaven.

What did God say to this rebel?

"Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings." (Ezekiel 28:17)

His strengths--not his weaknesses--caused him to sin!

Struggles keep us desperately dependent upon God, but our impressive strengths can lead us away from Him. Although we may generally pray, worship and read our Bible, we draw upon our own strength (not divine grace) as we encounter daily challenges. It is subtle, and it is dangerous.

Satan lost his ability to correctly reason and grasp reality. Prideful people will not only be blinded to their own ways, but will lead others into a ditch as well.

What is the end result? We will be "thrown to earth". Look at Proverbs 16:18:

"Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

(Conversely: "The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility." Proverbs 15:13)

Pride and haughtiness go hand in hand. An arrogant attitude reveals a person who often stumbles through life, blaming others whenever things don't pan out as planned.  Such consistent, lofty grandstanding swells the inner pride until some sort of destruction is inevitable. stripped of his authority at the Cross. Any success he garners with mankind must be done through cooperating vessels.

When we look at the Hebrew meanings for the word destruction--breaking, fracture, crushing, breach, crash, ruin, shattering--we can't help but think of something intense happening very swiftly.

With hindsight, all of us can look back and clearly see the warning signs posted prior to a fall.  We were blinded during our pursuit of self-empowerment--convinced we were "ten feet tall and bullet proof"--too talented to fail, too smart to get caught.

Christians with successful ministries that grow under a season of blessing can easily forget the source of favor. The pedestal becomes comfortable, along with the adulation of admirers. The head swells as the heart darkens.

Sins become excusable for these exceptional people in unusual circumstances. Adultery, cooking the church books, taking money for personal needs from the offerings, spinning lies and constant blame shifting to protect one's reputation become routine and rationalized.

Can't you just hear Satan urging Jesus? (my paraphrasing)

"Hey, I know that Moses wrote that Psalm for accidental encounters, but you're special. Why, you're God's own son. You are, aren't you? You of all people ought to be able to take His word and apply it to your situation!

"I mean, all this stuff you've been saying and doing...can you back it up? If you're who you say you are, I bet you can take the ultimate risk and come out fine. Surely God would make an exception in your case--yes, a man with your calling and anointing, someone as gifted and important as you!

"Of course, you may just be blowing smoke, bud. Just another one of those nut jobs claiming to be the Messiah
. We'll never know unless...

Jesus didn't buy it, knowing that to jump would circumvent God's plan for all of humanity. He wasn't thinking about His reputation. His proving would come at the Cross--and not one minute before. In fact, He cried at the moment upon redemption's completion, "It is finished"!

But how many of us have stepped off the ledge in an effort to prove or protect ourselves, only to find that God didn't shield us from the consequences after all. He didn't pretend not to notice; God didn't wink an understanding eye in our direction. And compounding the calamity is the innocent people around us who are forced to suffer from our follies.

We tempted Him to make an exception to His Word!

Whatever the idol, therein is the fall--fame, money, beauty, ministry, power, status, a successful business or career, the attention and praise of others. These inordinate desires tempt us to take more and more risks to obtain them--even tempting God in the arena of life and death where He alone is sovereign.

If the object of your devotion (and the matter you often pray about) looms bigger in your vision than the One you are praying to, read what happens:

"Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?

"Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: "Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols."
(Ezekiel 14:1-4)

In other words, you may hear exactly what you want to hear! God turns you over to your own devices. He gets out of the way, and lets your idol "answer" your prayers. Frightening, isn't it?

Just recall the numerous headlines involving church-related sexual and financial scandals, and you will agree people will try to justify anything to consume their lusts...even special permission from God.

"For if any person thinks himself to be somebody when he is nobody [of superiority except in his own estimation], he deceives and deludes and cheats himself." (
Galatians 6:3)

The Bible contains many examples of the sin of self-empowerment:

Abram and Sarai
: tried to figure out how God was going to give them a child in their old age, only looking at the natural obstacles. They cooked up their own plan to bring God's will to pass. Sarai gave her handmaid, Hagar, to Abram so that a legal child could be born.

Later on, when God supernaturally energized the couple's bodies and the child of promise (Isaac) was born, the son of his own strength and planning, Ishmael, became an enemy to his brother. (Genesis 15,16,18, 21)

was successfully conquering Canaan. The nearby Gibeonites heard of his campaign and feared for their lives. They devised a plan and approached Joshua's camp as ambassadors from a far away country--dressed in dirty, worn clothing and carrying old food.

They claimed that had come to make a pact of servanthood based on their admiration for all they had heard about God and His people. Joshua, blinded by his military successes, overconfident and puffed up, made a snap decision based on natural perception, rather than consulting God as before.

When the deception was exposed, it was too late.The Covenant had already been made. The Gibeonites were spared from destruction, and Joshua's decision stood in defiance to God's preceding word to thoroughly cleanse the land of all idolaters. (Joshua 9)

attempted to fulfill God's call on his life to liberate God's people from Egyptian bondage in his way and time. His way was to exert his own physical strength and courage through cold-blooded murder.

God's way was a lengthy time of tempering and humbling in a desert experience, then a return to Egypt in God's power and demonstration. (Exodus 2-12)

Moses, after leading a rebellious and stiff-necked people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, succumbed to the pressure and stepped outside of his rest in and reliance on God to handle his challenging position. The people once again complained about being abandoned by God to thirst, although once before the Lord supernaturally provided water from a rock.

God instructed Moses to simply speak to the rock this time and water would flow to satisfy the wandering nation. However, angered over their faithless murmurings, Mose, picked up his staff and struck the rock instead, saying, "Hear now you rebels; must WE fetch you water out of the rock?"

This action cost Moses to stop short of his personal entrance into the Land of Promise because he "believed Me not, to sanctify ME in the eyes of the children of Israel." (Number 20)

When we rashly strike out in exalted self-empowerment-even to meet legitimate needs-we deny God the credit, thereby failing to sanctify Him in the eyes of those watching us.

: was a judge of Israel. An angel appeared to his previously barren mother and announced a son would be born, but he must never cut his hair (part of the Nazarite Vow that separates a person to a special work for God).

The extremely strong Samson was smitten with a woman named Delilah. His enemies paid her to find out the secret of her lover's strength.

Delilah's obvious probings were like a game to Samson. He ignored the danger signals in order to be with her, believing as God's chosen man, he was insulated from any real harm. One night he finally gave into Delilah's pleadings, and he told her the truth.

As he lay asleep in her arms, she had a man cut Samson's hair. His enemies crept in and began to hit him. Startled, he awoke and rose to fend them off as presumptuously as before, but found himself powerless before attackers. He was taken captive, his eyes were poked out, and he was publicly mocked. (Judges 13-16)

was Israel's first king. Because of his position and earlier popularity, he justified his disobedience to the Lord, claiming that his willful adjustments were actually intended to bring greater glory to the Lord.

Even after a rebuke from the prophet Samuel, he still asked the man of God to walk with him out of the tent to make the people think everything was okay. His anointing was removed, and a demonic spirit filled the void that corrupted his reasoning and reduced him to paranoia and violent outbursts. (1 Samuel 13,15)

was well acquainted with God's Word; he was the sweet psalmist of Israel. Yet, he coveted Urriah's wife Bathsheba. He stepped outside of God's Law to commit adultery with her while her husband was far away on the battlefield.

When she became pregnant, David took matters into his own hands and had Urriah placed in the hottest point of the battle on the front line where, according to plan, he died. David then took Bathsheba as his wife. David's pride and lust had so blinded him that he felt no conviction for his sins (adultery and murder)!

He was oblivious to the fact that everyone around him, and even neighboring nations, were fully aware of his actions and mocked him as a "godly leader". Only after a cunning confrontation by the prophet Nathan did David repent. (2 Samuel 11,12)

"Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you."
(1 Peter 5:6)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Temptations of Christ: Self-Gratification
(Turning Stones into Bread)

 St. Paul warns us to "not be ignorant of the devils' devices, lest he gain an advantage over us." ( 2 Corinthians 2:11)

Successful generals study their enemy's tactics. The Bible gives us a clear picture of satan's strategy throughout human history.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17)

From the above passage, we see that people of the world and their systems are held sway by three dynamics:

Lust of the Flesh
Lust of the Eyes
Pride of Life

These forces are governed by satan, meaning he is the prevailing influence in the philosophies, opinions, and views of the unbelieving world, which affect the educational, commercial, political, and religious systems of nations.

"...In whom the god of THIS world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Note the use of the word "this" not "the"...signifying that satan does not have absolute authority in the earth, but operates deceptively with limited power primarily over those who do not believe, and only in this current age.

When satan rebelled against God in Heaven, he was full of pride; he coveted God's Throne (which he covered continually with his wings) and desired to possess its power at any cost.

His rebellion was characterized by a) lust of the flesh, b) lust of the eyes, c) pride of life.

He and his angelic followers were cast to earth, doomed to wander their "penal colony" while they watched mankind, created in God's image and likeness, spread the Father's glory over all the earth. It was to be eternally tormenting!

Satan soon realized that if he could find a legal way to gain the mandate of earthly authority granted to Adam, he could reanimate into the physical world and work to steal, kill, and destroy God's beloved humanity.

Could he tempt man to also rebel and be kicked out of Paradise? Could he persuade man to follow his lead and forfeit his estate?

We all know the story as recorded in the third chapter of Genesis. Let's pick up where Eve succumbs to the same three dynamics in verse 6:

1. She "saw" the tree was good for food (flesh)
2. It was pleasant to look at (eyes)
3. She desired it in order to become wise (pride of life)

All temptations--then and now--land in one of these three areas.

Although Christians are not of the world, we are nevertheless in it; and when our hedges are down, we become the devil's prey, as well.

What do I mean by "downed hedges"?

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." (James 1:13-15)

When we are tempted, we can't blame God. He doesn't have anything to do with it! Even satan has to seek an opportunity to tempt; he cannot indiscriminately pick a victim:

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Unbelievers do not live within secure spiritual parameters; Christians do. Nevertheless, we can find ourselves compromised due to careless neglect. 

Conversely, as James tells us, we may linger and listen to voices outside the hedge that speak to the needy areas of our heart, drawing us away from our safe place. Ultimately, we step out to embrace the tempter.

We are blinded under temptation, unable to see a vicious predator--only beauty, desire, and personal fulfillment. In other words: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

James tell us to resist temptation "stedfast IN the faith"...not with the faith. This is important, saint.

Remember, you are IN Christ, and He is your faith--not a set of rules and regulations. The only place you can win is in Christ!

"In Christ" is where you positionally, legally reside at all times, but you have to make that truth a daily reality here on earth--in your mind, in your sexuality, at your job, in your choice of friends and entertainment.

Why is this important?

God, the Son assumed human flesh in order to undo man's disobedience by becoming what Adam was not--a trustworthy representative of God to all creation. The Incarnation was a radically brilliant plan that would not compromise the integrity of a just God nor deny mercy to the fallen.

After Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit led Him into the desert to face the three temptations that Adam and Eve failed. Satan used his standard M.O. to try to disqualify this new representative--the SAME methods he uses against you and me as God's representatives in the earth today.

Although Jesus was God in the flesh, the temptations He faced were very real.  His divinity was willingly submitted to serve the Father's purpose, thereby manifesting only by permission as it fit into redemption's plan, such as with healings and miracles. (Jesus explained, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does." John 5:19)

The temptations were aimed at  pressing Him to question His Heavenly Father's  intents and goodness  while in His human condition, thereby compelling Him to step outside of God's provisions and into self-attainment.

However, it was not the humanity of Jesus that answered those temptations, but God within. As a result, He passed the test.

With his sinless life and sacrificial death, He ransomed us from the curse of rebellion, paid its penalty in our place, and credited that obedient life to our account. Our statement is stamped "Paid in Full"!

That's what being IN CHRIST means. In the Kingdom, we reside IN His righteousness, His perfection before the Father, His faithfulness to God. We trust what He has done for us, not what we do for Him (which can never measure up to His holiness).

However, in the material world that has yet to see the full manifestation of Christ's Kingdom, we are the visible representatives of that which is to come and its Sovereign.

"The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:26-27)    

Therefore, as refractions of the life and ministry of our Lord, we face our temptations in the same way. The battles are very real, but Christ within makes the final decision!

The minute we 'step outside' of that protective place by doubting God's ways of relating to us and caring for our needs, we choose to take matters into our own hands; we want to determine what's good and evil...we want to control the how's and when's of getting what we want. We take the bait again--just like Adam and Eve--and open ourselves up to unnecessary trouble and consequences.

Let's look at how the Bible records the temptations of Jesus:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written,
‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'."

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone'."

Jesus said to him, “It is written again,
‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God'."

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'." Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:1-11; 17)

Notice that none of the things used to tempt Jesus were in themselves illegitimate.

God created us to enjoy food, but Jesus was in a God-inspired fast that required a season of self-denial. God didn't want to withhold sustenance from His Son, but it was not yet time for Him to eat again.

God was going to raise His Son from the dead in spite of fatal wounds, but it was not time. The Cross was God's way. Jesus would validate His claims to the world by saving others. He was not in the world to please or prove Himself.

Jesus was going to win back what Adam forfeited to the devil, but not by bowing to the enemy. He was going to die instead, rise from the dead, then triumphantly, openly strip satan of the keys to death and the grave!

He stuck to the Father's plan, although the end result took longer and was certainly not as easy.

Jesus understood the WILL (or plans) of God for His life. He was not in His season of Kingship. He was to first come as the suffering servant, the sacrificial Lamb.

Jesus relied on the Holy-Spirit inspired WORD of God to keep Him in God's Will (see His response to the devil's temptations).

Jesus accepted the WAY of God as to how the Father's plan of redemption was to unfold and be fulfilled--the how's and when's.

What season are you in as it relates to God's will for your life?

Jesus is the Living Word. We are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). He is our armor (Ephesians 6). Abiding in Him enables us to resist the enemy and bear the fruit of obedience to the Father's plan.

We surrender to the way the Father has chosen--the how's and when's. Many frustrated Christians are trying to follow the right plan, but in the wrong way or time. Some have rejected their calling altogether, thinking they missed God.

God has promised to meet our temporal needs as El Shaddai, the God who is "more than enough". He has promised to vindicate every wrong and be our defense against accusations and insults. We need not take matters into our own hands to prove anything.

Our loving Father has promised that we have been "given all things that pertain to life and godliness" in Christ (2 Peter 2:1-4) and that indeed, we are joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

We already sit in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus, "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."

If all things are under His feet, then they are under ours as well. He is our head, we are His body--the FULLNESS of Him that filleth all in all." (Ephesians 1:21, 23; 2:6)

Beloved, being in Christ means we not only have unrestricted access to His divine blessings, but we assent to obtaining them in the same manner as our Lord--surrendered to the Will, Word, and Way of God at all times.

This may appear impossible until we remember that we are In Christ--abiding in and expressing outwardly the life and power of One who already surrendered on our behalf and won the victory!

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Now, we'll look further at the first temptation of Jesus to turn stones into bread. It falls into the category of "lust of the flesh", or what I define as self-gratification.

God created us with a genuine hunger mechanism--a signal that our bodies are 'running on empty'. But our heart (the seat of our emotions) also releases uncomfortable feelings when it is approaching "E".

God created us with the capacity to give and receive affirmation, attention, and affection. Emotionally healthy people have mostly full tanks, and do not rely on constant input from others to keep them running.

Affirmation says: You're valuable to me.

Attention says: You're worth my time.

Affection says:  You're desirable; I want to be near you; I am not repulsed by your flaws.

Don't get me wrong; it's nice to receive these blessings from other people. We can all benefit from "topping off our tanks", but do you get what I'm saying?

Only God can heal and satisfy the heart's complex hunger for affirmation, attention, and affection. If it's not met in Him first, our hunger will drive us to look for fulfillment in ungodly people and places.

Pause for a moment and reflect once again on what affirmation, attention, and affection means. Do you have the kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that makes it easy for you to hear and believe these words when spoken by Him? If not, to whom are you looking for validation?

Deficient hearts are desperate. They want to end the discomfort NOW! They can't stand being told "no" or "not yet"; they take it as a personal insult or attack that screams, "You're not worthy to be gratified."

This vain imagination leads them to desperate choices in their relationships, finances, business, and ministry--often leading to sinful ways to try to escape the compounding consequences. Notice in the temptation passage that satan prods, "COMMAND that these stones become bread!"

Indeed, needy people are quite demanding, and insist on getting their way every time...regardless of whom it affects:

Achan in Battle (Joshua 11): He took material blessings out of the timing of God.

What do we do when God says, "Not yet"?
Do we go ahead and buy on credit and extend our debt?

King David with Bathsheba (2 Samuel, chapter 11): He had sex with another man's wife after seeing her bathe, and the cover-up led to greater wickedness. Though he had many wives, David lusted after a particular woman and would not rest until he had her.

How do we react when God says, "No!" Do we nevertheless keep flirting with what is forbidden until we reach a point of no return?
Do we heap more sin unto our account by the way we try to erase our footprints or escape a consequence?

King Solomon, who was willing to compromise his faith to please his foreign wives and concubines: (1 Kings 11)

Although God's Word is clear, do we deceive ourselves into thinking that our anointed gifts, talents, position or wealth makes exceptions for us?

Judas and his thirty pieces of silver: (Matthew 26: 14-16)

What is your price? Can your confession for Christ be exchanged for money, fame, a  certain person's favor or a position of power?

St. Paul observed:

"...for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.
I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance.

I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want.
I have strength for all things IN CHRIST Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]."
  Philippians 4:11-13 (Amplified Bible)

Contentment is not automatic. All of us must learn that only living spiritually IN CHRIST will we be able to, in turn, live in the natural world under any circumstances--with plenty or little, appreciated or not, loved or alone.

Focusing on Christ and His sufficiency prevents us from embracing a lying vanity that causes us to doubt God's goodness and care for us in the seasons of "No" or "Not Yet". It prevents us from stepping outside of Him to meet either a legitimate or a perceived need.

Up Next: Self-Empowerment

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Your Eyes Will Be Opened

"Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

Adam's job assignment contained only TWO aspects: tend and guard the Garden. Isn't it interesting that Adam was not burdened down with volumes of rules and regulations on how to do his job?

Actually, only ONE rule existed: do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It carried a stiff penalty of sure death. This forbidden tree was in the middle of the garden--not protected by an imposing fence or even a "No Trespassing" sign.

Adam and Eve could choose from countless varieties of fare from the abundant vegetation. Although God knew ahead of time what Adam had done each day, He delighted in stepping into time and walking with His children in the cool of the day, rejoicing at their progress and patiently listening to their discoveries. It was the joy of loving and being loved.

As the couple grew in knowledge and wisdom, they were to learn directly from the Creator about the intricate, spiritual dynamics outside their ever-expanding material world. (Adam had been told to protect the Garden; therefore, he knew an enemy was on the ground somewhere.)

The economy of the Garden ran on relational stewarding. Adam and Eve were co-trustees of creation--accountable to each other and to God. The moment the outsider spoke, Eve should have turned to Adam and told him. Adam, in turn, should have refused further engagements until God could be consulted. After all, the Creator of all things would know the true nature of this strange creature and exactly what it wanted.

Eve, however, fell under the charm of being singled out. Flattered by the attention and isolated by her pride, she unwittingly fell under seduction. Satan systematically wore Eve down by:

1. emphasizing the prohibition, not the provision
2. reducing God's command to a question
3. casting doubt upon God's sincerity
4. defaming His motives
5. denying the truth of the consequences

Most likely, the enemy has never has spoken to you directly, but he does use other charming things and people to get you hooked into engaging him. Look again at his methods above. In hindsight, does this M.O. look familiar?

In essence, satan asked Eve:
Do you want God to teach you what He knows, or do you want to learn it yourself?
Why do you think God wants you to have to keep coming to Him?
Could it be He desires to keep you under His thumb?
If He really loves you, why is He holding something this important and pleasurable from you?
Have you ever wondered if eating from the tree will make you just like Him, and then you won't need God anymore?
Did He say you'd die? Why, I think you'd become divine!

It worked. Genesis 3:6 records the downfall:
1. Eve "saw that the tree was good for good" (Lust of the Flesh)
2. That it was "pleasant to the eyes" (Lust of the Eyes)
3. And a tree desirable to “make one wise” (Pride of Life)

The book of James tells us the difference between godly and earthly wisdom:

From above--pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy
From below--inspired by the devil; full of bitterness and envy that leads to self-seeking that produces confusion

Envy occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession; and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.  Regardless of how well the devil spins it for you philosophically, when you want to be the captain of your soul and the master of your fate, the bottom line is--you envy God.

If we look back at Genesis 2:15, when God said, "You shall surely die", the literal Hebrews is "in dying, you shall die."

It would take hundreds of years for what Adam and Eve set into motion to steal their physical breath, but their spiritual death was immediate. How did we know? To be spiritually alive in this realm, a man or woman must be connected to God, who Himself is a Spirit, and the giver of all life (John 4:24). To be dead spiritually indicates a person is relationally, intimately cut off from God. Look at the symptoms:

After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve notice they were naked for the first time. A new emotion entered the garden--shame. They desperately make fig leaves (from the forbidden tree) to cover the most intimate part of themselves from each other. Next, they hid from God for the first time, shrinking from the One they normally welcomed into the Garden for intimate fellowship. Why? Shame was followed by a second emotion: fear.

"I was afraid,"
said Adam.

Finally, blame shifting manifested:

The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (Genesis 3:12-13)

Eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil gave Adam and Eve the shortcut they were looking for--the power to decide what was good and bad for themselves, but at a tremendous cost.

Physical life would go on, but under harsh conditions. Creation would no longer obey Adam because he disobeyed the Creator.

The earth no longer would acknowledge Adam as a representative of the Godhead. As a result, it was not obligated to respond to his efforts to subdue and take dominion over it. Cut off from the divine (the spiritual), man had to rely solely on his five senses to help him discern, divide, and decide.

The first humans' sons and daughters have come into this world ever since with the same amputation. We arrive as spiritual cripples, despite our intellectual capacities and talents. Our void shows. We don't appreciate the liberties we DO have as agents of free will; we focus on what our Creator prohibits and begin to question His motives. We listen to "new" voices that feed our doubts and fuel our pride.

Like Eve, we legalistically add to God's restrictions to convince ourselves of how enslaving they are. (She added, "We may not touch it, lest we die")

Like Eve, we diminish the consequences in our mind by removing "surely" from before the word "die". (Genesis 3:2)

We may still be breathing after seizing the tree, but we're not well. Society reels with one problem after another that can be traced back to the day we became fig weavers.

As a whole, we are people bent on self-preservation and hiding our true selves. When caught red-handed, we quickly pass the blame. We are steeped in fear. We don't know what it's like to live shame-free, nor without the secret delight in shaming others.

When Adam and Eve finally faced God, He would not, could not wink at their sin. He didn't grant them a "do over", much as we might to a child who lands outside the lines in a game of hopscotch.

God is holy (perfect). He is just. He is love and mercy...far beyond anything mankind has been able to fathom or experience. His attributes cannot be separated, nor can one quality be emphasized to the exclusion of the others without distorting the real character of God.

While allowing the curse to stand, God nevertheless slaughtered animals in the Garden--another first--using their innocent blood to temporarily atone (cleanse) for man's rebellion. He then made each of them clothes from the skins of those animals, which Adam and Eve wore out of the garden. The animal skins were evidence that a sacrifice had been made on their behalf.

God also promised Eve that her future Seed (another representative from God) would face the accuser again (Genesis 3:15). Adam II would be wounded by satan, but would undo the curse and crush demonic authority once and for all.

It happened--just as God promised and just as He planned.

God, the Son assumed human flesh and became Adam II to make final atonement for what happened in the Garden. Being born of a human woman, he was fully human yet fully divine. His power was never diminished-- only restrained for redemption's purpose, which was to suffer and die in our place.

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God someting to be used to His own advantage;
Rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippains 2: 5-7)

He deliberately limited His humanity in order to know man's hunger, thirst, need for sleep, tiredness, and emotions. God, the Son chose to cloak His divinity in order to learn language and social skills as a child--even carpentry--thereby authentically experiencing and sanctifying every stage of life.

"I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does..."
John 5:19-20

Given the earthly name Jesus, Christ lived a life totally dependent upon God, the Father...bypassing the temptation to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in His humanity.

Satan wanted this Messiah to believe that the Cross was not necessary. Plotting what he thought was another easy ruse, the veteran tempter told Jesus that all he had to do was bow down in allegiance to him; then, all the wealth and power of earthly kingdoms that had been previously forfeited by the first Adam would be returned--no pain, no suffering, no loss of reputation or life.

Jesus wasn't interested. To Him, the stakes were higher: human souls.

Adam and Eve would have eventually possessed the knowledge of the universe; but they chose to seek it divorced from intimacy with God and each other. God only works relationally. This is a foundational truth we learn by looking into the profound intimacy, love, and outworkings within the Trinity.

What Adam and Eve didn't understand (and neither do most of their descendants today) is that no one really becomes his or her own god; It's just a tragic change of allegiance under the pretense of autonomy. That's another reason God couldn't say, "All right, kids; since this is your first sin, it doesn't count."

Adam and Eve had switched allegiance from God to the fallen prince of rebellion. Thinking they were free unto themselves, they were slaves of the devil and bound to his ways. They were eternally cut off from God's goodness and grace. Forgiveness was not enough. They needed a formidable deliverance!

Actually, there was a "do over", but not by sinful Adam and Eve:  It was accomplished by Christ--the final Adam. If you receive what He has done for you by faith, God will credit this finished work to your account. You will be legally transferred out of the imprisoning inadequacy of Adam and into the liberating sufficiency of Christ.

So during this season of Lent, God is calling to the fearful in hiding. He is walking once again into the Garden you soiled by sin and draped in shame. He’s not out to destroy you!

He wants to know if you're interested in making an exchange: your fig leaves for His Son.

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh..."
(Romans 13:14)