I recently read A Foot in Two Worlds by John Chapman and was struck by his observation, based on the Genesis account of the Fall, of three lies that we come to believe when we rebel against God:
First ‘[Satan] tempts [Eve] to doubt God’s word with his innuendo, “Did God actually say…?”… The second suggestion he makes to her is that there will be no consequences flowing from disobedience to God…The third suggestion…is that God does not have her best interest at heart’.1
I want to look at each in turn and apply them to the context of sexuality – as a poignant case-study of the way temptation works.
- God’s word is doubtful
‘Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”’ Genesis 3:1
Of course, the answer to the serpent’s question is ‘no’. That’s not what God said at all, but Satan deliberately misrepresents God’s word to undermine Eve’s confidence in it. The root of doubt has started growing in Eve and she responds with:
‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die”’ (Genesis 3:2-3, emphasis added).
This is also a misrepresentation of what God said. God didn’t command them not to touch the fruit. Eve has also twisted God’s word and believed a lie instead of the truth.
When it comes to temptation, there’s a lot of ‘Did God really say…?’ about. Take sexuality for example. It’s easy to add to or change what God says about sexuality to make his actual plan for it seem less plausible.
‘Did God really say that gay people aren’t welcome in church?’ No!
‘Did God really say that gay people are more sinful than other people?’ Absolutely not!
‘Did God really say that he doesn’t love gay people?’ Are you kidding?! That’s the opposite of God’s heart.
‘Did God really say that without sex we are condemned to loneliness and lack of intimacy?’ Not at all!
Sexuality is just one area in which there is a tempation to push back against God. But the same temptations exist, and principles apply, with issues to do with the love of money, selfishness, pride, anger, gossip, and all the other aspects of life that the Bible addresses.
The point is that we always need to make sure that we pay close attention to what God has actually said, rather than assumptions we’ve made about his word or false conclusions we’ve drawn. It’s easy to be swayed by things our friends say, stuff we read on the internet, social media soundbites and even dodgy church teaching that seem quite convincing. But when we twist or add to what God has said we get ourselves into a mess. We need to go to the source of all truth. So, with sexuality as our case-study again, it’s clear that God loves and longs to cherish gay people (John 3:16; Acts 10:34-35), sees all people as equally sinful and yet equally welcome to have a relationship with him (1 John 1:8-9), welcomes gay people into his body (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), and says that a life without sex can be full of wonderful intimacy with him and others (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
God’s word shows that sex is for a faithful, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman and there are good reasons for this. Singleness is a good gift and the gospel of forgiveness and new life is for everyone. Packaging Christian teaching with homophobia, judgementalism and rejection of LGBT people is to distort and betray God’s words and heart. Being good news for LGBTQ people like me means not doubting God’s good word to all of us and holding fast to the truth rather than being taken in by lies.
Again, sex is a powerful example of priciples that apply more widely in all of life.
- Disobedience has no consequences
The second lie that Satan tricks Adam and Eve into believing is that disobedience has no consequences (or at least, no bad ones). This is a flat out, 100% major lie from Satan:
‘You will not certainly die,’ he says (Genesis 3:4). He entices them with the falsehood that they can do what they want without worrying about any judgement or negative fallout. The warning that God has given for their protection and wellbeing is callously disregarded.
We find the same thing happening in contemporary discussions about sexuality. Whenever we condone sex outside of a marriage between one man and one woman who are committed to each other for life (whether that’s adultery, cohabitation, one night stands, prostitution, gay sex, pornography…) we’re leading people into danger. The same applies when we don’t address greed, bullying, pride, anger issues, or unforgiveness. We’re watching in silence as someone steps onto a busy road not seeing the car coming straight for them. If we promote behaviour that leads people away from a deep and intimate relationship of obedience to Christ, we’re robbing them of the very best life they can have, both now and in eternity.
Sometimes the consequences of our rebellion against God aren’t immediately apparent. Lots of people who aren’t Christians or who claim to follow Christ but aren’t being obedient to him, seem to have lovely lives. But that’s not the whole story. Sometimes the damage to ourselves and others doesn’t show immediately. And the biggest damage of all is to our relationship with God – the very thing we’re created for in the first place. The Bible encourages us not to envy those who seem to be ‘getting away with’ ungodly behaviour because it isn’t going to end well for them:
‘For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
‘From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
This is what the wicked are like –
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
‘Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.’
(Psalm 73: 3-4; 7; 12; 27-28)
This is why we can’t agree to disagree on sexuality. Ultimately sin – all sin – leads to death. Sinning is like drinking a cocktail laced with deadly poison. It may taste nice, but it will kill us. It’s not a little bit naughty. It’s lethal. As Romans 6:23 warns and promises: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Whether or not we choose to be obedient to God in the way we conduct ourselves has life and death consequences. For all of us. True love for someone includes having the courage to warn them when they’re in danger because of choices they’re making and ways they’re behaving. As it says in Proverbs 27:6, ‘Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.’ Saying that rebellion against God doesn’t matter, or will even make life better for us, is to offer a false promise with devastating consequences. I would much rather my friends helped me to see the seriousness of going against God’s design for my life, including my sexuality.
I can’t leave this section without injecting a note of hope. The fact is that we’re all terrible rebels. We’ve all rejected God’s authority in our lives and eaten the forbidden fruit of independence from God’s loving care and design for us. If sin doesn’t matter, then the gospel doesn’t make sense as there’s no need to turn from our disobedience and accept Jesus’s forgiveness. But sin does matter. Disobedience to God has serious consequences, so much so that Jesus died and rose again to take the death sentence for our sin on himself. Whatever ways we’ve been disobedient sexually, God loves us and wants to forgive us. And his offer to us is a wonderful, full, rich life of freedom from the consequences and power of sin.
- God doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Having caused Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word and believe that rebellion has no bad consequences, Satan goes on to cause them to doubt God’s very character and goodness: ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:5).
So, right at the start, Satan is accusing God of being a liar and a killjoy, and God’s people are taken in! The devil tricks people into doubting God’s word and it doesn’t take much for them to believe him instead of their loving creator God. He tempts Eve with the prospect of being equal to God, able to define good and evil for herself.
This is very similar to how many of us approach matters of ethics, if we’re honest. Rather than starting with God’s word, we use our own criteria to decide what is right and wrong. Maybe we use the metric of harm (‘How is what two consenting adults do in the bedroom causing harm to anyone else?’), maybe we appeal to fairness (‘It’s only right to allow gay people to marry each other, because it would be unfair not to celebrate gay marriage.’). The problem with this approach is that it is putting ourselves in God’s place. We’re saying that we’re better than God at knowing what’s best for us and that we don’t trust him – our creator – to know and show us how we can flourish.
Doubting God’s good character is always at the root of rebellion against him. As Timothy Keller wisely observes: ‘People find themselves at a crossroads where they say, “If I obey God I’ll miss out! I need to be happy.”… Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.’2
Let’s remember that Adam and Eve weren’t living in a miserable moral bootcamp. They were literally in paradise. The description of all the good things that God had surrounded them with is breathtaking. The garden is full of all kinds of trees that are ‘pleasing to the eye and good for food’ (Genesis 2:9). There’s a lovely river watering the garden (Genesis 2:10). There are multitudes of animals and birds that the humans have the pleasure and responsibility of naming (Genesis 2:19). The man and the woman are given each other for delight and pleasure and there is no shame (Genesis 2:24-25). And best of all, they have direct access to God, their loving creator (Genesis 3:8). God doesn’t deprive them of good things. In fact, he gives them the very best of everything. But they wrecked it all with their distrust of God, their greed and their desire for independence. Like Aesop’s dog with the bone3, their greed made them fail to appreciate the good things they had and crave something that looked better, only to find that they lost everything.
When we doubt that God has our best interests at heart, when we doubt the goodness of his plan for our lives, inclulding our sexualities – whether that’s faithful heterosexual marriage or celibate singleness – and chase after something that we think is better, we’re falling for one of the oldest lies in the book. Literally. And what applies to sexuality applies to all aspects of life, because God’s will is the best thing for us in all of them.
A truth injection
So how do we counter the lies that seduce us away from God? If I’ve been bitten by a rabid dog, I need to quickly get an injection of HRIG and rabies vaccine. If I’ve got caught up in the lies we’ve been discussing, I need an injection of truth.
In a culture that constantly reinforces the message that God’s word is doubtful, disobedience has no consequences, and God doesn’t have our best interests at heart, we need to make every effort to immerse ourselves in the truth. Here are some ways to do that:
- Honestly examine what Scripture does say. Don’t rely on rumour, other people’s ideas or out-of-context quotes on Instagram. Read the Bible for yourself, regularly. Find out what it says and what it doesn’t say. Read and study the difficult bits. Talk with Christian friends about it. Pray over it. Put in the effort to understand God’s word.
- Spend time alone with God, asking him to fill you with his Spirit and expose any lies you’ve been believing about him, his word or yourself.
- Remember that everything we do has consequences and that God’s judgement is a loving response designed to prevent us wrecking our lives. We all instinctively have a sense of justice – that people shouldn’t be able to get away with harming others. And yet we all harm others, harm ourselves and harm our relationship with God. We either have to live with the consequences or allow our amazing, loving God to take them for us.‘All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:3-5).
- Rehearse the truth that God is good and always has our best interests at heart.‘Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!’ (Psalm 107:1).‘Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’ (Psalm 103:1-5).
- John Chapman, A Foot in Two Worlds: The Joy and Struggle of the Normal Christian Life (Matthias Media, 2009), pp.19-20.
- Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet (Hodder and Stoughton, 2018), p.138.
- Aesop, ‘The Dog & His Reflection’, Library of Congress.
This article first appeared at LivingOut.org here and has been kindly reproduced here with Anne’s permission.