It is said that Genesis 1-3 is the seedbed of all of Christian theology. What we believe about God, about our humanity, our morality, our future, and much more is traced back to our reading of these three chapters.
What, for instance, should we make of the serpent’s word to Eve that “… you will be like God …” if she ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The ethical context of the promise is notable. The “be like God” promise had to do with knowing good and evil as God does.
The point I take from the option to be like God is that when Adam and Eve did decide to eat from the tree they adopted the moral standing of deity: of taking up the role of declaring the nature of goodness. This ultimate ethical decision rejected God’s role as the sole “declarer” of good and evil—so leaving his loving direction behind—to become self-defined moral agents. They were no longer dependent on God. And by dismissing their life in the Spirit they were now dead spiritually. Faith was displaced by doubts about God’s goodness and his truthfulness. In sum Adam had usurped God’s role and was now obliged to create a new version of “truth” to make sense of this living death.
What was lost in the shift? The rest of the Bible answers that question!
At least one feature invites our attention here: they abandoned their link to God’s goodness. As Jesus put it to one moralistic questioner who wanted to establish his own goodness, “no one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Given this claim we can conclude that goodness only comes in our embrace of God and his ways. But it was this bond that Adam and Eve rejected in favor of a freedom-to-choose for themselves: a declaration of moral independence from God. This was and is the root of evil.
In this apparent independence Adam had unwittingly become dependent on the serpent’s own brand of truth. This truth was the inverse of God’s Truth. Rather than living in God’s triune and relational love Adam became wed to the satanic premise that deity is a singular mode of being. He believed that self-love is good: a necessary state of existence.
Thus the irony that in embracing autonomy Adam was actually enslaved by a new bondage: a flawed fear of God—with God now seen as a dangerous competitor rather than as a loving creator. The satanic vision of “God” now terrified Adam and his offspring, a distortion that drove us into the serpent’s crushing embrace.
So in seeking security from such a God Adam abandoned godly wisdom in favor of the demonic wisdom of the serpent. This left us, his children, with utter instability and insecurity: no one could be trusted any longer since all other moral agents, beginning with “God” himself, are now competitors. If God no longer defines the boundary between absolute good and what is evil I alone bear that burden, with the steady hissing of the serpent ready to coach me in how to grasp all that the “world” offers me in my independence.
This is the context for Jesus—God’s Son who is fully God and man—meeting with the serpent in the wilderness. In that event Satan’s upside-down reality reached its ultimate absurdity. There the serpent offered Jesus the “authority” and “glory” on earth that “had been delivered” to Satan in an earlier day. Who gave him such authority and glory? Adam had. By opening his heart to the serpent he came under his control by embracing his Lie. So Satan now claimed to be prepared to give up that rule. How? By having God—the Son—worship him: “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:7).
Here Satan showed his deepest ambition: he is the ultimate self-deifier. He asked that his self-created status as a monadic divinity be accepted by one who is true deity. It was self-love expressing ultimate hubris and moral blindness. Jesus, however, dismissed his unreality with an ultimate truth: God, alone, is to be worshiped.
What, then, changes for us who are now in Christ?
In our own conversion we despised our freedom-to-choose and instead declared our dependence on the One who first loved us. In this love he opened our eyes to see him not as the enemy portrays him—as a hideous and self-absorbed competitor—but as the Lover who created us to share in his own Triune communion.
And what, then, lies ahead for us? Our own participation in deity. Not as something we grasp for ourselves but as a gift we are given. Read this (from 1 John 3:1) and smile: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” This is the good news that cures the “independence” Adam once gave us.