YOU WILL BE LIKE GOD
Written by Doug Ponder on July 17, 2016
The Lie: You Will Be Like God
Shortly after “in the beginning,” the Bible gives the account of the fall of mankind into sin. It’s the sort of story that some people toss off a fairytale or myth. They get about as far as a talking serpent and say, “Oh, come on!” But it would be a terrible mistake to doubt this account.
You see, that talking serpent was not some snake with magical powers to speak (a truly silly notion indeed). That serpent is the main antagonist of the Bible, “the great dragon… that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).
Deceiving is what the devil does best. (In fact, the word “devil” means deceiver.) And no further than the third chapter of the bible, we get a glimpse of him in action:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the 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’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “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.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”
– Genesis 3:1-5
The Same Old Song
I find it fascinating that the first temptation humans ever faced is the same one beneath every other temptation that we still face today. “Do this,” Satan says, “and you will be like God.”
Every temptation to sin is an invitation to take matters into our own hands, to be our own lords, to do ‘what is right in our own eyes,’ to manipulate people and things to suit our own ends, to live as if we are worthy of respect and honor, even worship. In other words, the sin beneath every sin is a prideful attempt to be like God.
The reason why this temptation is so effective, why the desire to be godlike is so strong, is because it takes two truths and twists them into terrible lies.
When Satan said, “Do this and you will be like God,” he duped Adam and Eve into forgetting that you were already like God in some very significant ways. This is, after all, what it means to be made ‘in the image and likeness of God’ (Gen 1:26-27).
Worse than that, however, Satan’s lie was a call to put themselves in God’s place. For Adam and Eve could not enhance their God-likeness (or godliness, if you like) in any way, because they were already created exactly as they were meant to be. The attempt to “add” to their nature, to become someone that they were not, was not a step toward perfection but a massive fall away from it. It was truly a rebellion, because their act of disobedience was a way of lording their will over their Creator’s, or choosing their way instead of his.
Their subsequent fall was immeasurably destructive. What was bad now seemed good, and what was good seemed bad. All their thoughts, feelings, and desires became inwardly focused and utterly self-centered. Instead of joy, there was sorrow. Instead of hope, there was despair. Instead of humility, there was pride. Instead of love, there was selfishness. Instead of understanding, there was confusion. Instead of light, there was only darkness. We all live in that world, and every one of us have followed in their footsteps ever since.
Yet even in our fallen condition, Satan sings to us the same siren tune.
“Do this and you will be like God.”
That is the unconscious motive and objective reality beneath every sin I have ever committed. In every act of sin, I am choosing to do what I want instead of what God wants. I’m choosing to do what I think is right, instead of what God says is right. I say to God, “My will be done” instead of saying, “Thy will be done.” And the results, every time without fail, are never good. Nothing good ever comes from sin. Even when wickedness appears to grant us some pleasure or profit in this world, there is always hell to pay. Sometimes literally.
The Promise: You Will Be Like God
The amazing grace of the gospel, which responds to us in our sin, does not come at us with a word to ‘put us in our place.’ Instead God promises something astounding: you really will be like him.
God has destined you to be conformed to the image and likeness of his Son (Rom 8:29), a process that he works in us as we trust his grace and turn from sin, putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3:10). And this glorious refashioning will come to completion when Jesus himself returns: “For we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
The difference between Satan’s lie and God’s promise is this: Satan tempts us to become more like God than is actually possible, calling us to become our own gods and our own lords. He says, “Do this, and you will be like God.” But sin never delivers what is promised. Instead of becoming more like God, we become less and less like the perfect image-bearers he created us to be.
But the grace of God promises to restore us to a place of tremendous glory by the grace of God. You will be like him one day: always hating evil, only loving good, free from sin and safe from temptation. You won’t be God, but you will be like him, and his grace will make it so.
There is nothing for you to “do” about any of this. Becoming like God is not a manner of doing and achieving, but believing and receiving. Satan says “do and become,” but God says “receive and be renewed.”
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.