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The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God That Sound Like the Truth

The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God That Sound Like the Truth

by Jared Wilson

Learn More | Meet Jared Wilson


The Anatomy of a Lie

Did God really say...?

The Serpent

Before there was death, there was the lie. It begins as a question, a splinter of inquiry slipping smoothly under the skin of the mind. But it 's not a question, really. It is a proposition wearing a mask. The question is a strange new idea, a smuggled roster of "alternative facts" holding out the prospect of curiosities sated, mysteries solved, even of enlightenments achieved.

The question goes like this: "Did God really say...?"

It does not shock you. It does not immediately jar your religious sensibilities or theological knowledge. It arches an eyebrow, furrows a brow, twists up the corner of a mouth.

"Well, did he?"

Maybe we don 't know. Maybe we think we know.

But the question has already begun its work. The splinter has already planted its bacterial doubt. The infection has begun.

Before there was death, there was the lie.

But before the lie, there was the Liar.

We assume he came from heaven, where the lies he told himself required his expulsion. Having once enjoyed the splendid bliss of dwelling in the midst of the glory and holiness of the triune God, he bristled, begrudged. How it began, we don 't know. Perhaps he began to sing the songs too falsely, too inwardly. Perhaps he conspired for what was not his.

In any event, the Liar began as one of God 's heavenly host. He was an angel—still is, actually, but back then he was a good one. This was before he asked the questions that weren 't really questions and before whatever light he carried was hurled from the celestial mountain down to the dust. He was thrown fast as lightning, so terrible was his betrayal of his Creator.

How long he stewed in the filth of his own imbecility and treason, we don 't know. Was time then even a thing?

But later it was. God made it. He made all things. And he made all things good.

And there Satan thought he saw his opening again.

He didn 't saunter into that garden. He got on his belly and crawled, to feign humility perhaps. In the dawn of precious creation, snakes didn 't have the image we have of them today. No, that all started with him, with this. Before there was death, there was the lie.

Genesis 3:1 says the serpent was "cunning." He knew he could not bombard his quarry with outright heresy. He couldn 't nag or cajole her. He could not appear as his true self, whatever that might look like: the anti-God, Antichrist, and anti-Spirit—a soul-sucking void of unrighteousness, stinking of rot and hell.

"Did God really say," he asked, " 'You can 't eat from any tree in the garden '?" (Gen. 3:1).

In the garden, the serpent planted the world 's first seed of doubt.

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, 'You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die. '" (Gen. 3:2-3)

Did she even know what "to die" means? She must have, or the Lord would not have promised it as a consequence. The man and woman both, enjoying the warmth of the gentle sun on their unashamed nakedness, the soft grass under their feet, the joys of unhurried and unbothered work and the sweetness of unhindered marital intimacy, and—best of all—personal communion with their beautiful Creator, would at least have understood that whatever "to die" meant, it was the reversal, the undoing, the erasing of all that.

The world was full of possibilities. And here was one more: What if God was, in fact, wrong?

Was that possible? What if he didn 't actually know what he claimed to know? What if, despite all the available evidence and in opposition to everything she 'd ever experienced of his character, God was the one lying and not this character hissing seductively in her ear?

"No! You will not die," the serpent said to the woman. "In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. (Gen. 3:4-6a)

It was that simple and that complex. The prospect of the lie was a full-frontal assault on all of her sense, every point of wondrous contact. Adam and Eve did not lack for food, and yet this fruit looked "good for food," promising to satisfy in a way yet undiscovered. The world was new and grand, and yet this fruit was "delightful to look at," dazzling in a tantalizingly different way. Adam and Eve had unfallen minds with an incredibly vast capacity for learning, and yet this fruit "was desirable for obtaining wisdom," as if it held the key to the one locked door in their imagination, the door into the one room they didn 't even know existed until the serpent shined his light on it.

I wonder what the fruit tasted like. Was it juicy and delicious? Or was it maybe more bitter than they expected, a little thick, like biting into an unripe peach? Maybe at the first bit they had the first doubt of their choice—"What if this doesn 't do what the serpent said it would?"—but they kept eating, just in case. They 're just like us. Rather, we are just like them.

There is the epicenter of the mess you and I are in today. We create our own craters of dysfunction and disease by our own disobedience, to be sure, but this is the point at which the contagion at work within us entered the world. The garden of Eden, at the precise moemnt Adam 's perfect teeth broke the skin of that forbidden fruit, is Ground Zero. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (Gen 3:7).

The repercussions are swift and vast. God calls them to account. You can hear his footsteps in the garden. They are perhaps the footsteps of the pre-incarnate, uncreated Christ, seeking out his created siblings for their reckoning. The rest of Genesis 3 shows us that Adam and Eve are brought back out into the light to have their sin accounted for. Their sentence is pronounced, and it includes exile. They are cast out of the garden.

We 've been trying to get back in ever since.

But you and I are not as clever as we think we are. We keep reasoning that the way back—the way to peace, fulfillment, wisdom—is the way that got Adam and Eve kicked out in the first place. We can 't get in the same way we got out. But we try. And the serpent is still more than happy to oblige with his coaching. He is more cunning than we think he is.

See, the prospect of the fruit promised the three things—fulfillment, beauty, and enlightenment—that we have been chasing in every tree ever since. As Frederick Leahy has written, "The presuppositions of modern thought were introduced into Eden by Satan..."1

We live our lives in exile, but we play "garden" every day. We drink the mirage 's sand and call it living water. We indulge our flesh and call it glory. We worship ourselves and call it living at the "next level."

Our hope is as it has always been—knowing God and living in communion with him—but we pretend that the divorce isn 't real, that the disconnect is negligible. Or worse: we call the devil 's lies the God 's-honest truth.

That is what this book is about. Because most people can spot most lies coming. But what is it that made Adam and Eve so vulnerable to the serpent? What did he say, and how did he say it, that made it so compelling and so convincing? He was tempting them to disobey their Creator, yes, but he didn 't just come out and say, "Disobey your Creator."

No, as we 've seen, he promised fulfillment, beauty, and enlightenment. Similarly, the lies we believe today that erode out dependence on God and discredit out belief in the good news of his Son Jesus are not blatant, They are subtle. They make promises. They seem plausible. In Colossians 2:4, the apostle Paul warns Christians this way: "I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable."

Paul knew that unreasonable arguments won 't hold much sway. It 's the arguments that "sound reasonable," that sound truthful, that may in fact have some bit of truth mixed in, that so often keep us preoccupied. We 're not looking to reject Jesus and shake our fist at God; we 're just looking for a little more, a little better, a little greater.

Our enemy has now had centuries of practice at brand marketing. He will not show himself as he truly is. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul is explaining the rot of heresy threatening the integrity of the church, the infiltration of false teachers who sound compelling and winsome and true, and he writes this:

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no great surprise if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. (vv. 13-15a)

The correlation here between satanic deceit and religious respectability is vitally important, and it 's one of the reasons for this book. The devil is adept at making sin look good. He knows if you see the reality of sin—and the reality of himself—you would be less inclined to follow him. Mike McKinley described the enemy 's machinations like this:

Think for a second what it would be like if Satan were to tell the truth when he tempted people? Could you picture what that would look like? Imagine if Satan tried to tempt us honestly; it might go something like this:

SATAN: You should cheat on your wife with that good-looking girl in the office.

PERSON: I don 't think so. It 's wrong, and it would hurt my wife.

SATAN:Fair enough; you make a good point. But look, I 've run a cost-benefit analysis for you. Here 's what I 've come up with:


  1. A few minutes of physical (if perhaps awkward) pleasure.


  1. Disobedience to God
  2. Erode your communion with God
  3. Ruin, or possibly even end, your marriage.
  4. Humiliate your wife.
  5. Mess up your kids ' lives
  6. Public humiliation and exposure.
  7. Might cost you your job.
  8. Might mess up your coworker 's life.
  9. Diseases?
  10. Unwanted pregnancy?
  11. Dishonor and disgrace on your church.
  12. Wreck your witness to others.

PERSON: Yeah, wow., thanks.2

Of course, the first trick the devil tries to pull is getting you to disbelieve in his existence in the first place. But if he can 't manage that, he will want you to think you can always see him coming from a mile away. McKinley 's humorous illustration shows how silly such a notion would be. No, the best trick of the devil is getting you tho think his ideas aren 't just yours, but even God 's.

So he creates his own "gospel," a perversion of the real one. It sounds like good news because it appears to answer questions we 've always had, satisfy desires we 've always felt, solve mysteries we 've always poondered. If he can give his lies the ring of truth, so much the better.

If I were making a list of benefits like the one Mike McKinley imagines, only this time using the devil 's actual logic, it might look more like this:

  1. Experience the excitement of new romance.
  2. Get the kind of satisfaction my wife isn 't willing to give or interested in giving anymore.
  3. Find someone who listens to me and actually understands.
  4. Relieve this stress and boredom.
  5. Feel attractive and desired.
  6. Feel loved.

Those are the lines we follow when we ponder affairs. We give an inch at a time, compromise after compromise, not in the explicit interest of disobeying God and dishonoring our marriage vows, but in the interest of fulfillment, beauty, and enlightenment. Sin makes an emotional kind of sense to us that defies biblical reason, and the devil is more than happy to help us with that too. After all, God forgives anything, right?

So this is why Satan comes to us as an angel of light, promising illumination and enlightenment. But in the end, he only delivers us into darkness and despair.

It 's important, then, to have our eyes open to this deception. How is it that so many modern promises sound true but in the end lead to our deception, or even our destruction? A long, long time ago, the English Puritan Thomas Brooks wrote:

Now the best way to deliver poor souls from being deluded and destroyed by these messengers of Satan is, to discover them in their colours, that so, being known, poor souls may shun them, and fly from them as from hell itself.3

In other words, the best thing to do is to expose the lies, examine how they work, explore why they 're so compelling, and explain how to overcome them with the truth. We must "discover them in their colours." In the pages ahead we will look at the following claims, each of which enjoys a degree of popularity today—some even within our own churches—and we 're going to see why they 're not all they 're cracked up to be.

In the first chapter, we 'll examine the idea that "God just wants you to be happy." Is this really true? Is this all God wants? What if God isn 't as interested in our happiness as he is in other things? And what if that 's actually good news?

"You only live once." Not just a now-outdated hashtag or instantly regretable tattoo, the spirit of this claim is as old as the hills. You may think YOLO is lame, but you are nevertheless tempted to abide by it every single day, so in the second chapter, we 'll give some attention to the radical prmise (and deficiency) of living life by the mantra of carpe diem.

In the third chapter, we will take a look at the subtle Oprahization of the Christian faith. We see it in every self-absolving apology and sheepish declaration of self-empowerment, and we 're beginning to see it among professing Christians too. What 's wrong with the idea that "you need to live your truth"?

It is similar to the universal lie covered in the fourth chapter: "Your feelings are reality." This is the lie we 're afraid is true. This is the lie that so many of us don 't want to believe in. And yet we do. This is a particularly pernicious deception in the satanic arsenal, and we will go hard at it. This chapter could very well save your life.

The fifth chapter in some ways examines the ehart of the original serpentine question. When Satan asked Eve, "Did God really say...?" he was intimating that God is holding out on us. This is our fear. And thus our essential belief whenever we choose sin over obedience is the lie that "your life is what you make it."

In the sixth chapter, we will look at a phrase that has plagued the church in the modern age, one you still find in social media memes and comments, ladled out like chicken soup for the superficial soul. "You need to 'let go and let God. '" There is a kernel of truth in this lie, which is what makes it so easily dispensed and so deceptively destructive. Playing on our religious sensibilities, this lie appeals in a way the others do not.

While the sixth chapter examines a lie that plays on our religious sensibilities, the seventh examines one that plays on our theological sensibilities by way of our emotions. You may not have heard this lie reach your church quite yet, but it is becoming fashionable in modern evangelicalism, and it 's important we confront it head-on ahead of time: "The cross is not about wrath." The arguments seem sound, but the result is an attempt at rescuing God from the Bible. The cross is about more than wrath, of course, but it 's not about less. And this is important, especially if you want the kind of relationship with Jesus that avoids wrath.

The final lie exposes the mother of all religious clichés: "God helps those who help themselves." That 's the common wording, though the message underneath the cliché is more accurately phrased, "God saves those who help themselves." That 's not how the devil puts it, but that 's what we end up believing—which makes him happy. We close with the confronting of this lie because it will bring us full circle, back to that original garden and then to another garden much later on, where the lie was exposed and ultimately killed.

When we 're done exploring the ins and outs of all these temptations and deceptions, we 'll take a more open-eyed look at how we get altogether out of the exile that makes theses lies so doggone believable. How do we spot them coming? How do we fight the enemy who delivers them? And how do we put a knife in the body of lies for good? In our concluding chapter, we 'll perform the Autopsy of the Lie that will prove helpful in our fight to embrace the truth.

For now, however, it 's enough to remember the anatomy of the lie: fulfillment, beauty, and enlightenment. Who wouldn 't want those things?

The answer is, nobody. Which is why we so often find Satan 's whispers so sweet.

Well, let me tell you the bitter truth. And the better.

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