And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“You will be like God.” The first sin was what D. A. Carson calls “the de-Godding of God.” This was the devil’s selling point when tempting Eve. Up till now, she had submitted to God’s authority; now, he was giving her the opportunity to break the shackles of obedience and declare herself sovereign and independent. Now she would no longer have to rely on God’s judgment of what was good and evil. She could take that knowledge for herself and thus have no need for God.
We may acknowledge the existence of God, but it’s his lordship that is the real threat to us. I want to be sovereign over my own little kingdom. I don’t mind having God as the royal figurehead, just as long as I get to be the one who is really in control.
A corollary of this attitude is that I must do anything and everything to assert my kingship over my little corner of the universe. On the one hand, this means that I commit acts of defiance against the true King. I know his will, as revealed in scripture. I know what he says is right and wrong. But in both the big and little decisions of life, I decide that I know better than him what is best for me, and I choose to do things that are an affront to his holiness and an insult to his gracious love.
Usually, though, I prefer to adopt a more passive approach. It’s much more respectable. Here, I simply avoid doing anything difficult—anything that I can’t handle with my own strength. I keep to the domain of easy things—of watching TV, surfing the Internet, going through the motions at work and church—things that I am sufficient to handle. I avoid the ministry of the gospel, because there “our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). I avoid anything that would force me to cry out to God for help.
A few months back, I witnessed this passive defiance in someone else. I saw a high school student who decided after lunch to lie down on the floor and refuse to move for over an hour. As I listened to the teachers trying to reason with him, I realized that the problem was not that this student hadn’t thought through his actions and needed to hear good reasoning. Rather, he knew exactly what he was doing. His highest priority was not his academic career but rather the need to demonstrate that he was in control, not his teachers. No doubt he was miserable, lying facedown on the carpet with frustrated people standing around him, explaining to him how he would be punished for his behavior. This misery was the price he had to pay to assert his sovereignty.
When we defy the Lord—by refusing to obey him fully, by refusing to live out his Word, by refusing to do hard things for him—we are just as pathetic as this student. We are feeble rebels, but rebels all the same. Whether actively or passively defying God, we are insurrectionists against him. We are all guilty of the highest treason.
All of this leads to one of the most profound questions in all of scripture: what kind of King gives his only, beloved Son to die in the place of his enemies who rebelled against him?