The devil may not pervert the letter of the word, but he will pervert the spirit of it

The devil may not pervert the letter of the word, but he will pervert the spirit of it

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-5

Background

God installs man in the garden with an explicit instruction against eating from the forbidden tree and the consequences that will ensue should they transgress His word. The devil in a form of a serpent tempts man with the very scheme that sealed his own destruction. Indeed, God’s word and His directives are not for the purpose of restricting us, but to protect our freedom and abundant life. That said, the devil tempts men not by changing God’s expressed instructions (perverting the letter of the word), but by corrupting the spirit of the word: by sowing distrust, by twisting doctrine and by exploiting God’s mercies. Today’s devotion reminds us of the devil’s devices. The devil may not pervert the letter of the word, but he will pervert the spirit of it.

Observation

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!…” 

The serpent’s bold assertion, “You surely will not die!…” downplayed the divine warning by diverting her attention away from the consequence of eternal death should she disobey. Indeed, she did not drop dead for God does not immediately destroy man for his transgressions, but will grant a window of opportunity for repentance. And the devil exploited this window of divine mercy by veiling the true consequences of disobedience thus emboldening the woman to transgress the divine edict.

However, the serpent did not stop there, but continued to sow distrust by questioning God’s motive behind the prohibition: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The devil further encouraged the woman to free herself from God’s rule and to be sovereign as God is sovereign. The devil, with this temptation sealed the downfall of man just like it sealed his.

Truth

The devil may not pervert the letter of the word, but he will pervert the spirit of it.

Therefore, believers must beware of the devil’s devices. As evidenced by the Jews’ inability to recognise Jesus despite possessing the Law for more than a thousand years; it is indeed the spirit of the Law that gives eternal life, not the letter of it. Hence, the devil attempts not to pervert the letter of the Law but the spirit of it. Humanity, since the days of Adam and Eve have fallen into this age-old scheme. What are the devil’s insidious schemes that destroyed many men and women destined for eternal glory? Here are a few:

a. The devil promotes man’s penchant for lust by exploiting God’s mercies and patience.

The devil (rightly) alluded to the fact that God is merciful and may not immediately destroy them should they eat of the fruit. Hence, in the light of God’s mercies, she may have considered the consequences that ensue are well worth the prize of freedom and personal “sovereignty”. And ever since then, man has been exploiting God’s compassion and lovingkindness…

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. Psalm 103:8-10

Eve may not have fully comprehended the repercussions of her transgression. But she has singularly brought the bondage of eternal death upon the human race. The fact remains, that every time man disobeys, he enters into greater bondage making it more difficult for him to break free from the path of eternal destruction.

b. The devil seeks to corrupt the meaning of faith and works.

Faith is a divine virtue, the posture of the heart that compels one to love God and love others despite temptations and inconveniences. Hence, a person of faith is evidenced through his charitable works of providing for the needy (see James 2:14-16). In the case of Abraham, faith is proven through his works of offering up Isaac his son on the altar at God’s request. And it is through Abraham’s act of picking up the knife to slay his son that the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God (James 2:23). That said, the apostle Paul taught,

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

What does the above passage mean to the typical churchgoer? The devil has perverted and reinterpreted the above passage to mean: One can escape eternal punishment by simply agreeing with the notion that Jesus came to remove the consequences of transgressions from sinners. Since this removal is a gift of God, one shouldn’t have to “earn” it by practicing good works. Faith is then perceived as an asset of the mind (knowledge) as opposed as to the heart (conviction). They believe when sinners sincerely appeal to God’s infinite mercies for exoneration, God summarily transfers the punishment due them to His Son.

It is regrettable many churchgoers remained unsaved because what they possess is false faith; their lives continue to encircle their needs, their desires, and their salvation. Until they come to this realisation and begin to acquire true faith; which is to walk in the truth and to put the interest of others above themselves, they remain outside God’s kingdom. In the earlier verse, Paul said,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). Ephesians 2:4-5

The above passage speaks of God’s grace that destroyed man’s inclination towards sin and self-centredness (dead in our transgressions). Consequently, those who believe are made alive in righteousness transforming them to love God and love others. Indeed, the mission of Christ is to turn man from self-centredness and self-rule to a God-centred existence. This process of regeneration causes man to be exonerated to enter God’s kingdom.

c. The devil denies humanity of the true power of Christ’s blood.

That which differentiates Christ’s blood from animals’ blood is the power to cleanse the soul from sinful instincts and inclinations. This is first and foremost the purpose of the blood – to transform man according to God’s image which he was created to be. Hebrews 9:13-14 says,

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

“Cleansing of the flesh” denotes man’s moral determination towards perfection. Men of the Old Testament make covenant with God to live a sanctified life by shedding animal blood. However, this had no lasting effect because animal blood cannot cleanse man’s conscience of his sinful inclinations. And the men who offered the sacrifices will inevitably return to their lives of sin. But the blood of Jesus (by virtue of His perfection) is able to cleanse man’s conscience from dead works to serve God out of goodwill. Because of the blood of the New Covenant, believers are empowered to stay the course of righteousness.

However, popular among mainstream Christianity is the notion that Christ’s blood imbues much blessings and forever takes away all consequence of sins. So much so many who are impenitent came into the church having been given this irresistible offer. As a result, the churches today are incapable of displaying the holiness of Christ. For they are populated by people hoping for salvation and more blessings, nothing more. Bible translators are partly to blame as they have introduced extraneous elements into their work. As a result, these elements became deeply entrenched within Christendom. The below passage is one such example of extraneous elements being introduced into the English translations.

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 (NASB)

The New American Standard Version (NASV) of the text differed from the Greek text by an extraneous verb “committed” that was not present in the original text. The translator also omits a genitive plural article “τῶν” (those, the ones) which represents believers of the first covenant. Hence, the NASV translation connotes the purpose of the death of the mediator (Christ) as redeeming the transgressions committed as opposed to redeeming the transgressors themselves. A straight forward handling of the Greek text translates into the following,

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of those at the first covenant of disobedience, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

This translation is more appropriate as it fits the context better: the blood of Jesus redeems the transgressors by cleansing them of their sinfulness as opposed to redeeming their acts of transgression. Indeed, its the transgressors that need redemption, not their acts of transgression! By redeeming their acts of transgression, I can only take it to mean removing the punishments relating to the transgressions. This grave misrepresentation of scripture is the result of the devil’s perversion of mainstream Christianity. He has caused many mainstream churchgoers to continue in their sins supposing that Christ’s blood has forever removed the punishment from them.

The removal of eternal punishment is in actual fact the by-product of a regenerated conscience is purified by the blood. Indeed, without the regeneration of the conscience towards righteousness, there is no removal of eternal punishment. Indeed, the blood of Christ has brought hope to believers of the first covenant making it possible for them to be regenerated to enter God’s kingdom on the day of resurrection.

Application

Do you often fall into sin because you do not think that God will punish you? Remember, each time you yield to sin, you sink deeper into the devil’s bondage making it more difficult for you to be delivered from it. In the same breath, you deprive yourself of the Spirit’s fruit and gifts which in turn robs you of eternal glory. Note down a list of sinful inclinations that have plagued you. And by the blood of Jesus, make a covenant with God to cleanse your conscience of its darkness and fleshly inclinations.

Dear Lord, I recommit my life towards Christ-likeness. Forgive my sins, and by your blood break the strongholds of sin and cleanse my conscience. Use me as a vessel of honour to do your works. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.


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