Temptation to Be Like God
We all know the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. They were given a wonderful place in the Garden of Eden. They knew God and walked with Him in the cool of the day. The Lord God supplied them with everything that they needed for life, health and joy.
But, they were tempted. Satan told them that if they ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, “…you will be like God” (Genesis 3: 5). This was a great temptation indeed. So, they imagined what it would be like - to be like God. They ate. They fell.
Satan has offered this same temptation in many forms across the ages. It is still being offered today. A current form of the original temptation sounds something like this: “If you have true faith, you can be like Jesus. What Jesus did, you can do. What Jesus was, you can be.”
Many do not recognize this temptation for what it is. Quite simply it offers, “…you will be like God.”
A False Teaching
I first encountered this new form of the old temptation a couple of decades ago. This new form is called hyper-faith theology. In the past 20-30 years, it has gathered many followers.
It may begin with a Scripture quotation:
“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3: 16-17).
The false teaching runs something like this:
Jesus was human, just like you and me. (For this temptation to work, a parallel must be made between Jesus the man and any other human.) It may be claimed that Jesus was a very good man, a spiritual and obedient man, but simply a man nonetheless. (This falsehood is refuted in John 1: 14. At His birth, Jesus was fully God. See also Matt. 1:23.) Or, it may be claimed that Jesus was once God, but that he left his divinity or “emptied himself” when he came to earth. (This is a false interpretation of Phil. 2:7. The truth is that Jesus did not stop being God when He came to earth.)
Jesus received the Holy Spirit. Next, this false teaching claims that at baptism, Jesus first received the Holy Spirit. (This denies that Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who eternally has been in unity with the Holy Spirit. It further denies that He was incarnate (born in flesh) by the Holy Spirit. See Luke 1: 35.) The false teaching is that, before His baptism Jesus did not have the Holy Spirit. They claim that at His baptism, He received the Spirit and became God. (This is a variation of the Adoption Heresy that attacked the early Church. It claimed that at baptism, Jesus the man was adopted by God or became a lesser god. This false teaching appears first to have been presented soon after the Resurrection. It was declared a heresy in the 2nd century and was rejected by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.)
You will be like God. The false claim concludes by saying that humans can become gods. This has been the heart of the temptation all along: “…you will be like God.” All of the miracles that Jesus did, you can do. How? He was human; you are human. He was baptized in the Spirit; you are baptized in the Spirit. He became a lesser god; you can become a lesser god.
The Christian Church has stood against false teaching like this for 20 centuries. Still, it appears to be alive and well today. What do we say to refute it?
Jesus is the One and Only God-Man. It is true that Jesus is fully human; but it is also true that Jesus is FULLY GOD (Col. 2:9). The eternal Word of God became flesh (John 1: 1-18). The Bible teaches that Jesus did not stop being God at His incarnation (human birth). He continued as God, now in flesh. False theology attempts to minimize or eliminate the divinity of Jesus in an effort to draw a parallel between Jesus and other humans. But, the Bible teaches that Jesus is unique. He alone is God in flesh, fully human and fully divine. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father (John 1:14, 18). The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him (Col. 2:9). To see His face is to see the face of God (John 14:9). No believer can make the same claim.
Believers are not God. Jesus was perfectly obedient and never sinned (Heb. 4: 15). He took upon Himself the sin of the world in order to offer God’s forgiveness to those who believe (1 John 2:2). Unlike Jesus, the Bible teaches that every human is a sinner (Rom. 3:23). In fact, every believer continues to sin throughout his or her life (1 John 1: 8). Believers do not know the will of God perfectly (1 Cor. 13: 12) and do not do the will of God perfectly (Romans 7: 18). Only Jesus did! In short, sinful human beings are not equal to the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
A False Gospel
When pushed to support this unchristian position, its teachers will often quote another Scripture:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do…” (John 14:12).
“What Jesus did, we can do. What Jesus was, we can be.” This is a tantalizing temptation! The false teachers claim that if a person has true faith in Jesus, the believer will be able to do everything that Jesus does and more! For example, one with true faith will never sin and never be sick. Accordingly, if you have true faith, your life will be characterized by wealth, health, and happiness. This false teaching makes one’s own faith the new god, and assures people that their faith will make their lives comfortable, prosperous and powerful. Likewise, whatever they speak and believe has to happen. Whatever they believe and not doubt must occur.
Just imagine, you could have all that power. You could walk on water. You could raise the dead. You could have the power to do all miracles; “…you will be like God.”
Beware of any movement that gives glory to miracles instead of the One who provides them (John 6: 28-29). Beware of any movement that claims that the power to do miracles belongs to you, even because of your faith. Beware, you are dangerously close to the original temptation: “…you will be like God.” If ever you hear anything that sounds like these words, flee from this temptation of Satan into the arms of Jesus Christ (James 4: 7-8).
Put simply, this is a false gospel. Those who accept it have taken their eyes off of Christ and His sufficiency. They are worshiping at the altar of sensation and self. The false gospel appears to offer blessing and joy; it delivers doubt and guilt. Ultimately, those who accept it are left asking: “Why did my child become sick? Why couldn’t I heal my dying spouse? Why don’t I have enough money? Why do I continue to be tempted? Why don’t I have enough faith to make miracles happen? I wonder if I am a Christian at all.”
The True Gospel of Jesus
Every Christian wrestles with the sinful flesh (1 John 1:8, Rom. 7: 23). All Christians continue to live in a fallen world that includes trials, tribulations, and persecutions (John 16: 33, 1 Pet. 4:12). True believers continue to experience sickness and sorrow (Phil. 2: 26, 2 Tim. 4:20). The notion that all those with true faith will have lives that are comfortable, prosperous and powerful is not only self-serving and self-aggrandizing, but contrary to the Word of Christ. He called His followers to take up a cross, die to themselves, and lose their lives. The Bible even tells believers to rejoice in their sufferings (James 1:2, 1 Thes. 1:6). This is hardly the hyper-faith motto.
The Gospel is not about my faith, which often will fail. It is about the faithfulness of Jesus Christ whose love endures forever. The Gospel does not judge me according to my sins. It declares that I am judged on account of the One who took my sins, my punishment, and my death, Jesus Christ, the Savior. The Gospel does not require me to prove my faith by working miracles. It promises me that my whole life is a miracle because of what Jesus has done for me.
Jesus is the Author and Finisher of my faith (Heb. 12:2). God took me, a spiritually dead person, and made me alive by giving me faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2: 4-6). As a baptized believer, I am filled with the Holy Spirit, and God can use even me to do His marvelous works (Acts 2: 38). The true Gospel is not about me. It is about Him!