The glory of the gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to him in spite of their sin. But our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into his work of grace. How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we can only remain justified so long as there are grounds in our character for justification. But Paul’s teaching is that nothing we do ever contributes to our justification.
…[A]t the end of the day what Satan did in the Garden of Eden was to introduce the notion of legalism into the nature of the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God. And although there is a dialogue in which Eve is defensive in Genesis 3, what Satan asks is, “Has God put you in this garden and said, ‘You are not to eat of any of the trees of this garden?’”
And I think you can see in the narrative from that point onward she struggles with the answer. “Well, now there is this one tree.” But there is no recognition that he has showered upon us these great things, these other trees.
I was reared in the notion that what Satan was doing there was questioning the authority of God’s word (which he does). But more important, in that context, he was really questioning the character of the God by saying, “Don’t you see he really isn’t generous?”
Satan is saying God is like a father who takes his child into some phenomenally wonderful children’s department store the week before Christmas, shows him everything, and says to him with a cynical laugh, “And none of this is going to be yours this Christmas.”
It is the distortion. I am no psychiatrist, but I think at the human level that inevitably produces a child who will either willfully rebel or find himself always feeling he has got to do something to earn his father’s love.
It may be speculative to ask what it is the deepest thing in Satan’s heart against God. But I think there clearly is that jealously to demean his character. And the demeaning of the character of God, I think, injects into all that lies behind what we call legalism.