Topical Scripture: Genesis 3:1-5
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne has sold more than seven million copies to date. It’s been featured on Oprah Winfrey and talk shows around the country, made into a movie, and is now downloaded as an Internet video. Here are some excerpts which summarize its message:
“You can have, be, or do anything you want” (p. xii). Here’s how: “Decide what you want to be, do, and have, think the thoughts of it, emit the frequency, and your vision will become your life” (p. 23). Why? Because “all good things are your birthright! You are the creator of you” (p. 41). This has always been true: “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of” (p. 109).
Here’s the bottom line: “You are the master of your life, and the Universe is answering your every command” (p. 146). All this because “you are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet…You have God potential and power to create your world” (p. 164). Indeed, “we are the creators not only of our own destiny but also of the Universe. . . . Your life will be what you create it as, and no one will stand in judgment of it, now or ever. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life” (pp. 175, 177, 183).
The Secret is by no means the only self-empowerment book on the market. I ran down to Barnes & Noble this week and jotted down some of their recent self-help titles. Among them: Awaken The Magic of Thinking Big: acquire the secrets of success, achieve everything you’ve always wanted, by David Schwartz (with four million copies sold); The Giant Within, by Anthony Robbins; The Success Principles: how to get from where you are to where you want to be, by Jack Canfield; Your Magic Power to be Rich, by Napoleon Hill; and The Millionaire Course, by Marc Allen.
You can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do, have anything you want to have. Our culture is screaming at us: it’s all about you.
Is that really true? Can you get whatever you want just by wanting it? What if you want it to rain and I want the sun to shine? What if you’re pulling for the Rockies and I want the Red Sox to win the World Series? More to the point: what if the current self-realization fad is a sham? What if The Secret is a lie? Where would this lie come from? Why does it matter so much to your soul today?
Know your enemy
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). The book of Revelation names him: “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (12:9; 20:2).
His central strategy hasn’t changed, because human nature hasn’t changed. His lie is always the same: “you will be like God” (v. 5). Do what you want–if the fruit looks good, eat it. Do what you want–if God says no, be your own God. “You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of life.” The secret of life is that life is whatever you want it to be. It’s all about you.
Watch this strategy unfold across biblical history.
If God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not yours, kill Abel. Be your own God.
Make a name for yourself–build your Tower of Babel to reach the heavens (Genesis 11:1-4). Be your own God.
If Bathsheba is attractive to you, have the affair. Click on the pornography; go to the movie; watch late-night TV; look with lust. Be your own God.
If it’s going to cost you to follow Jesus, deny that you know him as Peter did. Three times, if you must. Be your own God.
This is the basis of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. If you’re hungry, turn the stones into bread. Don’t wait on God to feed you–be your own God. If you want people to follow you, jump 450 feet from the Temple to the valley below. Don’t wait on God to lead you–be your own God. If you want to be the Lord of the world, worship Satan and receive the kingdoms of the earth. Don’t go to the cross–don’t wait on God’s word and will. Be your own God.
This is what’s wrong with you and me today: we want to be God. It started with Adam: “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Now “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And our desire to be God is the reason, the root of the problem. Here are some examples:
“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). Do you want to get rich? Why?
“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy” (Proverbs 14:21). Have you thought poorly of someone recently? Why?
“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!” (Proverbs 21:4). Has pride found you yet today? Why?
“If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:9). Do you treat people based on what they have or what they can do for you? Why?
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16). Did you pray before your every decision and action this week? Or are you in charge? Why?
All sin comes to the same point: be your own God. It’s all about you. Is the serpent whispering his “secret” in your ear today?
Defeat your enemy
The Secret and self-promotional self-help books like it are nothing more than a repackaging of the earliest heresy Christianity faced, a movement called “Gnosticism.” “Gnostic” comes from gnosis, the Greek word for “knowledge.” Gnostics believed that so long as you have the right thoughts and ideas, what you do with your body and life is inconsequential. They bought into the Greek separation of soul and body, Sunday and Monday, religion and the “real world.” They made Christianity a means to the end of their personal enlightenment and achievement. As The Secret proves, they’ve never left the scene.
Why do you suppose the enemy is so fond of this subtle strategy? Because he knows that you will lose every battle you fight in your own strength. You will lose to temptation, to discouragement, to despair unless you fight back in the power of God. As the saying goes, the devil laughs when we preach and scoffs when we program, but he trembles when we pray.
So, how do we refuse this perennial strategy? Take two steps this morning.
First, expect to be tempted. What the enemy did to Adam and Eve, and to David and Jesus, he will do to you and to us all. Sin tempts and affects us all, because we all want what Satan is selling. We all want to be our own god, to be the master of our own fate, to be in charge of our own universe. “You can have, be, or do anything you want”–who wouldn’t want that? Expect to be tempted to be your own God.
Satan’s conversation with Eve began with the fruit of the trees in the garden, and specifically the one God said she couldn’t have. When David spied Bathsheba bathing, Satan began with lust. After Jesus spent 40 days fasting, Satan began with food.
What do you want that you don’t have today? More money? Popularity? Power? Do whatever it takes to get them. For a pastor who wants his church to grow, there are unethical ways to count attendance and attract people. It’s always tempting for a teacher to try to impress you with his knowledge, even at the cost of God’s truth.
Do what you want, and be what you want–expect to hear this “secret” whispered to your soul every day, all day long.
Then die to live. Jesus could not have been more blunt: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25).
Paul could not have been more transparent: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Paradoxically, when we stop trying to be our own God, we find what we wanted when we wanted to be God. When we lose our lives we find them; when we die we live; when we submit to God we know the blessing of God. To find yourself, lose yourself. The less it’s about you, the better it is for you.
That’s the real “secret” of eternal life and present joy. That’s the secret of the abundant life Jesus came to give us all (John 10:10). That’s the commitment which changes everything and connects us with the true Power and Purpose of the universe.
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). When you are crucified with Christ, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13). Then my God will supply all your needs, not according to your thoughts or abilities or achievements but according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Then Christ in you is your hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Then you are more than conquerors through him who loves you (Romans 8:1). Then we can say with Paul, “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29). Then, when you die you live.
Has “the secret” found you this morning? Where is self-reliance enticing you today? What problem or decision or temptation is inviting you to be your own God? Would you die to live right now? Would you surrender that problem to God’s Spirit this moment? Would you let God be God? Or will you be God?
I was walking at White Rock Lake this past Friday when I came upon a woman with her two miniature dachshunds. They were both on their leashes, trotting along at her side. My first thought was to feel sorry for them. On such a beautiful day they should be free to run through the fields, swim the lake, do as they wish. But then I quickly reconsidered. There are giant bulldozers and backhoes all around, doing work on the roads around the lake. Dachshunds are not known for their predatory prowess or defensive abilities. Left to themselves, how long would they survive?
But if they stayed with their owner, they would be safe, sheltered, protected. They would be fed today and find a warm house tonight. They may not know it, but they are far better off on their leashes than running wild.
So it is with my soul. I may want to run through the fields and swim in the lake, until a bulldozer crushes me. My Father will guide me, provide for me, protect me. But I must stay at his side to have his help.
Here is where my analogy breaks down. The dogs cannot manipulate their leashes and choose their master, but I can and must. Jesus told us of a woman who swept her house until she found her lost coin, and a shepherd who searched the fields until he found his lost sheep. But then he told us of a father who had to wait for his prodigal son to return.
Is your Father waiting for you?