Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1, ESV)
Of all the things you’d love to see corrected and improved in your character, the first area that comes to mind is probably not your theology. You’re likely thinking more about behaviors that aren’t good. You’re thinking more about attitudes that keep getting you into trouble.
But a wrong view of God is what leads to wrong thinking and attitudes, which is what leads to wrong behavior. So you can’t change your behavior until you change your thinking. And you can’t change your thinking until it’s based on a right theology about God.
That’s why challenging the reality of what God said was Satan’s first tactic, right at the beginning of the Bible. And since he doesn’t have a lot of plays, and can only package them up in different ways, the same stuff he was throwing around back then is the same stuff he’s throwing at you now. “Did God actually say . . . ?” I don’t think He said THAT! If He did, He was saying it to trick you. That’s what He does, did you know that? You can’t really trust God.
But we can tend to listen to that garbage, like Eve listened to it. And it can lead to accepting some faulty views of God that need to be flushed from your system. Faulty views—bad theology—like . . .
God is not wise. God is a killjoy. God is the sour-faced librarian stealing all your fun, laying down all the rules. But God says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). His rules do not forbid things that would make you happy; in fact, they protect you from things that would lead to misery. And don’t we all know it, from having personally learned it! Yet you can still insist on believing that God wears a constantly furrowed brow, or that . . .
God is a prison warden. He’s always watching, itching to put you behind bars. But Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Free! Following what He’s commended for joy sets you free. It will never leave you disappointed, not if you follow it through to the end. It’s only in wandering from the path He’s laid out for you that you feel the sting of entrapment and imprisonment.
God isn’t fair. He’s the cranky boss, making unreasonable demands. And yet the Bible says, “He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). He’s not fair? He sings with joy when He sees you!
I could go on. He’s not an absent father (“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”Romans 8:35). He’s not a moody grandpa (“For I the LORD do not change” Malachi 3:6). He’s not a scorekeeper, an umpire, or the soccer referee, red-carding you for questionable violations.
God is good. He is faithful. He is always with you, working for your good and His glory. And He will hear you and answer you. That’s right theology.
So if you really want to work on your behaviors and attitudes, start at the root where you can do the most good in changing them. Let the Word inform your beliefs, and let everything else flow from that.
This post originally appeared on Dr. James MacDonald’s daily devotional Our Journey and was republished with permission.
James MacDonald (D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, leads the church-planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship, teaches the practical application of God’s Word on the Walk in the Word radio and television programs, and is a gifted author and speaker. You can find out more about James and his ministries at WalkintheWord.org.