It is an awful word. It signifies malicious intent. Treachery.
Many in the church are flirting with betrayal.
Everyone makes bad (sinful) decisions. Sometimes we make them because we haven’t thought things through. Sometimes we make them because we’re under intense pressure (or temptation) and we regret them almost the instant we make them. We make them when we don’t have sufficient information (ignorance). And sometimes we make bad decisions because we have been deceived. Usually, our bad decisions hurt others and they almost always hurt ourselves. All of our bad decisions have consequences and cause someone pain but rarely do they rise to the level of betrayal because betrayal means the decision was not a wanton act of cowardice nor an unfortunate consequence of circumstance nor an unfortunate corollary of being plied with bad information.
Betrayal is a decision that is aiming for an intended result. Betrayal doesn’t just happen. It is planned.
The two most heinous acts of betrayal in the Bible both happened in gardens. The first was Adam’s betrayal in the Garden of Eden and the second was Judas’ betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. Anyone who has read the Gospels can easily follow the story of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus predicted it (John 13:21). Judas planned it (Matthew 26:14-15). Then he did it (Matthew 26:47-49). And finally, he acknowledged it (Matthew 27:4).
Adam’s betrayal is not so obvious. It is easy to read the Genesis 3 account and think Adam just made a really bad decision in the heat of the moment. Not so. To begin with, Adam was in a perfect environment. He was where we are hoping to get someday: living continuously in God’s presence in the place God created just for him. The moment a need was recognized, God met it for him (take the creation of Eve for example). The only danger to Adam was his own free will and God even warned him about that (Genesis 2:15-17).
When you read the story of the fall you get a clue that this was more than a bad decision with these words: “she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). He was there the whole time his wife was being seduced to sin. He listened and watched what transpired with knowing eyes. In 2 Timothy 2:14 Paul tells his young protégé that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived…). If he was not deceived and was standing there with Eve the entire time, he must have believed that disobeying God would elevate him to godhood (like the serpent implied), and ate the forbidden fruit when it was offered to him…which makes what he did an act of knowing betrayal. Eve was deceived. Adam believed. I like the way Milton put it in Paradise Lost: “She gave him of that fair enticing Fruit With liberal hand: be scrupl’d not to eat Against his better knowledge, not deceiv’d…”
You don’t get banned permanently from the place God created for you and your family at the point of a flaming sword, cursed by having what used to be a privileged vocation that produced fulfillment and joy turned into a miserable and fruitless duty, and have the fate of the entire cosmos and your own progeny thrown into confusion and desperation just because you made a bad decision in the heat of the moment.
Betrayal is so much worse than a bad decision precisely because it happens with eyes wide open and the mind fully cognizant and clear. Nothing good is said about Adam after what happens in Genesis 3 for the rest of the Bible. And nothing positive or hopeful is ever said about Judas. Judas heard the Sermon on the Mount straight from the lips of Jesus. He saw Him heal the sick and raise the dead. He was privy to everything the other eleven apostles heard and saw. He was a participant in the ministry and revelation of Jesus Christ. Yet he still “lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). Betrayal is simply catastrophic.
Hebrews 6:4-8 is a passage about betrayal. It speaks of people “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift” who fall away. It speaks of them as land that receives the rain and produces nothing but thorns and thistles and warns that it is thus “worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
The church has its eyes wide open about marriage and sexuality. There is nothing unclear in the Bible about God’s description of marriage (one man and one woman [Genesis 1:27 and 2:24]) or His purpose for marriage (fruitfulness [Genesis 1:28] and to be a reflection of Christ and the church [Ephesians 5:31-32]). There is nothing unclear about sex (a gift from God to be enjoyed only within the confines of a biblical marriage [Hebrews 13:4]). There is not one sentence in the entire corpus of Scripture that relates anything but sinful disobedience upon any kind of sexual relationship outside of a one-woman one-man marriage.
Yet here we are. Many churchgoers and even entire denominations are embracing homosexuality and gay marriage as if they were oblivious to God’s will and the consequences. Here we are supporting transgenderism and businesses that encourage men to go into women’s restrooms and fitting rooms. Here we are, remaining silent while laws are being passed that criminalize helping people with unwanted attractions to members of the same sex.
The same could be said about abortion. There is not one scintilla of biblical evidence that abortion is anything other than premeditated murder. Yet houses of worship all over America have parishioners who tout a woman’s “choice.” Murder is prohibited in the Ten Commandments and common sense says it violates Jesus’ Golden Rule. Eyes wide open.
John’s first epistle is about distinguishing light from darkness. You would think that would be easy. Yet if you read 1 John you get the very clear message that there is a great deal of confusion about which is which. He warns of those who claim to be walking in the light but who are in reality blinded by the darkness. He keeps coming back to the same thing: knowing God is faithfully obeying Him.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1John 5:2-3).
And neither are they unclear.
One more thing. There is a final element of betrayal that makes it so treacherous. Not only does the betrayer have his/her eyes wide open to God and His will. The betrayer actively seeks to hide the truth from others. Adam stood right next to Eve during the whole sordid affair with the serpent but chose not to remind Eve what he knew was God’s will concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then when he joined Eve in sin he tried to hide it from God. Likewise, Judas hid what he knew about Jesus from the religious leaders. Betrayal always includes a narrative that depends upon keeping the truth hidden.
In that famous passage from Romans 1 about God’s wrath being revealed against those who justify and even take joy in their disobedience to God, look carefully at how Paul introduces the reader to what provokes God’s righteous judgment [emphasis mine]:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).
He goes on to write in verse 21 “they knew God.” Betrayal is absolutely dependent upon keeping other minds in the dark. Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Those in the church who know what God has revealed about homosexuality and all other forms of sexual immorality and hide it from those who need the freeing and delivering power of Christ are betrayers. The same goes for murdering unborn children. You can say “God bless Planned Parenthood” to your dying breath but you will die a betrayer of truth.
The judgment scene Jesus portrayed at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21-23) is chilling because those to whom He says, “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” are those who stand before Him calling out “Lord, Lord…” They knew Him. Yet He called them lawless. Betraying the truth is betraying God. It never ends well.