There is a sense in which the aim of every man’s life is to be like God. All men are striving to imitate God in one way or another. Of course not all attempts to be like God are honored by the Lord and rewarded with His favor, for there is a radical difference between submitting to the Satanic temptation to be like God (Gan. 3:5) and responding to Christ’s injunction that we should be like God (Matt. 5:48). The first is an attempt to replace God’s authority with one’s own, while the second is an attempt to demonstrate godliness as a moral virtue.
The basic character of godly morality was made manifest in the probation or testing placed upon Adam and Eve in the Garden. God had granted them permission to eat of any tree of the garden, save one. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil not because its fruit was injected with some literal poison that was not good for them, but as a test of whether they would live solely under the authority of God’s word to them. God had forbidden it. Would they, despite their empirical research and personal desires, submit to His command on His simple say-so? Would they do their duty on the sheer basis that it was their duty? Or would they evaluate the command of God on the basis of some external standard of reasonableness, practicality. and human benefit? The outcome of the story is all too well known. Satan beguiled Eve, denying what God had told her, and thereby leading her to assume the authoritative, neutral position of determining for herself whether God’s “hypothesis” or Satan’s “hypothesis” was true. Satan implied that God’s commands were harsh, too stringent, unreasonable. He in effect condemned the supreme, absolute, and unchallengable authority of God. He went on to suggest that God is in fact jealous, prohibiting Adam and Eve from eating of the tree lest they become like Him — lest they become rivals to Him in determining what is good and evil. Thus our first parents were led to seek a lifestyle which was not bound by law from God; thus they were tempted into deciding for themselves what would count as good and evil. Law would not be laid down to them by God, for they would lay it down for themselves. Demonstrating sin’s lawlessness (I John 3:4) they became “like God” — law-givers of their own making and authority. God’s law, which should have been their delight, became burdensome to them.
By contrast, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, lived a life of perfect obedience to the laws of God. When Satan tempted Him to depart from the path of utter obedience to God’s commands, the Savior replied by quoting from the Old Testament law: you are not to tempt the Lord your God, you are to worship and serve Him alone, and you are to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth (Matt. 4:1-11). Here we have the very opposite of Adam and Eve’s response to Satan. Christ said that the attitude which in genuinely godly recognizes the moral authority of God alone, does not question the wisdom of His dictates, and observes every last detail of His word. This is man’s proper path to God-likeness. To live in this fashion displays the image or likeness of God that man was originally intended to be (Gen. 1:27), for it is living “in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Genuine godliness, as commanded in the Scripture, is gained by imitating the holiness of God on a creaturely level — not by audacious attempts to redefine good and evil in some area of life on your own terms.