If you'll remember back to last week's lesson, we left Adam with his newly formed wife, Eve, in a garden paradise and saw everything that God had made and behold it was very good. At the beginning of this lesson on Chapters 3, 4 & 5 we see that goodness turn to ruin. It's a very tragic account on the surface, but God moves in mysterious ways sometimes, and we'll see God turn the personal tragedy of Adam and Eve into a glorious hope for us.
As we begin this study, let's remember that the Old Testament was not written with the sole purpose of being a history book so it does not always give us the details we would like to know. Its purpose is to give us a history of redemption. And it begins right here in today's lesson. Throughout the whole book we'll see time and time again, man struggling to do things his way instead of God's way. We'll see varying amounts of sin committed by individuals - some trying to be righteous and others not trying at all. Every one of them has a need. They don't all know what that need is. The whole theme throughout ALL the Old Testament is "SOMEONE'S COMING." That Someone will fulfill man's need.
Last week we studied how God made man in His image. Being made in God's image entails more than just being endowed with a spirit or soul. Ephesians 4:24 says we are created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. From Colossians 3:10 we learn that being made in the image of God means being made with knowledge. So when Adam was created, he was made WISE in his mind, HOLY in his heart, and RIGHTEOUS in his actions.
But something happened to change all that goodness. Adam is placed in a paradise with ONE LAW--don't eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and ONE PUNISHMENT--DEATH. This perfect man and wife who were wise, holy and righteous have a sudden change of character into unwise, unholy and unrighteous beings. For also present in the midst of the garden of Eden was this tree - the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Why was this tree put there? To tempt man? God is the creator of all that is good. To tempt is to "entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain." We are told in Matthew 18:7 that it is necessary for temptations to come. Did God put the tree there to tempt man to sin? NO. For James 1:13 tells us very plainly that God does not tempt us. He is not the author of evil. The temptation comes rather from personal weakness in the face of some incitement or pressure. Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires, whether the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes or the pride of life (1 John 1:16). God does permit man to undergo trials and testing for the purpose of perfecting his faith and purifying his heart.
God doesn't want to be worshipped by puppets. He allows each of us to decide for ourselves whether or not we will choose to obey and worship God or follow our own desires. See, the problem was not that the TREE was in the garden. The problem was that SATAN was in the garden. Satan was there in his subtle form to tempt Eve with the lust of the flesh, lust of the eye and the pride of life. And the first time we see Eve presented with the option of choosing between God and her own desires, she chooses to satisfy her earthly desires of hunger, possession and wisdom. BUT, she didn't know what KIND of wisdom she was in for. Satan had told her her eyes would be opened, she would be like God, knowing good from evil. And as we often do when we are tempted, she didn't stop to consider the consequences. Satan didn't lie to her totally. Her eyes were opened and she was more wise. What kind of wisdom? What did Adam and Eve know after they ate of the fruit that they didn't know before? For the first time in their lives, however short that might have been, THEY KNEW SIN. THEY KNEW EVIL. They knew what it was like to be separated from God. They knew disobedience and its consequences -- GUILT, SHAME, UNWORTHINESS, HOPELESSNESS. Remember when they were made in God's image they were made wise, holy and righteous. Now they had knowledge of a different kind of wisdom. They were UNholy and UNrighteous. For this, God told them they would die.
Although the Old Testament is not written for the sole purpose of telling us history, it does sometimes serve that purpose. Here we learn a little science history. For here the Second Law of THERMODYNAMICS was established. The law of Entropy or law of energy decay, as it is sometimes known, states that every system, left to its own, tends to move from order to disorder. In other words, the universe is proceeding in a downward degenerating direction of decreasing organization. Material possessions deteriorate and all living organisms eventually return to dust, a state of complete disorder. The molecules of this podium, left on its own, will eventually loose their bond on each other and the podium will decay. In the same way our bodies turn back to dust. Castles turn into rubble. This law affects the whole universe. The sun is burning up. Stars are aging. Orbits are decaying. Things begin to deteriorate. Everything that has a beginning will eventually come to an end.
What has that got to do with Adam and Eve and Satan? Everything. Up until this time nothing had ever experienced death. Not man, not animal - remember they weren't eating meats. Nothing was deteriorating, nothing was decaying, nothing was aging. But, now that sin had entered the world, death came and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is established. Satan causes sin, sin causes death. Now that sin had entered the world, everything living became mortal, they began aging. Their biological clock began to tick. So if you are looking for someone to blame for the wrinkles on your face or the gray hairs on your head... :-)
Along with the sin and mortality came GUILT. Adam and Eve felt guilt. Having never experienced it before and not knowing how to cope with it, they hid in their shame. The guilt was not in their naked bodies, for God had created them that way and it was good. But in an attempt to deal with guilt, they felt they needed to cover their bodies that were now mortal. I admit to not understanding this exactly, and I haven't read or talked with anyone who felt they could confidently explain it either.
Mike Cope says in his book, Living in Two Worlds, that the three most haunting problems of our age are GUILT--A PROBLEM WITH THE PAST, MEANINGLESSNESS--A PROBLEM WITH THE PRESENT, and HOPELESSNESS--A PROBLEM WITH THE FUTURE. Guilt is something inside us that says, "I've blown it. I've fallen short. I'm out of sync, out of alignment. I'm not what I ought to be." We call it our conscience. Unless your conscience is seared, something at some point in your life nags at you and reminds you man has been separated from God. Your sins have come between you and the Creator, like Adam and Eve's, and you're out of fellowship with Him. It's the forces of sin in our lives that pull us away from God.
What can we do about it? How do you get rid of guilt? Denial doesn't help. Cain tried that. Concealment doesn't work. King David tried that after sleeping with Bathsheba. You may think "If I WORK harder and do more I can get rid of this nagging guilt. I'm gonna read my Bible more, pray more. I'll be at church every time the doors are open. I've got to do everything possible to get rid of this guilt!!!" But the emptiness remains.
Let's look at how Adam and Eve dealt with guilt. Verse 21 of chapter 3 suggests that God taught them what to do. Because of their sin, God kills the first animals and clothes the man and woman with the skins. This may seem a strange way to handle sin and guilt. Remember we said earlier there was One Law and One Punishment--DEATH. Leviticus 17:11 explains it a little more. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the alter to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life." The punishment for sin is death. Instead of taking man's life immediately, God starts man's own decaying process of aging, thus delaying their payment, but has allowed them to offer an animal sacrifice as a DOWN PAYMENT for their sins.
Animal sacrifice is the Old Testament way of dealing with sin. In the New Testament how do we handle sin? Now we have many laws, but the consequences of breaking a law is still the same -- DEATH. What's our sacrifice? CHRIST. Christ came saying (paraphrasing), "No longer will animal blood atone for your sins. The sacrifice must be a perfect human. I'll be your sacrifice. I'll give My life so that all who follow My way may live. Accept My GRACE. It's My gift to you. I'll reach down and pull you out of the depths of guilt. I'll give you meaning and hope." Christ became the ultimate sacrifice. He died on the cross taking our burden and guilt. Most of us here have accepted God's grace and have become His children. But, many in the church still have a problem with guilt. We try to have meaning and hope, but it's hard when we can't let go of the guilt. We know God says He'll forgive us, but ME forgive ME? That's hard.
So what can be done about it? Now that you've accepted grace, accept the LIFE of GRACE. If you accept the life of grace, it will change your life. 1 Corinthians 15:10 "His grace to me was not without affect. No. I worked harder than all of them. Yet, not I, but the grace of God which was in me." Does that mean he worked harder in order to receive the Grace? No. He worked harder because of the grace.
If you're only legalistically accepting God's grace, you still feel the need to perform to be accepted. Living the LIFE of GRACE says you ARE accepted so you are FREE to perform. Those are two entirely different perspectives. The first way says I've got to perform to be accepted. The second way says I am accepted so I can perform my best. Paul said, "I am what I am by Grace. I've been accepted by God and therefore I want to live the grace-filled life."
A GRACE-FILLED LIFE IS A GUILT-FREE LIFE.
God has forgiven us because Christ paid the penalty for our sins. When we understand the debt is paid, we can forgive ourselves. THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE IN CHRIST JESUS! I told a lie last week, but does God see it? The punishment for sin is death. Do I have to die now? NO! Not a spiritual death anyway. Jesus accepted my punishment when He went to the cross. God doesn't see my sin. Jesus removed it. God sees me as WISE, HOLY, AND RIGHTEOUS, just as He saw Adam and Eve when He first created them. Now you and I know I'm not really wise, holy and righteous. But that's the way Jesus presents me to God. And that's the way Jesus presents you, too, if you've accepted His grace under His terms. I don't have to think less of myself and think I'm not worthy to do things for the Lord. I recognized that sin and am working on not letting that happen again. That frees me of any residual guilt. So let's quit condemning ourselves. Jesus took the punishment for us.
When you feel free from this guilt, you feel free to perform and when you are free to perform you visit the sick, the shut-ins, the person who visited the services last Sunday. You feel free to teach that Sunday School class because you're not concentrating on the past guilt - you genuinely WANT those students to learn how neat it is to be a Christian. How wonderful it is that your Creator sees you as WISE, HOLY and RIGHTEOUS. You can't keep it to yourself. You are ready, willing and eager to share the Good News with others.
Look what happens when guilt is taken away. Any problem with the past is gone. We've freed ourselves to perform. And what does that performing do? It gives us meaning. We yearn to tell our neighbors who are dealing with these three most haunting problems of our age. The meaninglessness of the present is gone. And the future? It never looked better! Now we genuinely have hope. We welcome the future. We look forward to a home in heaven with God.
We don't know a lot about what happened in the lives of Adam and Eve after they were driven from the garden. We know they raised 2 boys with different attitudes at a crucial time. When we pick up the story of Cain, we don't see a love of God. We see a man going through some actions that seem meaningless to him, more than likely because of a problem in the past--perhaps with some guilt that he could not turn loose. And as a result, his future looks rather hopeless since he would become a wanderer in an untamed land with a mark of a past event ever present.
Soon after the death of Abel, we learn a little more about Adam and Eve. Seth is the next boy child born after Abel's death. I surmise by this time Adam and Eve have gotten their act together and have dealt effectively with problems of the past; for this son, Seth, seems to turn out fine and eventually fathers a son named Enosh. And men begin to call on the name of the Lord. And from this lineage - from Adam, Seth, Enosh, through Noah, Abraham, David - finally is born the One they all had been promised was coming - a SAVIOR - who comes to free men from guilt of the past, give meaning to the present, and provide glorious hope for the future.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR