Salvation: Sin and Judgment – Part 2

Have you ever desperately wanted something that you didn’t have? I’m not talking about something you needed, but just something you saw that you suddenly decided you couldn’t live without? Something that you were sure would change your life forever? Something you saw in a catalog or online or in a store display? Maybe something you didn’t even know existed until you saw it?

Maybe something you saw on a commercial? Cars, food, beverages, vacation resorts, even insurance and diet plans: “Buy this and you’ll suddenly look amazing, your life will be trouble free, people will like you more—you’ll be a whole new you.”

Maybe you decided to buy that insurance—and discovered that it really wasn’t any different than the insurance you had before. Maybe you bought that car and maybe you even really liked it—but it didn’t make you more appealing to the opposite sex or change anything important in your life. The diet? It wasn’t any easier than any other diet and your success at keeping the weight off wasn’t any better than it ever was before either.

When my children were small, cereal manufacturers used toys to encourage people to buy their brand. They’d put a toy in the box and a picture of the toy on the outside of the box. Commercials for the cereal focused on a child having an amazing time playing with that toy. So we’d buy the cereal—only to be disappointed that the toy was never as much fun as it had been depicted on television and on the box.

All of this desperate longing, of course, is the sin of lust—lusting after something other than God. It’s a sin that goes all the way back to the beginning of time. Lust and pride are the sins that led to what we call original sin.

And as we continue to talk about how we can know for certain that we’re saved, this morning I want to talk about the doctrine of original sin, which is something we don’t hear much about in the church these days. Because of Adam’s sin in the Garden, all of us are infected with the virus of original sin before we’re ever even born. In Psalm 51:5, King David writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He’s talking about original sin, the same sin that Paul is talking about in Romans 5:12 when he writes that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Adam and Eve had been placed by God in a perfect garden that He created especially for them. A garden filled with animals and birds and fish and a variety of different fruits growing on trees and ready to eat. Even better, God would come to the Garden and walk with them, talk with them.

But then the serpent showed up and promised Eve that her life would be so much better if she would just eat the forbidden fruit—the one and only thing in the entire garden that God had forbidden.

Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). The tree was good for food, but so were most of the other trees in the garden. The fruit was beautiful to look at, but, again, the fruit on the other trees was probably just as beautiful. And God never said that eating the fruit would make them wise—it was the serpent who said that.

The tree was just a tree—a good tree, because everything that God made was good. God is simply using it to test man, to give him a choice. He’s placing before them the same choice that Joshua places before the Israelite people thousands of years later: “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

It wasn’t about the tree. God could just as easily have said, “You can climb any mountain except that one” or “You can swim in any river except that one.”

Because what God was really saying was, “Choose to obey me or choose to decide for yourself whom you will obey. You get to decide.”

Eve chose to believe the serpent rather than God—and Adam chose to put what Eve wanted ahead of what God wanted. They wanted to be like God. The tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—which apparently Eve thought would be a wonderful thing to have. Now of course they had no idea what evil was because they knew nothing of it. The serpent doesn’t tell them—he simply makes it sound like something wonderful, something that will make their lives so much better than they already are.

Kind of like all those commercials and catalogs that promise us a life that is so much better if we just send them our money in return for whatever it is that they’re selling.

Adam and Eve made their choice: they choose to disobey God—they chose to eat the forbidden fruit. Imagine what it must have been like—they bite into the fruit, they swallow it. And then they wait in eager anticipation for this amazing new knowledge the serpent has promised. Will they get it right away, will it take a while? How will they recognize it? How will it change their lives?

Because it was never really about the fruit itself—it was about the promise of what they would gain through the fruit.

And sure enough, they recognize this new knowledge almost immediately. They’re naked—they had no idea. Almost certainly not the knowledge they were expecting. Now of course they’d always been naked, but now suddenly they feel exposed; they feel shame and they’re embarrassed by their bodies, uncomfortable being naked in front of one another. So uncomfortable that they try to make aprons of fig leaves to cover themselves.

And they’re afraid—an emotion they’d never experienced before. Even that wasn’t the worst thing, however. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Genesis 3:8).

Hid themselves because they were experiencing another new emotion—guilt. They knew that they’d disobeyed God, that they’d sinned. Sin makes human beings guilty in the sight of God.

The perfect relationship they had experienced with their Creator, the Lord God, is broken—broken due to their disobedience. Broken by their refusal to allow Him to be Lord of their lives.

Suddenly everything has changed. And they discover that not only are they now at odds with God but also with the world in which God has placed him.

Once they allowed sin into their perfect lives, it just seemed to grow. God asks Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam says, “The woman you gave me to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate” (3:13). “It’s your fault, God. You gave me this woman. She made me do it.”

Eve blames the serpent.

God doesn’t ask the serpent why he did what he did—the Lord God knows how much Satan hates Him, He knows of Satan’s desire to destroy Him. He simply tells the serpent that he’ll be forever cursed. And He puts enmity between the offspring of Eve and the offspring of Satan—because God knows that we must never comes to terms with evil.

It is because God is holy and just that He must execute judgment here. He promised Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit, he would die. And although Adam does not die an immediate physical death in the garden, he does die a spiritual death.  He and Eve are put out the garden, separated from God.

Adam’s sin has separated him from the Lord God and therefore his life has lost its purpose and meaning. And eventually, both Adam and Eve will physically die, just as every other person who has ever lived in the thousands of years since that moment in the garden.

Even as God sentences mankind to life outside of the garden, away from Him, however, we see His grace. Because God cannot stop being who God is—and God is good. All the time.

God knew they ate the fruit before He came looking for them in the garden.  They’re hiding, but God’s seeking. Seeking because He knows that they need Him, seeking not in anger but with compassion. He knows that because they now have the knowledge of good and evil, that they’re experiencing these new feelings of guilt and shame. And so He comes. We often speak of our need to search for God, but the reality is that God is searching for us. He has been from the very beginning.

Because God is good—all the time.

Over and over, the Bible tells us “seek and we will find.” This is a promise—because God is waiting to be found. Think of playing hide and seek with a small child. They hide, but as soon as we start to look for them, they jump out and say, “Here I am.” This is the way God is when we’re truly seeking Him.

And even though Adam and Eve’s shame at their nakedness was entirely their own fault, God had compassion on them and He makes garments for them. To do so, the Lord God sacrifices the very first animal in the Bible. And we learn in the very beginning that God values human life more than animal life. We also see that human guilt can be covered with forgiveness only through the shedding of blood in sacrifice.

God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skin—He also provided something far better than anything they would ever be able to provide for themselves—His grace. And at the same time He showed them that He could do something for them that they couldn’t do for themselves and that is to cover up their guilt and shame.

I told you last week that it’s critically important that we understand this as a real historical event that took place in human history. It’s not just a nice story—it really happened. God created a man out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into him. God made a woman from man and placed them both in a perfect garden. And then they sinned—they disobeyed God.

Many today believe that this story is a myth—they think that evolution has disproved the Genesis story. Actually, there is nothing in modern science that contradicts that we are all descended from an original human pair. Recent scientific DNA studies actually seem to verify the truth of this.

Jesus, who created the world, believed that the biblical account of creation is correct. In our gospel passage, the sin that He’s talking about is the original sin that every one of us is born with. The Pharisees who are listening are in denial that this applies to them, just as are many of us in our world today.

 Paul and the other New Testament writers also clearly understood the story of Adam and Eve to be a real historical event. Paul, in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Roman church, is explaining why it is important to know this story and to believe it.

“Sin came into the world through one man—Adam—and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The Bible tells us there are two kinds of sin: original sin and our own personal sin. Original sin is the guilt every person shares for the sin of Adam. We talked last Sunday about how God was creating a covenant with Adam in Genesis 2. He doesn’t use the word covenant, but that’s what’s going on. God is putting Adam in charge of the garden and promising him eternal life if he doesn’t eat from a particular tree. In this covenant Adam represents all of his descendants, just as Abraham will later represent all of his descendants in the covenant that God makes with him. The first sin of the first man is universal as well as personal. Everyone who has ever lived has been “in Adam” not only biologically, but also spiritually.  Adam’s fall was our fall.

Later we see in the book of Genesis that all of Adam’s children turn out to be sinners in their own right. It’s important to understand that Adam’s children weren’t sinners just because they sinned. Rather, they sinned because they were sinners. The came into the world sinners because they inherited guilt from their father Adam.

They inherited guilt—but God was still available to them, they still had knowledge of Him. Not the personal “walk with Him and talk with Him” kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve had in the garden. But He didn’t abandon them completely.

Because God is good—all the time.

We do not come into the world basically good—or even neutral. We come into the world sinners. Ephesians 2:3 says that “we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  In theological terms, God “Imputed” the guilt of Adam’s sin to every member of the human race. In other words, God holds every one of us morally responsible for what Adam did, reckoning his sin to be our sin, and condemning us for it.

Some of you may be thinking that’s not fair. But Adam was ideally suited to serve as our representative, and he was given every opportunity to succeed. He faced only one temptation and he faced it as an unfallen man. The temptation itself wasn’t a big one: in the whole orchard of paradise, only a single tree was forbidden. And Adam knew that his actions would affect his entire race. Given the choice between being represented by such a man, in such a situation, or being considered on the basis of our own merits, who wouldn’t choose to be judged in Adam?

And from our vantage point, it’s clear that, once again, God’s goodness and grace was powerfully at work. Because “if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

Thousands of years after Adam, another unfallen man will come into the world—Jesus Christ. And because Adam served as representative for all his people, Jesus, in His perfect life, atoning death and glorious resurrection, also represented all His people. It was only by standing in their place that He was able to save them.

And so, in the end, being judged on someone else’s merits turns out to be the only hope of salvation.

Paul clearly explains this in Romans 5. He explains and He shows that, while we wouldn’t have original sin without Adam’s failing to choose God in the garden, we would have lost something much greater: “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” that we receive in Christ Jesus.”

The guarantee of salvation—which we receive if we choose to follow Him. If we choose to let Him be Lord of our lives. The same choice that Adam was given is given to each one of us—with the same promise of eternal life.

When has this message ever been more important? The reason everything we do seems to go wrong, the reason our world is such a mess, is because we’re sinners. The meaning of all our suffering, and the only hope for our salvation, is that Christ died on the cross for our sins.

The message of salvation offers hope that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:9). He promises further that Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25). Or, as the Authorized version puts it, “He is able to save them to the uttermost.”

Jesus will do whatever it takes to save us. He will atone for our guilt and cover all our shame. He will reconcile us to God and restore harmony to human relationships. He will deliver us from the evil one. He will bring an end to all our suffering and grant us the free gift of eternal life.

Jesus is the perfect solution to the problem of sin and all its consequences. He is also the only solution. We’ll talk more about that next week.