The Foundation of the Truth

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. – 1 Timothy 3:14-4:5ESV

The world in which Paul lived was mired in falsehood, much like it is today. This world is the domain of Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). Everything in this world is deceptive and deceitful. As Satan has always done, he has taken what God has made and attempted to distort and twist it in such a way that it leads mankind away from God.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul outlined the devastating consequences of Satan’s influence over this world and his impact on humanity.

And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

While he is deemed the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), Satan is not obsessed with having men worship him. He is content to have them worship anything other than God, including themselves. That is why Paul went on to warn the believers in Rome about the dangers of idolatry.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself. – Romans 1:25 NLT

The apostle John reminds us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:10-11 NLT). Men preferred the darkness over the Light. They rejected the truth regarding Jesus Christ and gladly accepted the lies of the enemy.

So, it’s easy to see why Paul reminded Timothy that the church, the body of Christ, was the God-ordained instrument for spreading and supporting the truth of God in this world. His whole purpose in writing Timothy was to help him understand how people are to live within the household of God, the church, which was to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 ESV).

The truth to which Paul referred is the truth regarding godliness. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has provided a means by which sinful men and women might achieve godliness or a state of righteousness in His eyes.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And Paul seems to quote a few lines from what must have been a hymn of the early church.

Christ was revealed in a human body
    and vindicated by the Spirit.
He was seen by angels
    and announced to the nations.
He was believed in throughout the world
    and taken to heaven in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16 NLT

In a few short lines, Paul addresses the truth regarding godliness. First, he defends the truth regarding Jesus’ incarnation. He was God in human flesh. And, according to the apostle Peter, Jesus was “put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 BSB). That is what Paul means when he states that Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of mankind but was raised back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And His resurrection was announced to the nations, resulting in the salvation of countless individuals. And while Jesus ascended back into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, He will one day return for His followers. That is the truth of the gospel and the good news concerning godliness.

And Paul would have Timothy remember that the church is the keeper of that truth. It is the main distribution method for conveying the message of godliness to a lost and dying world. And I think Paul was specifically thinking about the local church context, which is the testing ground of our faith. It is where the truth must be applied with love and grace. If God’s life-transforming power, made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross, doesn’t work within a local body of believers, the gospel is ineffective. But Paul believed it could and should make a difference.

First and foremost, he viewed the church as a household, a family. It was not an institution or organization, but a collection of different individuals who have all shared in God’s undeserved, unmerited favor by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been adopted into God’s family and been declared His heirs, all due to the sacrificial, sin-canceling death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul describes this as the great mystery of our faith.

This is the truth of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. It is this truth that the church is to support and uphold. There is no other version of the truth. It is this truth that leads to godliness. It is this truth that makes the church a living organism, not an organization. It is this truth that provides power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It is this truth that gives us hope for the present as well as the future.

The church, the body of Christ, is where the message of new life in Christ gets lived out, and where the Light of the world illuminates the darkness of sin. And Paul knew the necessity of these things because he had seen firsthand the impact of falsehood and heresy within the local church. The enemy was alive and well in his day, attacking the fledgling churches with half-truths, convincing lies, and distorted views of reality. Where there is truth, there will always be falsehood.

The good news regarding Jesus Christ would always be accompanied by counterfeits and knockoffs. One of the things Paul was constantly fighting was the tendency for people to buy into the formula of Jesus + something. Anything that added to Christ’s all-sufficient work on the cross was to be rejected as false – a lie from the enemy.

The real and ever-present danger to the church is to compromise. If the enemy can get us to compromise our convictions with ever-so-slight revisions to the truth of God, he can destroy our effectiveness. It is exactly what he did with Adam and Eve in the garden. He got them to question the word of God by cleverly twisting it – leading them to doubt its veracity and reliability.

But the church must be the pillar that supports the truth in the midst of all the falsehood and lies. And the lies Paul warns Timothy about are subtle and deceptive. Whether it was asceticism, the belief that abstinence from certain physical things leads to spiritual maturity, or legalism, the belief that adherence to certain rules and rituals was essential to salvation – these things were to be rejected as lies. They had no place in the household of God. They were dangerous and highly destructive.

The key to the church’s survival in the hostile environment in which it is called to exist is the truth. We are called to be “faithful people who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3 NLT). It is the truth of God, found in the Word of God, that gives the people of God the capacity to see the lies of the enemy and reject them. Knowledge of the truth brings health and vitality to the body of Christ. Living according to the truth makes the people of God a powerful force for change in the world, causing us to shine brightly in the darkness that surrounds us. But compromise is like a blanket thrown over the church, diminishing its capacity to shine.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Father Knows Best

1  What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:1-10 ESV

James ended the last chapter with the declaration, “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16 ESV). Now, he reveals what lies at the heart of the problem. He discloses the root cause behind the jealousy and selfish ambition that are wreaking havoc on the congregation to whom he is writing.

James appears to drop the pastoral tone of his letter and takes his readers to the proverbial woodshed with a strongly worded disciplinary message. He calls them out and airs their dirty laundry right in front of them. He has received word of their unhealthy penchant for quarreling and infighting and is more than a bit unhappy about it. As a congregation, they have allowed their love for the world to take precedence over their love for one another.

He has already dealt with their practice of showing partiality to the wealthy and influential within their fellowship. This blatant display of favoritism was rooted in greed and jealousy. While flattering and fawning over the well-to-do, they were dismissing and mistreating the less fortunate among them, all in a vain hope that the rich would somehow reward them for their actions. There was an ulterior motive behind their attempt to give the high-capacity donor the best seat in the sanctuary.

Evidently, their worship services had become a competitive event, with everyone jockeying for position and fighting for prominence. But, sadly, their infighting was a byproduct of a much more serious problem. They were suffering from a heart condition. James reveals that the cause behind their quarreling and fighting was internal, not external.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? – James 4:1 NLT

The pleasures or desires to which James refers are evil because they drive human behavior until they are fulfilled. They are like an addiction that incessantly demands its needs be met, regardless of the price or consequences. These evil desires were worldly and out of step with the godly wisdom that God offered.

…the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. – James 3:17 NLT

But James describes a far different atmosphere within this local body of believers.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. – James 4:2 NLT

There was no evidence of peace, gentleness, mercy, sacrifice, or selflessness. Their “fellowship” had become a hotbed of strife and destructive self-promotion. Everyone was operating by the myopic mindset: What’s in it for me? The love of self had replaced God’s call to love one another. And James has already told them “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8 ESV). Yet, they were actually making love of self their highest priority. All in a vain attempt to satisfy their individual cravings for power, pleasure, and prominence. And James rebuked them for trying to take matters into their own hands. Rather than taking their needs to the Lord, they were trying to fulfill them through worldly and ungodly means.

Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. – James 4:3 NLT

Even when they did pray, they did so with the wrong motives. They asked God for those things that would bring them personal pleasure and satisfaction. And He refuses to answer those kinds of requests.

This is where James pulls no punches and displays his disgust for their ungodly behavior. He accuses them of spiritual adultery. They had proven themselves to be unfaithful to God by unashamedly flaunting their love affair with the world. And in doing so, they had made an enemy of God.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

The philosophies of this world stand diametrically opposed to the will and the ways of God. Satan, the prince of this world, uses every weapon in his arsenal to tempt the child of God to abandon his relationship with the Almighty. His goal is to lure the believer into a life marked by unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. And he cleverly uses the pleasures and perks this world has to offer as bait. He knows we crave significance. He fully understands our need for self-importance. He is well aware of our insatiable appetite for forbidden fruit, and he is more than willing to offer us whatever our heart desires – in exchange for our affections.

When Satan tried to distract Jesus from His God-ordained mission, he made Him a highly tempting offer.

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” – Luke 4:5-7 NLT

But Jesus refused. Instead, He reminded Satan that God alone is worthy of worship.

“You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” – Luke 4:8 NLT

And Jesus would later warn His disciples about the danger of duplicity in the life of a child of God.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. – Matthew 6:24 NLT

God longs to have an unbroken relationship with each of His children. He is a jealous God who will not tolerate infidelity and unfaithfulness. He has displayed His unparalleled love by sending His Son to die in our place and by placing His Spirit within our hearts. He has more than proven His love for us and expects us to return the favor. And through His grace, He makes it possible for us to say no to the overtures of the world and the temptations of the enemy.

But His grace is only available to the humble. The presence of pride blocks the flow of God’s grace and prevents us from experiencing the fulness of His love. As long as allow our love for the world to lure us away from God, we demonstrate that we really don’t need or want what He has to offer. Our desire for worldly pleasures indicates that He is not enough. He cannot satisfy our deepest longings or fulfill our insatiable passions. We know what we want and, if He won’t give it to us, we will seek it from the world. And the apostle John warns us about seeking our satisfaction from the things of this world.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And James gives us the key to rejecting the enticing allure of the world: Humility.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. – James 4:7-10 NLT

God knows what is best. His will for us is always right and His love for us is always pure and selfless. But we have to trust Him and believe that He knows what we need. The world is about to steal our hearts and affections. It offers us a range of tempting treasures and pleasures designed to appeal to our sinful natures. But they are empty promises that never deliver what they offer. Instead of pleasure, they produce pain. In place of significance, they leave the gaping hole of futility and despair. Rather than joy, they produce a fleeting form of happiness that disappears as soon as the pleasure fades. But when we humble ourselves before the Lord and rest in His love for us, we find fulfillment, joy, satisfaction, and the immeasurable honor of being His child.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Danger of Making Wisdom Our God

13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
    and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
    and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called blessed.

19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
    by understanding he established the heavens;
20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
    and the clouds drop down the dew.

21 My son, do not lose sight of these—
    keep sound wisdom and discretion,
22 and they will be life for your soul
    and adornment for your neck.
23 Then you will walk on your way securely,
    and your foot will not stumble.
24 If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
    when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror
    or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
26 for the Lord will be your confidence
    and will keep your foot from being caught. Proverbs 3:13-26 ESV

Wisdom brings blessing. It’s more profitable than silver or gold. Its long-term value is greater than that of precious jewels. Wisdom is incomparable, offering those who avail themselves of it the blessings of a long life, riches, and honor. The path of wisdom leads to a life filled with pleasantness and peace. It is a tree whose fruit provides a long and prosperous life.

Those are some rather bold claims and they seem to contradict the words that Solomon wrote in the opening chapter of his book of Ecclesiastes.

I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

What is wrong cannot be made right.
    What is missing cannot be recovered.

I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.

The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
    To increase knowledge only increases sorrow. – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 NLT

Well, which is it? Is wisdom the key to long life and happiness or a pathway to futility and sorrow? Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. Not only that, he was blessed with great wealth, power, and prestige. He had it all. And yet, at some point in his life, he seems to have struggled with an overwhelming sense of despondency and despair.

So I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and madness (for who can do this better than I, the king?). I thought, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.

So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:12-17 NLT

It seems that Solomon had turned the pursuit of wisdom into an academic endeavor. Rather than growing in his knowledge of God, he simply filled his mind with facts, figures, data, and details. He was obsessed with knowing and the pursuit of knowledge. But information alone does not make one wise. The possession of an encyclopedic intelligence will not necessarily result in wise decision-making. Some of the most intelligent people in the world can make foolish decisions.

Somewhere along the way, Solomon lost the point of his life-long pursuit of wisdom. He took his eyes off of God and made it all about himself. Wisdom became a means to a self-centered and constantly elusive end.

I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 NLT

His sad conclusion was, “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for” (Ecclesiastes 7:27-27 NLT).

So, what should we conclude? Which version of Solomon’s counsel should we listen to? The key is found in verses 19-20 of Proverbs 3. Here, Solomon provides the often overlooked ingredient to man’s pursuit of wisdom and knowledge: God.

By wisdom the Lord founded the earth;
    by understanding he created the heavens.
By his knowledge the deep fountains of the earth burst forth,
    and the dew settles beneath the night sky. – Proverbs 3:19-20 NLT

Wisdom and knowledge can only be found in and received from God. They are not isolated and independent commodities to be sought for like hidden treasure. Without a relationship with God, wisdom is meaningless and virtually useless. As Solomon discovered later in life, wisdom alone was not enough. A head full of knowledge without a heart for God was not only unhelpful, but it produces a life of futility and fruitlessness.

It is important to recall that, upon his ascension to the throne of Israel, Solomon had asked God for wisdom. God had given Solomon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever his heart desires. “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5 NLT). And Solomon had responded, “Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9 NLT).

And God was pleased to fulfill Solomon’s request.

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” – 1 Kings 3:11-14 NLT

Notice the conditional nature of God’s statement. He agreed to give Solomon wisdom and threw in riches and fame for good measure. But it was all tied to Solomon’s obedience. God was giving Solomon the power to know right from wrong. In other words, he would have the mind of God, the ability to discern what God deemed holy, righteous, and good. But to know what is right does not guarantee that one will do what is right. To know the will of God does not always result in obedience to the will of God. Remember how Solomon opened up his book of Proverbs.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

This brings to mind the fall, that fateful occasion when Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and chose the wisdom of God over a relationship with God. He had placed them in the garden and provided them with the fruit from a variety of trees from which to eat, including the tree of life. But God had declared one tree to be off-limits: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had told them, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Genesis 2:16-17 NLT).

But one day, while the first couple strolled in the garden together, they were confronted by the serpent, who tempted Eve to eat some of the forbidden fruit. When she recited God’s warning that to do so would result in death, the serpent refuted God’s word.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. – Genesis 3:4-7 NLT

Their eyes were opened. Much to Eve’s surprise, she didn’t die, but instead, she became enlightened. She became autonomous, with the ability to determine good and evil for herself. She had discovered the intoxicating, yet toxic power to become the master of her own fate. She shared some of the tantalizing and tasty fruit with her husband, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Satan had successfully marketed the fruit as a replacement for God. It was the fruit that would make one wise, and Eve “wanted the wisdom it would give her” (Genesis 3:6 NLT). She got what she wanted: Wisdom apart from God. And, in a sense, Solomon ended up feasting on the same dangerous and deadly fruit. His lifelong pursuit of wisdom became a godless endeavor designed to satisfy his ceaseless longing for more.

Yet Solomon was able to tell his son, “do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck” (Proverbs 3:21-22 ESV). He promises that they will provide security and a lack of fear. But notice how Solomon qualifies his promise.

…for the Lord will be your confidence
    and will keep your foot from being caught. – Proverbs 3:26 ESV

Wisdom and discretion were not to be the goal. They were simply the outcome. Solomon wanted his son to pursue the Lord. He wanted God to be his son’s greatest desire. If he would put God first, the rest would come as an added and welcome benefit. But Eve had made the possession of wisdom of more value than her personal relationship with the God of wisdom. Knowing what God knows was more important to her than simply knowing God. Becoming her own god with the power to decide what she deemed right and wrong led her to disobey and deny God. She became wise and, at the same time, discovered that she was a fool.

At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. – Genesis 3:7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.


Resources to Resist the Enemy

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV

Having just addressed the topic of godly submission by illustrating its impact and influence on three different relationship settings, Paul now makes a somewhat jarring shift in thought as he brings up the seemingly unrelated topic of spiritual warfare. But upon closer examination, it seems clear that Paul is simply continuing the same train of thought he began when he called the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called. Throughout two chapters, Paul has been emphasizing the need for believers to live out their faith in everyday life. He has called them to put off their old selves and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. They were to put on their new natures, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). They were to walk in love, as children of light. There were to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and willingly sacrifice their rights in order to selflessly love others as Christ had loved them.

But this was not going to be easy, and it wasn’t going to come naturally. Paul knew that their old sin nature or flesh would fight them every step of the way. Their natural inclination would be to lord it over one another, rather than submit. They would be prone to pride and self-exaltation, not humility and selfless service. Submitting to those who don’t appear to deserve it or loving those who don’t seem worthy of it are not easy things to do. And to make matters worse, Paul knew that believers have an enemy at work behind the scenes to make their walk of faith as difficult as possible.

He was keenly aware that there was an unseen spiritual battle taking place to which most of us as Christians were blissfully oblivious. What Paul was asking the Ephesians to do was impossible to pull off in their own strength. They were not equipped for it. Their fallen human nature, apart from the help of God, was not suited for spiritual warfare. Without the assistance of God, they would be like someone bringing a knife to a gunfight. So Paul tells encourages them to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV).

He doesn’t tell them to gut it up or get busy. Paul doesn’t berate or belittle them for their lack of effort and determination. No, he calls them to place their hope and trust in the all-sufficient strength of God. Earlier in this letter, Paul told the Ephesian believers that he prayed for them regularly. His request was God would empower them so that might be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV). He prayed the same thing for the believers on Colossae.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. – Colossians 1:11 ESV

When Paul called the believers in Ephesus to “be imitators of God” and to “walk in love as Christ has loved us” (Ephesians 5:1), he knew that he was asking them to do the impossible. But not if they did it in the strength that comes from God. Not if they recognized their insufficiency and God’s all-sufficiency. The impossibility of the task should drive them to the reliability of their Father. The life to which God had called them was only possible through the power He had graciously provided for them.

And the good news is that the very same power is available to us today. Paul calls it the whole armor of God. Notice that he refers to it as whole or complete armor. We can’t afford to be selective or picky about it. Not a single piece of the armor was to be left off or left behind. It is only as we are wholly equipped with the divine protection God has provided that we will “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). God has given us the armor but we still need to put it on. And we must always keep in mind that his “armor” is spiritual in nature because “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). In other words, our battle is not against other people. Our enemies are not those on the left or the right, the liberals or conservatives, the Muslims or the atheists, the irreligious or the immoral.

Paul reminds us we are fighting “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). Sound scary? It’s meant to be because it’s true and the enemies are very real. What we see happening all around us today is an orchestrated effort on the part of the enemy of God to subvert His will and supplant His authority. Satan stands opposed to all that is godly, and that includes every single believer because the Spirit of God lives within them. As Jesus Himself warned, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 ESV).

So what are we to do? Paul is quite clear.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. – Ephesians 6:13 NLT

Notice that Paul says, “to resist,” not go on the attack. Our job is not to destroy Satan, but to resist His efforts to destroy us. James gives us some invaluable insight into how this is all supposed to work. He writes:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. – James 4:7 NLT

Humility before God comes before the resistance of Satan. Acknowledgment of your need for God’s strength must precede any attempt to withstand the enemy’s attack. By putting on the armor God has provided, you are acknowledging your need for Him. The reason so many of us fail as Christians is that we refuse to put on the whole armor of God. We think we can survive without it.

But God has provided a complete set of armor that must be put on and depended upon. Each piece is designed to work in concert with every other. They are spiritual resources designed to fight a spiritual battle. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).

We live in evil days. We have a formidable enemy whose mission is to destroy us. We still have our old sin-prone nature, weak and worthless when it comes to resisting a spiritual enemy. But we have not been left defenseless or devoid of help. Our gracious, all-powerful God has given us His divinely empowered armor to protect us and the indwelling presence of His Spirit to do battle beside us. Like Paul, we need to recognize our own insufficiency, the enemy’s reality, and God’s gracious provision for our security.

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.


But God…

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV

Paul put a strong emphasis on the future but he never forgot the past. When addressing believers, he strived to stress the eternal significance of their redemption. He wanted them to understand that their faith in Christ had both immediate and long-term implications. They could enjoy the present benefits of a restored relationship with God, as revealed by the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
But the Spirit was also intended as a sign or proof of their inheritance to come (Ephesians 1:13-14).

But Paul knew that, in order for believers to truly appreciate the present and future blessings of God, they must constantly recall their former condition as enemies of God. There was a time when all followers of Christ stood on the other side of the door of grace. As Paul will remind the Ephesians believers in the very next section of his letter, “In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). This is the very same message he gave to the believers in Galatia.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. – Galatians 4:8 ESV

Paul understood the power of recall. He knew that an accurate memory of the past was essential if the Ephesians were going to cultivate an appreciation for all that God had accomplished on their behalf. Looking back could provide a much-needed reminder of just how gracious God had been. Their salvation had been undeserved. They had been enemies of God, living in open rebellion to His will and ways. And Paul pulls no punches in describing the desperate state of their former condition.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. – Ephesians 2:1-2 NLT

Paul believed that having a healthy and honest view of the past was essential for understanding the glorious nature of God’s gift of salvation. Jesus had not come to redeem the righteous. He had not sacrificed His life on behalf of the good and the godly, but for those who were sin-enslaved and recognized their need for a Savior. On one occasion, when the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for associating with notorious sinners, He responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT).

Paul’s mention of the devil was intended to stress the former enslavement of the Ephesian believers. Before coming to faith in Christ, they had not been free to do as they pleased. They had been the slaves to Satan himself, “the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described the sinister role of Satan in sobering terms.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

And Paul’s obsession with Satan’s enslavement of the lost was well-founded. It was based on the message he had received from Jesus at the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus. He shared the details of this encounter in his trial before King Agrippa.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’” – Acts 26:15-18 NLT

Paul’s commission from Jesus had been to help set captives free. His entire ministry had been to bring good news, to open the eyes of the blind, and to set the captives free. And Paul knew that, in doing so, he was simply continuing the ministry of Jesus Himself. When Jesus appeared at the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He had read a passage from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

And when He had finished, Jesus had sat down and calmly but boldly declared, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). Now, Paul was carrying on the mission that Jesus had begun. He had been tasked with the job of setting captives free and, somewhat ironically, his efforts had earned him imprisonment in Rome. Yet, he continued to use his pen to proclaim the glorious nature of the freedom made possible through faith in Christ. And he reminded the Ephesians that every believer, including himself, had at one time been a slave to Satan and an enemy of God, “following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3 NLT).

But God…

Those two simple words form one of the most powerful and impactful sentences in the entire Bible. Paul reveled in the idea of God’s undeserved, yet undeniable intervention in mankind’s desperate condition.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

Mercy, love, grace. Those three words form the foundation of Paul’s thinking on this matter. God showered sinful, enslaved humanity mercy (undeserved kindness). He poured out His unselfish, sacrificial love on those who deserved His justice and wrath. And it was all a display of His unmerited favor (grace) and lovingkindness.

Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand that their salvation had been totally undeserved. They had done nothing worthy of God’s love, mercy, and grace. Their transformation from enemies of God to sons and daughters of God had been the work of God alone. And Paul is unapologetic in his defense of God’s sovereign role in the salvation of sinful humanity.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. – Ephesians 2:8 NLT

This point is essential to Paul’s argument, which is why he repeats it three separate times.

It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved! – vs 5

So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us – vs 7

God saved you by his grace when you believed. – vs 8

For Paul, one of the greatest sins a believer can commit is to attempt to rob God of glory by taking credit for something He alone has done. That is why he places so much emphasis on salvation being a gift and not a reward. It is not earned or merited. It is not a form of payment for services rendered.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

And yet, believers find it so easy to take credit for something over which they had no control. Their only role was to receive that which was freely given. Their blinded eyes were opened by God. The chains that once bound them were broken by God. The sins that once condemned them were forgiven by God. Their remarkable transformation had been the work of a loving, gracious, and merciful God.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 2:13-14 NLT

And there had been a divine purpose behind this radical reformation of their lives. The gift of salvation was not to be wasted or squandered. Their new identity as God’s chosen people was not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. God had an objective in mind. His redemptive plan was not arbitrary or pointless. And Paul reminds the Ephesians that they were literal works of art, God’s “workmanship” (poieme). They were like priceless masterpieces, created by the hand of the Creator-God, and intended to bring Him glory. And the greatest way God’s people can bring Him glory is by doing what He redeemed them to do.

He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

No longer slaves to sin, the Ephesians were free to do the will of God. With their eyes opened, they could clearly see. With their chains broken, they could freely serve. With their former sins forgiven, they could gratefully obey. They were new creations designed to live new lives in the power of the Spirit of God. And God had important work for them to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.


Innocent Blood Spilled

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4:8-16 ESV

As a child of Adam and Eve, Cain had inherited the mandate given to them by God. Like his mother and father, he was to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). The Hebrew word for dominion is רָדָה (rāḏâ), and it conveys the idea of rule or reign. God had created mankind with the expectation that they would rule over and care for the world He had created for them. That capacity to serve as His designated caretakers was to reflect their close association with Him. They bore His image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26 ESV

But once sin entered the world, man’s ability to reflect the glory of God became dimmed and diminished. At the core of man’s problem was the desire to rule according to his own standards. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve had fulfilled her longing to be like God, knowing good from evil. She sought autonomy, the freedom to run her own life on her own terms. But she soon found out that she couldn’t even “rule over” her base desires. “She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6 NLT). 

Now, her first-born son, Cain, finds himself struggling with his own incapacity to control his inner desires. After having his offering rejected by God, Cain became filled with rage and consumed by bitter jealousy against his brother, Abel. And God warned him, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 ESV).

God described sin as a deadly predator, waiting to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. And Peter would later describe Satan in similar terms.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. – 1 Peter 5:8-9 NLT

It’s interesting to note that God told Cain he must “rule over” sin. The Hebrew word is  מָשַׁל (māšal), and it means “to rule, have dominion, reign.” Like the rest of creation, this deadly “beast” crouching at Cain’s door should have been under his dominion. Cain had been given “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).

But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Cain had no ability to control the raging beast that crouched outside the door of his heart. Rather than be the subduer, he would become subdued and find his life consumed by the “desires” תְּשׁוּקָה (tᵊšûqâ) of sin. What happens next is the first recorded occurrence of premeditated murder.

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. – Genesis 4:8 NLT

The oldest extant manuscripts of the book of Genesis (Smr, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac) record this brief but extremely insightful statement from Cain to his brother Abel. He had a plan in mind. Sin had already consumed his heart and was had taken full control of his faculties. At that moment, he had become a slave to sin. Any hope he had of experiencing autonomy and the free expression of his will was gone. It was Jesus who told the self-righteous Pharisees, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 ESV).

And the apostle Paul echoed the words of Jesus when he warned the believers in Rome, “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:16 NLT). Then Peter provides another sobering statement regarding sin: “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19 ESV). The proof of these words is lived out in the life of Cain.

And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. – Genesis 4:8 ESV

The text provides no indication as to how much time had passed since Cain’s offering had been rejected by God and his decision to commit this heinous crime. But enough time had passed for him to calm down and regain control of his overheated emotions. Yet, instead, Cain had grown increasingly more incensed over the rejection of his offering and what appeared to be his brother’s favored status with God. So, he took matters into his own hands and made a determination to eliminate the competition. In taking his brother’s life, Cain exhibited his desire to “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). He had designated himself the sole arbiter of right and wrong. Cain had become the judge, jury, and executioner. And it’s interesting to note that, at his birth, Cain’s mother had declared, I have created a man just as the Lord did!” (Genesis 4:1 NET). She had taken credit for giving her son life. Now, that very same son had given himself the prerogative to take life. Cain spilled the innocent blood of his brother.

And, once again, God steps into the scene, posing a simple, yet illuminating question.

“Where is Abel your brother?” – Genesis 4:9 ESV

God was not looking for information. He was seeking a confession. He wanted Cain to take responsibility for his egregious actions. But instead, Cain feigns ignorance and displays a fair amount of insolence.

“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:10 ESV

Cain’s response to God is filled with irreverence and pride. He displays no fear of or respect for the Almighty. In fact, he actually questions God’s divine capacity to care for His own creation. By stating, “am I my brother’s keeper,” Cain was suggesting that the guardianship of Abel was God’s responsibility, not his. In a way, Cain was blaming God for Abel’s death. He was accusing the Almighty of failing to keep track of His own creation.

But, unwilling to play Cain’s little game of rhetoric, God posited a second question: “What have you done?” (Genesis 4:10 ESV). Once again, God is not asking for insight or information. He knew exactly what had happened and why. This question was meant to cause Cain to consider the ramifications of his actions. In Cain’s mind, with the killing of his brother, he had accomplished his objective. But now, God was letting this overconfident, self-obsessed man know that his actions would have long-lasting and devastating consequences.

“Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:10-11 NLT

As the sins of man increase, so does the intensity of God’s curse. This indictment from God against Cain and his descendants is an extension of the curse God had leveled against Adam.

“…cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread…” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

Because of Adam’s sin, God had cursed the ground. But now, God was cursing Cain and banishing him from the ground. This man, who had been “a worker of the ground” (Genesis 4:2 ESV) and had “brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3 ESV), would now find the ground unproductive and unfruitful. The one who had placed all his faith in his capacity to provide for himself would now be ejected from the very land that had met his needs. He was cast out.

Just as Adam and Eve had been banished from the garden because of their disobedience, Cain was exiled from his family because of the murder of his brother. He was cast adrift and doomed to “be a homeless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12 NET). In murdering his brother, Cain had destroyed his relationship with his mother and father. He had forfeited his right to benefit from the bounty of God’s creation. This imagery of being cast from the land is found throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus, God provided Moses with a series of sober warnings concerning the land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey that He was giving to the people of Israel as their inheritance.

“So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out…” – Leviticus 18:28 NLT

Cain had defiled the land by spilling his brother’s blood. Now, he was having to pay for it. And, in a statement of regret, but not repentance, Cain declared his punishment to be more than he could handle.

“My punishment is greater than I can bear. – Genesis 4:13 ESV

Cain feared retribution. He distinctively knew that there might be payback for his crime against Abel. But God assured Cain that his punishment would be far more difficult than death at the hands of an avenger. God was going to spare Cain and allow him to live with his guilt and condemnation for the rest of his life. In a rather strange turn of events, God pledges to become Cain’s “keeper.” In His infinite grace and mercy, God would spare the murderer and prolong his life. He would protect the guilty one who had chosen to take the life of the innocent one. And all of this points to the coming of a future Son of God whose innocent blood would be spilled so that condemned sinners might find life.

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:25-26 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Banned for Life

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.  Genesis 3:20-24 ESV

Up until this point in the story, the woman, whom God had fashioned from and given to the man, remained nameless. The man, אָדָם (‘āḏām), had given her the more generic name of “woman.” The Hebrew word, אִשָּׁה (‘iššâ), carries the sense that she was the “opposite of man.” Genesis 5 reveals that immediately after creating the man and woman, God had referred to them as Adam (‘āḏām).

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man (‘āḏām) when they were created. – Genesis 5:1-2 ESV

God called them “humanity” or “mankind.” He had always intended for there to be more of them. They were simply the first two who would multiply and fill the land with more of their kind – more “humanity” made in the likeness of God.

But, in the immediate aftermath of the fall, Adam decided to provide his mate with a name.

The man called his wife’s name Eve – Genesis 3:20 ESV

In Hebrew, her new name was חַוָּה (ḥaûâ), which means “life” or “living.” Although God had placed a curse upon the woman, there was still hope. While she was doomed to experience pain during childbirth, she would still be able to fulfill God’s kingdom mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). And, in naming his wife, Eve, Adam displayed his belief that God was not done with them yet. They had violated the one prohibition God had given them, and yet, He was still going to graciously allow them to keep His command to fill the earth. Their decision to eat the forbidden fruit had not destroyed their ability to be fruitful and, for that, Adam was grateful.

Moses provides his readers with a brief note of explanation concerning Eve’s new name.

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living – Genesis 3:20 ESV

In Hebrew, there is a clever wordplay going on in this verse. The name “Eve” (ḥaûâ) is pronounced khavvah in Hebrew. It sounds remarkably similar to the Hebrew word for “living” (ḥay), which is pronounced khah’-ee. In a sense, Moses is stating that Eve’s God-given destiny would be that of “life-giver.” Though flawed and brokern, she would be the vessel through whom God would bring the “offspring” who would bruise the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15 ESV).

The apostle Paul provides a compelling description of those who have placed their faith in Christ, and it could easily apply to Eve in her fallen–but-not-forgotten state.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 ESV

Eve was a damaged clay jar and, yet, God was going to use her to bring about the ultimate solution to the problem she had helped to create. Adam and Eve had rebelled against a gracious and holy God. They had violated His command and directly disregarded His good and perfect will for them. But God had known from the very beginning that this would be their fate. He had already made provisions for their failure of faith. The fall of man should never be viewed as a wrench thrown by Satan into the well-tuned engine of creation. The Scriptures teach that this entire scenario had been pre-ordained by God “from before the foundation” of the world. He had made plans for it.

In the high-priestly prayer that Jesus offered up to His Father on the night He would be betrayed, He alluded to God’s pre-determined plan.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. – John 17:24 ESV

Jesus had always enjoyed an eternal relationship with the Father. It had not begun on the night He was born in Bethlehem. He had been sent to earth by His Father to accomplish a very important mission, and the details of that mission had been developed long before God created the universe. The apostle Peter reminded his fellow believers of the unique and unbelievable nature of this pre-creation plan of God.

…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you… – 1 Peter 1:18-20 ESV

It had always been God’s plan to send His Son as the sinless sacrificial lamb to pay the debt incurred by mankind (‘āḏām) at the fall. And the apostle Paul picks up on this theme in his letter to the believers living in Ephesus.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will – Ephesians 1:3-5 ESV

Over and over we read that God had planned all this “before the foundation of the world.” In other words, long before He created the universe or had formed man out of the dust of the ground, God had a well-developed and infallible plan prepared for dealing with the inevitable fall of mankind.

“To put it very simply, the Cross of Christ was not an ambulance sent to a wreck. Christ was the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world because God knew all the time that Vernon McGee would need a Savior, and He loved him enough to provide that Savior.” – J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible: Genesis through Revelation

We know that the sin of Adam and Eve had serious consequences.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Paul goes on to note that “everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses” (Romans 5:14 NLT). God had cursed the first man and woman with death.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 4:19 ESV

In Romans 6:23, Paul records that “the wages of sin is death.” And he pulls no punches in assigning the ultimate blame for this problem.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. – Romans 5:15 NLT

Adam’s sin led to condemnation – Romans 5:16 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone – Romans 5:18 NLT

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. – Romans 5:19 NLT

Paul is relentless. He heaps all the responsibility on Adam. And yet, we know from the Genesis account that “the woman 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, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). And, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges Eve’s primary role in bringing sin and death into the world.

For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. – 1 Timothy 2:13-14 NLT

They were both guilty. All mankind (‘āḏām) stood before God as condemned and deserving of death. But Paul went on to write, “women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15 NLT). This is most likely a reference to the fact that childbirth can be a death-like experience, bringing intense pain and suffering, but resulting in new life. Adam, all by himself, would have only death to look forward to. But because God had given him Eve, there would always be the hope of new life and the continuation of the human species.

God was not done with Adam and Eve. In fact, Moses reveals that God replaced their hand-made garments of leaves with “garments of skins” (Genesis 3:21 ESV). There is a foreboding sense to this verse. The Hebrew word for “skins” refers to the hide of an animal. What this somewhat innocuous-sounding verse conveys is that a sacrifice had been made. Blood had been spilled. An innocent animal had been slain in order to cover the shame and sin of two guilty humans. This entire event foreshadows a divine reality that would be canonized in God’s Law.

…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

And it would also be modeled in the sacrifice of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 NLT).

But while properly clothed with the sacrificial garments provided by God, Adam and Eve still stood in a state of fallenness. The author of Hebrews reminds us “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). Adam and Eve still stood condemned before God. The animal God had sacrificed to make their garments had not cleansed them from their guilt or alleviated their sense of shame. Those things would remain with them till death and be passed on to their progeny. Again, the author of Hebrews describes the inadequate nature of animal sacrifices to fix mankind’s problem.

If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. – Hebrews 10:2 NLT

The next phase of God’s judgment of Adam and Eve came in the form of their expulsion from the garden.

the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. – Genesis 3:23 ESV

And Moses provides the reason for their ban from the very place God had created for them.

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” – Genesis 3:22 ESV

God had given them the freedom to eat of any tree found in the garden, save one. That means they had full access and permission to eat of the tree of life. It seems that the tree of life had been provided as a source of eternal sustenance. As long as they ate it, they would live. But, in contrast, if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. It’s interesting to note that the tree of life appears again in the book of Revelation. John was given a vision of the New Jerusalem, the place God will provide as humanity’s future home – the eternal residence of all those who place their faith in the Lamb of God.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2 ESV

The tree of life reappears and, once again, it will be a source of life. But in Adam and Eve’s fallen state, God did not want them to eat of the tree of life and “live forever.” So, He ordered them out of the garden and then stationed angelic sentries to deny them any further access. And thus begins what will become an ongoing theme of man’s perpetual movement away from God and His presence. The rest of the book of Genesis will chronicle mankind’s steady migration from the beauty of the garden and into the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

A Costly Choice

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
    but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:16-19 ESV

God cursed the serpent and, by extension, Satan, the one who had been behind the entire forbidden fruit incident. But now, He turns His attention to the two VIPs of His creation. Adam and Eve had been formed by the very hand of God and given the exclusive privilege of bearing His image. Not only that, they had been given the distinctive responsibility to act as God’s vice-regents, ruling over and caring for all that He had made. They were to have been stewards over the vast and diverse earthly domain God had created.

Eve had succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and eaten the fruit of the one tree God had decreed as off-limits. And it wasn’t so much the act of fruit consumption that got Eve in trouble. It was the motivation behind the act. When Eve heard the serpent promise that eating the fruit would not lead to death, she had believed him.

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

Eve was out to satiate a hunger that had nothing to do with food. She wanted to “be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT). Eve’s brief exchange with the serpent had left her with a seemingly insatiable desire for sovereignty and autonomy. Eve didn’t suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. She wasn’t born with a forbidden fruit fetish. No, she had an authority problem. She wanted to be in control. And it seems that her mate shared her predisposition for independence and self-rule because he quickly joined her in eating the fruit. And, according to the book of James, they had no one to blame but themselves.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

This raises a somewhat disconcerting question. Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden in the first place? It seems that, in so doing, God provided a form of “temptation” for Adam and Eve. It seems only logical that had the tree not been there in the first place, Eve would not have been tempted to eat of its fruit. But this is an overly simplistic deduction. According to the Westminister Confession of Faith, God had preordained the potential for sin because He had also preordained the solution to the problem it would cause.

Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. – Westminster Confession of Faith, 6:1

By placing the tree in the garden, God established a test, but not a temptation. Notice what the text states about the tree and its fruit.

…the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… – Genesis 3:6 ESV

There was nothing inherently wrong with the quality of the fruit. It was not poisonous or potentially deadly. In fact, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they remained fully alive. Satan had been partially correct when he stated, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). The tree and its fruit were not the problems. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not, in and of itself, evil. It was as holy and pure as any other tree that God had placed in the garden. But God had set it apart and declared it off-limits to Adam and Eve. He deemed one tree as forbidden. And that one tree would become a test of Adam and Eve’s obedience. Would they obey God’s command and refrain from eating the fruit of that one tree? God knew the answer to that question because He had already come up with the solution to the problem it would cause. As was revealed in God’s curse of the serpent, He had already pre-ordained the coming of the offspring who would eventually bruise the serpent’s head.

God had created the universe and all that it contained, and He had declared it all to be “very good.” Then He had placed Adam and Eve in that perfectly holy and sinless environment. Hermann Bavinck provides us with a somewhat head-scratching analysis of the situation in which Adam and Eve found themselves.

“The possibility of sinning is from God. The idea of sin was first conceived in his mind. God eternally conceived sin as his absolute polar opposite and thus, in that sense, included it in his decree, or else it would never have been able to arise and exist in reality. It was not Satan, nor Adam and Eve, who first conceived of the idea of sin; God himself as it were made it visible to their eyes. By means of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command, he clearly showed human beings the two roads they could take. And before the fall he even permitted an evil power from without to insinuate itself into Paradise, using the snake as its medium, and to discuss with Eve the meaning of the probationary command. There is therefore no doubt that God willed the possibility of sin.” – Hermann Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Notice his emphasis that God “willed the possibility of sin.”  God did not force Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. They made that decision on their own. God had provided them with more than enough food options to fulfill their daily nutritional requirements. But they wanted the one thing they were told they could not have. They made a choice. In choosing the forbidden fruit they were really choosing to doubt and disobey God. Their decision revealed their unwillingness to trust God and submit to His will for their lives.

God had created Adam and Eve with the capacity for reason and self-determination. They were not automatons, operating by pure animal instinct. Created in God’s image, they bore an intelligence unequaled by any other living creature. They could speak, discern, process information, and make rational decisions. In other words, they had the ability to choose what they would do. Built into the kingdom mandate God had given Adam and Eve was the possibility that they might decide to disobey it. He had commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. But they could have chosen to disobey that command. The rest of the creative order procreated according to instinct. The other living creatures lacked the God-given capacity to think for themselves.
They did as God had designed them to do. But Adam and Eve had been equipped with the God-ordained capacity to obey or disobey.

And because they had chosen to exercise their option to disobey, they were doomed to suffer the consequences. The painful lesson Adam and Eve learned that fateful day was that, as finite creatures, they were completely dependent upon God for their very existence. They owed Him their lives and they were reliant upon Him for all their needs. And yet, they had chosen autonomy over dependency – a decision that would cost them dearly.

God communicated His displeasure with Eve by explaining the “fruit” of her sin.

“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
    and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband,
    but he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16 NLT

From this point forward, the woman would find obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply marked by pain and suffering. And the complementary and co-equal relationship God had given her and Adam would be replaced by a competitive and sometimes combative spirit. With the introduction of sin, the “one flesh” nature of the husband and wife relationship would be difficult to maintain. Selfishness would replace the symbiosis God had originally planned for marriage.

But God saved His harshest words and strongest punishment for Adam. Because Adam had chosen to listen to his wife and eat of the fruit that God had forbidden, he would find his role as steward of God’s creation to become a burden rather than a blessing.

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. – Genesis 3:17 NLT

God had always intended for Adam to labor. Work was always intended to be a blessing, not a curse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. – Genesis 2:15 ESV

But because Adam chose to disobey God, he would find His God-ordained mandate to be burdensome and back-breaking. God actually cursed the ground, causing it to sprout thorns and thistles. Planting would become difficult. Harvesting would be hit or miss. The ground would still provide the food man needed, but it would not release its bounty easily. God warned Adam:

“By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19 NLT

For the first time since God placed Adam in the garden, He reveals the invading presence of death. He had warned Adam that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in death. But the fruit would not be the source of Adam’s demise. His body would now suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world where the ravages of time and toil would take their toll. Man, whom God had formed from the dust of the ground would return to from whence he came. The breath of life would be removed and his body would be returned to its original state.

This section of the creation narrative paints a bleak and sobering picture. And with it, Moses provides the backdrop for all that will follow. The rest of the book will detail the subsequent and far-reaching ramifications of that one fateful decision. Sin had entered the world and its influence would be felt for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Far As the Curse Is Found

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all livestock
    and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:14-15 ESV

Adam and Eve refused to accept responsibility for their actions, choosing instead to cast themselves as innocent victims. Their desire to “like God, knowing good and evil” had not turned out quite the way they had expected.  Their newly acquired “intuition,” or what they had believed would be god-like insight, had only left them feeling ashamed, dealing with guilt, and attempting to hide from their Creator.

But their efforts to avert God’s wrath by passing blame and avoiding His presence would prove ineffective. God was not fooled. He knew exactly what had taken place and the role that each participant had played. And He began the deliverance of His righteous retribution by focusing on the one who had instigated the entire affair: The serpent. Addressing the serpent for its role in Eve’s rebellion and Adam’s willful compliance, God pronounced the first of three curses. But before looking at the nature of these curses, it’s important to note that they have a direct correlation to the three blessings that God had pronounced earlier upon His creation.

So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” – Genesis 1:21-22 NLT

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:27-28 NLT

So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. – Genesis 2:1-3 NLT

On three separate occasions, God had blessed His creation. He had repeatedly deemed it good and pleasing to His sight. With the forming of the man and woman, God had declared His creation to be “very good.” But in one moment of time, through the deceptive lies of the enemy, God’s good creation had become marred by sin. With Eve’s self-willed decision to become like God, she allowed the darkness of sin to enter her heart and diminish her image-bearing and glory-reflecting capacity as a child of God. And like a contagious disease, her decision had infected her husband and would eventually spread throughout the creation. In a sense, what God had blessed, Adam and Eve had cursed. What had been a purely selfish decision would turn out to have long-lasting and far-spreading implications for the rest of the creative order.

“…morality makes sense only when it is grounded in the personhood of the triune God and the subsequent relationship that his image-bearing creatures have with him. Adam’s sin drove a wedge first and foremost between God and man. Then it severed the harmony between man and man, as well as man and creation.” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

According to Herman Bavinck, sin is a “fundamental reversal of all relationships, a revolution by which the creature detached himself from and positioned himself against God, an uprising, a fall in the true sense, which was decisive for the whole world and took it in a direction and on a road away from God” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics).

When God had told Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17 ESV), He had meant it. The Creator had given His creation a clear-cut command that He expected to be followed. And it had come with a warning of serious consequences if disobeyed.

“…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:17 ESV

Perhaps Adam had no way of processing God’s words. He had no mental category for processing the concept of death because He had never experienced it. Adam was surrounded by living creatures and lived in a garden filled with nothing but signs of abundant life. There is no indication that he had ever seen anything die. It would seem that, in those halcyon days of the pre-fall creation, death played no role. Everything had been blessed by God so that it might be fruitful and multiply. Death is nothing more than the expiration of life.

“There is no such thing as cold, only lower degrees of heat (or the complete lack of it).…Death is not the opposite of life, but its privation. A cloth can exist without a hole, but the hole cannot exist without the cloth.…A shadow in nothing but the obstruction of light – not light, no shadow.” – Randy Alcorn, If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

Satan, disguised in the form of a beautiful and beguiling serpent, had directly refuted the word of God. Adam had clearly heard God say what would happen if he ate the forbidden fruit: “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV). But Satan declared God to be a liar by promising Eve, “You shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). Satan’s denial of God’s word and his denunciation of any punishment for disobeying it would prove to be costly for all the parties involved. And God’s indictments started with him.

“Because you have done this, you are cursed
    more than all animals, domestic and wild.
You will crawl on your belly,
    groveling in the dust as long as you live. – Genesis 3:14 ESV

First, God curses the serpent for its role in the fall. Whether this creature had been possessed by Satan or the enemy had somehow taken on the form of a serpent, God held it accountable. There are some who believe that, according to this passage, snakes must have had created with legs, but were doomed to crawl on their bellies because of this curse.  For the original readers of Moses’ book, the idea of groveling in the dust was intended to convey the idea of humiliation and subjugation. This same imagery is used elsewhere in the Scriptures to convey a defeated and demoralized people.

For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
    our belly clings to the ground. – Psalm 44:25 ESV

The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
    their ears shall be deaf;
they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
    like the crawling things of the earth… – Micah 7:16-17 ESV

But God had far more than humiliation in mind for the serpent. This is where Satan’s nefarious behind-the-scenes role is exposed. He had been the one behind the whole affair, and he would pay dearly for his actions.

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 NLT

There has never been a love affair between snakes and humanity. But there is far more to this curse than a mutual and perpetual disdain between these two species. God is addressing Satan, and warning him of a future form of retribution that will result in his demise. This passage has been called the protoevangelium or first gospel. In delivering this curse upon Satan, God was declaring His intention to bring about a future seed of the woman who would fulfill the role that Adam had failed to carry out. Adam’s participation in the eating of the fruit had brought death to humanity. But there would be a second Adam, who would ultimately defeat death and destroy the enemy. The apostle Paul would later reveal the far-reaching implications of Adam’s sin.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

But Paul clarifies that will be a second Adam, another man, who will bring forgiveness and replace the condemnation of death with the hope of eternal life.

Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:14-15 NLT

Adam and Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and rebelled against their good and gracious creator, and their capacity for sin was passed down to their descendants. And sin resulted in separation from God – both spiritually and physically. And yet, according to the protoevangelium, God already had a remedy in place.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. – Romans 5:17-18 NLT

The book of Genesis records the story of how sin entered the world. But as dark and depressing as these opening chapters of God’s Word may appear, they are marked by hope. God was not done. He had not been caught off guard or taken by surprise. The actions of Adam and Eve did not cause God to come up with Plan B. The “offspring” of Adam and Eve had been the plan all along. God had always planned to send His Son to pay for the sins of mankind. Even before He had made the world, God had intended to send His Son to be the Savior of the world. The apostle Peter reminds us of the preordained nature of God’s redemptive plan when he writes:

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT

Satan thought he had thrown a wrench into God’s plans, but he was wrong. The fall was inevitable because humanity was incapable of remaining faithful to its calling. But God had a plan in place that would restore order, renew His fallen creation, and redeem His disobedient children. And it would all take place through “Christ’s one act of righteousness” (Romans 5:18 NLT). The apostle Paul describes the difference between the first and last Adam.

“The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 15:45 NLT

Jesus was destined to deliver fallen humanity from death to life, from cursed to blessed, and from the role of the enemy to that of an heir. And the third stanza of the Christmas carol, Joy to the World, sums it up well.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

A Rupture in the Cosmic Order

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  Genesis 3:8-13 ESV

The fruit that God had clearly forbidden, Eve had deemed as “good for food” and “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). Under the nefarious influence of the serpent (a.k.a. Satan), Eve had rejected the divine prohibition concerning the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both she and Adam went with their gut instinct and gave in to their base desire for self-satisfaction. Moses reveals that at the core of Eve’s decision-making process was the faulty understanding that “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “wise” is שָׂכַל (śāḵal), and it can also mean “to give insight.” Eve was hoping to acquire an intuitive understanding of all things. defines “intuition” as “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process.” She desired an immediate and inner apprehension of right and wrong. In other words, she was not interested in adhering to God’s predetermined standard for obedience. William Ernest Henley could have been quoting Eve when he penned the last two lines of his poem, Invictus.

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

Eve was dissatisfied. Everything God had made and had deemed as “very good” was not good enough for Eve. She wanted more. She wanted what she could not have. She had an innate desire for that which had been denied. She and Adam had no need for additional food. There was no shortage of edible plants and fruit-bearing trees in the garden. But the one tree that God had declared as off-limits became the one tree Eve couldn’t stop thinking about.

“The heart wants what it wants. That’s as far as we get. That’s the conversation stopper. The imperial self rules all. The inquiring into the causes of sin takes us back, again and again, to the intractable human will and the heart’s desire that stiffens the will against all competing considerations. Like a neurotic and therapeutically shelf-worn little god, the human heart keeps ending discussions by insisting it wants what it wants.” – Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 62

It wasn’t so much the fruit that Eve desired as the promise of autonomy it supposedly held. She wanted to be wise – like God. She desired to be intuitively intelligent and capable of making her own determinations of right and wrong.

J. I. Packer describes sin as “essentially the resolve – the mad, utterly blameworthy, but nonetheless, utterly firm resolve – to play God and right the real God. Sinners resolve to treat themselves as the center of the universe and so they keep God at bay on the outer circumference of their lives” (J. I. Packer, “The Necessity of the Atonement,” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer). Eve had resolved to replace God’s standard with her own and, sadly, she convinced her husband to follow her lead.

And it’s interesting to note that the first “insight” Adam and Eve gained from eating the forbidden fruit was an awareness of their own nakedness. They made the sudden determination that what God had deemed as “very good” was unacceptable. Their decision to cover their bodies with make-shift garments reveals their new capacity for making self-determined moral judgments.

“…there is a never-ending drive to replace the triune God with infinitely inferior and more palpable gods along with a set of degenerate moral precepts as a further means of suppressing the truth. The unregenerate host of humanity hate the light of divine moral truth. They cannot bear to allow it to shine on them lest it expose the blackness of their shame, their dishonor, their guilt and rebellion (John 3:20).” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

It should not be overlooked that the very first thing Adam and Eve did, post-sin, was cover their “nakedness.” They inherently knew that they were exposed to the eyes of God, and they feared that He would see them for what they were. So, Moses indicates that the first couple attempted to hide from the presence of the Lord. In an almost humorous aside, Moses states that they hid “among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). Their newly acquired “wisdom” prompted them to seek shelter from God in the very place where they had committed the crime.

One of the ironic things about Satan’s offer of god-like wisdom is that it immediately renders any takers illogical and irrational. Adam and Eve really thought they could hide from God. And when He showed up, asking, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 ESV), Adam reluctantly responded, ““I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10 ESV).

Fear, shame, and hiddenness. Those are just a few of the unhealthy byproducts of sin. They also reveal what Satan was really offering when he had declared that the forbidden fruit would make Eve “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). His promise of god-likeness was a lie. What he was really offering was the anthesis of godliness. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve and her easily manipulated husband didn’t become like God, they actually found themselves exhibiting characteristics that were diametrically opposed to God: ungodliness, unrighteousness, injustice, and lawlessness.

“…to fall short of the glory of God is to bare a shattered imago Dei. The reflection of the moral image of God within the fallen creature is irreparably broken apart from divine intervention. ‘Sin is a radical disruption in the core of our being.’” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

Notice that God began the conversation with His disobedient children by inquiring about their location. He knew where they were and He was fully aware of what they had done. But He seems to place the emphasis on their broken relationship with Him. They were in the garden, hidden among the trees, but they were actually far from God. Their sin had separated them from the very one who had made them. And notice that, when Adam heard the voice of God, he immediately confessed his nakedness, but not his sin. And, in an attempt to garner a full confession from Adam, God asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11 ESV).  Once again, God knew the answer to His own question. He was simply giving His disobedient son an opportunity to own his actions. But rather than admitting his culpability, Adam passes the buck. He blames his wife.

“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:12 ESV

He attempts to shift the blame by pointing out that Eve had been God’s idea. Had God not made Eve, none of this would have happened. Adam was declaring himself to be an innocent and unwitting victim in this disastrous affair. Playing along with Adam’s faulty line of reasoning, God asked Eve, “What is this that you have done?” (Genesis 3:13 ESV). To which she replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13 ESV).

Neither the man nor the woman took responsibility for their actions. They had both desired the benefits the fruit offered, but neither wanted to accept accountability or face the liabilities that came with their actions. Sin always has consequences. It offers an assortment of tempting perks, but they all come with a hefty price tag. And, as will become readily apparent, there was plenty of blame to go around. God would render judgment against all parties involved. He would hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Adam and Eve had been created as God’s image-bearers, but in choosing to disobey God, their ability to mirror His goodness and glory was shattered. On that fateful day, the light of God’s glory diminished in the lives of the two people He had created. Darkness entered the scene once again. Evil entered the garden. And as Os Guinness so aptly put it, “Evil is therefore in essence that which was not supposed to be, a rupture in the cosmic order of things, a cancer whose malignancy has spread to every part of life, a form or red-handed mutiny against life as it was supposed to be” (Os Guinness, Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.