We Didn’t Stay Perfect (2/1/15)

Outline

  1. The Unfolding of the Fall
  2. Fractured Relationships
  3. Total Depravity—but not Extreme Depravity
  4. Comparing Theories [new! not discussed in class]
  5. So What Do We Do Until Then?
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bonus Thoughts

The Unfolding of the Fall

We all know the story of the Fall from Genesis 3. Perfect woman with perfect husband in perfect garden meets talking snake. He tempts her to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, then she hands some to her husband who does the same. God comes and gives them a spanking and sends them out of the garden.

Ok, so the details might be a little off… maybe even a little forgettable. But the story is familiar and the consequences tragic. We live in those consequences. So what does this story have to tell us about the world today and our lives in it?

You can learn a lot about sin and humanity by really chewing on the details here. Consider:

  • The serpent (we’re later told it’s also Satan) begins with questioning what God has said.
  • The question overgeneralizes and invites a conversation.
  • The woman adds to God’s commandment.
  • The serpent challenges God and offers a desirable half-truth.
  • The woman (although perfect) is tempted. That temptation draws her to inspect the fruit.
  • Looking at the fruit, the woman focused on the positive side of the equation.
  • She risked her life trusting the serpent over God, because eating the fruit should have meant certain death.
  • The man ate without any signs of a struggle.
  • Their eyes were open. Before they knew only the good; now they knew good and evil.
  • Their first response to sin is to cover up, which indicates fear and probably shame.
  • Their response to God (their creator whom they knew personally!) was to hide. Apparently they either didn’t know or forgot that God is everywhere and knows everything.
  • God asks the man a question for effect.
  • The man blames his wife and even seems to accuse God.
  • The woman blames the serpent and even seems to deflect by saying she was tricked.

At this point God punishes the serpent, the man, and the woman by cursing all creation. Work will be hard, childbearing will be painful. But there is hope in the promise of One to come who will crush the serpent.

I love how the Good News glimmers even in that first dark moment.

It’s so tempting to read more into the story because there are so many more details we wish we had. The gaps in the story invite our imaginations to jump in, but we need to be careful not to put words in God’s mouth.

Fractured Relationships

One theme we see in the Fall is one broken relationship after another. We noted last week how we were created to need one another and how that’s a good thing. But after the Fall we see husband and wife blaming each other. Worse yet, we see them hiding from God. After creation is cursed there’s really nothing left: man’s relationships with God, with others, with creation, and even with himself are all broken. And so our need for each other grows even greater, but our incapacity to find what we need and be who we need to be for others makes meeting this need impossible.

But let’s be honest here: the biggest problem is this broken relationship with God. He is their Creator and Sustainer. He knows them personally, guides them, and has given them all they need. What’s more, He’s perfectly good. This fall into sin was an act of rebellion against a God who had been nothing but loving and giving. Everything depends on Him.

Is it any wonder He warned them they would die?

Now the astute reader will note they didn’t drop dead. Does this mean the serpent was right? Not hardly! This broken relationship with God is sometimes thought of a “spiritual death,” a state of unresponsiveness to God. I’m generally fine with this idea—after all, they certainly became separated from God! What else could you call a state apart from the God of life? Death makes sense.

But we know that this is where physical death enters the picture. Mankind wasn’t supposed to die. YOU right now reading this: you were never supposed to die. Now we tend to say death is a part of life. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Death was never a part of life. Death is a reality we have to live with, but it’s not good.

So I think spiritual death metaphorically happened, but physical death literally happened. And the only reason they walked out of that garden alive has to have been God’s grace and mercy.

Total Depravity—but not Extreme Depravity

Another observation we can make is that Adam and Eve weren’t immediately as bad as they could have been. This is sometimes what we think when we talk about “total depravity.” If you want a really bleak picture you have to turn ahead a few pages to the state of the world before the Flood. It took a long time to get there.

No, extreme depravity wasn’t the result of the Fall, but total depravity still is. Total depravity is the doctrine that says sin bent every part of man. Sin pollutes man’s reason, man’s emotions, man’s willpower, man’s desires, man’s imagination, man’s memories, man’s senses, man’s body, and even man’s conscience. Nothing is safe. Nothing is pure.

And this is intimately wrapped up in the image of God. Remember that man was made in God’s image, unique among all creation. But sin now pollutes that image. It’s still present—we still can’t help but “image” our Creator when we act rationally, make wise decisions, love others selflessly, and so on. Instead the image is defaced but not erased. What should normally reflect God’s character instead reflects a mixture of good and evil.

This is bad.

Comparing Theories

Now if we take a step back, we all recognize that we live in a broken world. Very few people would argue that everything is perfect, that sin, suffering, and death somehow don’t exist or aren’t really bad. We (generally) all agree that there’s a problem. But there’s little agreement about why it is the way it is.

People who don’t believe in a literal Adam and Even tanking the human race are generally stuck. For example, if you only believe in the natural world, evil is just a part of nature. Death is a part of life. Suffering is a biochemical response to destructive conditions. And if you’re just one organism out of millions competing for resources, all you can really say is that you don’t like these things. They are distasteful. Maybe you’re hard-wired to show empathy with others because of some evolutionary imperative, but objectively speaking what can you say?

Well, you can say lots I suppose, but you can’t be consistent without ending up a nihilist.

Other religions have the same problem: either evil belongs as some part of the bigger cosmic plan or it’s an illusion. Either way, it’s hard to take evil seriously. Either it belongs in some way, or it doesn’t exist at all. Either way it’s hard to justify our natural reactions to injustice, suffering, and death.

But let’s forget about consistency and get to work: what problems can we name and how do we fix them?

  1. If the problem is society, the cure is social change.
  2. If the problem is pride, the cure is humility.
  3. If the problem is bad decisions, the cure is right decisions.
  4. If the problem is lack of love, the cure is love.
  5. If the problem is a broken relationship, the cure is forgiveness.
  6. If the problem is rebellion, the cure is submission.
  7. If the problem is demons, the cure is their destruction.
  8. If the problem is illusion, the cure is truth.
  9. If the problem is original sin, the cure is death of the old self.
  10. If the problem is doubt, the cure is faith.
  11. If the problem is in every part of us, the cure is a new creation.
  12. If the problem is death, the cure is eternal life.

Of course this just scratches the surface. But what I want you to notice is that for all of these problems, Christianity offers the solution. And for all of these problems, the solution is the same: that one seed of woman that God promised, the One to come that would crush the serpent. His name is Jesus.

Some of these things were addressed in His first coming, when He died on the cross for our sins and rose to life to offer us eternal life. But the work isn’t done yet. He’s coming back to finish the work, to make all things new. Think about that. We’ll explain further another time.

So What Do We Do Until Then?

As a wise poet named Tom once wrote, the waiting is the hardest part. If we as Christians are a new creation (we are), have eternal life (we do), are filled with the Holy Spirit (yup), and are no longer slaves to sin (seriously!), then why is the world still messed up? And more to the point, why are WE still messed up?

Frankly, we still suffer the effects of sin in all our faculties. Our wills have been freed from slavery, but they’re still polluted. We won’t be fully free from the effects of sin until Jesus comes back.

So we’re no longer slaves, but we’re still polluted and live in a polluted world. We have the Holy Spirit, but we still choose to disobey. In theory you should be able to live a perfect life after you’re saved, but because we’ve already been marked by sin in our lives and live in an imperfect world, we will never be perfect under our own power.

What do we do then? Give up? Of course not! We beat our bodies into submission. We learn right and wrong from Scripture, and we challenge our motives day to day.

But if we want to go the extra mile, we can’t do it alone.

There will be times you trick yourself into thinking you’re doing what’s right. There will be times you misread Scripture and misunderstand what God expects. And to guard against those times you need to surround yourself with fellow believers. You need people who know you, who know the Word, and who are committed to following Jesus with you. They can provide that outside check to make sure sin isn’t getting the best of you.

Because let’s face it: some days it’s hard to tell the difference between the Holy Spirit’s promptings and our own desires. Nothing can do better to counter that than other Spirit-filled people who bring a different perspective.

Conclusion

We ended up talking a lot about sanctification today, but that’s because it’s how we cope with the effects of the Fall in our lives. I don’t ever want to teach about sin and suffering and death without also pointing to the hope we have in Christ! The sin we as Christians struggle with is our bad choices day to day. If you’re saved, all you can do is persevere in what’s right and help others to do the same. We’ll say more about suffering and death another time.

My challenge to you is this: who do you have in your life who can give you that outside angle to your struggles and decisions? Where can you go to make sure you’re on the right path? If you’re not sure, start looking!

We need each other more than ever.

Bonus Thoughts

Isn’t it interesting how hard it is to remember the details of a story we’ve heard dozens of times? Our memories aren’t perfect. It sure helps having other people to lean on…

Historically speaking, the discussion of the effects of the Fall gets really fun with Augustine and Pelagius. In a nutshell, Augustine argued that we are always in need of God’s grace, but Pelagius believed we didn’t suffer from original sin and could become perfect if we try hard enough.

Regarding different relationships with sin, Augustine put it this way: God is not able to sin, Adam was created able not to sin, the Fall left us not able not to sin, and those in Christ are back where created Adam was: able not to sin.

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