Today, I begin to disseminate my journey into the Salvation Epic. I want to start at the very beginning of our salvation. The end of paradise. The beginning of death.
Here’s the question:
What is the Biblical definition of sin?
In a single word?
When God created Adam, He warned him not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil…or else?
“Dying you shall die.”
That is the proper translation of Genesis 2:17.
Where sin began has everything to do with our understanding of it – and this is foundational to our journey into God’s Epic.
There is a richness surrounding The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. Let’s take a trek through the story of the Fall.
The Beginnings of an Epic
In the first place God created dependent beings (this is the only possibility for creation see Col. 1:15-19), and God wanted a specific relationship with humanity. In creating us He was fathering a family of children who would not only desire a place in that family, but never be able to lose it.
Consider this, at one time Satan was the highest created being (For an article on Satan see this one). Eventually it entered his mind to rebel against God. Now, if you are in God’s shoes, and you are about to create beings who will one day supersede the status that Satan had, and whom you want to share intimacy with, would you do something to secure that relationship forever?
Perhaps you would have a plan in place (Isa 46:10), so that when their hearts eventually desired the same thing – to be you rather than belong to you – you retained the power to rescue your relationship with them.
You might actually present the problem of “envy over your authority” and “the desire to become equal to you,” before your relationship ever got off the ground (Gen. 3:5,6). Then, you might allow them to take their usurped power and depart from a relationship with you — allowing them to experience the consequences, so that they might come to the conclusion that you alone are good, that they are dependent upon you, and that they desire to be your children (The Prodigal Son Luke 15:11-32).
So, you would leave the door open from the beginning (The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil). You would not manipulate them in any way. You would make sure they knew where the door was, as well as the consequences (Gen. 2:17). You would allow the highest stakes. Satan would be permitted to present the ultimate test of their loyalty (Gen. 3:1) addressing the only thing that could impede your perfect harmony forever. He would ask, “Do you want to become like God?” (Gen. 3:4).
It was a deception because no one can become like God. But the question pursued truth. What was the condition of their hearts. Did they desire this? Would they rebel when the idea occurred to them?
I’m not at all saying that God tempted or deceived Adam & Eve. Adam & Eve were given a command, and eventually they went to the tree. Satan didn’t come and find them, they went to the temptation and then they were tempted. Just because God knew that radically endowed creatures were capable of betrayal, does not mean He chose it for us.
Now, is the above what actually happened? It’s a postulate based on the window Scripture provides. It draws from many points of Scripture, including Jesus’ words, and is a fair guess. I reason it out this way because I’ve had to do an awful lot of thinking about these things for my books!
I also think its natural to come at the story of Adam & Eve with a touch of skepticism. The account leaves God completely vulnerable to accusation (He is so perfect at not manipulating), and I share this picture as an alternate to criticism of the Divine decision to give humanity a choice. For me, God’s goodness can be demonstrated thoroughly – though, its really not for me to judge.
Now, the entrance of sin, through the Tree was instrumental in three critical aspects of leading humanity to a permanent future relationship with God.
I. Sin Initiated our Separation
Sin was the opportunity He gave humanity for separation from a natural relationship with its Father. This was just on both sides.
God gave a simple command about a simple thing (Gen. 2:15-17), and allowed Adam & Eve complete freedom. They could choose to trust Him implicitly and not eat the fruit, or they could choose autonomy.
Without providing this choice, there could never be permanence of relationship. It is simply not possible to be forced into intimacy – by being given no other choice. Real love can only be given out of desire, and no one controls our desires (Song of Songs 8:7). So, God made a way for that desire, by first giving us freedom. Freedom to love over bondage to God.
Now, rejection of an earthly father is the microcosm. If you choose to become estranged from your father, this means the loss of relationship, time spent together and also one’s inheritance.
But, when that Father is the source of life, not just the Creator, but the Sustainer of it. When He is the One who created the very fabric of what it means for life to continue unbroken, then if you abandon that Father, you also separate yourself from His sustainment of your life. Rejection naturally leads to death.
Here’s a nugget. The book of Job, part of the Scriptures, is about a man who lost everything – his family, wealth and health. The name Job means, “Where is my Father?” or “No Father.” What a perfect archetype for humanity. Humanity separated from its Father is in a state of suffering.
So the first thing sin accomplished was that it provided a way out of relationship with God.
II. Sin Inaugurated Death
God alone possesses immortality (1 Tim. 6:16), and He does not sustain the life of other beings unconditionally (Gen. 6:3). Like a picked flower, we began to die.
But have you ever noticed Genesis 3:22?
“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…’ therefore, the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.”
After, “and live forever” it simply goes into ellipses (…). God doesn’t finish the sentence. It would seem that the consequence of human beings in sin forever is unspeakable, and God directly prevented this possibility. He did not allow people to live forever in a condition of sickness.
That’s grace. He allows us to taste the consequences. He does not allow us to remain in those consequences with no way out.
This also means that when we separated from God, there were no strings. He lives forever, we do not. If we do not want a relationship with Him, we will never be forced to return to Him. We will have an opportunity in this life for reunion (Heb. 9:27), but if we remain apart, then we will ultimately die (Rev. 20:12-15).
We may not like those terms, but who are we to question the Eternal Being who authored our life in the first place (Heb. 9:17-24, Job 38)?
On the flip side, those who desire a relationship with God will get the tandem blessing of His renewal of their life, forever. For those who believe He is good, there is great reward (Heb. 11:6, 1 Cor. 2:9).
III. Sin Inaugurated Bondage
How does bondage lead back to a permanent relationship? Hang on for the ride!
When Adam ate from the Tree, all of humanity ((1 Cor. 15:22) went into a three-faceted bondage.
First, we became enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:16). Second, we became enslaved to the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). Third we became enslaved to the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).
Enslaved to sin –
We were made in the image of God, so when our beings went into a process of decay this manifested in actions that dissolved the character of God in us. Sin became the outworking of the absence of God in our persons. The symptoms of our sickness are actions destructive of life and love, but also a heart that is void of these things (Eph. 4:8). We take from others to please ourselves…we’re all living the proof. The fact is, we cannot escape this condition. Apart from mind-boggling intervention (the transfusion of life-giving blood), we are enslaved to our condition, and we function according to it.
“…(sin) is described in Scripture by words such as “death” and “corruption.” Corruption or “rot” (φθορά) is an excellent word for describing sin. For it is the gradual dissolution (a dynamic movement or process) of a formerly living thing – its gradual decay into dust.
This differs strikingly from the idea of sin as the breaking of moral rules. The breaking of a rule implies only an outward error, a merely legal or forensic infraction. Nothing of substance is changed. But the Scriptures treat sin far more profoundly – it is itself a change in substance, a decay of our very being.”
Enslaved to the fear of death –
This is self-evident. None of us want to die, or lose someone we love, and we (humanity) have proven we are willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
Ensalved to the god of this world –
The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). Satan was gifted with authority. Humanity in this age is subject to angelic authorities, of whom Satan is the most authoritative. He is the god of this world (This seminar on the supernatural worldview of the Bible will blow your mind).
For now, humanity has been placed lower than the angels (Heb. 2:9). When we departed from God, we simultaneously lost our original connection to his authority. We abdicated God as our God and fell under the next tier of authority, the gods (Psalm 82, Deut. 32, Gen. 11:1-9, Eph. 6:12).
So, not only do we have death in the world, but we have an oppressor – one who seeks to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).
The good news is that these gods are going to be judged, and they will die like men (Psalm 82:7). The bad news, is that there is an external temptation to sin (1 Cor. 7:5), and an operative authority figure who has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving (2 Cor. 4:4).
What does this have to do with leading us to a permanent relationship with our Father? Everything! The story about the Israelites in Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh is a symbol of this reality. God brought Israel out of Egypt by displaying His great strength (see the Book of Exodus).
“I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
– Exodus 6:5-6 NASB
Did this cause all of Israel to love Him? To the contrary! They hated their freedom. It also took a LOT more than this initial act of salvation for God to woo them. Their history demonstrates that no matter what God did for them, they continued to stray from Him. God proved, through Israel, that nothing He did would change the heart of human beings: not His provision, kindness, rescuing, dwelling with them, protecting them, or giving them knowledge. Nothing turned their hearts to love God.
In short, we as humanity went into spiritual bondage (sin), with a spiritual pharaoh (Satan), in a spiritual Egypt (the world). God proved through Israel that we could not simply be rescued from Pharaoh. God could not just remove Satan, remove us from the world, and free us from only two forms of bondage. The real problem is sin, has always been sin, and nothing else on top of that (Satan himself) is to blame for our problem in our relationship with God. We don’t want our Father.
However, by allowing us to taste these consequences, God has demonstrated mercy. We suffer in our bondage, but that suffering is the warning. We are not dead yet. And God doesn’t want any of us to die. He is allowing us to taste death before being dead. He wants us to desire life, and come to the life-imparting conclusions of these realities.
Are we getting a meaty picture of sin & death? Just by looking at the Fall, we can conclude that sin is death (and dying), and that we don’t naturally desire true life, which means to be united with God. So here, we have that sin began as rejection of God, which led to loss of life, and initiated us into a state of bondage. If we end there, we have a pretty bleak outlook on humanity. There is a reason the term gospel means good news.
Join me next time in travelling another leg of this soul journey.
Have you ever wrestled to understand the story of “The Fall?” If so, what are your conclusions?