The life we lost (& the way back!)

What would life have been like if Adam and Eve had not sinned? In a recent sermon series in our church we’ve been looking into the lost world of Genesis 2 and in verses 16-17 we get some amazing insight into the life that we lost when humanity fell.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)

God promised Adam that he would die “in the day” he ate the fruit of that fateful tree, and although people go to all sorts of lengths to try to explain why he didn’t die immediately, it’s consistent with the teaching of the whole of Scripture to say that he did die, spiritually, the same day.

Physical death means separation of the soul from the body (Genesis 35:18; James 2:26; Ecclesiastes 12:7), but to die spiritually was the painful reality that their souls were separated from the spiritual communion and the intimate connection we were designed to have with God. That spiritual death happened on the day Adam and Eve sinned, and it’s worth pausing for a moment to think about what things with that kind of spiritual life must have been like for them, before the fall. What was their life like, this life that we lost? Thinking about this will help us understand why we feel that things are so wrong today, and recognise what has to happen in order for it all to be put right.

The perfect life we lost, before the fall, was a life lived in communion with:

1. A Sovereign God

God didn’t apologise for commanding Adam: “And the Lord God commanded the man,” (Genesis 2:16) . God had made him and God now told him exactly what to do, and what not to do. Some people couldn’t think of anything worse than being told what to do, but the reality is that we either accept authority or we go mad. Tragically, the trend in our society is towards madness, with Oppositional Defiant Disorder being claimed as the most common psychiatric illness in children. I guess the changes to parenting approaches in recent years have been having an impact!

For us, the alternative to having God tell us what to do, is either to make it up ourselves, or submit ourselves to the wisdom of other people who are making it up. Adam however, was created and immediately commanded by the God who knew him better than he could ever know himself! God knew exactly what was best for Adam. He knew everything! Talk about expert instruction!

That’s what we lost.

We’re in the air, flying the plane, and there are all sorts of people trying to give us advice on how to fly, and how to land… but the only problem is that none of them has ever successfully landed a plane. They all crash! No one knows how to do this right! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Wouldn’t you want to have that connection with God restored? Wouldn’t it be an amazing relief to have the God who made you tell you what to do, and to just be around God to be able to ask him whatever you wanted? To have nothing between you and God? No separation! The tragedy is that when Adam sinned, he was separated from God, and we’re born with that same gap—a gulf—between us and our Creator, but that’s not our only problem.

There is another authority that claims our obedience, and another father who has plans and desires he would want us to fulfil. Jesus warned the Pharisees whom he had described as being “of this world” (John 8:23) that “you do what you have heard from your father,” (John 8:38)—and again even more explicitly—”You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires,” (John 8:44).

When Adam fell, we lost the life that was lived with this intimate connection—a close communion—with the Lord God. Humanity was cast out of Eden, away from God’s presence, into a world dominated by the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4; also called the ruler of this world, see John 12:31).

You do realise that when you’re born into this world, you’re born in Satan’s kingdom! When we’re saved, it’s the reality that we’re delivered from what the Bible calls “the kingdom of darkness” and “transferred… to the kingdom of (God’s) beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13-14). The life we lost was a life of uninterrupted communion with the Father who had the ability and the willingness to tell us exactly what to do, and what not to do! We were separated from a sovereign God! But that’s not all, we also lost our connection with a generous God!

2. A Generous God

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, (Genesis 2:16)

There are some very stingy, cruel, controlling people in this world, who have little or no love for the people under their authority. It’s no surprise people rebel against authority like that, but if that’s the picture we attribute to God, we couldn’t be getting it more wrong!

Adam was created and placed in the garden of Eden, surrounded by what—to us—are unimaginable sensory delights. Even in our fallen world, the breathtaking beauty and wonder of creation can bring people to a near-ecstasy of delight. People will stop everything and hmmmmmm uncontrollably, entranced with a new taste, or they’ll just sit for hours, mesmerised by music. Go to a gallery, and watch people gaze at still photographs of the strange creatures of this world. Now set those images in motion, Blue-Planet-style, if you can, and try to imagine for a minute what it would be like to be immersed in Eden, with every sense in seventh heaven at the sheer pleasure induced by what God had made.

It’s as if God took pleasure in stroking our senses just to make us purr. This is not a stingy God! He planted EVERY tree that is pleasant to the eyes, and good for food, (Genesis 2:9) but then there’s the bird song, the sound of running water and the wind in the tops of the trees, the fragrance flowers and blossoms… it’s almost too much to take in!

I wish I could take you for a moment with me to the seat I once had, high up on the banks of a tributary to the great river Fly in Papua New Guinea… and just give you a minute to soak in the view. Everything about that spot spoke peace! It was like medicine for the mind, and it filled my mind with wonder at God.

Our Creator wanted his creatures to be happy, and have pleasure, and he loaded the board with delights.

What’s wrong with us? Who doesn’t like a generous boss? Which child didn’t love a father who showered him with love and kindness? Never did anyone have a more generous Father than Adam! Even now, every good gift we enjoy “comes down from the Father of lights,” as James puts it, but what Adam knew before the fall was unspoiled closeness to this generous God, with all of those benefits!

That’s what we lost. If you’re asking what’s wrong with the world: how children in Africa can be going painfully hungry, how your average person can be struggling through life trying to make ends meet, why life is full of pain, not just pleasure, it helps to think about this!

We’ve lost the connection with the a generous God who delighted to bless us with bounty. And talking about how we lost that connection, it’s worth thinking about the fact that the God Adam was in fellowship was also a judicial God.

3. A Judicial God

but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:17)

Some people just don’t like laws, or lawmakers. If you’d have been on the green near my church in 1381, you might have bumped into the young king Richard II, as he responded to the Peasants’ Revolt. Watt Tyler had led a group of armed men into London and everywhere they went they broke into public buildings and burned the law-books. The laws of the day were pretty oppressive, and when the peasants revolted, they made it pretty clear how they felt about the king’s laws!

God’s laws, by contrast, are never oppressive. Actually, the very first law God ever made was a declaration of freedom to enjoy the fruits of his generosity! We read that the Lord God commanded the man saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,” (Genesis 2:16).

Bounty without the freedom to enjoy it, is a kind of torture, but this generous God wasn’t only generous in what he provided. He was equally as generous in what he allowed. Adam was given amazing freedom, and unlike so many thoughtless parents, the first command God ever gave his child was like the manager of an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant emphatically reassuring his guests that they can eat everything!

Well, almost everything. In the context of such generosity, one single tree was forbidden. He was left in no doubt about what he could NOT eat! Genesis 2:17 reads:

but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

For the anarchists among us that would think it would be paradise if only there were no rules, it’s worth pointing out that even in Paradise, there was one rule. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with law, and although anarchy has as much to do with idealism as it does with rebellion, it’s worth noting that even in paradise, God made the rules. Why should anybody have a problem with a generous God placing a restriction on what his own creation can do?

So is God like Judge Dredd?

The facts are God is a God who makes the law, and he also specifies the penalty: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (Genesis 2:17). Since God also carries out the sentence, that does make him the judge, jury and executioner in Eden, but remember, this is Eden, not Mega City One. Remember also that God is at the same time the generous Father who starts by providing and permitting before he prohibits anything!

God is at the same time the generous Father who starts by providing and permitting before he prohibits anything!

Every good parent is judicial. You have to make rules. You have to be the law. A lot of the problems with parenting—in my opinion—come from thinking that’s idealistic and naive when it comes to the need for law. Even in Eden, God set boundaries and specified punishment, but just because you make a law, and prescribe a punishment, it doesn’t mean you can’t at the same time be loving and generous and kind! If you are all of those things, you can have an amazing relationship with your children at the same time as being judicial.

It’s hard to imagine what it was like to be close to the Judge, but that’s the fellowship Adam knew before the fall. Imagine hearing those words from God, “on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” and then walking with God and talking with God in the garden. Adam wasn’t thinking about God as a distant scary Judge, he was living in perfect fellowship with the Judge!

To understand this—imagine being married to a lawmaker and judge, or having an earthly judge as your earthly father. I think most people would want their spouse or their parent to be perfectly fair. Imagine being married to someone who never breaks a promise, or being raised by a father who never fails to be right, and true, and just. The laws your husband or your father makes don’t make your relationship with him any less—until you break the law. The fact that your father is a judge doesn’t change anything until the policeman brings you home locked in the back of his police car! Then you have a problem. Then there’s separation!

How does this help? Well, this is the life we lost! We’re like the judge’s rebellious child in prison! We’re like the earthly wife of an earthly judge who’s separated from her husband because she threw it all away and broke the law! Instead of the intimate love and fellowship with the judge, she’s locked in jail, sentenced by her own husband!

What a life we lost! We’re separated from a sovereign God, we’re cut off from our closeness to a generous God, and we’ve lost our intimacy with a judicious God.

The way back to Eden

It wasn’t just Adam and Eve who were cut off from God when they sinned and broke the law in Eden. None of their children were born with unhindered access to God, and they were all shut outside of Eden, away from the tree of life. What God promised came true, they died, spiritually, immediately separated from God when they sinned, and they died physically, eventually, when their bodies gradually failed without the efficacy of the fruit of the tree of life. No one was ever allowed back into Eden, and since that time, the only way back into God’s presence has been through sacrifice.

If our problem is spiritual death, we need more than a spiritual lift, we need spiritual life.

The message of the whole Bible is that until we are rescued by God, we are all spiritually dead. Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians that before their conversion, they were dead in the trespasses and sins in which they once walked (Ephesians 2:1), and he went on to say that it was God who had made them alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-5). If our problem is spiritual death, we need more than a spiritual lift, we need spiritual life. Our problem is that none of us are born spiritually alive.

Our problems—according to the Bible—are so severe, that what we need is not more religion, not some kind of self-improvement, but a re-birth, and with it spiritual re-connection to God!

When Jesus wanted to explain how people can enter the Kingdom of God, he said we must be born of the Spirit—to be born again, which means literally, born from above, i.e. spiritually born (see John 3:1-8). Our problems—according to the Bible—are so severe, that what we need is not more religion, not some kind of self-improvement, but a re-birth, and with it spiritual re-connection to God! The problem we face, is for that to happen, we need to get out of jail!

If I can develop the illustration I used earlier, the picture is actually worse than the one I painted. It’s not simply that we have broken the law and are in prison having been sentenced by our father who’s a judge. A more accurate illustration would be the idea that we’re in prison after being convicted by our father’s law, and sentenced by him for our crimes. The problem is that we are on death-row, awaiting the the final consequence of our crime.

Get-out-of-jail-free cards only work with crooked judges or when you’re playing Monopoly!

The picture the Bible paints is that the life we now live is described as being spiritually dead. The physical death we all one-day experience, when our soul is separated from our body is what the Bible considers the first death, and this too is a consequence of our sin. The ultimate sentence for sin however is what the Bible calls the second death, the ultimate separation from God being thrown into hell—the lake of fire. Our problem is not just that we’ve lost our connection with God, but the problem we have is that we’ve been sentenced by him as our judge, and as a just judge, He cannot simply overlook our crime. Get-out-of-jail-free cards only work with crooked judges or when you’re playing Monopoly!

the Judge has punished his own Son, as a substitute for rebels like you and me

To pick up my illustration once more however, the good news of the Bible is that the Judge has punished his own Son, as a substitute for rebels like you and me. My hope is simply that when Jesus died upon the cross, he was experiencing hell for me—that He died in my place! His death was the sacrifice that allows me access into the presence of a holy God. That death allows me to draw near to God now (see Hebrews 10:19-22), and gives me the certain hope that the moment I die, I’ll be just like the dying thief (Luke 23:43), with Jesus in paradise.

Jesus preached the good news about sins forgiven and a relationship with God restored, and he was the one who promised paradise to a dying thief! The way back to paradise has been opened by Jesus dying on the cross for sinners, but Jesus himself told people that to enter the kingdom they must be born again. He also told people to repent, and believe this good news.

If what we need is more than a lift, or another religious fix-up, but to be re-born spiritually… we shouldn’t shy away from calling people, as Jesus did, to simply repent and believe the good news.

Check out the sermon below preached on this theme at GraceLife London: