Easter 2011: Torn Relationship

April 10, 2011 Series: Easter 2011: TORN

Topic: Stand Alone Passage: Romans 7:14–7:25

 

Acknowledging the struggle

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 

 

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Romans 7.14-25

 

We are starting a new sermon series today titled TORN. This is a three-week focus on the plan of salvation. It culminates at Easter, the holiday that represents, for the Christian, the pillar of our faith. That event that defines us. That changes us. That gives us new life. And yet, this new life is not free from difficulty. As Paul cries out in Romans, I do not understand my own actions. I want to do right, but I don’t. I desire good, but I fail. I do evil. This is Paul speaking. This is a man of God, being very honest about what his heart really looked like. Paul is suffering through what he refers to as the war against sin, or against the flesh. This is a war that every Christian experiences: the fight between our inner being and our flesh. Something is desperately wrong here. Something is TORN.

 

It is not a surprise to anyone that something is wrong in this world. All people agree that we live in a world where something is not right. Whether you are a humanist, an atheist, or a born again evangelical, you can look at the state of this world and declare that things are not good. Your reaction to that brokenness, however, will change drastically based on your theology (because atheism is a theology). If you are a humanist or atheist, you believe that the good of mankind is the ultimate goal. Suffering then, would be something to be avoided in this life, if possible. If not possible, then that suffering must be used as a learning tool to set up a system by which suffering can be avoided in the future. The recent tsunami in Japan, would serve the world by allowing us to develop better Tsunami detection, prevention, and warning in the future. As for the source of suffering, there is none. It just happens. It is, so deal with it.

 

As Christians we have a slightly different approach to the ‘bad things’ of this world. As Paul states here, our battle against brokenness is not merely fought out there, but within ourselves. It is not something apart from us that we need to go fix, instead, there is an internal transformation that needs to take place. And we are not left clueless as to what is going on. We know the source of the problem, we have been warned of the consequences, and most importantly, we have hope because we know that what we see here right now, is not the end game.

 

We are going to spend today looking at how we got into this predicament and where we go from here. But we need to start at the beginning of the story. The very beginning.

 

The Source

Genesis 1 says, In the beginning, God created... There was nothing but God, and then all of a sudden, He spoke. By the sound of His voice the earth was formed, the stars were lit, and the world was covered with every manner of great thing we know of. Then God created man and woman. We see this in Genesis 1.26-27, where it says:

 

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.” 

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

This creature was different than all of the others. This was in God’s image...in His likeness. We are image bearers of the Creator. But this doesn’t mean that we look like Him as a son looks like a Father. It means we are like Him. God gave human beings His personality. We were created good, as He is good. The Westminster Catechism applies three attributes to this image:

 

God created man male and female, after his own image,in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,with dominion over the creatures.

 

Knowledge, which does not mean simply the ability to reason, but specifically the knowledge of what is good, flowing from a relationship with God. We know that this is the case by Paul’s description of the new man in Colossians 3:

 

Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.(10)

 

Paul links the New Self, the life that we have in the Spirit, through Christ, to man in his original state. In other words, God created the world in a specific way, with a specific rhythm. And He gave to man an understanding of that rhythm, an inherent sense to live at peace with the world.

 

But what do we mean when we say righteousness and holiness? We cannot believe that man was holy at creation, can we? This comes from Ephesians 4.24:

Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.(24)

The answer is: man was created good, in right relationship with God and others. Holiness relates to a purity from sin, making it possible to have relationship with a Holy God. We see that God had an intimate relationship with Adam and Eve, so much so, that He would stroll through the garden (Gen.3.8). We also see righteousness in the purity of relationship between Adam and Eve, they were naked and unashamed (Gen. 2.25). It was good. Everything was good. Man was the perfect image bearer of a God who was holy, loving, and truth.

Once created, God defines the rules of this relationship. He makes a covenant with Adam, in Genesis 2.15-17, telling him:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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.”

This is known as the Covenant of Life. The stipulations are pretty simple. Everything that God has created is for the enjoyment of Adam, save one tree. That one tree represented the Law. It was the thing that God commanded of Adam. The covenant was not about the fruit, it was about obedience. Abstaining from the tree was the one act of worship that Adam had. He could refrain from that tree in submission to God, choosing God’s way over another. In return, he would have the rest of creation and life.

 

This was the covenant, and Adam had no choice in the conditions of the covenant. This is what they were, established by a God who is holy, loving, and the author of Truth. Adam simply had a choice to follow the rule that God had set, to trust in His character, or to choose his own way.

The Offense

Rules are made to be broken, as the old saying goes. And this one is no different. We pick up the narrative in Genesis 3.1:

 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

 

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘Youshall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when 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, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

 

This is where it all fell apart. What was it that was so much more desirable than God? There are three things that lead to the decision that there is something more satisfying than following God. As you will see, they are not all that different than the things that draw us away from God today.

 

1. Satan questions God. In what might seem like an innocent question, Satan asks, Did God actually say...? Sometimes the beginnings of sin are questioning things that need not be questioned. We live in an age of skepticism, Post-Enlightenment (as if those who lived before were not enlightened), and I think we hang our hats on this a bit. We are very proud of the fact that nothing sneaks in under the radar, nothing is going to convince us until it is fully vetted and approved, BY US. In this, we become the judges of truth. We become the ones who decide what is worthy of believing, and what can be discarded.

 

In the beginning part of this century, a movement started with the question, ‘how should we approach Scripture?’ It started with a simple question, and it was a question that had been answered thousands of times before. But people would not accept the answers given before. They wanted to figure it out for themselves, and in their pursuit of originality, in a new way. In reality, they never really wanted to find the right answer to the question, they were really interested in finding THEIR answer to the question. And their hard work undercut the authority of Scripture in society, and even as far as seminaries. They accomplished a lot for themselves, but did nothing but damage to the name of God, and to culture, as the Word which had been a light upon the path was snuffed out.

 

Now, I am not saying that we should not have questions. WE ALL HAVE QUESTIONS. As a matter of fact, I believe that the moment that you have an answer to all of the questions is the moment that you stop growing in God. Let’s ask questions. But let’s make sure that we are asking them because we actually want answers. Anyone can ask questions, and can seem brilliant because they do nothing but create confusion and doubt. Asking questions is fun because you can agree with everyone and no one at the same time. But to speak truth. That makes enemies out of friends. It makes for awkward family get-togethers. Our goal is not making enemies, but to proclaim without wavering the truth as it has been given to us by God through His Word. And that will make enemies.

 

And if you are thinking, but God wants us to question Him, look at the Psalms. I would ask that you also take into consideration Job 38. A very paraphrased version of Job’s question is: I’ve been good God, how could you let this happen to me? This doesn’t seem like such a bad question, and if anyone has the right to ask this, it would be Job (who lost his wealth, his kids, and his health). Yet God does not appreciate being challenged by His creation. His response is:

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

If questioning God is for the purpose of knowing Him more completely, it is good. But too often our questions are actually a challenge. While we ask why, we are really saying, you aren’t who you say you are. Which is exactly where Satan goes in his conversation with Eve.

 

2. Satan describes God as a tyrant. Once Satan has Eve free thinking, he goes for the jugular. He says to Eve:

 

You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

 

The tricky part of this is that it is not a complete lie. It is a half truth. It is like when I ask my son if he just hit his brother and he says no, then I find out he kicked him. Not a lie, not really the truth. A half truth is a truth where a good part of the important information has been left out.

 

So their eyes would be opened as we see in verse 7. And it did bring them to the knowledge of good and evil. We know this because in verse 22, God says, Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Isn’t this good, it is the first Enlightenment?

 

If humans were created good, and at the Fall, now know good and evil, it means that what entered into human understanding was evil. Up to this point, Adam and Eve had been fully shielded from evil. They didn’t know what it was because they were fully protected from any and all evil by God. So while it was true that they would now have a new knowledge, what Satan leaves out is how horribly destructive this knowledge would be. That this knowledge would tear the relationship between man and God, would fracture the very nature, the image of God, and would taint the whole of creation. Everything was now covered in a blanket of evil. And for what? 

 

For knowledge? So we could be God? The truth of the matter is we make crappy gods. But we keep trying. You would hope that seeing this whole episode; watching God’s great creation crumbling in rebellion would fill us with fear; a fear that while we have a clear idea of what evil is, we lost sight of good at that tree. That through this, we might not have so much confidence in our own knowledge in compared with the wisdom that God gives us in Scripture. That even those things that look really true might just be half truths and that the most important details might be the ones that we don’t know. We would trust that God really does want what is best for us, even when it looks like He is holding out on us. The unspoken lie of Satan here is that God’s love is not sufficient. That we could never be happy with what He is offering. That we need to add to His love, or redefine it in our terms, in order to make it worthy.

 

The first doubts of God had been set, the attack on God’s goodness had been launched, now it was up to human beings to simply follow their own desires.

 

3. Adam and Eve pursued their own desire. Satan laid the trap, but it is Adam and Eve who choose willingly to sin.

 

So when 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, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 

 

We see here that sin is not something that Satan brought into the garden and passed to Adam and Eve like the common cold. They did not catch sin. As well, the fruit was not evil or sinful. So where did this sin come from? Sin came from within them. This is echoed in James 1, where it says:

 

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (12-15)

 

So how was God’s good creation tainted with sin? Did God then create sin? NO. God is holy, in Him there is no sin at all. If we understand sin as acting contrary to God’s nature, then sin is not a thing to be created like water, sin is a choice. Sin is choosing something else over God. When we sin, we are not just doing something bad, we are saying to God that something else is more true and worthy than He is. Human beings then, are the only things that can sin, the only part of God’s creation given the option of worshipping God, or in turn worshipping something else. Mankind was given the choice and chose fleshly desire over God. So why did God do it this way? Why put the tree in the garden? Why make a covenant with such lasting implications? Why make the fruit a delight to the eyes?

 

I don’t know. Why God chose to use this means to reveal Himself is a mystery to us. But it is a mystery that has become much more clear in Jesus Christ. Romans 3.23-26 gives us a glimpse into the mystery hidden for ages when it declares the purposes of God this way:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 

God permitted man to fall. He set up a system in which man could choose. God did not force Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. As a matter of fact, he gave them every reason not to, and warned them what would happen in they did. Man brought sin into the world and is alone responsible for it, but it was never outside of the power of God. He could have snapped the neck of the serpent. He could have consumed the tree in fire. But He didn’t. His plan was to use this horrible evil perpetuated by us for His glory. To use it to reveal to us who He is. The just and the justifier. He is  God, worthy of all praise, and His justice shows us the offense of sin and the magnitude of His holiness. But He is also justifier. His mercy shows us that He can take even the most broken defiled things and make them beautiful. He takes something as horrendous as sin and makes it the means by which He redeems. God allows us to suffer consequences for our sin but also He provides salvation from sin’s ultimate consequences.

 

Sin seperates us from God. He is holy, so we can no longer be in His presence. And holiness is not something you can earn. You can’t untear it. It is done. The moment that Adam, the representative for mankind, disobeyed, we were forever alienated from God as sinners. All of us. Not just a step away. Infinitely seperated, forever. No hope. No chance. Game Over. DONE. And so as we try to recreate the world, from the wisdom of our broken selves, apart from God, it is no wonder it’s all jacked up.

 

The Result

The more I study Genesis 1-3 and see how it fits in with the rest of the Bible, the more I am able to make sense of all of the senseless violence and suffering that I see. The results of the fall are all around us today. When we break the relationship with God, it leads to the breakdown of every other relationship. We see this in Genesis 3.

 

The first thing that happens upon consumption of the fruit is shame. It says: Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Now this is not going to be a call for a new kind of church sans clothes, because as we see later, God makes clothes for them. But what this represents is a loss of innocence. If you remember, the way that the Bible describes the perfection of the marriage relationship is: they were naked and unashamed. So this isn’t just about clothes, but about a complete submission to one another, a relationship that imaged the love of the Trinity. And now that was TORN.

 

We see this more fully when God approaches Adam to ask, What have you done? Adam’s answer shows that sin did not just cause the one to become two, but that these two parts have issues. He says, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. There is animosity between them. Adam refuses to own up to the part he has played in this. He wants to cast the blame elsewhere. To make himself look better by heaping the responsibility and guilt elsewhere. They are very separate at this point.

 

They are separate because they have pursued their own idea of relationship over God’s. Under God’s protection, they had lived in harmony. And now, God says to Eve, Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. This is not a good desire spoken of. Instead, God is saying that the created role of husband, head of the family (which we have seen from God’s direct interaction with Adam on the covenant), will be desired by the wife. That she will want to lead her husband, as she did here in Genesis, rather than helping him to lead in love. Likewise, the husband will not act as the loving head, graciously nurturing his wife, but will rule over, in sinful dominance. This will create abusive relationships, loveless marriages, and divorce. It will spawn hundreds of thousands of books, support counseling salaries, and give Dr. Phil a career (yes, Dr. Phil is a result of sin). And millions of Christians will sit in despair and wonder, why is this happening to me? I tried to be a good Christian. I want to be a good husband/good wife. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

 

And so we come back to the struggle we started with. And while we looked at how this affects the marriage relationship, sin permeates all of life. It bends every part of God’s good world. This is the doctrine of total depravity. The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now, Paul tells us, referencing the curse in Genesis. Every aspect, of every part of our lives is off, torn from its original goodness by sin. The battle inside us rages, and no one is free from its damaging effects. So what are we to do, sit in despair? Try to fix it? 

 

The verse we started the sermon with ends this way: Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  

 

The reality of our sin must not drive us to despair, but drive us to the cross. At the cross, God reconciles us back to Himself, so that we can begin to bring all of our other relationships back into alignment. In His word, He gives us a picture of His divine plan, the world as it was created to be. In Jesus, the second Adam, we are given a way back to Him.

 

Another pastor, J Gresham Machen, summed up Genesis 3 this way:

 

He sought to attain knowledge, and lost the knowledge of good;

He sought to attain power, and lost his own soul;

He sought to become as God, and when God came to him in the garden he hid himself in shameful fear.

 

It is a sad story indeed. But it is the beginning and not the end of the Bible. The first chapters of the Bible tell us of the sin of man. The guilt of that sin has rested upon every single one of us, its guilt and its terrible results; but that is not the last of the Bible. The Bible tells us not only of man’s sin; it also tells us of something greater still; it tells us of the grace of the offended God.

 

That is why we come here together every week, to remember all parts of the story. Today we have focused on the TORN relationship, but over the next two weeks we get to focus on what God has done and is doing to bring us back to Himself. Today as we come forward for communion, I hope we receive it with:

1. a stronger sense of our own sin.

2. a more complete knowledge of why the death of Jesus was necessary

3. a greater understanding of the grace of our offended God, who came in love for a people who were absolutely unworthy.

More in Easter 2011: TORN

April 24, 2011

Easter 2011: Torn Curtain

April 22, 2011

Easter 2011: Torn Son

April 17, 2011

Easter 2011: Torn Glory