Posted in Grace

In Spite of Our Sin: God’s Graciousness through Christ Jesus to All

Many are familiar with the following biblical text:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten [i.e., unique; one and only] Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John 3:16; KJV

The phrase “so loved the world” raises the question of who or what? Does the phrase mean all mankind? If so, then in what sense? Or does the phrase refer to the whole created order; in other words, all the earth and those things contained therein? Again, if so, then in what sense?

In the general sense I believe that the phrase refers to all creation. God created all things in six days (approx. 24-hour periods of time; YOM), and His evaluation of His creation is that it was “very good.” There is no question that the sin of His creatures marred it, but in the sense of consequential cursing. In God’s judgment of His fallen creatures, He removed a portion of the blessing He had bestowed in order to all suffering and pain and death to be the burden to be bore by His representatives.

This does not mean that creation became evil. The grass of the field is not evil. The warming rays of the sun is not evil. But the intention of man’s heart is. The experience of thorns and thistles, of disease and death is; in the sense of being a reminder of what was lost in the garden. A constant ringing in our ears that we are not God and our will in opposition against His is unholy and unrighteous. The exclamation point on this reality is this… “we all die.” We are not self-sustaining for we are, by nature, finite.

The verse above is a reminder of that truth. Apart from God we perish. But if our faith rests in Him alone, then we shall live. And yet, God is still gracious because of Christ Jesus to all the earth regardless. Something Dr. Gary North does an apt job explaining to his readers,

“His Son’s representative death is the basis of all God’s gifts to mankind in history. Grace is an unearned gift, meaning a gift earned by Christ at Calvary and given by God to all men in history. Christ’s restitution payment serves as the basis of common grace to covenant-breakers in history and special grace to covenant-keepers in history and eternity. The words of Christ on the cross are the basis of common grace in history: ‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23.34). Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but Jesus Christ grants grace to the ignorant anyway. He paid God’s price; He suffered God’s sanctions; so He has the right to grant temporal (common) forgiveness on no terms at all, and eternal (special) forgiveness on His own terms.”1

Gary North, Tools of Dominion, 286-7

1Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), 286-287, PDF e-book. Emphasis in italics in original.

Posted in Grace

Why Effectual Grace is often Mislabeled Forceful Coercion Rather than Deliverance

In my last post we began looking at a common rebuttal (knee-jerk reaction) to the concept of God giving grace (a gift) in the sense of regeneration. When it comes to the subject of regeneration—to which saving grace specifically speaks—there are two schools of thought within Christian circles. The first states that regeneration must come after faith. The second argues that faith is a byproduct of regeneration (i. e. Logical order; blinded eyes need healed before they can see). In other words, the debate is centered on whose activity—God or man—is primary (takes precedent) and whose is secondary?

To be fair, those who hold to a position different than Reformed theology (my own) would more than likely identify God as the primary mover when it comes to salvation. They would point to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the Holy Spirit after the Lord’s ascension to the Father’s right hand as the grounds on which an individual’s salvation stands or falls. Without this act of “grace” on God’s part, no one would be saved.

So far, so good. At a glance, it appears there is not much of difference between the two camps (i.e. Reformed and non). However, this is not the case.

The Point of Contention

The Non-Reformer (a.k.a. non-Calvinist) argues that if grace is truly grace (a gift), then God must offer it and we must actively reach for it. Salvation comes down to a matter of choice for the fallen creature. God did the groundwork, but the person must put the finishing touches on it. In other words, man has the final say in choosing or rejecting the grace of God found in Christ. As noted in the following statement by Norman Geisler:

  • “In short, it is God’s ultimate and sovereign will that we have free will to resist His will that all be saved.”[i]

This is called synergism, where salvation is seen as a cooperative effort of God and the creature. God does the majority of the work (the heavy lifting), but the finale is decided by the person who wills.

Herein lies the point of contention. They reject the concept of grace being a gift, if God does not consider the choice of the individual in question. If God changes a person’s heart without asking whether or not they want it, then that action of God (regardless of what adjectives we place before it—i.e. good, loving, etc.) is seen as nothing more than forceful coercion. This makes it a violation of the sanctity of the person in question, from their point of view.[ii] If you are not Reformed, you believe this from some degree to another.

An Argument over the Condition of Mankind Post-Fall

The reason for this accusation of force or coercion is tied to how one views the state of mankind. Depending on how serious the consequences of Adam’s rebellion is viewed, determines where one sets his flag.  While the synergistic camp agrees that salvation necessarily needs to be based on the person’s decision, they differ on how this is actually accomplished.

Classical Arminianism holds to the doctrine of prevenient grace[iii]—a preventive measure that heals the will of fallen man. Not entirely, but the grip of sin’s dread curse is loosened just enough that the person is free to respond positively to the gospel call. Well, that is, if they will it.

Another position (the traditionalist? What I’d call the naturalist)[iv], which is gaining ground in some circles, is the idea that man’s will is not affected by sin to the point that he/she cannot choose between the good or the bad. Man is not so sinful that he/she is not able. If he/she desires it, whatever that desire might be, then that is what they do.

Synergistic thought dabbles along this broad spectrum. Prevenient grace acts like a dam that holds back the river of sin, allowing us to see the gospel of Jesus as a precious gift. Or, you’ve been created with a capacity that is impossible to have been tarnished, harmed or maimed by the fall in the garden. The first attempts to deal with sin, biblically defined, seriously. The other leans on her daddy Pelagius for comfort.

Helping Identify the Reason for Disagreement over the term Gift

While I strongly disagree with these positions I can at least understand where in the world the charge of “force or coercion” comes from; when, it is stated that regeneration must come first, before faith, as a logical step in the gracious activity of God. The Synergist believes, they have the ability to choose. If God does not ask them—when they can make the decision on their own—then this amounts to an instance brute force.

So when it is said with a bit of sarcasm that this form of grace (i.e. the Reformed understanding) is comparable to, “…patients [being] dragged kicking and screaming into the operating room, but once they are given a head transplant, they (not surprisingly) feel like an entirely different person!”[v] I am able to see what drives this conclusion.

Geisler charges, that irresistible grace “force[s]…a person from not loving Christ to loving Christ. Hence, irresistible love is forced love. And forced ‘love’ is not love at all.”[vi]  Why, because it removes the choice of the fallen man.

From the Reformed position this is why God’s grace (irresistible/effectual grace) is necessary. Apart from saving grace the individual is left in sin. The natural human condition leaves him in a position of hopelessness.

However, the synergist views such activity by God on an individual as not loving, but the work of a power-hungry monster that makes the poor little fella do what he doesn’t want to do. Comparable to a man on his porch enjoying the view, but then being attacked by an angry nest of hornets. In case you don’t see the connection, God is viewed as the angry nest of hornets forcing the man to do what he doesn’t want. Even though the man chooses to go inside, Geisler thinks “…this…was not a truly free choice. He was coerced into doing it.”[vii]

Not Liking the Options Makes it a Fake Choice?

I’ve already revealed my disagreement with Geisler’s conclusion. He says it wasn’t really a free choice, but why? Because there were other mitigating factors that motivated the man on the porch to make his decision. Geisler writes, “…Free will demands that the act is not coerced, whether externally or internally.”[viii] Says who? Geisler or God? He concludes, “This is in accord with what both good reason and a proper understanding of Scripture teach.”[ix]

Umm…that’s just blatantly false. Reason, which I’m guessing he’s speaking to some extent in light of human experience, and the Scriptures teach very clearly that there are always mitigating factors (both internally and externally) that determine human choices. Do those factors remove the reality of free choices? Did they do so for the man on the porch in Dr. Geisler’s analogy? No, on both counts.

The man freely chose to do as he desired. Originally, that desire was to enjoy the view from his porch, but factors changed that and he preferred in the end to preserve his life. Though, I’m pretty sure Geisler didn’t intend the analogy to be used in this way, he unwittingly provided the grounds for proving what he denies.

**Pause for just a moment please…

  • Before I move on, I want to debunk a myth that is deeply entrenched in Christian-American thought. Man is not born in a morally neutral position towards his/her Creator. Neutrality is false in apologetic reasoning, and it is false in theological reasoning. There is no neutral ground between God and man. The Bible does not teach that anywhere. This is why analogies like the drowning man or the sick woman fail. Our disposition towards God (Father/Christ/Holy Spirit) is tyrannical rebellion, not objective reasoning. Please, if you are convinced otherwise, show me the text (contextually) that states it!

**Back to the Analogy…

Now Geisler’s analogy shows us one person who is confronted with two options. The first is geared towards pleasure seeking (enjoying the view from the porch). The second is geared towards self-preservation (fleeing from the angry hornets). This is a wonderful picture of fallen mankind.

Fallen People Love? This Causes Them to What?

What do sinners love above all else? Their sin (e.g. Jer 14.10; Prov 8.36; Matt 6.24). This is demonstrated in what they pursue daily throughout their lives. As sinners, we constantly seek gratification for the flesh. How that gratification is sated depends upon the person’s idol of choice. For some this is false religion, others it is power, wealth and social status, and yet still others turn to family (spouses or children) to worship, or drugs, alcohol, sex, food, animals, nature, etc. Many are the ways that sinful man gratifies his pleasure seeking self.

But above all else, fallen mankind seeks to preserve his/her own life. Self-preservation is the chief way in which sinners attempt to be like God. They want to know good and evil, and God is evil! We see many expressions of this in our society today.

My only point is that when the man was confronted with a danger to himself, his primary desire at that point shifted from pleasure seeking to live preserving. His choice was real, it was freely made, even though it was beset by mitigating factors in the decision-making process.

What is ironic, I think, is that Geisler (and those like him) fail to see that the gospel is not a sweet-smelling savor to all people (cf. 2 Cor 2.16). To fallen mankind the gospel is very much like the hornets in the story.

“Kris, why would you say that?” My answer to you is this,

  • “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed” (John 3.19-20; HCSB).

People love darkness, people love their sin and the light is offensive to them. They prefer to preserve their lives rather than be brought into the light. The gospel is beautiful to those who are not perishing, not to those who are.

Who are the perishing ones? Anyone who has not been born-again.

Not and Invitation, but a Command

It is the natural state of mankind to flee from the gospel, because the gospel is a violation of what they hold dear—both their sin and existence. The gospel is not a flowery invitation, but a command of repentance:

  • “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17.30).

To the unbeliever the gospel of God, of Jesus Christ, is comparable to a nasty hornet’s nest (e.g. Exod 23.28). God does not plead with us by wringing His hands like a wishful mother. The command to repent means to throw down your arms! To stop your rebellion! To bow the knee and submit to Christ’s/God’s will! Acknowledge that He is King or face the dire consequences of your betrayal!

The self-preserving nature of fallen man immediately recognizes his/her enemy. They refuse to change their mind and instead flee to the darkness from which they came. This individual willfully chooses this option over bending the knee and acknowledging the authority of another over them.

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…[which] is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.5a, 6a, 7-8).

Thus, the need for God’s effective grace. Doing for the sinner what he can’t, what he won’t do for himself/herself. Delivering us from…well…ourselves.

ENDNOTES:

[i] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1999], 2001), 98.

[ii] Ibid, 96-101.

[iii] Roger E. Olson identifies prevenient grace as the source of human libertarian free will. Saying prevenient “…grace…precedes and enables the first stirrings of a good will toward God.” Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 20.

John Wesley stated that “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him.” John Wesley, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” in The Works of John Wesley: Sermons 1 &2, Vol 5-6, Reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 6.509.

Nazarene theologian W.T. Purkiser explains prevenient grace in this way: “Salvation is by the grace of God, but it is not restricted to a group arbitrarily limited by an unconditional election. It is for all men. Through the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ all men, not merely the elect are given a gracious (as opposed to natural) ability to hear and heed the gospel…Prevenient grace, then, enables the sinner, otherwise dead in trespasses and sins, to hear the gospel call, repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.” W. T. Purkiser, Exploring Christian Faith (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1960), 272.

[iv] I realize that the term “naturalist” may have a different connotation than I am assigning it. To be clear, I am not talking about a person who thinks that nature is all there is or a person who steers clear of processed foods. In using this term, I am merely tying it to the belief that Adam’s original created condition is still the natural condition. The fall, while changing some things (what exactly, I’m not sure?) did not affect the internal nature of mankind when it came to be capable of choosing good or evil. From the little that I have read on the “traditionalist” this seems to be the natural state that they believe mankind is in. Therefore, the label naturalist.

[v] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 99, 100.

[vi] Ibid, 100.

[vii] Ibid, 186.

[viii] Ibid, 187.

[ix] Ibid, 187.

Posted in Grace

Common Rebuttals on Giving without Consent: Isn’t that just Forceful Coercion?

Knee-jerk reactions are common when the subject matter in question is either misunderstood, found offensive to the hearer, or alien to their personal view of reality. A common reaction that occurs with a discussion on the word “gift.” In biblical language, a gift of God is synonymous with grace.

“Grace” refers to the unearned, unmerited favor of the Creator bestowed upon the creature. Grace[i] is something freely given by God to mankind; an undeserved mercy that He is not required to give. While, it is true that there are differences in how this grace is distributed, the point is that it begins with God not with man. Grace is an activity (action) of the Creator with mankind as the recipient (receiver).

NO, NO, Grace Can’t Mean That!

The knee-jerk reaction is in response to what it means to “receive a gift.” The respondent who is eager to argue against the biblical position will say things like, “If I do not get to choose to receive (take) the gift, then it is not a gift. If you mean the ‘receiving of the gift’ is something that God must do for me, then it is not a gift but coercion. If I do not will to actively receive the gift, then I it is being forced upon me! Calvinism’s God forces Himself upon the unwilling, and I’ll have none of that…thank you very much!”

My understanding, sympathies and even empathy with that position aside, the fact remains that to receive something may be accomplished in either the active or passive sense. This is effectively demonstrated in the Gospel According to John as I have been arguing (here 1st  here 2nd  ,here 3rd). In the same way a gift is acquired either actively or passively.

I must admit that I find it strange when someone claims that a “gift is not a gift if I did not receive (actively) it.” Like a Christmas present. Or to argue that “if I receive (passively) something from God without my permission (i.e. my active choice), it is a violation of who I am (i.e. my will).” Like the rain. In that case, it is said, it is not a gift but an act of force/coercion.

Did I choose my life? No. But was it a gift? Yes. Did it require my approval? No.

“But you couldn’t give your approval, because you were not yet born!” True, but my point is that does not remove the fact of us calling it a gift from God and our parents. I suppose you could say that it was forced upon you—since you didn’t ask—but your reasoning will not change reality. Life is a gift, it comes from God and He does not ask our permission beforehand.

Illustrations from Experience and Scripture…

Hold your knees for a moment! Before you attempt to squirm your way out of that remember all I’m attempting to establish is that there are times when a gift is a gift regardless of our choice. Take for example my little sister.

When we were young, we moved to Colorado Springs, CO. Our family took a trip to the top of Pikes Peak. My parents were preoccupied with something (could have been my other sister), but I was the only one paying attention when my little sister stepped passed a safety line. I don’t know how far of a drop it was, but even now as I think of it my fingers sweat…it was pretty steep. Immediately, I grabbed the back of her coat and yanked her back to safety. In that moment I had given a gift to my sister—life—and I didn’t ask her permission or give her a choice in the matter. I took the initiative and acted where she, as a toddler, was too stupid to do so. Does her lack of “choice” (active receiving) somehow lesson the fact that she was given a gift? No.

What about a debtor whose debt is too high to pay back? He is incapable of paying back what he owes, though he is responsible for doing so. His life is forfeit. The judgment is set. However, the one to whom the debt is owed gives mercy to the debtor forgiving the debt he was responsible for, but unable to pay. Is that a gift? Yes. Did the debtor ask for it? No, but it was granted to him nonetheless.[ii]

I suppose if you still want to argue, which is highly likely since the issue is not how we define the word (i.e. in context) but rather with what you want to believe, you may say to me: “Yes, but if your sister knew the danger she would have asked for aid. If the debtor thought the Judge would be merciful, he’d have begged to erase his debt.” The problem is that my sister was unaware of the danger and so such choosing was beyond her capacity. Likewise, the debtor was unaware that the Judge would ever be so lenient, so gracious towards him, and so he did nothing and it was credited to him instead.

Counter Arguments…

A gift is defined by the giver, not the recipient. An act of merciful grace is not coercion, but doing for one what they are incapable of doing for themselves (cf. John 8.36).  Still there will be some that calls such “gifting” forceful coercion.

The thoughts of the late Norman Geisler provide an excellent example of such thinking. He wrote,

  • “Forced freedom, whether of good or evil, is contrary to the nature of God as love and contrary to the God-given nature of human beings as free. Forced freedom is a contradiction in terms…no matter how well the act of ‘irresistible grace’ is hidden by euphemistic language, it is still a morally repugnant concept.”[iii]

What Geisler is here arguing against is the idea that God gives fallen creatures a new heart[iv] (removing a heart of stone, giving a heart of flesh), what is often referred to as regeneration or being born-again, so that the individual in question might respond appropriately to the Lord. He finds that activity of God, if it is true, to be an extreme violation against creaturely will; comparable to dragging them kicking and screaming against their will. Later on, in his book he offers an interesting analogy to illustrate his point.

He writes of a man on his porch enjoying the mountainous scenery, but being set upon by a hornet’s nest forced to seek safety indoors. He writes, “…this…was not a truly free choice. He was coerced into doing it.”[v] I guess God graciously acting for the fallen creature is comparable to a nasty nest of hornets besetting the semi-innocent by stander? While, I don’t believe Geisler’s illustration has the force he thought it did, it does prove a position that he tenaciously denies (which we’ll work through in the near future).

You see, the person who desires to sit upon the porch to take in the visually appealing view is confronted with a choice. If he stays outside to view what he desired, his mortal life will be threatened by the angry hornets. Thus, he is then presented with two choices. One pertaining to pleasure, the other geared toward self-preservation. They are real choices driven by an internal will.

Though the hornets are a mighty force to behold, the man could stubbornly refuse to go inside. He’ll suffer greatly for it, for the wrath of angered hornets is not to be trifled with, but the choice is still before him. The other option is to protect what is truly valuable to him—his own skin. So, while the choice to go inside to safety may not be as pleasurable as enjoying the beautiful view of God’s creation, it is more pleasurable than receiving many stings from a dangerous opponent that can end your life. He still made the choice, no one forced or coerced him to do it.

Not liking the choices, is not the same as not having a choice. Just because the term “gift” is not couched in language you are comfortable with, doesn’t mean it becomes less than a gift. A kidnap victim may sympathize with their captor (Stockholm syndrome), but that does not mean a person who frees them from the situation is not acting graciously towards them. You could say the same about a person in an abusive relationship. The abused may see it as a violation to free them from the situation, but isn’t that activity of “saving” them a gift nonetheless? One would have to be pretty foolish to argue in opposition to this, but people do.

We’ll look at why the do in upcoming posts…

God Bless!

ENDNOTES:

[i] P. E. Hughes defines grace as “…undeserved blessings freely bestowed on humans by God—a concept that is at the heart not only of Christian theology but also of all genuinely Christian experience.” Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic [1984], 2001), 519.

[ii] This narrative is illustrated by Jesus when speaking on the subject of forgiveness (Matt 18.22-35). The debtor owes his Master what he is incapable of paying. He cannot pay the debt, so he asks for more time. The Master grants to forget his debt. The debtor did not ask for forgiveness, but time. What the parable proves is that though the Master is gracious to forgive debts owed to Him, the man in question was really wicked at heart because he was unwilling to forgive those who owed him. Only those who call on the Lord with a humble and contrite heart will be forgiven, but only true disciples of Christ are capable of demonstrating such a spirit. The rest are left facing judgment.

[iii] Norman L. Geisler, Chose But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1999], 2001), 98, 99.

If you’re interested in the counter view to this work check out: James R. White. The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free. Revised Ed. Calvary Press. 2009.

[iv] There are various other ways that Scripture identifies the fallen state of the children of Adam. Making necessary God’s action to change them so that people might respond appropriately to His Law-Word—i.e. blinded-eyes, lame, leprous, deaf, unclean lips, slave and dead. NOTE: None of these conditions can be changed physically by a movement of creaturely will, neither can they be changed spiritually by that method. Therefore, God acts (graciously) to transform them.

[v] Geisler, Chose But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 186.

Posted in Covenant, dominion, Genesis 1-3, gospel, Grace, Theology

God’s Covenant with Adam

Today, I want to take what we learned about the five-point covenantal outline found (used) in Scripture and apply it to God’s covenantal relationship with Adam. This is often denoted the Covenant of Works by Reformed theologians and other orthodox teachers of the past. Some deny that there ever was a covenant between God and Adam due to the lack of “I will make a covenant with you…” type language, but this is an unfortunate misunderstanding. God did not say to Adam, “I will make a covenant with you…,” at least that we can know of. Rather, God created the first man in a covenantal relationship with Him. The entirety of Scripture confirms that God is a covenantal God, and so it would be an error on our part to assume that the concept of “covenant” came later as almost an afterthought.

As way of reminder the five-point covenant outline disclosed by Ray R. Sutton1 is as follows:

  1. Transcendence/immanence—God is distinct (transcendent) from His creation and yet personally present (immanence).
  2. Hierarchy/Representation—God is the ultimate authority as Creator (hierarchy) and He has created Image Bearers to Mirror Him (representation).
  3. Ethics/Law—God has the right to set the standard of how His creatures ought to live (Ethics), and He has established these moral precepts (Laws) which reflect His Holy heart.
  4. Sanctions/Blessing or Cursing—God as Judge with execute judgment (sanctions), giving good (blessing) to the obedient and bad (cursing) to the disobedient creatures He has made.
  5. Continuity/Inheritance—God promises either life or death (continuity), and our reaction to our Creator affects our future (inheritance) both temporally and eternally.

While, I find the above helpful I think that seeing them in question format makes it a bit easier to see their logical layout:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who represents God?
  3. What are God’s laws?
  4. What are His sanctions?
  5. Who will inherit?2

What we find in the opening chapter of Genesis is that everyone of these points is touched upon.

Point One—Who is God? The Transcendent Personal Creator God

The Bible does not attempt to prove God, but assumes Him from the very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen1.1).3 Here we find point one answered, God is the Creator of all things. He transcends His creation because He is distinct from it. He is not a part of creation in a pantheistic sense for He spoke it into existence (cf. Gen 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; Psa 33.6, 9; 148.5).

And yet, we find that God not only transcends His creation, He shares a personal affinity towards it (immanence); part 2 of point 1. He is directly involved with it personally. This is demonstrated in a variety of ways. First, He puts His personal blessings on everything He made. When the Lord made the creatures of the air, land and sea He blessed them, gave them food and told them to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Gen 1.22, 29-30). Secondly, we find this personal aspect of God’s interaction with His creation in the forming of Adam.

First we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man…So God created man…male and female he created them. And God blessed them.” (Gen 1.26a, 27a & c, 28a). In Genesis 2 we are given more details regarding this creative act of God in making man on day 6 of creation.

“Then the Lord God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2.7). Catch this, the Lord not only formed the man from the very clay of this earth (the potted vessel), but He then breathes into this man the breath of life making this new creature of dirt a living being. Life, precious life comes from God, but the Lord is not done yet.

In the very next verse we read that “the Lord God [had] planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden…” (Gen 2.8-9a).

Again, we find the personal tenderness and care of this Creator God who though He is distinct (transcendent) from His creation, He goes to great lengths to make His presence known to His creatures in the way that He provides for them (life, blessing and purpose); and as we shall see in a bit, in the way He instructs them. God who created everything “very good” (Gen 1.31) took the man who He made last—distinct from all other life on the planet—and placed this man in a garden in Eden. The man’s own private sanctuary of joy and beauty, where he was to be reminded, and in light of this reminder, enjoys his Creator.

Point Two—Who represents God? God the Chief Hierarch and man His representative

Just as the Bible assumes the Triune God of creation, so too is His authority presupposed. “The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psa 113.4-6). “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…[for] Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isa 44.22, 15).

The Scriptures describe God as above all things and all other things (His own creation) as nothing. He alone has ultimate authority over all things. He alone is to be praised.

Yet, we find that God has established man as His representative. Not only did the Lord God create man in the beginning, but He made the man to mirror Him in all of life, giving him authority to rule over lesser creatures.

  • “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. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living that moves on the earth” (Gen 1.26-28).

The dominion or rule that God has given the man is to be done in a reflective manner after the Creator who created him (and her). Both genders, male and female, are the image bearers of God. They are both given the responsibility of displaying God’s likeness to the rest of creation. The subduing of the earth (v.28) and the dominion over the earth (v.26) is to be done in a godly fashion. Man was not created as an independent being, but a dependent creature. Much like a baby in the womb is dependent upon her mother via the umbilical cord, so too is the man and woman of God (His possession) to be so plugged into Him (i.e. dependency).

Point Three—What are God’s Laws? God’s Law/Ethics, His Instruction sets the Moral boundaries of His creatures

Because God has authority over mankind as the Transcendent Creator, and due to the fact that God has made mankind to image Him in the rest of creation, God necessarily sets the rules/codes of conduct. In short, God tells human beings how to think and live (act). We see this in the early details of Genesis 1-2.

God commands the man to be fruitful and multiple. They are to form family units and have babies in order to fill the earth (v.28). One of the things that ought to strike our attention is the detailed plot line in Genesis 2.

God formed the man first, and then the Lord began to bring various animals to the man on the sixth day, to see what he would name them. This was not pet naming as we do with cats and dogs, but classifying animals within their various kinds based upon their characteristics. God doesn’t do anything without a purpose behind it; so what’s the purpose here?

God knows things that His creatures do not—God is omniscient—and one of the things He knows early on day sixth is that “it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Gen 2.18). As Adam is naming the animals he no doubt notices that they have two genders, male and female. They have equal counterparts, but not so for him. Thus we are told in Gen 2:20, “But for Adam there was not a helper fit for him.” Adam learned this through God’s object lesson.

Therefore, once the lesson has sunk in the Lord performs the first surgery in history. He puts Adam into a deep sleep (by the way this is why/how anesthesia was invented) and takes some meat and bone from his side (Gen 2.21). From that flesh and bone the Lord forms the woman, and then after Adam is awake brings her to the man (Gen 2.22).

Notice Adam’s response: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2.23). In other words, Adam was so excited by this new gift of the Lord—a helper comparable to him—that he said “Woooo-man!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist a little humor here). In short, Adam learned what God already knew; God is seen forming Adam’s thinking, helping him determine what is good.

God also tells the man that he was created to work. He is given instruction (command/law) “to work it and keep” the creation given to him. Yes, it is, in a word, a paradise, but this is not a Sandal’s Resort. Adam cannot lazily lounge by the river drinking from a glass with an umbrella in it; he has been instructed to work, to exercise dominion (cf. Gen 1.26, 28). By the way, part of that instruction from the Lord in guarding (“keeping” means to build a hedge around it) what has been entrusted to him, is properly teaching and protecting his wife. Which, he does a poor job of doing as we see in Genesis 3.

The Lord also tells Adam what he is allowed to eat, and what he is not. Genesis 1:29-30 tells us that God gave all plant life for food. In Genesis 2:9 we see that God has created a wonderful orchard from which the man and woman may enjoy. However, in the middle of the garden the Lord put a “NO-TRESSPASSING” sign on one tree—The Tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2.9b). “This tree,” said the Lord “is off limits. You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.16b-17).

This particular tree did not have “special knowledge,” and no the man did not need to eat of it in order “to learn” what was good and bad. That knowledge had already been established when God said “No!” This law of God established the boundary line of what was “good and evil,” as in all the other thing that God had been doing this instruction was given in order to teach the man and woman how to think and act. They were God’s representatives, not their own.

Point Four—What are God’s Sanctions? God Blesses Obedience and Curses Disobedience

God is judge: “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Eccl 3.17). And, as judge God rewards faithfulness to His Law-Word, but promises negative acts of retribution to those who are unfaithful.

As long as Adam was obedient to the Law-Word of God he was promised Life. The other tree in the middle of the garden was the Tree of Life (Gen 2.9). Adam and his wife were not prohibited from eating from this tree.

If you remember in my last post I pointed out that the those in covenant with God in the O.T./N.T. (via circumcision/baptism), were allowed to eat at the table of the Lord. Both tables (Passover and Eucharist) symbolize life and blessing to the faithful. However, they also symbolize death and cursing. To attempt to partake of the Lords table in an unholy fashion promised separation from the goodness of God (cf. 1Cor 11.27-32).

Adam disobeyed the voice of the Lord. He disregarded the commands/instruction/law of his Creator, instead turning inwardly to the creature. He allowed the serpent to deceive his wife, he allowed his wife to coerce him to go against what he knew to be true, and in so doing he purposefully and willfully rebelled against his Creator in whose image he was made (cf. Gen 3.1-7; 17-19). The consequence is that the earth was cursed (Gen 3.17; Rom 8.19-22) as signified by “thorns and thistles” (Gen 2.18), and the days of man’s existence will be painful labor where eventually the body will waste away and return to the dust from which it came (Gen 3.19).

Point Five—Who will inherit? God Promises Temporal and Eternal Inheritances in light of one’s Reaction towards Him

The final judgment that day was being kicked out of the garden (cherubim were placed guarding it) and access was denied to the Tree of Life (Gen 3.22-24). That was the inheritance that Adam bought for his offspring. This is why Paul later says that all human beings in Adam were condemned as sinners (Rom 5.12, 18-19) and are therefore “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3; italics added). The Greek term for nature4 Paul uses here in his Ephesian letter, describing the fate of all mankind means by “birth, physical origin.” Therefore, we “were [born] dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). Adam’s sin purchased death (separation) from God. The umbilical cord, so to speak, was severed by his transgression, and as the representative head of the human race we are born into this world in that state.

Closing Remarks…

The good-news is found in the grace of God. Adam could not cover (atone) for his transgression, but God could. This image of covering is displayed in Genesis 3:21 when “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” They attempted to cover (atone; clothe) their nakedness (Hebrew for sin/shame) in Genesis 3:7, but what they couldn’t do for themselves the Lord did for them. Why? Because of the promise He gave in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This has nothing to do with fear of snakes, that’s just foolish superstitious belief, but it has everything to do with God’s promise to redeem and ransom and regenerate fallen mankind in Jesus Christ.

All in Christ receive eternal life (Matt 19.29; Rom 6.23) having been adopted back as God’s children (John 1.12-13; Rom 8.15; Gal 4.5). Every one of the points above is found demonstrated in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man. He acknowledged God as Creator (He knew His Father; cf. Luke 10.22; John 10.15), and He acknowledged God’s authority (John 8.28; 12.49) and therefore
perfectly imaged Him in all creation (cf. Col 1.15;Heb 1.3) by doing all that the Father commanded Him (cf. Matt 5.17; John 14.31; Heb 5.8) He was richly blessed (cf. Rom 9.5; also see Isa 9.6-7; Dan 7.13-14) and inherited for His offspring an unfailing inheritance (cf. 1Pet 1.4).

I have more to say, but your eyes need a rest…until next time.

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ENDNOTES:

1 Outline points taken from: Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion by Covenant, 3rd Printing (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1987], 1997).

2 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 92.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

4 5449
φύσις [phusis /foo·sis/] n f. Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

Posted in Christian Perspective, divine mercy, Grace

Traveling in Mirkwood: A tribute to God’s Grace

There is a scene in the Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins and the dwarven band of Thorin Oakenshield are found traversing through the forest of Mirkwood. This once beautiful forest is now under a heavy curse. The only way through this dark land is by following the path before them, for to stray to the right or the left (Josh 1.7; Prov 8.20) is to be caught in the clutches of despair and despondence. Those that stray from the path are confronted with the very real danger of being doomed. Death awaits all who under the curse, all who stumble along the way.

In the story written by J. R. R. Tolkien we find that this is precisely what happens to the would-be hero’s. Their heritage, strength and wit cannot save them (cf. 1Sam 2.9). Realizing just how dangerous the situation is before them, Biblo looks up towards heaven. The cursed trees shield the inhabitants of the land from the light. The light is a picture of salvation, for only in the light can one hope to find life. Bilbo’s struggling with an internal conflict between light and dark begins to climb the tree. When he reaches the top and breaks through the canopy of leaves, the rays of the sun hit his face. His mind is cleared and the way of life is fully revealed before him, for he now sees the path.

There is much truth hidden in this little passage of Tolkien’s work, and the way that Peter Jackson brought it to life on the big screen is helpful to those who have a hard time reading such tales; putting words into mental pictures. The curse of Mirkwood is very similar to the curse of the creation that we are living in. There is a path that has been placed before us. Someone has established the steps of life (Psa 37.23); of righteousness (i.e. the right way; Job 23.11). Unfortunately, we are all like Bilbo and the dwarven band of Thorin Oakenshield, we have all gone astray (Isa 53.6). The curse of death holds us in its grip (Eph 2.1-3).

Why was Bilbo able to recognize the predicament they were in, when nobody else could? How is it that Bilbo was able to identify the source of their salvation, their only hope of making it? What directed the heart of Bilbo to turn towards heaven and search for the light? That’s a very good question. It’s a question that we ought to be asking ourselves, when it comes to Jesus Christ. Why did any of us look to Him as our only source of salvation? Why is it that we yearn for and hope for His light to shine upon our ways, to reveal to us the path of life, to turn us to the path of righteousness?

Like Bilbo in the Hobbit, our heritage offers us no true advantage, our strength is not what prevails, and our wisdom does not deliver us…it is grace (1Cor 1.26-31). Grace is what turned the heart of Bilbo, just as grace is what turns the heart of fallen man. Grace is what enlightened his mind, waking him up to the danger. The curse worked against him making him forget where he had come from and where he was going. The curse sought to cover in a dark shroud the truth, but grace is what enlightened his eyes and changed the direction of his heart. Grace is what pointed him to heaven. And, grace is what caused the morning star to dawn in the deep recesses of his being.

  • 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 Christby grace you have been saved—and raised up with him and seated 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 of your doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2.5-10; emphasis added).

Notice, where the emphasis lies in these verses (actually throughout the whole letter). Who’s responsible for making us alive in Christ? God. Who is responsible for the grace we have received? God. Who is responsible for raising us up from the cursed death we are all under by nature (v. 5; cf. Eph 2.1-3)? God. And yet, who is responsible for the faith we now have in him? God. The emphasis is on God. His work, His grace, His mercy, His love, His creative acts, His good-works, His kindness is the reason for the result, not the other way around.

We live in the valley of death (Psa 23.4; Job 24.17), but there are moments when God allows us to peak our head through the curses foliage and see the wonderful life He has promised us (Luke 1.79). So today, whatever it is you are facing, remember who it is that is God. If you are experiencing a moment of reprieve—what we might call a mountain experience of blessing—then praise Him. If you are experiencing some time in the valley, then praise Him for that too. For in both cases, the heart of those who believe are enlightened with the truth…all things good and bad are used to draw us closer to Him in whom we were created to be dependent on (Eccl 7.14; James 5.13). In both types of circumstances we learn how to better enjoy our Lord, our King, our God.