Where the world comes to study the Bible

Lesson 6: Understanding Who We Are (Genesis 2:4-17)

Related Media

Henry Ford is reputed to have scoffed, “History is bunk!” But I am inclined to side with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who said, “When I want to understand what is happening today or try to decide what will happen tomorrow, I look back.” He also observed, “A page of history is worth a volume of logic” (in Peter’s Quotations [Bantam Books], p. 244). History helps us understand who we are by showing us where we have come from. This is even more true of the inspired history recorded in Scripture for our growth in godliness (Rom. 15:4).

Modern man suffers from an identity crisis. Science tells us that we descended from the apes by sheer chance. If you believe that interpretation of history, it will drastically affect the way you think and live. It cuts you off from a relationship with an all-wise, all-powerful Creator who made you in His image. It robs you of any significant meaning in life. It destroys any basis for hope for the future. If human beings are the product of random chance, the bottom line is, “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).

But that view fails to explain why we are different from the apes and other animals. It has no basis for explaining the fact, as Calvin puts it (citing Cicero), that there is “no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God.” As Calvin goes on to observe, even professing atheists at times “feel an inkling of what they desire not to believe” (Institutes of the Christian Religion [Westminster Press], I:III:1, 2). It is ironic that atheistic humanism, which claims to exalt man as the center of all things, actually degrades man as being merely the chance mutation from the apes. The biblical view of man, as presented in these early chapters of Genesis, explains both man’s unique difference from other animals, in that we are created in the image of God; and man’s perverse depravity, due to the historic fall of the human race into sin.

Critics have dismissed Genesis 2 as being a second, often contradictory, “creation myth,” added to chapter 1 by some editor. This view assumes that because of the different name used for God, Moses did not write chapter 2. It also implies that the man who pieced the two chapters together was lacking in intelligence since he did not notice the supposed discrepancies in the two accounts. But if we proceed on the assumption that Moses wrote it and that he was not stupid, it becomes evident that even apart from divine inspiration, it is a piece of skillful literature. Genesis 1 is the big picture; chapter 2 is the detail. Chapter 1 is a chronological account; chapter 2 is a logical account, designed to set the stage for the crucial events of chapter 3. H. C. Leupold says, “Practically everything written in chapter two definitely paves the way for chapter three” (Exposition of Genesis [Baker], 1:116).

The chapter should begin with verse 4 (the chapter breaks were added centuries later), which states, “This is the account of ....” It translates a Hebrew word used 10 times in Genesis to introduce new sections (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, [9]; 37:2), and means, “this is the history of.” It shows that the early chapters of Genesis are just as much history as the later chapters. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 give us the history “of the heavens and earth in the day when the Lord God made earth and heaven.” Thus we learn from the outset that the history of earth (man) is bound up with heaven (God). Genesis 2 helps us understand who we are and how to interpret our existence on earth. We must see ourselves in relationship to God and His creation.

Our text brings out three themes: (1) We are created by God to relate to Him; (2) God has given us productive work as the means of providing our basic need for food; and, (3) God has made us to be morally responsible to Him. A fourth theme of chapter 2, which we will explore next time, is that God has provided the institution of marriage for our good. Genesis 2:4-17 teaches that ...

God created us to relate to Him, to engage in productive work, and to be morally responsible to Him.

1. God created us to relate to Him.

Moses brings out this theme in several ways. One is the frequent use of Yahweh Elohim (“LORD God”). It is used 20 times in Genesis 2 & 3, but only one other time in the entire Pentateuch (Exod. 9:30) and less than 10 times in the other books of the Old Testament (Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans], by C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, 1:72; hereafter, K & D). It is obviously deliberate on the part of Moses to show that Yahweh, “who visited man in paradise, who punished him for the transgression of His command, but gave him a promise of victory over the tempter, was Elohim, the same God, who created the heavens and the earth” (K & D, p. 73).

Elohim comes from a word meaning “to fear,” and signifies “the highest Being to be feared.” It is a plural word which expresses “the notion of God in the fulness and multiplicity of the divine powers.... In this intensive sense Elohim depicts the one true God as the infinitely great and exalted One, who created the heavens and the earth, and who preserves and governs every creature” (ibid.).

Yahweh is God’s personal name as the covenant God of Israel. It is the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3:13-16). It comes from the Hebrew verb “to be,” so that God tells Moses His name is, “I am who I am.” It means that God is the self-existent, self-determining one, the absolute Being of all beings. It “includes both the absolute independence of God in His historical movements,” and “the absolute constancy of God, or the fact that in everything, in both words and deeds, He is essentially in harmony with Himself, remaining always consistent” (Oehler, quoted in K & D, p. 75). Since Yahweh is God’s personal name, it also points to Him as the God of our salvation (the above based on, K & D, 1:73-75).

Thus by linking these two names Moses is telling Israel that their God, the God of the covenant, who led them out of Egypt, is the same Creator God who made man and desires to bless all who obey Him. The God of creation is thus also the God of history and salvation, known by His people.

Another way Moses brings out the truth that we were created to relate to God is by showing the personal attention and deliberate care that God used in forming first Adam, then Eve. The picture (in 2:7) is that of a potter taking the clay and carefully molding it into “a living being.” While this term is also used of other animals (1:20, 21, 24, 30), it is used in a special sense here of man, directly receiving face-to-face the breath of God. This is not just air, but God’s vital, life-giving breath. Life didn’t happen by some accidental spark of lightning striking some primordial pond, starting a random process that, by sheer chance, some billions of years later, resulted in man. We were carefully designed by an incredibly intelligent God.

Think about the remarkable complexity of the human body. Physically, we are the result of two sets of 23 chromosomes which unite at conception. A single human chromosome contains twenty billion bits of information, which corresponds to about 500 million words, or two million pages. At 500 pages per book, this means that a single human chromosome is equal to about 4,000 volumes of information. We each have 46 chromosomes, or 184,000 volumes of 500 pages each! By way of comparison, the Flagstaff Public Library houses about 160,000 volumes in the downtown branch and in the two bookmobiles.

A person develops miraculously inside the mother’s womb, emerging 9 months later with more than 200 bones, each shaped with exquisite skill to perform its function. To the bones are attached 500 muscles, some large, some small, some obeying human will, others acting apart from human awareness. Our brain has over 10 billion nerve cells connected to the body by a complex nervous system. Our skin has more than two million sweat glands, about 3,000 per square inch, to automatically regulate body temperature. In addition, there are the circulatory, pulmonary, digestive, endocrine, and immune systems; the eye, the ear, the senses of smell, taste, and touch, and our complex emotional make-up, which allows us to feel joy and sadness, delight and disgust, love and hate.

But God created more than our physical bodies. Made of dust, man is related to the other animals (2:19). Made in the image of God, receiving life from God, man has personality and rational and moral capacities which distinguish him from other creatures and fit him for communion with God. That man was made from dust (not gold dust, powder of pearl, or diamond dust, as Matthew Henry observes [p. 14]) forbids pride; that he was made by God in His image reminds us of our high purpose, lost in the fall, but regained through Christ. We need to keep both in balance. As J. Vernon McGee notes, “We’re made of dust, and dust that gets stuck on itself is called mud.” A little boy came to his mother and said, “Mother, is it true that we are made from the dust and that after we die we go back to the dust?” “Yes,” she replied. “Well,” he said, “I looked under my bed this morning, and there’s someone either coming or going!”

A third theme in chapter 2 that shows that God made us to relate to Him is His goodness and care in preparing the earth for man and in supplying those things which are deficient, so that man has all that is needed. Verse 5 lists some deficiencies; verses 6-17 show God’s supply. Verse 18 shows man’s deficiency; verses 19-25, God’s supply. Everything surrounding Adam spoke of the goodness, care, and kindness of his Creator.

Some critics have said that the order of verses 5-8 contradicts the order of creation presented in chapter 1. Here man is seemingly created after the plants. But chapter 2 is not a chronological order, but a logical one. The plants referred to are not all the plants, but rather cultivated plants (“shrub of the field,” “plant of the field”). The text is only saying that plants which are cultivated by man for food were not yet planted by God in the garden, because man was not yet there to tend them. Apparently, God even had installed an automatic sprinkler system!

The location of the garden is described as “to the east, in Eden” (Eden means “delight”), to the east of the Sinai peninsula, where Moses wrote Genesis. Verses 10-14 describe four rivers which flowed out of the garden, two of which we can identify today. We can assume that the earth’s geography has changed sufficiently that we will never know the exact location. But it was somewhere in the area where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers begin (near eastern Turkey).

Some try to read all sorts of symbolic meanings into these verses, but I find such attempts highly subjective. But these verses tell us two things: First, the garden was not a mythical place. It could be located geographically. We’re not dealing with fairy stories, but with actual history. Second, to people trekking across the barren, hot Sinai peninsula, the description of four rivers watering the garden was surely a picture of God’s abundant provision for Adam before the fall. The barrenness of earth is due to man’s sin, not to God’s shortcoming. He created the earth as a beautiful place and put man here to relate to God.

So by these themes, Moses is saying that God created us to relate to Him as He has revealed Himself to us. But since the fall, we are alienated from God and unable to know Him in and of ourselves. God sent His Son Jesus, who is God in human flesh, to pay the penalty for our sin, to reconcile us to Himself, and to reveal God to us. If you do not have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, you cannot understand who you are or why you exist. But through Christ, you can!

2. God created us to engage in productive work.

Some people think of “Paradise” as a place where you lie in a hammock under a palm tree, never lifting a finger. But God planted a garden and put Adam there to cultivate it and keep it before the fall (2:15). God also assigned Adam the work of naming the animals (2:19-20), a “mental” job. Thus before the fall God gave man both physical and mental labor as legitimate enterprises. A Swedish proverb says, “God gives every bird his worm, but he does not throw it into the nest.” Even in paradise, Adam had to work for his food.

Work itself is not the curse; the curse involved the difficulty of working against the curse on creation (3:17-19). Even though we work under the curse, there is value in working to provide for our basic needs. Working with your hands is no less dignified than working with your mind. Both are legitimate, God-given forms of labor which are necessary for sustaining human life. To slaves, whose work was menial at best, Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:23-24). Whether you are a janitor or rocket scientist, a housewife or doctor, you can take legitimate satisfaction in the work God has given you to do.

A few years before the fall of Communism, a joke was going around Moscow about two workmen with shovels. One worker would dig a hole every 20 feet along the street. The second worker would come along behind him and fill up the hole, and the process was repeated. A man watching them shouted, “Comrades, what are you doing? You dig a hole, then the other fellow fills it up. You’re wasting the Party’s money!”

“You don’t understand,” one of the workers replies. “Usually we work with a third fellow, Mikhail, but he’s home drunk today. I dig the hole, Mikhail sticks in the tree, and Dimitri here puts the dirt back in the hole. Just because Mikhail is drunk doesn’t mean that Dimitri and I have to stop working.”

Hopefully, your work isn’t that futile! God created us to engage in productive work, and there is satisfaction in doing your work well as unto the Lord. I like how Matthew Henry expresses Adam’s work in the garden, “while his hands were about his trees, his heart might be with his God” (p. 17). He further observes, “As we are not allowed to be idle in this world, and to do nothing, so we are not allowed to be wilful, and do what we please” (p. 17). This is the third theme of Genesis 2:

3. God created us to be morally responsible to Him.

Verse 9 gives the first hint of the test with which Adam was to be confronted: the presence of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The direct command is in verses 16-17: Adam can eat from any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the day he eats from it, he will die. The presence of these trees show that man, by creation, has a spiritual side. They also reveal that God alone knows what is good and not good for man. James Boice observes, “The presence of this tree would have reminded Adam that he was not his own god and that he was responsible at all times to his maker” (Genesis [Zondervan], 1:104).

God has built certain principles into His universe, and we violate them to our peril. When you tell your child not to touch the stove or he will be burned, you are not threatening him, but lovingly warning him. Out of kindness, God told Adam for his own good that he must make the proper choice when it came to this tree. It was a reasonable test, since God gave permission to eat of every tree except this one (2:16). But banning this one tree made Adam and Eve morally accountable to God. Moral responsibility undergirds all of life and always has consequences.

What was this tree? I think it was literal fruit to which God gave certain spiritual properties. But in what sense was it the knowledge of good and evil? Isn’t it a good thing to know good and evil? Why would God want Adam and Eve not to know this?

Ray Stedman (Understanding Man [Word Books], p.35) points out that when they ate the fruit, they would know good and evil as God does (3:5, 22). God knows good and evil, not by experience (He cannot experience evil), but by relating it to Himself. That which is consistent with God’s nature is good; that which is contrary to it is evil. But only God can do that. Stedman says, “The creatures of God’s universe are made to discover the difference between good and evil by relating all to the Being of God, not to themselves. When man ate of the fruit he began to do what God does--to relate everything to himself.... When man began to think of himself as the center of the universe, he became like God. But it was all a lie. Man is not the center of the universe, and he cannot be” (pp. 35, 36).

This is essentially John Calvin’s understanding. He argues (Commentary, p. 20) that the tree was prohibited so that man might not trust in his own understanding, cast off the yoke of God, and make himself the judge of good and evil. He states (p. 23), “Therefore, abstinence from the fruit of one tree was a kind of first lesson in obedience, that man might know he had a Director and Lord of his life, on whose will he ought to depend, and in whose commands he ought to acquiesce. And this, truly, is the only rule of living well and rationally, that men should exercise themselves in obeying God.” So by eating of this fruit, man substituted his own finite self as the standard of right and wrong, replacing God’s perfect Being as the standard.

When man sinned, the result was death. In the Bible, death is not cessation of existence, but separation. Adam was immediately separated from God, as chapter 3 reveals. Also, the process of physical death was set in motion. If Adam had eaten of the tree of life, apparently he would have lived in his body forever, even after the fall (the implication of 3:22). But God removed that choice by taking man from the garden and sealing its entrance. Since Adam and Eve’s fateful choice, death (both spiritual and physical) has dominated human history. And, since the fall, all men are bound by sin, unable to please God and unable to come to God apart from His sovereign grace (Rom. 8:7-8; 9:15-18).

Conclusion

Years ago the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, who did much to shape modern liberal theology, was sitting alone on a bench in a city park as an old man. A policeman, thinking he was a vagrant, came over and shook him and asked, “Who are you?” Schleiermacher replied sadly, “I wish I knew.”

If you cut yourself off from the historical truths revealed in Genesis 2, that you are a being created by God to relate to Him, to engage in productive work, and to be morally responsible to the Creator, you do not know who you really are. Jesus Christ came to save us from the curse of sin and death. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). Through Christ you come to know the eternal God. And, in knowing God, you come to understand who you are, why you were created, and how you should live.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the doctrine of creation essential to knowing God?
  2. Should we seek fulfillment through our work? Can a house maid be as enthralled with her work as a surgeon?
  3. Why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Why did He give men the option of sinning?

Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Creation, Man (Anthropology), Worldview

Lesson 7: God’s Design for Marriage (Genesis 2:18-25)

Related Media

Some of you made the mistake of buying your children toys for Christmas that had the ominous words on the box, “Some assembly required.” Of those who did that, a few--very few--read through the directions completely as instructed before you began to assemble the toy. The rest of you thought, “I can figure this out,” and plunged in. But not many of you got the thing assembled without having to dig out the instruction manual!

Marriage comes with the label, “Much assembly required!” It takes a lifetime of work to put it together the right way. Most of us plunged in without carefully reading the instruction manual, confident that we could figure it out. But we quickly get into trouble and frequently need to read and re-read the manufacturer’s instructions. Most of the problems we get into in marriage can be traced to our neglect of reading and obeying God’s instructions.

Early in Genesis we find God’s design for marriage (Gen. 2:18-25). This text describing the original marriage is the basis for almost everything else the Bible says about marriage. It explains God’s reason for designing marriage and also gives us many principles which, if applied, will enable us to build marriages which honor God and bring lasting joy to us. The text teaches us that:

God designed marriage to meet our need for companionship and to provide an illustration of our relationship with Him.

The name used for God, translated “LORD [Yahweh] God” (2:18, 19, 21, 22) emphasizes His covenant relationship with His people. Genesis 1 refers to God as “Elohim,” emphasizing His power as the Creator. Genesis 2 refers to Him as the LORD God, showing that the powerful Creator is also the personal God who cares for His creatures. This caring, personal God knew that the man He created had a need, and so He took action to meet that need.

1. God designed marriage to meet the human need for companionship.

When you read Genesis 1 & 2, the words of 2:18 hit abruptly: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Throughout chapter one, God surveys His work and pronounces it good (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This is the first time God says that something in His creation is not good: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Think about it: Here’s a sinless man, in perfect fellowship with God, in a perfect environment. What more could you want? Isn’t that enough? Not according to God! God’s evaluation was that the man needed a human companion to correspond to him.

Sometimes super-spiritual people say that if you’re lonely, there must be something wrong with your spiritual life. But God acknowledges our need not only for fellowship with Him, but also with a life partner. This is not to say that every person needs to be married. Everyone spends many years of life as a single person. God has called some to remain single (1 Cor. 7:7-9). Nor is it to say that marriage will meet all our needs for companionship. Married people need friends of the same sex. But it is to say that a main reason God designed marriage was to meet the human need for companionship. First, we must affirm:

A. God designed marriage.

That means that He knows best how it should operate. His Word gives us the principles we need for satisfying marriages. Since God designed marriage, it takes three to make a good marriage: God, the man, and the woman. For a Christian to marry an unbeliever is not only to disobey God; it is to enter marriage lacking something essential. Marriage has been described as a triangle with God at the top: the closer each partner moves to God, the closer they move toward each other. The further each moves from God, the further they move from each other. As soon as Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they experienced alienation from each other and Adam began blaming Eve for his problems (3:7, 12). Broken marriages always involve at least one partner moving away from God. So the starting place in having a marriage according to God’s design is genuine conversion and a daily walk with God.

God says that He will make Adam “a helper suitable for him” (2:18). The Hebrew word is not demeaning. It is often used of God’s help for those in distress and for military assistance. It points to the fact that the husband needs and even depends on his wife’s support and help. But we also need to remember Paul’s words that “man was not created for woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (1 Cor. 11:9). That verse alone destroys the feminist view that there are no distinctions based on gender. The fact that God created the woman as a helper points to her supportive role to her husband, even before the fall.

But at the same time, there is no basis for the view that men are superior to women. God made the woman to be a helper “suitable for” (lit. = “corresponding to”) the man. The picture is that the woman is the missing part of the man. Just as a jigsaw puzzle is incomplete if half the pieces are missing, so a man is incomplete without his wife. God designed it so that the man needs the woman and the woman needs the man (see 1 Cor. 11:11). Both are equal persons and yet have distinct roles to fulfill.

God made Adam out of the dust (2:7). Why didn’t He make Eve out of the dust? Why did He make her from Adam’s rib (2:21-22)? I believe God did it to show Adam that his wife was a part of him, equal with him, not a lower creation. A man is to cherish his wife as his own flesh (Eph. 5:28-29). As has often been observed, she was not taken from Adam’s head to rule over him, nor from his feet, that he should put her down, but she was taken from his side that he would protect her and keep her close to his heart.

Why didn’t God create Adam and Eve simultaneously? Before God created Eve he put Adam through the exercise of naming the animals (2:19-20). Some critics allege that these verses are out of context. There is no basis for that assertion. But why this strange exercise of naming the animals right here? God had a lesson to teach Adam. By naming all the animals, Adam discovered that for every animal there were both male and female. After a few dozen cases--male and female aardvarks, ... and finally, male and female zebras--Adam got to the end of the list and wondered, “Where’s mine?” The forlorn note reads, “but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him” (2:20).

God first made Adam feel the need for a wife. A dog may be man’s best friend, but it could not satisfy Adam’s need for companionship. Only a woman could. God sometimes makes us endure loneliness so that when the need is met, we appreciate it more. I felt the need to get married at 20. The Lord made me wait until just before my 27th birthday. By then I really felt the need. But I also deeply appreciate my wife. I remember how lonely I felt all those years. God prepares us to receive His gifts and then provides for our needs. We need to thank God for the partner He has given us and express our appreciation to that partner. God designed marriage, including your marriage.

This account of the first marriage also plainly teaches that God designed marriage to include sex. Many Christians have ungodly notions about sex. Some think that it was the original sin. I read of one pastor and his wife who announced to their congregation that they would be adopting their first son. One dear old lady told the pastor, “That’s how every pastor and his wife should have children.”

Moses’ description of the creation of Eve is a bit surprising when you stop to think about it. It says that God fashioned a woman from the man’s rib. “Fashioned” is literally, “built.” The verb pictures God as a sculptor, carefully and deliberately shaping the woman into a creature who would meet Adam’s need. Since she was built by God, you could safely say that she was well-built! She was a real beauty. Verse 22 indicates that Adam didn’t wake up and find Eve lying beside him. Rather, God brought her to him. Picture Adam waking up and wondering what the funny feeling in his side was. He’s counting his ribs when he hears God say, “Adam, you forgot to name one creature.” Adam looks up to see Eve, not in a wedding dress, but naked! I’m not making this up--it’s what the text says (2:25)!

We know she was a knockout because of Adam’s response (2:23). These are the first recorded words of the first man. They were not quite as mild as the various translations indicate. A more literal rendering of the original Hebrew is: “ALL RIGHT!” The phrase “this is now” is literally, “Here, now!” or “This one! At last!” Keil and Delitzsch, two German scholars from the last century, translate it, “This time!” and say that it is “expressive of joyous astonishment” (Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans], 1:90). Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, another commentary from Victorian times, say it is emphatic: “Now at last!” Or, “This is the very thing that hits the mark; this reaches what was desired” (A Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical [Eerdmans], 1:46). Remember, Adam had been looking through all the animals for one corresponding to him and had come up empty. When God brought Eve to him, he shouted, “YES!”

Next, Adam promptly finished his work of naming the creatures. He recognized that Eve was a part of him and named her accordingly: “She shall be called Woman [Heb., Ishshah] because she was taken out of Man [Heb., Ish].” God brought her to Adam as His exquisitely crafted gift, perfect for Adam’s deepest need.

These verses teach us something important about God: He is not opposed to our enjoyment of sex within marriage. He designed it and gave it to Adam and Eve. Satan tries to malign the goodness of God by making us think that God is trying to take our fun away by restricting sex to marriage. But God knows that it creates major problems when we violate His design for His gift. We need to regard marriage and sex in marriage as God’s good gift, designed for our pleasure, to meet our deepest needs for human companionship. In the context of marriage, we can thankfully enjoy what God has given.

B. God designed marriage to meet our need for companionship.

Verse 24 is Moses’ commentary (Adam didn’t have a father and mother to leave). “For this reason” means, “Because of the way God designed marriage from the start, because the woman is bone of man’s bone and flesh of his flesh, these things hold true.” He shows that to fulfill our need for companionship, marriage must be a primary, permanent, exclusive, and intimate relationship.

(1) Companionship requires that marriage be a primary relationship. God did not create a father and mother for Adam, nor a child, but a wife. A man must leave father and mother in order to cleave to his wife to establish a one flesh relationship. This means that the marriage relationship is primary, not the parent-child relationship. The parent child relationship must be altered before the marriage relationship can be established. The cord must be cut. This doesn’t mean abandoning parents or cutting off contact with them. But it does mean that a person needs enough emotional maturity to break away from dependence upon his parents to enter marriage. And parents need to raise their children with a view to releasing them.

It also means that if a couple builds their marriage around their children, or as more frequently happens, the husband builds his life around his job while the wife builds her life around the children, they are heading for serious problems when it’s time for the nest to empty. It is not helping the children, either. The best way to be a good parent to your children is to be a good husband to their mother or a good wife to their father. Marriage must be primary.

(2) Companionship requires that marriage be a permanent relationship. This follows from it being the primary relationship. Your children are with you in the home a few years; your partner is with you for life. “Cleave” means to cling to, to hold to, as bone to skin. It means to be glued to something--so when you get married, you’re stuck! After Jesus quoted this verse, He added, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).

This means that the marriage relationship must be built primarily on commitment, not on feelings of romantic love. Romantic love is important, but the foundation of marriage is a commitment of the will. It is a covenant before God (Mal. 2:14; Prov. 2:17). Commitment is what holds a couple together through the difficulties that invariably come. A Christian couple should never use the threat of divorce as leverage in a conflict.

(3) Companionship requires that marriage be an exclusive relationship. The text says, “To his wife,” not “wives.” Monogamy is God’s design: One man, one woman for life. Although God tolerated polygamy in Old Testament times, it was not His original intention. God easily could have created many wives for Adam, but He did not. One man, one woman, for life--that’s God’s design.

This means that when you get married, you give up close friendships with women other than your wife. You give up your freedom to go out with the guys whenever you choose. You have a new relationship with your wife; she is now your first priority in terms of human relationships. If you can’t handle that, you aren’t mature enough for the demands of marriage.

(4) Companionship requires that marriage be an intimate relationship. “And they shall become one flesh.” One flesh emphasizes the sexual union (1 Cor. 6:16). But the sexual union is always more than just physical. There is relational and emotional oneness as well. Most sexual problems in marriage stem from a failure of total person intimacy. Sexual harmony must be built on the foundation of a primary, permanent, exclusive relationship that is growing in trust, openness, and oneness. God made us that way.

If you remove sex from the context of the marriage commitment, you will experience a superficial sense of closeness. Paul says that even when a man has sex with a prostitute, he becomes one flesh with her (1 Cor. 6:16). But apart from the lifelong commitment of marriage, sex will never bring the satisfaction God designed it to give.

Sin always hinders intimacy, even in marriage. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they recognized their nakedness and began to hide themselves, not only from God, but also from one another. While as fallen sinners we can never experience what Adam and Eve knew with one another before the fall, to the extent that we deal with our sin before God and one another and grow in holiness, we will grow in personal intimacy. It takes constant work! Good marriages aren’t the result of luck in finding the right partner. They’re the result of couples who work daily at walking openly and humbly before God and with each other.

But God didn’t design marriage just so that we could be happy and have our needs met. He designed marriage to be a testimony for Him. Godly marriages bear witness of what it means to know God.

2. God designed marriage to provide an illustration of our relationship with Him.

The Bible says that God created marriage for a purpose bigger than itself: Marriage is a picture of the believer’s relationship with God. After discussing marriage and quoting Genesis 2:24, Paul writes, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is an earthly picture of the spiritual relationship that exists between Christ, the bridegroom, and the church, His bride. The consummation of a marriage is referred to in the Bible as a man knowing his wife; even so, we can know Christ our bridegroom. A husband and wife are one flesh; we are one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17). Just as the church is to be subject to Christ, so the wife is to be subject to her husband. Just as Christ loves the church, so a husband is to love his wife. Just as the marital union results in children, so the union of the Lord and His church is to result in many offspring, to God’s glory.

Someone has described marriage as God’s doing with one man and one woman that which He is always trying to do within the world as a whole. That’s why it’s so important for you to work at developing a Christ-honoring relationship with your mate. You’re working on a portrait of Christ and the church, and the world is looking over your shoulder. God’s glory is at stake!

Conclusion

If you’re single, and content to remain single, then God’s Word to you is, Use your single state to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord and His work (1 Cor. 7:35). If you’re single, but desire to be married, God’s Word to you is, Be growing in godliness and purity and pray and look for a mate who is committed to do the same. Your lifelong relationship must be centered on God, so that it will reflect to the world a picture of Christ and the church. If you are married to an unbeliever, God’s Word to you is to win your mate without a word by your godly character and behavior (1 Pet. 3:1-7).

If you’re married, God’s Word to you is, Are you growing deeper in companionship with your mate? Is your marriage growing in the way it reflects Christ and the church to this selfish, pleasure-seeking, lost world? If you can’t honestly answer yes, then it ought to be a warning light on the dashboard to tell you that you are not in line with God’s design for marriage. Marriages don’t run on auto-pilot; they require attention and work. Take immediate action to get it on target! By God’s grace and your commitment, you can have a marriage that both honors Him and meets your needs.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why are so many Christian marriages breaking up in our day? How can the church offer compassion to those who have suffered divorce and yet hold a tight line against divorce?
  2. Discuss: Is sexual sin more prevalent in our day than in past generations? How can we guard against it?
  3. What is the biggest hindrance to developing emotional intimacy in marriage?
  4. Discuss: Is it possible for two Christians married to one another to be irreconcilably incompatible?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Marriage, Relationships, Worship

Lesson 8: How Temptation Works (Genesis 3:1-7)

Related Media

A woman had been shopping and had bought a dress that she knew she couldn’t afford. “Why did you do it?” her husband asked. “I just couldn’t help it,” she said. “The devil tempted me.”

“Why didn’t you say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’?” the husband asked. “I did. But he just leaned over my shoulder and whispered, ‘My dear, it fits you beautifully in the back.’”

Because of Adam and Eve’s yielding to Satan’s original temptation, the human race was plunged into sin. Since then every person has struggled with temptation. Becoming a Christian and even walking with God for many years does not eliminate or even minimize the dangers of temptation. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). There is within us all a strong desire for the forbidden fruit. Someone astutely observed, “Most people want to be delivered from temptation, but they would like it to keep in touch.”

As Christians who want to please God, we must understand how temptation works so that we can learn how to resist it. Our text is a classic case study of the process of temptation. My thesis is that ...

By understanding how temptation works we can devise a strategy for victory over it.

To be forewarned of Satan’s strategy is to be forearmed. His pattern for tempting Eve is essentially the same approach he uses today. By studying and learning to recognize that pattern, we will not be ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11), and thus can resist them.

How temptation works:

While Satan tempted Eve, we are led astray by our own lusts (James 1:14-15). Before the fall, Satan had to approach Eve from without. Since the fall, he usually leaves us to our own inward lusts which respond to the temptations in the world. Only occasionally is there direct satanic influence. But since Satan is behind the original temptation, I’m going to refer to him in talking about how temptation works.

1. Satan is crafty and deceptive, not straightforward.

The chapter never positively identifies the serpent as Satan. Verse 15 does so in veiled terms. But the New Testament states it clearly (Rev. 12:9; 20:2) and just as clearly emphasizes that Satan’s methods involve deceit, schemes, lies, and trickery (see John 8:44; 2 Cor. 11:3, 14, 15; 1 Tim. 2:14). The word “crafty” means shrewd and is used in a good sense of “prudent” in Proverbs (12:16, 23; 14:8, 15, 18; 22:3; 27:12). But Satan uses his shrewd knowledge about life to deceive and trap us.

Satan’s deceptive tactics are seen initially in the form he takes. The serpent, before the fall, was different than the poisonous, repulsive reptile we know. Part of the curse was that it be more cursed than all other beasts and crawl on its belly (3:14). Apparently before that it was an attractive animal which did not cause Eve any fear or repulsion. Satan doesn’t usually come to us as a dragon with red tail and horns, which would make us run the other way. He comes in an attractive form.

The implication is that Satan waited until Eve was alone. Adam came later and she gave the fruit to him. Satan knows just the right moment to hit. Temptation is most powerful when you’re all alone. Perhaps you’re away from home. “Who will know? Go ahead and try it; what harm will it do?” Later we will study the story of Joseph, a young man in a foreign country, alone in the house with Potiphar’s wife who grabbed him and passionately said, “Lie with me!” Who else would know? Joseph resisted and fled that temptation because his focus was on God: “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). God would know! Live with a mind to please God even when you’re alone and you can resist Satan’s crafty appeals.

Temptation is usually deceptive. Satan makes it look like sin will get you where you want to go right now. It will meet your needs. Why deny yourself?

2. Satan challenges the authority of God’s Word.

Satan did not begin by saying, “Listen, Eve, God is flat-out wrong!” Instead, he planted a suggestion in the form of a question, the first question in the Bible. “Is it really true that God said that you couldn’t eat from any tree of the garden?” He’s saying, “Let’s talk about what God has said. There can’t be any harm in discussing it, can there?” But, as Derek Kidner perceptively puts it, Satan’s question “smuggles in the assumption that God’s word is subject to our judgment” (Genesis [IVP], p. 67). If we swallow that assumption, we’re on the enemy’s turf!

At first Eve defends God by correcting Satan’s extreme statement. Some commentators think that she erred by adding the words, “or touch it,” thus making God’s command more strict. Others say that she was simply keeping her proper distance from the tree. But then Satan counters by “reinterpreting” God’s reason behind the command (3:4-5), smuggling in another dangerous assumption, that we don’t need to obey God unless we understand His reason behind a command (Calvin’s Commentaries [Associated Publishers], p. 32). Whenever people explain away or reinterpret God’s clear commands as not applying to us, red lights should go off.

The fact that Satan came first to the woman, not to the man, also underscores his opposition to God’s authority. By getting the woman to act in disobedience not only of God, but also of her husband, was to subvert the image of God in man as male and female, thus undermining God’s authority (see my sermon on Gen. 1:26-31). This is implied in God’s indictment of Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife ...” (3:17).

Satan will tempt you by getting you to question the authority of God’s Word. “C’mon, you don’t believe all that outdated stuff about the headship of the husband, do you? You don’t believe all that restrictive stuff about sexual immorality, do you? Surely you don’t believe that this book of ancient Hebrew religious myths is binding on us today, do you? You can’t take it as applying literally to us!” That’s Satan’s line. He tempts us by being deceptive and by challenging the authority of God’s Word.

3. Satan impugns God’s character.

He does this in several subtle ways. One method is that he refers to God as “Elohim,” which emphasizes His power as Creator, but avoids the more personal covenant name “Yahweh.” It’s subtle, but Satan is trying to get Eve to think of God as impersonal. Eve falls for the bait and also uses Elohim, not Yahweh Elohim. But as soon as God comes seeking for the fallen couple in the garden, the name Yahweh Elohim is used again (3:1, 8, 9, 13, 14, 21, 22, 23).

Satan uses exaggeration to make God seem harsh. God had not said that Adam and Eve could not eat from any tree, but only from one tree. God had told them that they could freely eat from every tree but one, but Satan stretches it to sound like God was prohibiting everything. By overstating the case, Satan was drawing Eve into his trap. He wants us to focus on the negatives that God has given, instead of on His many positives. We end up thinking that God is a grouch who doesn’t want us to enjoy life. But even God’s prohibitions are for our good.

Notice how Eve is drawn into Satan’s line of thinking. Her reply magnifies the strictness of God on the one hand, but softens His threat of judgment on the other. God had said, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely” (2:16). Eve omits the words “any” and “freely” in her reply (3:2), and adds “or touch it” (3:3). God had said, “In the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” But Eve omits “surely” and doesn’t say that judgment will happen on that day (3:3). She is falling into Satan’s trap by changing the character of God to be more to her own liking. She’s admitting that God (not “the Lord” God) is a bit strict for her taste. But at the same time she’s minimizing His strictness by making His judgments out to be less than He said they would be.

Eve was already beginning to waver. The fall really took place before she ate the fruit, because her thinking about God was in error, and sin always begins in our thinking. It’s happening in churches in our day. People don’t like what they perceive to be God’s strictness, so they modify His absolute holiness. And they excuse their sin by saying that we’re under grace; God really wouldn’t be so harsh as to judge my sin.

Satan moves from a subtle suggestion which plants doubt (3:1) to a flat lie which calls God a liar (3:4). God had said, “You shall surely die.” Satan says, “You surely shall not die.” If Satan had started with this statement, Eve probably would have said, “You’re a liar!” But by beginning with a subtle question, then smuggling in the assumption that God’s word is subject to our judgment, and then exaggerating God’s strictness, he has Eve listening openly while he flatly calls God a liar. But he does it in an area where the results are in the future, so you can’t disprove him empirically. Very tricky!

Then he goes on to say that God isn’t really good. He’s trying to hold something good back from you: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). Of course there is a smattering of truth in his words. After they ate the fruit God said, “the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil” (3:22). But the lie is that God is not good. Almost every temptation that confronts us contains the same lie. Satan wants us to doubt the goodness of God, because we won’t trust a God who is not good, and unbelief is the root sin. Not trusting God, we will trust ourselves, thinking that we can become like God. Pride and disobedience follow quickly on the heels of unbelief.

That’s why we need to be especially on guard when we’re going through a time of suffering. Peter’s warning to be on the alert because our adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, is written to people who were suffering (1 Pet. 5:8-10). Peter assures them that God has not forgotten them; He is the God of all grace who will bring His promises to fulfillment. But they need to resist Satan by being firm in their faith. We must not impugn God’s character by saying that He is not good, no matter what our current circumstances would make us think.

Thus Satan tempts us through deception; he challenges the authority of God’s Word; and he impugns God’s character.

4. Satan contradicts the certainty of God’s judgment.

“You shall not die.” Isn’t it significant that the first doctrine Satan denies is God’s judgment? Satan’s lie is: “Sin isn’t all that serious. You can sin and get away with it.” It’s ironic that having just persuaded Eve that God is not totally good (or He would not have prohibited her eating this fruit), Satan now implies that God is too good to punish such a minor infraction as eating a piece of fruit with such a major penalty as death. Satan always moves God’s absolute holiness and absolute justice toward the middle, so that He becomes neither totally holy nor totally just.

You may wonder, “What’s the big deal about eating a little piece of fruit? Wasn’t God overreacting to bring such severe punishment on such a minor infraction?” But the problem wasn’t just food. The problem was unbelief, rebellion, disobedience, and pride. God had provided them with all they needed. He had clearly demonstrated His goodness and love. They had every reason to trust and obey God and no reason to listen to Satan’s lies. By coming as a serpent, a creature made by God, it heightened man’s disobedience, since they had been created to have dominion over the creatures. Adam and Eve were without excuse. Satan tempts us by contradicting the certainty of God’s judgment. A final tactic:

5. Satan promises pleasure but doesn’t mention the pain.

“You will be like God” (3:5). He doesn’t elaborate, except to say, “knowing good and evil,” but rather dangles it before Eve as an intriguing possibility. The unknown aspect of it aroused her curiosity. It was a mixture of truth and falsehood. The thing promised was true, but at the same time was far from the truth. It is like the freedom sin promises: It’s true in part; but it’s ultimately false, since sin enslaves us. Satan didn’t bother to tell Eve the terrible consequences for her, her family, and the human race. He never does.

Satan displays his wares and then lets the attractiveness of the product lure Eve to her doom. Note the progression of verse 6, which may reflect Satan’s sales pitch: Eve “saw that the tree was good for food.” It was nutritional, not harmful or poisonous. And it tasted good; perhaps Satan sampled a bite in front of her. This corresponds to what John calls “the lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16). The temptation looks as if it will meet a legitimate need, whether for food, sex, or comfort.

Next, Eve saw that the fruit “was a delight to the eyes.” It was pleasant, not ugly. Satan doesn’t tempt you with sleazy stuff; he tempts you with attractive things. If he can’t tempt you with a dirty, unattractive prostitute, he will bring along an understanding, attractive woman. This corresponds to what John calls “the lust of the eyes.”

Then Eve saw that the fruit “was desirable to make one wise.” This appealed to her need for intellectual stimulation and fulfillment. Wisdom is generally a good thing. God wants us to develop our minds. But wisdom apart from or in opposition to God’s Word just feeds what John calls “the boastful pride of life.” Derek Kidner states incisively: “Eve listened to a creature instead of the Creator, followed her impressions against her instructions, and made self-fulfillment her goal” (p. 68). At this point, Eve is rationalizing--making up reasons to justify what she has already decided to do. “It will help me nutritionally; it’s pleasant to look at; and it will make me wise. How can it be wrong when it seems so right?”

The results seemed initially beneficial. She didn’t physically die on the spot. Her eyes were opened, just as Satan said. Maybe God was wrong. But of course, death did set in at that moment: She died spiritually. Physical death began its course in her that very day. It was God’s mercy which spared her and Adam from being struck dead physically on the spot. Sometimes we wrongly interpret God’s merciful delay of judgment to be a denial of the certainty of judgment. But what God says, He always does.

Adam and Eve’s sin led to guilt and shame (3:7), which led to alienation from one another and from God (3:8-13). Their first son murdered his own brother. The history of the human race from this point on is marred by the tragedy of sin. Satan’s promises never come true. Wisdom isn’t gained by disobeying God, but by fearing and obeying Him. God’s judgment may be delayed, but it is always certain. It is true that sin usually gives initial pleasure; but it’s always followed by lasting pain. Kidner crisply notes, “So simple the act, so hard its undoing” (p. 68).

A strategy for victory over temptation:

I’ve developed Satan’s pattern for temptation sufficiently so that you can fill in an appropriate strategy for victory. But let me quickly name five corresponding steps:

1. We must beware of “new” twists of doctrine or practice.

Since Satan uses deception and lies, we need to be cautious about any “new” doctrine or practice. The world proclaims self-esteem and the church is glutted with books on how to accept and love yourself (even when your life is filled with sin). The world extols tolerance as the chief virtue, and the church is quick to tolerate every form of perversion under the banner of “grace.”

2. We must affirm the authority of God’s Word.

Satan always works to undermine the authority of God’s Word. If you take away the authority of the Word, you’re launched on a sea of moral relativism with no rudder. We must all submit to God’s Word, no matter how difficult or costly.

3. We must affirm God’s character as revealed in His Word.

Satan will try, through trials or disappointments, to get you to doubt either God’s goodness or sovereignty. It’s a short step from there to rebellion, because you can’t trust a God who is not good or is not in control. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and thrown in prison in Egypt because he resisted Potiphar’s wife. He could have easily doubted the goodness or sovereignty of God. But years later he told his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). You may have to believe it in spite of your circumstances, but hang onto it by faith: God is good and sovereign (Ps. 119:75).

4. We must affirm the reality of God’s judgment.

You cannot get away with sin any more than you can take fire into your shirt and not be burned (Prov. 6:27-28). The fact that judgment is not immediate does not mean that it is not certain. Grace does not eliminate the principle of sowing and reaping, even for Christians. Paul wrote about sowing and reaping in the same letter he wrote about grace (Gal. 6:7-8).

5. We must remember that sin gives fleeting pleasure, but results in pain which far outweighs the pleasure.

It’s true, sin has its delights. It’s fun for the moment. But you pay an awful price. Not only you, but your children and grandchildren will suffer after you (Exod. 20:5). Sin is a lot like living extravagantly on credit. You can live like a king for a few months, but the bills are going to come due. Then you have to pay up. The pleasures of sin are not worth the awful price.

Conclusion

At a Christian summer camp for children the counselor was leading a discussion on the purpose God had for everything He had created. They talked about the good reasons for clouds, trees, rocks, rivers, animals, and just about everything else in nature. But then one of the kids broke in with the question, “If God had a good purpose for everything, why did He create poison ivy?”

The counselor gulped and was fumbling for an answer when one of the other children came to his rescue, saying, “The reason God made poison ivy is because He wanted us to know there are certain things we should keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off!”

If you are defeated by temptation and sin, God in His mercy has provided the way of deliverance: “[Jesus Christ] Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:24-25). If you will trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, He will freely pardon your sins and give you the power to overcome temptation.

Discussion Questions

  1. Since deception is “tricky,” how can we be on guard against it?
  2. How can we wrestle with honest questions about the Bible and yet not undermine its authority?
  3. How can a Christian who has suffered much affirm both the goodness and sovereignty of God?
  4. Will a Christian suffer the temporal consequences of his sin the same as an unbeliever?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Satanology, Spiritual Life, Temptation

Lesson 9: Where Are You? (Genesis 3:7-15)

Related Media

Our modern psychotherapeutic culture is desperately trying to rid itself of the notion of guilt and shame. Modern celebrities go on TV and brag openly about things that, just a few years ago, would have been kept quiet. Best-selling books, like Healing the Shame That Binds You [Health Communications, Inc.], by recovery guru John Bradshaw, promise to rid us of “toxic shame” by “Using affirmations, visualizations, ‘inner voice’ and ‘feeling’ work plus guided meditations and other useful healing techniques” (Back cover). Even many professing Christian psychologists, tell us that our problem is low self-esteem; we need to learn to accept ourselves.

Because we all sin, we all need to deal with the problem of guilt. It is not surprising that the enemy of our souls offers many counterfeit solutions. So we must be careful to answer from the Bible alone the question, “How does God deal with my guilt?” The fig leaves of human solutions to guilt will not suffice in the day when we stand before the living God. The story of God’s coming to that first guilty, fig-leaf-clad, hiding couple, shows us God’s solution to guilt.

Even many Christians have wrong ideas about how God deals with sin and guilt. They think that God came looking for Adam and Eve in the garden, chewed them out, cursed everything in sight, kicked them out of the garden, and locked the door behind them. They view God as one who lowers the boom on guilty sinners.

But that’s not the picture of God in Genesis 3. Rather, we see God graciously seeking the guilty sinners and providing for their restoration. He promises them victory over the tempter. And even His expelling them from the garden was gracious, in that He protected them from living forever in their fallen condition. It is a chapter which gives us, as guilty sinners, great hope. We see that:

God graciously seeks, confronts, and offers reconciliation to the guilty sinner.

We deal with our guilt, not by hiding from Him, but by coming to Him and acknowledging our sin. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

1. God graciously seeks the guilty sinner (3:7-10).

To begin, we must not overlook ...

A. The sinner’s guilt.

There is no mistaking it. As H. C. Leupold observes, “Here is one of the saddest anticlimaxes of history: They eat, they expect marvelous results, they wait--and there grows on them the sense of shame” (Exposition of Genesis [Baker], p. 154). Sin always leads to guilt; guilt leads to alienation, both between the sinner and God and between the sinner and his fellow human beings.

(1) The sinner’s guilt is seen in the sinner himself. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed [intertwined] fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (3:7). Suddenly they were self-conscious. Have you ever dreamed that you were in a public place and you weren’t properly clothed? It’s a relief to wake up and find out that you’re home in bed! Adam and Eve woke up and found out they weren’t dreaming. They were naked! For the first time, they had a sense that it wasn’t right. So they made an attempt to cover themselves with fig leaves.

When they sinned their conscience was activated. God’s question zeroes in on this, “Who told you that you were naked?” (3:11). The fact that Adam now knew he was naked showed that he had a conscience, which he got from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Someone has defined the conscience as a faults alarm. It goes off to tell us our faults. Of course it’s possible, through repeated sin, to sear your conscience to the point where it no longer functions. But this first couple’s conscience was operating just as God intended--it told them that they had sinned. When that alarm goes off, the fallen human tendency is to deal with it just as Adam and Eve did: Cover it up as quickly as possible. But that inner voice keeps nagging, “Guilty! Guilty!”

(2) The sinner’s guilt is seen in his relationships with others. Immediately Adam and Eve lost the open relationship they had enjoyed with one another (“naked and not ashamed,” 2:25). Their fig leaves picture a barrier between them, which is seen even more when God confronts Adam and he blames Eve (3:12). Nice guy, huh? He’s trying to save his own skin, even if God zaps his wife off the face of the earth. At least Eve was nice enough to blame the serpent! But Adam’s blaming Eve did not foster their relationship.

Blame is the human way to deal with guilt. It doesn’t work--our guilt is still there. But it’s the way every sinner tends to deal with guilt. You don’t have to teach it to your kids. They have a built-in circuit that says, “When you do something wrong, blame someone else. But don’t ever admit, ‘I was wrong.’”

The way this works is, people sin and they know they’re guilty, but they rationalize by thinking, “Yes, I was wrong; I shouldn’t have yelled at my wife. But she provoked me.” It’s like a scale, where I have a pile of guilt on one side, but rather than clearing it off the scale, I balance it by piling blame on the other side. It doesn’t remove the guilt, but it makes me feel better, at least for a while.

Of course people don’t just blame other people. They also blame their circumstances, which is really to blame God, who ordains our circumstances. Adam is implicitly blaming God when he says, “The woman whom You gave to be with me ...” (3:12). “If You hadn’t given her to me, God, I wouldn’t be in this mess. It’s Your fault.” The sinner’s guilt is seen in himself and in his relationship with others.

(3) The sinner’s guilt is seen in his response to God. Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool (lit., “the wind”) of the day. It should have been a time of refreshment and delight, but it now was a time of fear. God’s presence was a theophany, an appearance of Jesus Christ in human form before He was born of Mary thousands of years later. But Adam and Eve didn’t want to see Him. They hid among the trees.

Have you ever come home from work and one of your kids seemed to be avoiding you? When you found him, he wouldn’t look you in the eye? You know that he’s done something wrong! The human response to guilt is to hide from the one in authority over you. I experience it with people who are running from the Lord. Guess who represents God in their life? The pastor! If they happen to run into me in a store, they try to duck down one of the aisles before I get to where they’re at! It’s almost funny!

When the Lord finds Adam, Adam admits his fear. But notice what he says (3:10): “I was afraid because I was naked.” Not, “because I sinned,” but, “because I was naked.” He had been naked every other time the Lord had walked with him in the garden. The problem wasn’t his nakedness, but his sin. But the real problem was, and still is, it is a fearful thing to be exposed as a guilty sinner in the presence of God. And so instead of coming to God, who can deal with our sin, we run, foolishly thinking that we can hide from His omnipresent gaze.

But, thankfully, God goes after us. And so we see here not only the sinner’s guilt, but also ...

B. God’s gracious seeking.

Man may seek to hide from God, but the relentless “Hound of Heaven” goes after him. God calls to Adam and asks the first question attributed to God in the Bible: “Where are you?” (3:9). Whenever God asks a question, it is not to gain information. God knew exactly where Adam was. He asked the question to make Adam think. If you had a friend coming to your house for the first time and he called and said that he was lost, you would ask, “Where are you?” If he can tell you where he is, you can tell him how to get to your house. You’ve got to know where you are before you can receive directions to where you need to be.

God’s question told Adam two things: “You’re lost, Adam; and, I’ve come to find you.” Every person needs to know the same two things: He is lost without Jesus Christ; and, Christ came to seek and to save those who are lost. The Bible teacher, John Hunter, makes the point that people who do not know Jesus Christ are never called “unsaved” in the Bible. That term, Hunter contends, softens the tragic reality of their condition. The opposite of saved is not unsaved; it is lost.

When Adam sinned, he became lost with reference to God. All Adam’s descendents are born in that condition: lost. Before you can be reconciled to God, you’ve got to answer for yourself the question God asked Adam: Where are you? The answer is, “God, I’m lost.” Before God can save you, you’ve got to admit to Him that you are lost.

When I say that God’s seeking Adam was gracious, I mean that Adam did not deserve to be found and forgiven. He had rebelled openly and deliberately against God and His great love. No sinner deserves God’s favor. Two things underscore the fact that God’s seeking was gracious:

(1) That God’s seeking was gracious is seen in the fact that He came looking. God could have zapped them both on the spot and started over with a new couple. He could have waited a while. Let them stew in their own juice. Let them hide behind those silly fig leaves, cowering in fear every time they hear a noise in the bushes. Let them pay for what they’ve done. But the implication is that God came looking the same day Adam and Eve sinned. That was pure grace. God doesn’t seek us because we deserve it. We deserve His judgment, but He seeks us to save us. That’s grace!

(2) That God’s seeking was gracious is seen in the manner He came looking. He could have come down in anger, yelling, “Adam, front and center for your court martial and execution!” He could have come with a lecture: “Adam, you’ve blown it badly. How could you do this to Me, after all I’ve done for you? How many times did I tell you not to eat that fruit? How could anyone could be so stupid!”

But God came graciously to Adam with a question designed to make him think about where he was: “Where are you, Adam? Look at yourself, hiding behind that tree. Look at those silly fig leaves. Why are you there?” No sinner seeks after God. He graciously seeks hiding sinners. Once God finds the hiding sinner, grace does not stop.

2. God graciously confronts the guilty sinner (3:11-13).

God never ignores sin or brushes it aside, as we do. If someone wrongs us, we may say, “No big deal. Don’t worry about it.” But God can’t do that. That would minimize the seriousness of sin and compromise His holiness and justice. God confronts guilty sinners, but He does it graciously. By that I do not mean that God is not pointed and direct. Rather, it is gracious because His goal is restoration of the relationship, not condemnation.

So God asks another question: “Who told you that you were naked?” This question was intended to show Adam that something new had taken place inside him, namely, the birth of his conscience. An inner voice was telling Adam that he was naked and guilty before God. Someone has said, “If the best of men had his innermost thoughts written on his forehead, he’d never take off his hat.” We are all corrupt in our hearts. God used this question to get Adam to see that he was corrupted in his heart because he had disobeyed.

God’s next question is very direct, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam blames his wife and implicitly blames God for giving her to him. But then he weakly admits his disobedience, “and I ate” (3:12).

Then God turns to Eve and directly asks, “What is this you have done?” Like Adam, Eve tries to pass the buck. But she finally also admits, “and I ate” (3:13). When there’s sin in a person’s life, what they need most is to admit their disobedience to God. At the point we acknowledge our sin, God takes over and deals with our guilt His way.

3. God graciously offers reconciliation to the guilty sinner (3:14-15).

God questioned the man and the woman because He wanted to lead them to repentance; but He did not question the serpent because there was no mercy for him. God cursed the serpent. The curse is directed both to the actual snake and to Satan who used the snake for his evil deeds. Verse 14 applies mostly to the snake as an animal; verse 15 applies mostly to Satan. In a future study we’ll see how God provided animal skins to clothe Adam and Eve, a picture of atonement. But for now I must limit myself to verses 14 & 15, which show us two ways God graciously offers reconciliation to guilty sinners.

A. God graciously offers reconciliation by defeating our adversary, the devil.

The serpent is cursed to crawl on its belly and eat dust. As Donald Barnhouse explains, “To eat dust is to know defeat, and that is God’s prophetic judgment upon the enemy.... There will be continuous aspiration, but never any attainment” (Genesis: A Devotional Exposition [Zondervan], p. 22). The serpent was literally condemned to crawl on its belly, which I understand to mean that before the curse, it did not do so. (Some commentators say that it did, but that now God attaches new significance to that fact.)

Behind the serpent, Satan is condemned to an existence of frustration and defeat. This is seen most pointedly in the cross, where Satan thought he had finally defeated God’s program by killing the Savior. But the cross was God’s greatest victory, because in it and in the resurrection of Christ, Satan’s final doom was secured. Though during this age God allows Satan some leash, so that he wins some battles, he’s going to lose the war!

If God had not graciously defeated our adversary, we never could have been reconciled to Him. We are no match in ourselves for a creature as sly and powerful as Satan. But since he was defeated at the cross, God can offer reconciliation to guilty sinners, and free them from Satan’s domain of darkness (see Col. 1:13; 2:13-15). Genesis 3:15 tells us how God would defeat Satan:

B. God graciously offers reconciliation through His seed who conquers the devil.

This verse is the earliest promise of a Redeemer, and it comes as a surprise in this context of judgment. But its unexpectedness makes God’s grace shine all the brighter. God promises to put enmity between the serpent and the woman. Satan already hated Eve, but God graciously put it into Eve’s heart to hate Satan. Then God says that this enmity will be between Satan’s seed and the woman’s seed. This refers to the battle of the ages between the ungodly, who are children of their father, the devil (John 8:44), and the children of God. In this sense, “seed” is collective.

But God goes on to say that He (singular, a particular seed of the woman) shall bruise Satan on the head, and Satan would bruise Him on the heel. This refers to Christ, born of a woman (Gal. 4:4), the last Adam, who would redeem the fallen race. It is a remarkable verse in that it refers to the seed of the woman, not the man. Elsewhere in the Bible descent is determined through the male. But here it is the seed of the woman, not the man, who will bruise Satan’s head. It is a prophecy, veiled at the time, but evident now, of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

At the cross, Satan bruised Christ on the heel. At first, the cross seemed like a great victory for Satan and a terrible defeat for God. But when Christ arose from the dead, the serpent was crushed on the head. What seemed like Satan’s moment of triumph was actually the eve of his greatest defeat. He thought that he was gaining what he had been after since he rebelled against God; but actually, he was carrying out the sovereign purposes of God’s eternal plan. And so here, in this context when Adam and Eve could rightly have expected to be condemned to hell for their sin, God promises the defeat of Satan and the victory of the Redeemer who would come from Eve’s descendents. Amazing grace!

Conclusion

An American woman, returning from Europe with some perfume she had bought, had gone to a great deal of trouble packing the bottles so that they wouldn’t be spotted by customs officials. An official started going through her luggage. He had nearly finished searching the last suitcase when the woman’s small daughter clapped her hands and said excitedly, “Oh, Mommy, he’s getting warm, isn’t he?” You can try to hide your sin from God, but be sure your sin will find you out!

Let me direct God’s first question to you: Where are you? Are you hiding, afraid of God, because of sin in your life? Maybe you’re trying to cover your sin with the fig leaves of your good works. Perhaps, like Jonah, you are one of God’s children, and yet you are running from His purpose for your life. You have sin you have not confessed to Him. Your guilt may make you think that God is after you to punish you. The Bible says that God is after you to save you from the judgment your sin deserves. He is graciously calling, “Where are you?” If you will come to Him and confess your sin, He will deliver you from Satan’s domain of darkness and transfer you to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom you will have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). That’s how to deal with your guilt.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is all guilt unhealthy? How can we distinguish between the conviction of the Spirit and the accusations of Satan?
  2. Why is it important to affirm that none seeks for God (Rom. 3:11; John 15:16)? Does this mean that we should not exhort sinners to seek the Savior? Why/why not?
  3. Will proclaiming grace as God’s undeserved favor result in people taking sin lightly? Why/why not (see Rom. 6)?
  4. How can a couple break out of the guilt-blame cycle in a marriage? What specific counsel could you give such a couple?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Grace, Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 10: The Curse and The Covering (Genesis 3:16-24)

Related Media

A sign on a convent read: “Absolutely no trespassing. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Signed, The Sisters of Mercy.” That sign reflects a problem Christians wrestle with, namely, confusion about the relationship between God’s grace and judgment.

Some say that God is so gracious that He overlooks our sin. These Christians pride themselves on their tolerance and acceptance of everyone, no matter how terrible their sin. Their theme verse is, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Others emphasize God’s judgment of all sin. These folks are stern and judgmental, like their God. Their favorite verse is, “Prepare to meet thy God.”

Neither side reflects the full biblical picture of God. The first group stresses God’s love and grace, but loses His holiness. The second group emphasizes His holiness, but loses His grace toward sinners. The biblical picture is that God is both loving and holy, gracious and righteous, merciful and just. Since our view of God affects the way we live and treat others, we need to be careful to reflect the biblical revelation of who God is and how He deals with our sin.

Genesis 3 gives us the proper view of God. When Adam and Eve sinned, God did not strike them dead on the spot, as His holiness alone would have required. Nor did He say, “That’s okay, don’t worry about it,” as His love alone may have allowed. Rather, God dealt with their sin as a serious matter. He imposed the penalty their sin required; but He interposed His grace, so that the fallen couple could be restored to fellowship with Him. There was both the curse and the covering for their sin. These verses teach us that ...

God allows us to suffer consequences for our sin but also He provides salvation from sin’s ultimate consequences.

We need to keep both aspects in tension. In our day of “hang loose” Christianity, we need to remember that we cannot sin without consequences. Grace does not nullify the law of sowing and reaping. But also we need to remember that God is gracious, that He Himself paid the price for our sin, to deliver us from His ultimate judgment.

1. God allows us to suffer consequences for our sin: The curse (3:16-19).

As we saw last week, when Adam and Eve sinned, God graciously sought them, confronted them, and offered the promise of deliverance through the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. It was gracious because Adam and Eve deserved judgment, not a promise of deliverance.

But then God deals with the woman and then the man. He does not curse them directly, as He did with the serpent. But He does impose penalties for their disobedience. Even though God forgives the ultimate penalty of their sin, He still allows some of the consequences to continue.

We need to understand that the penalties imposed on Adam and Eve affected not just them, but every person in history after them. All sin is like that. We never sin in isolation. Even sin done in secret affects others. This talk about what goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults not being anyone else’s business is sheer nonsense. Sin always affects others, not only in this generation, but also in the generations to come.

Why did God curse these particular things? I think God cursed the woman’s childbearing process and the ground on behalf of the man because these things represent the chief role of each sex. The woman’s main role (biblically) is that of homemaker and mother; the man is to be the provider. That is not to say that the woman does not provide anything and that the man does not involve himself in the home. But these are the main responsibilities. In Genesis 1:28, the couple was commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and to subdue the earth. That command involved work, but not toil and pain. But now God introduces toil and pain as the necessary price to fulfill these primary roles.

A. The curse as applied to the woman (3:16).

The curse as applied to the woman involved two main areas: She would experience increased pain in childbearing; and she would be in a new relationship with her husband in which he is said to rule over her.

With regard to the first, the curse means that the physical pain of childbirth was magnified. Down through history, many women have died in childbirth. In spite of modern techniques, childbearing involves pain. One reason God may have increased the woman’s pain in childbearing was to give us an object lesson of the pain which God would now endure in order to bring forth spiritual children. His own Son, the second Person of the Trinity, would have to go to the cross and suffer not only the physical pain of the crucifixion, but also the indescribable agony of separation from the Father as our sin-bearer.

God mercifully tempers the pain with the great joy which children give. As Jesus said, “Whenever a woman is in travail, she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21). The most joyous moments of my life have been the births of our three children. Children who grow up to follow the Lord are a great source of delight to godly parents. But as any parent knows, you open yourself to great risk of pain when you enter into the God-given miracle of bringing a child into this sinful world. Because of the fall, you can’t have the joy without the risk of pain.

The curse as applied to the woman not only affected childbearing, but also her relationship with her husband. The last half of verse 16 is difficult to interpret. Two views are the most likely. The first is that in spite of the woman’s increased pain in childbearing, she would continue to have sexual desire toward her husband. Sex was not cursed by God. The woman has as much right to enjoy sex in marriage as the man. Two things commend this view. The word “desire” is used in Song of Songs 7:10 to refer to the desire of a lover for his beloved. And, the woman’s pleasure in sex serves as a gracious blessing to offset the preceding curse of pain in childbirth. Just as God curses the ground, but graciously allows it to yield sufficient produce; and, He curses work with toil and sweat, and yet work also is a blessing in that it forces us to discipline our unruly fallen nature and it yields the sustenance we need; even so, God ordains pain in childbirth, but graciously allows the woman to enjoy the act that leads to conception.

The second plausible view is that “desire” is used in the same sense as Genesis 4:7 (its only other occurrence in the Old Testament), meaning the desire to dominate. The woman who usurped authority from her husband by eating the fruit is cursed with the inclination to dominate him, but he is ordained to rule over her. The strengths of this view are that it fits in with the last phrase of the verse and it uses “desire” in the same sense it is used a few verses later. If this is the correct view, it alerts us to the inherent tendency of the fallen nature of each sex: of the woman to dominate her husband; of the man to dominate his wife. Both militate against the beautiful “one flesh” relationship that existed before the fall (2:24). Thus as Paul ordains (Eph. 5:22-33) that to recover that intimacy, the wife must submit to her husband, and the husband must tenderly love and lead his wife.

I find it hard to decide between the two views because both have their strengths and both express truths taught elsewhere in Scripture. If the second view is correct, it does not justify the abusive dominance of men over women; nor does it lend support to the egalitarian view, in which it is claimed that there are no gender-based role distinctions because Christ overcame the curse. It means that godly women must now fight the tendency to dominate their husbands, and godly men must fight the tendency to dominate their wives. Both must learn to love one another in the context of the proper roles ordained by God.

B. The curse as applied to the man (3:17-19).

Adam sinned not only by eating the forbidden fruit, but by allowing his wife to have dominion over him. God says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife” (v. 17). Sometimes listening to the voice of your wife is the wisest thing you can do! But it is wrong to listen to your wife when she contradicts God’s word. Adam abdicated leadership to her, deliberately disobeying God by setting his wife above God. God holds the man accountable for the direction a family goes. Many Christian men are passive with regard to the family. They don’t take responsibility to train the children. They focus on their job and leave the home to the wife. When problems come, they blame her. It is not wrong to delegate things to your wife, but there’s a big difference between delegating and dumping. When you delegate, you retain final responsibility; when you dump, you abdicate responsibility. Scripture clearly holds the man responsible for his wife and children.

The curse on the man covers two areas: the ground is cursed; and physical death is mandated. Just as the curse on the woman also affects the man, so the curse on the man affects the woman. The curse on the ground meant that man would have to toil to bring forth the crops to survive. I understand the curse to be much wider than just the thorns and thistles mentioned here as representative. As Paul explains in Romans 8:20-21, the whole creation was subjected to sinful man. An unfallen creation could not be ruled by a fallen lord. So everything in creation which is now opposed to man--from mosquitoes to viruses to natural disasters--stems from the fall. All suffering and pain ultimately can be traced back to the first sin.

The second part of the curse as it applies to the man is the affirmation of physical death. Our bodies will return to dust. Since the fall, death is the enemy of every person. We can spend our lives working toward certain goals, and yet be struck down any day by the most trivial of accidents. Death is no respecter of persons: young and old, rich and poor--all must face death. But as terrible an enemy as death is, even it has its side of blessing: It forces us to come to terms with God and eternity. Very few of us would do that if we didn’t recognize our mortality. Death shouts at us that we desperately need to be right with God.

So the curse shows us that God allows us to suffer consequences for our sin. Sometimes those consequences are directly related to some sin we have committed; at other times we just suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world. While God graciously tempers the severity of the consequences with glimmers of grace, the consequences are real. They remind us that with the holy God, sin is serious. But God’s grace triumphs in that He doesn’t leave us to suffer the ultimate consequences of sin:

2. God provides salvation from sin’s ultimate consequences: The covering (3:20-24).

At first glance, verses 20 and 21 seem out of context. But they fit in perfectly.

A. Salvation is through faith in God’s promise (3:20).

After the morbid words of verse 19, you would expect something like, “Now Adam called his wife’s name the Grim Reaper, because she was the mother of all the dying.” But instead of the Grim Reaper, Adam calls her “Eve,” which means “life-giver.” And even more strange, she has not yet had any children (see 4:1).

What does this verse mean? It is Adam’s response of faith to God’s promise to send a Savior through the seed of the woman (3:15). Adam heard and submitted to God’s penalty of death (3:19); but he also believed God’s promise that there would come forth from the woman one who would bruise the serpent’s head. And so by faith Adam named her Eve, the mother of all living, before she had conceived.

Salvation is now and always has been by faith in God’s promise. Before Jesus Christ came into the world, a person’s faith looked forward to the promised Savior. Since Christ, faith looks back to the Savior who came. But God always has granted salvation in response to a person’s taking Him at His word. It has never been based on keeping the commandments or on balancing out a person’s good works against his sins. Adam took God at His word. At that instant he was delivered from the ultimate consequence of his sin: eternal separation from God. God responded to Adam’s faith by providing a graphic object lesson of salvation:

B. Salvation is through God’s provision (3:21).

This verse shows how God met the practical need for clothing. But obviously it goes far beyond that. Just as man’s nakedness (3:7) goes beyond the physical and points to the nakedness of soul which resulted from sin, so God’s provision of clothing goes beyond the need for garments. It is a beautiful illustration of what God would do through the Lord Jesus Christ to provide salvation for all who stand before Him, naked due to their sin. This verse shows us four things (I have adapted the following four points from James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 1:189-192):

(1) Man needs a covering for his sin. The thought of standing with our sin exposed before the light of God’s presence should be more intolerable than the thought of going stark naked for a job interview at the White House. We all need some sort of covering for our sin.

(2) Man’s attempts at covering himself are inadequate. Adam and Eve’s fig leaves wouldn’t do. Man often tries the fig leaves of good works to make himself presentable to God, but God cannot accept that. All the good works in the world cannot erase our sin, which is the problem.

(3) Only God can provide the covering we need for our sin. He takes the initiative in properly covering man. He strips off the fig leaves and clothes Adam and Eve with animal skins. Adam and Eve did nothing; God did it all. We cannot receive God’s salvation as long as we offer Him our fig leaves. We must let Him provide everything, as He has in fact done in Christ.

(4) The covering God provided required the death of an innocent substitute. If, as I think we can assume, Adam and Eve witnessed the slaughter of these animals, it must have shocked them. This was the first time they had seen death. As they saw the animals (perhaps lambs?) having their throats slit and writhing in the throes of death, they must have gained a new awareness of the seriousness of their sin and of the greatness of God’s grace in providing for their sin. They learned that without the shedding of blood, there is no adequate covering for sin, but that God would accept the death of an acceptable substitute. Of course the blood of animals cannot take away our sin, but only the blood of Christ, to whom the animals pointed.

You are either standing before God clothed in the fig leaves of your own good works, or clothed in the righteousness which God provides in Jesus Christ. The only way you can hope to gain entry to heaven is to accept the covering God offers through the death of the Lamb of God.

C. Salvation is from the ultimate curse (3:22-24).

Having clothed Adam and Eve, God expels them from the garden. Art Linkletter saw a small boy drawing a picture of a car with a man in the front driving, and a man and a woman in the back. When Art asked who was in the car, the boy replied that it was God driving Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. That’s not quite how it happened!

First God states the problem: “the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil” (3:22). By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man had become like God in the sense that he related good and evil to himself. In the case of God, this is right, because He is the only perfect One who is the measure of all things. But in the case of man, it was sin. Now man knew evil like a cancer patient knows cancer, whereas God knew evil like the cancer surgeon knows cancer. The implication of God’s unfinished sentence (3:22) is that if they had stayed in the garden and eaten from the tree of life, they would have lived forever in their sinful bodies. So God banished them from the garden and Paradise ceased to exist on this earth.

But even this penalty contained a blessing. As Donald Barnhouse observes, “How often it is necessary for God to drive us out of an apparent good to bring us to the place of real good!” (Genesis [Zondervan], p. 28). Once sin had entered, to live forever would have been hell on earth. To set us free from sin and death, the Savior had to come who could rightly claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25).

Conclusion

Barnhouse also tells the story of Sir Edward C. Burne-Jones, a prominent 19th century English artist, who went to his daughter’s home for tea. During the tea, his little granddaughter misbehaved, so her mother made her stand in the corner with her face to the wall. Sir Edward did not interfere in his granddaughter’s discipline. But the next day he arrived at the house with his paints, went to the wall where the little girl had been forced to stand, and proceeded to paint a number of pictures that would delight a child--a kitten chasing its tail; lambs in a field; goldfish swimming; etc. If his granddaughter had to stand in the corner again, at least she would have something to look at (Let Me Illustrate [Revell], pp. 145-146). Judgment was tempered by grace.

Because of the fall, we are all under the curse of sin. But while God allows us to suffer the temporal consequences of sin to warn us and to turn us from sin, He also paints a picture of grace by providing the covering we need to protect us from sin’s ultimate consequence. Today you are either standing before God in the fig leaves of your own good works, in which case you are under sin’s full curse if you should die; or, you have come to Christ, the Lamb of God, and have allowed Him to cover your sin with His shed blood. Along with the curse, God provides the covering. Make sure you’re under God’s merciful covering!

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we hold to God’s grace without excusing our sin, and to His holiness without hindering intimacy with Him?
  2. Does the curse doom husbands and wives to rivalry for power? Is a husband supposed to exercise his authority to get his wife under his rule?
  3. Some argue that the curse of a woman being under her husband’s rule is abolished in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Is this valid?
  4. Does God soften the harvest of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7-8) for the believer? Base your answer on biblical examples.

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Rewards, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 11: Sin Crouching At The Door (Genesis 4:1-15)

Related Media

Several years ago California farmers were threatened with a potential disaster in the Mediterranean fruit fly. It probably entered the state with someone who lied about not having any fruit when they crossed the border. Then the larvae hatched and multiplied quickly. It took a rapid, all-out effort to save California’s fruit crop.

As you may know, the larvae of fruit flies and other insects do not eat their way into the fruit from the outside. Rather, the insect lays the egg in the blossom. The fruit grows around it; sometime later the worm hatches inside the fruit and eats its way out.

Sin is like that. It begins in the human heart and, if unchecked, works its way out in thoughts, words, and deeds. As with the Med-fly, it takes quick, vigorous action to deal with it and root it out. If you let it go, it gets the upper hand, resulting in terrible destruction.

We see the terrible effects of unchecked sin in the story of Cain and Abel. Because of the sin of his parents, Cain was the first person born in sin, as all since then have been. His tragic murder of his brother was even more tragic because of the high hopes connected with his birth. Imagine the joy and hope of that first couple as they looked into Cain’s tiny face and reflected on God’s promise to send a deliverer through the seed of the woman. Many Bible scholars think that Adam and Eve mistakenly thought Cain was the promised deliverer (Gen 3:15). His name means “acquired.” In light of God’s promise, it probably means, “I’ve gotten him!” Genesis 4:1 may be translated, “I have gotten a man with the Lord”; or, “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” She thought that Cain was the deliverer. And yet, as we know, she had not given birth to Christ, but to a murderer.

That’s the frightening possibility that every parent since Adam and Eve faces. We all have high hopes for our children. We want them to grow up to live productive, happy lives. But since the fall, there is a worm in the fruit. Sin resides in the heart of every newborn, and it is only a matter of time until it eats its way out. If a child grows up without trusting in Christ and learning how to check the power of sin within his heart, it will result in great ruin in his own life and in the lives of others. The story of Cain and Abel tells us that ...

Unchecked sin stemming from within leads to devastation without.

1. Sin stems from within.

Adam’s sin was imputed to the entire human race so that each person is born in sin (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:3). David, whom God called a man after His own heart, lamented, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Jeremiah groaned, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9, NKJV). The Apostle Paul sums up the human condition: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-12, 23). This is the doctrine of total depravity.

Total depravity does not mean that every person is as bad as he can be, nor that sinful people are incapable of good deeds. Rather, it means that there is nothing in the human heart capable of earning God’s favor. The human heart, by nature, is hostile toward God and unable to please God (Rom. 8:7-8). You can give a pig a bath and dress it in a tuxedo, but unless you change its nature, it will go back to wallowing in the mud. As sinners we can dress up in good deeds and look good on the outside, but unless God gives us a new nature, our hearts are corrupt. We sin because we are sinners by nature.

Jesus taught the same thing when He said, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23). Sin stems from within.

That was Cain’s problem. We read that when the brothers brought their respective offerings, the Lord had regard for Abel’s sacrifice, but not for Cain’s (4:2-4). Some commentators argue that the type of sacrifice had nothing to do with God’s acceptance of Abel and rejection of Cain. Rather, they say, it was the heart condition of each man. Abel’s heart was right before God, whereas Cain’s was not.

That is true, but not the full truth. The Lord always desires obedience rather than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). Cain’s wrong offering reflected his rebellious heart. But I believe God had given clear instruction about the type of sacrifice that He would accept. He had given Adam and Eve a graphic object lesson by clothing them with the skins of slaughtered animals, showing them that their fig leaves were not an adequate covering for their sin. Surely Adam and Eve had taught their sons what God had shown them about the proper way to approach Him. The young men had not just dreamed up on their own this idea of sacrifice. God had given them adequate instruction, either through their parents or directly.

This fact is confirmed by the author of Hebrews who writes, “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous...” (Heb. 11:4). Faith takes God at His word and acts upon it. Abel could not have offered his sacrifice in faith unless God had clearly revealed to that first family that He required a sacrifice which involved blood through the death of a substitute. God declared that the penalty for sin was death. But God had shown that He would accept the death of a proper substitute in place of the death of the sinner. Those animals pointed forward to the death of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would come to take away the sin of the world. Cain and Abel both knew what God required. But only Abel came in the obedience of faith with his offering. Cain came with the fruit of his own labor, but it was in defiance of what God had specified.

Why did Cain do that? Beneath his wrong offering was a root of pride that lurks in every fallen heart. Pride tells us that we have something in ourselves that will commend us to God. Pride whispers, “You’re a pretty good person. Sure, you’ve got your faults, but nothing so bad as to send you to hell. Do your best, be sincere, and you’ll get into heaven. After all, if God is good, He wouldn’t condemn a decent person like you!” Such prideful thinking is at the root of every human religion, but it is totally opposed to biblical Christianity which plainly declares that we are all sinners by nature and by deed and that no sinner can save himself from God’s judgment. If we can offer God anything for our salvation, then Christ did not need to die as the substitute for sinners, thus satisfying God’s holy justice.

God didn’t accept Abel’s offering out of arbitrary unfairness. Nor did he accept it because it was Abel’s best effort. Abel was, by nature, just as much a sinner as Cain was. God accepted it because Abel offered it in faith in response to God’s word. It had nothing to do with Cain’s efforts or Abel’s efforts. It had everything to do with God’s just requirement for a blood sacrifice to be the only means of approaching Him.

Let’s suppose that you are a football fan, and you really wanted to go to the recent Superbowl. You went down to Sun Devil Stadium and started to walk through the turnstile. The ticket attendant says, “Where’s your ticket?” You say, “Oh, I don’t have one of those silly pieces of paper. But I want you to know that I am a committed football fan. I watch every game. I know the statistics on every player. There is no more dedicated fan than I.” He will say, “I don’t care; you need a ticket to get into the Superbowl.”

So you leave the stadium and go find an artist. You have him draw a ticket with a picture of a football player on it. He writes on it in neat letters, “Superbowl Ticket.” You go back to the stadium and hand that ticket to the man. He looks at it and says, “What’s this?” You say, “That’s my ticket. You said I needed a ticket to get into the game.”

You could argue with him all day that your ticket is prettier than those printed tickets everyone else is giving him. You’re probably right. But it won’t do you a bit of good. You can tell him how much effort and expense you went to in order to have that ticket made. He won’t care. The only way to gain entrance to the game is to present the ticket issued by the proper authority. It has nothing to do with your character. It has nothing to do with your dedication as a fan. It has nothing to do with the effort or expense you went to in order to produce your own version of it. It has everything to do with it being the ticket required by the management for entrance.

God has said that the only ticket into heaven is perfect righteousness. No one has it. No one can achieve it. But in His grace, God offers it as a free gift through the death of His Son, the only acceptable Substitute. Coming to God with that ticket robs us of all pride in our own goodness and good works. But it is the only ticket acceptable at heaven’s gate.

Cain didn’t like that. His pride in his own efforts made him angry when his ticket was rejected. He was angry at God, but also at his brother, who got in by showing the right ticket. His anger led him into depression--his countenance fell (4:5). He grew jealous. It all stemmed from his pride which tried to come God on his own terms. Sin stems from within.

2. Sin needs to be checked.

God could have struck Cain dead at this point for offering this improper sacrifice. But He graciously comes to Cain with a warning, to give him a chance to repent before it is too late.

A. God graciously warned Cain to check his sin.

The Lord asks Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?” Remember, God doesn’t ask questions because He lacks information. He asks questions to get the hearer to think rightly about matters. He was telling Cain, “Your anger and foul mood should tell you something about yourself. The reason you’re angry and depressed is that you weren’t willing to submit to My way and you didn’t get your way. And then you saw that I accepted your brother and his sacrifice and you grew jealous. It all stems from your pride, Cain.”

If you struggle with anger, ask yourself the question God asked Cain: Why are you angry? You’ll probably learn that you’re a lot more selfish than you care to admit. You may discover that your anger is a cover for some other area of disobedience in your life. It may be due to your wrong perception that God is dealing with you unfairly. “I’m as good a Christian as so-and-so. But look how God has blessed him. But all I get is suffering and problems. It’s not fair!” Never ask God to deal fairly with you! If He deals fairly, we all would go to hell! The only way to approach God is as an undeserving sinner seeking grace.

God’s warning tells Cain what he needs to do: “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (4:7). In this context, “doing well” means, “Go back and offer the right sacrifice and you will be accepted and your anger and depression will go away. Everything will be right between you and Me.” God is giving Cain the opportunity to repent.

There is an important principle here: By doing well, you will feel well. Cain was angry and depressed because of his sin. God didn’t put him in therapy and ask him about his childhood. Rather He said, “Act right and you will feel right.” If you will obey God and judge sinful feelings, your feelings will come around, and you will find yourself feeling good. But if you follow your feelings and disobey God, you will be plunged into guilt and depression. God doesn’t tell us to live by feelings, but by faith and obedience to His Word. Do well and you will feel well.

If you don’t do well, sin is crouching at the door. God pictures sin as a wild animal ready to pounce. It has a desire for you; it thirsts for your blood. It is your mortal enemy. But you must master it. Just as man was to have dominion over the beasts, so he must now gain dominion over the beast crouching within--indwelling sin.

God is saying, “Deal with your sin. Don’t let it go on, or you will soon find yourself in the grip of a monster you can’t control.” Sin always begins with wrong thoughts. If you let those wrong thoughts go on, they lead to wrong feelings. Wrong feelings lead to wrong words, wrong words to wrong actions, wrong actions to wrong habits. Sin is like an acorn from an oak tree that falls in the forest. If you pick it up immediately, it is easy; even a child can do it. If it has just sprouted, it is still relatively easy to root out. But if you let it alone for very long, it sends down deep roots and grows into a strong tree that requires a lot of work to take out. If unchecked sin gets a hold in your life, it is a major operation to root it out. So God is saying, “Deal with your sin now, while it is still in the mental stage. If you let it go on, it will destroy you.”

Some of you may be thinking, “What can I do? I’ve already allowed some sins to take deep root in my life. They’re far past the thought stage; they’re deep-rooted habits. To tear them out now would be as difficult as yanking a tree out of my yard.”

I don’t have time to answer that question fully in this message. But, briefly, there are two sides to dealing with deep-rooted sin: God’s part and your part. God’s part is to take away the penalty of your sin when you trust in Christ and to give you the Holy Spirit and the Word to produce holiness within you (Ps. 119:11; Rom. 8:1-4). Your part is to walk in dependence on the Holy Spirit and to deal radically with sin--yank out your eye; cut off your hand that makes you stumble (Matt. 5:29-30)! Jesus wasn’t suggesting that maiming yourself would solve your sin problem. Rather, He was saying that you need to get radical in dealing with your sin. Do whatever it takes to cut sin out of your life. Don’t flirt with it, don’t dabble with it, not even in your thought life. Throw the bum out! Otherwise, it moves in and takes over, making you its slave. But in spite of God’s gracious warning we see that ...

B. Cain willfully disobeyed God’s warning.

Cain refused to humble himself and bring the proper offering. Instead, “he told Abel his brother” (NASB, 4:8). We don’t know what he told him. It probably means that Cain invited Abel to go into the field with him. The sense is that he talked nicely to him. Abel didn’t suspect the treachery; and so Cain killed him without warning. The Greek word used to describe the murder in 1 John 3:12 is a word meaning to slaughter a victim for sacrifice, to slit the throat. Perhaps Cain thought angrily, “All right, God, if You want blood sacrifice, I’ll give it to You.” And he ruthlessly slaughtered his own brother in cold blood.

Cain’s sin shows the hardening process that has set into the human race in one generation of sin. It began in the context of worship, thus showing how sinful man trifles with the most sacred things. Eve had to be talked into her sin; Cain could not be talked out of it, even by God Himself. The victim was his own brother, guilty of no wrong toward Cain. While Adam and Eve tried to pass the buck, at least they told the truth and owned up to their sin. But Cain lies about it and never admits his sin. When God asks, “Where is your brother?” Cain replies with the insolent words, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The arrogant insinuation is, “Can’t You keep track of Your own creation, God?” There is not one word of repentance.

So sin begins within, in the heart. If it is not checked, it moves into wrong emotions and wrong actions. Finally,

3. Unchecked sin leads to outward devastation.

Abel, a righteous man, was murdered. Adam and Eve were undoubtedly overwhelmed with grief. Their high hopes for their son the deliverer were dashed. He fled into a distant land, estranged from his parents. His descendents, as we will see, learned his arrogant and violent ways (4:23-24). But let’s focus briefly on the devastation in Cain’s life.

First, God curses Cain in the area of his greatest strength. He was a farmer; God says that the ground will no longer yield its strength to him. Farmers generally are tied to the land, to one location. God decrees that Cain will be a vagrant and wanderer. The wonder is that God didn’t execute Cain on the spot. God later gave to man the power of capital punishment for murder (Gen. 9:6). The only reason I know why God didn’t execute Cain was His great mercy. Cain got far less than he deserved.

And yet he complained that his punishment was too harsh (4:13)! Isn’t that just like sinful man! We sin and God sends some sort of judgment on us. And we complain and say, “God’s not fair” (Prov. 19:3). Cain is filled with self-pity and fear that he would get the same treatment he gave his brother (4:14). “‘There is no peace for the wicked,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 48:22).

God graciously appointed a sign or mark for Cain, as a warning that if anyone killed Cain, vengeance would be taken on him sevenfold. We don’t know whether this was a physical mark or some sort of confirming sign. But it was a mark of grace, by which God signified that His protective hand was on Cain in spite of his great sin. God, in His mercy, was giving Cain every chance to repent. But we read that “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (4:16).

What devastation sin brings into human lives! A man of great promise ends up as an estranged, hardened, fearful, guilt-ridden vagabond. Seventeenth century English poet, John Trapp, wrote, “To prosper in sin is the greatest tragedy that can befall a man this side of hell. Envy not such a one his pomp any more than you would a corpse his flowers.”

Conclusion

What are you doing with the sin crouching at the door of your heart? Either it will master you or by trusting in Christ and warring against it, you will master it. Have you come to Christ as a guilty sinner seeking mercy? Are you on guard against the beast that still dwells within? Are you dealing radically with it? Or are you dallying with it? There’s no middle ground! If God is speaking to you about your sin, don’t shut the door on God. Come in repentance to Him, and by His power, slam the door shut on your sin!

Discussion Questions

  1. What would you say to someone who said, “God is not fair in imputing Adam’s sin to the whole human race”?
  2. Why is the doctrine of total depravity essential to the gospel?
  3. Is all anger sin? How can we tell the difference between sinful anger and righteous anger? How should we deal with our anger?
  4. Is all depression sin? Is some depression sin? How does God want us to deal with our depression?
  5. Is it possible for a Christian to live without sinning? Can a Christian experience consistent victory over sin? How?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 12: Progress Without God (Genesis 4:16-26)

Related Media

There are three great enemies of the believer: The world; the flesh; and the devil. In the early chapters of Genesis, these three enemies are introduced to us in reverse order: The devil (chap. 3; the temptation and fall); the flesh (4:1-15; “sin crouching at the door”); and, the world (4:16-26; where we see the descendants of Cain making progress, but it is progress without God).

We live in a world of dizzying technological progress. In my own lifetime (I’m dating myself!), TV has gone from a novelty owned by a very few Americans, with a narrow selection of shows (almost all wholesome), to a domineering presence in almost all American homes, where it spews forth sensuality, violence, and anti-family programs which we watch for an average of over three hours per day per person. Somehow, I made it through college without the photocopy machine. I was through seminary and several years in the ministry before the personal computer became available. The last few years have brought the fax machine, the computer modem, and the Internet.

If you go back to my grandparent’s childhood years (100 years ago), it was a whole different world. There were no paved roads or cars, no airplanes (let alone space travel--my grandfather died insisting that men on the moon were just a TV fantasy). The telephone and electric light bulb were new inventions. Most modern household appliances did not exist. Even the radio was still future. Medical knowledge was in its infancy compared to today.

As Christians, we are called to live in this world and to use the things of the world, and yet not to be conformed to its man-centered ways. It’s easy to get squeezed into this world’s mold, so that God subtly gets squeezed out. To make progress without God is to be like the man who climbed the ladder of success only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Someone has said, “Is it progress if you get a cannibal to use a knife and fork?” Progress without God leads no where; true progress comes only through submission to God.

In Genesis 4:16-26 we see, in Cain’s descendants, the world caught up with progress without God. But at the end of the chapter there is a glimmer of hope in the descendants of Seth, a remnant of people who call upon God. These two strands of people--the worldly and the godly--write human history. They teach us that ...

Progress without God is illusory; progress with God is true progress.

1. Progress without God is illusory (4:16-24).

After murdering his brother, Cain refused God’s offer to repent. Instead, he “went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod [= wandering]” (4:16). To go out from the presence of God means that Cain turned his back on God. He and his wife had children and grandchildren, he built a city, his descendants developed a number of innovations, and life went on. It sounds a lot like our world. There is progress; but it is only apparent progress, because it is progress without God.

Before we go farther, we need to answer the questions you’re all wondering about: Where did Cain get his wife? and, Where did the people come from to populate a city? With regard to Cain’s wife, Genesis 5:4 states that during Adam’s long life, he had many sons and daughters besides those named in these chapters. Someone has conservatively estimated that in his 930 years (which I take literally) Adam could easily have over a million descendants. So Cain (probably before murdering Abel) married one of his sisters (or nieces), who went east with him. God had not yet forbidden incest, which later in human history would cause genetic problems.

With regard to the question of where the people came from to populate Cain’s city, the term “city” need mean nothing more than a walled enclosure with a few houses. Even in David’s time (ca. 1000 B.C.), the capital city of Jerusalem encompassed only about ten acres. So we’re not looking at a Phoenix! The people who lived in Cain’s “city” were probably his descendants.

While Cain himself defied God, his descendants weren’t all angry rebels. The names of several of them contain the root “El,” the Hebrew word for God, which would indicate that they had a form of religion (4:18). But the implication is that they did not know the living God. He was not central to them. They focused on the business of raising families, founding cities, pursuing careers, and developing cultures and inventions.

A. Cultural and technological advances promote the illusion of progress.

These people saw a number of beneficial advances. The population was growing. Families developed. Cities, where people banded together in a common endeavor, were now possible. Others domesticated livestock (4:20). Culture was advancing, as Jubal invented stringed and wind instruments (4:21). Tubal-cain began to make and use various bronze and iron implements. It all had the look of progress.

Sounds like our world, doesn’t it? There were children, cities, culture, and careers. We get married, have children, build “planned communities,” take the kids to music lessons, and pursue our careers. But when you do all these good things apart from the presence of the Lord, they become only the illusion of progress. The world tries to fill the emptiness of life without God with all these good gifts which God has given for the human race.

In fact, each of them can turn into a nightmare without God. Children can become brazen murderers, like Lamech (4:23-24). Cities can become hopeless jungles of poverty and violence. Culture--music, literature, and films--can be used to glorify filth. Careers can be used to further greed in the selfish scramble to the top. Inventions have brought us to the brink of destroying the human race. The problem isn’t in these cultural and technological advances. The problem is when these things are done apart from the presence of God. Progress without God is only illusory.

B. Man’s spiritual and moral failure expose the illusion of progress.

Derek Kidner (Genesis [IVP], p. 78) observes: “Cain’s family is a microcosm: its pattern of technical prowess and moral failure is that of humanity.” The spiritual and moral failure shows itself in four ways:

(1) Defiance of God. God told Cain that he would be a wanderer because of murdering Abel. But Cain went out and built a city to thumb his nose at God. But even if he settled in a city, Cain couldn’t escape the inner restlessness. Perhaps building a city was his attempt to protect himself apart from God’s protection, since he feared that he would receive the same treatment he gave his brother.

By naming the city after his son, it’s likely that Cain was also defying God. God had said that death was the penalty for sin. Cain attempted to thwart the curse by making a lasting name for his family line by naming his city after his son. The psalmist, in talking of the foolishness of those who live without God, says, “Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:11-12).

Defying God is more stupid than trying to stop a speeding freight train by standing in front of it. You can’t win against God! Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). You can either do it voluntarily now, or against your will in hell. But you cannot defy God and win. The spiritual and moral failure of the fallen human race is also seen in its ...

(2) Pride. As we saw last week, Cain was proud. He wanted to come to God on his terms, not on God’s terms. He wanted God to accept him on the basis of his best efforts. But no one can come to God on human merit. We can only come through the sacrifice God has provided, which robs us of our pride.

Cain’s pride was like a snowball, picking up mass as it rolls downhill. By the time it got to Lamech, it was an avalanche. Lamech not only sinned, but sinned boastfully. Verses 23 & 24 record the first poem or song in history. It is a “macho” song of the world’s first Rambo boasting in his strength. He calls his wives together and tells them how tough he is. The words may mean that he has already killed someone, or they may be the threat that if anyone messes with him, he will kill them. He is not simply saying that he will defend himself if he is attacked. Rather, he’s saying that if even a boy provokes him slightly, he will kill him.

But there’s more: not only is he boasting of himself over other men, but he is boasting against God. He refers to God’s promise to protect his ancestor, Cain, by punishing sevenfold. He is saying that he can take care of himself far better than God took care of Cain--seventy-sevenfold! This shows that he knew of God, but he chooses to exalt himself above God. What blasphemy and arrogance!

When a society or individuals in that society start boasting about sin, it has hit the bottom. I’m afraid our society is there. We flaunt sin on TV, and even Christians watch the filth until their noses grow accustomed to the stench. But God hates sin. Sin put Jesus through the agony of the cross. While we must show compassion to sinners (because we, too, are sinners needing mercy), we must never boast in the sin. The spiritual and moral failure of this early civilization is seen in their defiance of God and in their pride. Also,

(3) Polygamy and sensuality. Lamech took two wives. This is the introduction of polygamy in the Bible. While God tolerated polygamy, it was never endorsed, and the problems it caused are sufficient reason to conclude that it never brings about God’s purpose for marriage. Even though this was a drastic departure from God’s plan in giving one wife (and not more) to Adam, there is no indication that Lamech sought the Lord about doing it. He just did what he felt like doing.

The names of his wives and daughter reveal the sensual emphasis of this man. The names must be significant, since the Hebrews to whom Genesis was written would not have known these women, and nothing else is said of them. Adah means “the adorned,” or “beautiful one”; Zillah means “the shaded,” perhaps from her hair, or “tinkling,” perhaps from the sound of her voice. The name of the daughter, Naamah, means “lovely. The emphasis was on the lust of the flesh, on outward beauty and sensuality, not on the inner person or character.

Like no culture in history, we are bombarded with sensuality and appeals to the flesh. But as in this early culture, so today, this moral cancer is covered with the veneer of progress: “We’re free from the Victorian ideas of sexual purity. We’re free from the restrictive divorce laws which kept our parents bound in unhappy marriages.” And so we cast off God’s plan for moral purity, for marriage and the family under the banner of progress. The final indicator of the spiritual condition of these people is ...

(4) Perversion of culture into violence and selfish ends. It is not accidental that the development of bronze and iron implements (4:22) is followed by Lamech’s boast about murder (4:23-24). The development of bronze and iron implements was good for society. Many useful tools could help man cultivate the land and perform other tasks. But the same knowledge was used to develop swords and spears to kill. And so Lamech takes the good thing developed by his son and uses it wrongfully to defend his pride. The lyrics of the first song in history promoted violence! “Gangsta Rap” is as old as human civilization!

In our culture, inventions which could benefit man are twisted to promote destruction. The arts and music, which can be a wholesome expression of human creativity, are perverted into pornography and the degradation of people made in the image of God. And it’s all tolerated under the false covering of progress and free speech.

That’s the world system! It’s making great progress in many areas, but it’s progress without God. And so good things, legitimate things, are twisted and used for evil ends. The illusion of progress is promoted by the cultural and technological advances; but that same illusion is exposed by the spiritual and moral failure crouching behind it all. It would be depressing if the chapter ended there. But thankfully it does not. It ends with a glimmer of hope:

2. Progress with God is true progress (4:25-26).

By inciting Cain to murder Abel, Satan tried to thwart God’s promise to bring a deliverer through the seed of the woman. But God raised up another seed in Seth, whose name means “appointed.” Through Seth’s descendants we read, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Compared with building cities, founding cultural enterprises, and launching industries, “calling on the name of the Lord” doesn’t sound much like progress. It is not that those things are to be abandoned by God’s people. All too often Christians have let the world set the pace in the arts and sciences. Christians ought to be leading the way in every wholesome aspect of human enterprise. But the point is that if God is not at the center of such enterprise, it will be morally bankrupt. What looks like progress will not be progress at all. True progress has God at the center. Note three things about progress with God:

A. Progress with God requires believing God’s promises.

When Eve gave birth to Cain she thought he was the promised deliverer. She said, “I have gotten a man, the Lord” (4:1). Even though she was mistaken, it was a statement of faith. God had promised a deliverer through the seed of the woman. Eve believed God’s promise. But she gave birth to a murderer, not to the Savior. She could have grown disillusioned with God and said, “I believed God once and He let me down. Why should I believe Him this time?” But she didn’t. Rather she said, “God has appointed me another offspring [lit., “seed”] in place of Abel; for Cain killed him” (4:25). It’s interesting that Eve recognized Seth as the replacement for Abel, not for Cain. She knew that God could not use Cain to fulfill His promise of the seed. And her faith was rewarded, although not in her lifetime. In the fulness of time the promised Seed was born of a woman whose genealogy is traced through Seth to Adam (Luke 3:38).

You can’t make true progress in life until you take God at His word concerning His promise of the Savior. Jesus Christ, miraculously conceived in the virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, is the eternal God in human flesh. God told Adam and Eve that they would die if the ate of the forbidden fruit. They ate; they instantly died spiritually, by being separated from God. They began to die physically. But God showed them through the death of the animals whose skins He used to clothe them that He would accept the death of an appropriate substitute. Jesus Christ is that substitute, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You cannot come to God based on your own merit or works, as Cain tried to do. You can only come to God by trusting in the Substitute He has provided as the penalty for your sin. True progress starts there.

B. Progress with God requires acknowledging man’s frailty.

In biblical times, names were important. Seth named his son Enosh, which means “frail one” or “mortal.” Instead of boasting about his strength, as Lamech did, Seth readily acknowledged his weakness by naming his son, “Frail One.”

You cannot make progress with God until you learn how weak you really are. The problem with most Christians is not that they are weak, but rather that they think they’re strong. Until you know your weakness, you will trust in yourself, which is a sure route to spiritual failure. But as you become aware of the awful depravity of your heart, it drives you to trust completely in the Lord, who alone is your strength. When you are weak, then you are strong. That leads to the final aspect of progress with God:

C. Progress with God requires dependence upon the Lord.

“Then men began to call on the name of the Lord”. This may have been the beginning of public worship. The “name” refers to all that God had revealed about Himself. While the significance of the name “Yahweh” was not revealed to God’s people until Moses (Exod. 3:13-15), God’s character as the personal covenant God was known. Seth’s descendants began to call upon God as the personal, caring God, trusting fully in Him. If you are not growing in dependence on the living God, you’re not making progress in anything that counts for eternity.

Conclusion

Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, was a man who acknowledged his own weakness and God’s strength, and thus trusted in the Lord. He was a pioneer in human progress. One day a friend said to him, “Professor Morse, when you were making your experiments, did you ever come to a place of not knowing what to do next?”

“More than once,” Morse replied, “and whenever I could not see my way clearly, I knelt down and prayed to God for light and understanding.” Then Morse added, “When flattering honors came to me from America and Europe on account of the invention which bears my name, I never felt I deserved them. I had made a valuable application of electricity, not because I was superior to other men, but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone, and was pleased to reveal it to me.”

In May, 1844, the first message to be sent over the telegraph, dispatched by Morse himself between Washington and Baltimore, was, “What hath God wrought!” That was true progress, because God was at the center of Morse’s life.

Someone has said, “I would rather fail in a cause that will someday triumph, than triumph in a cause that will someday fail.” How about you? Where are you putting your energy and time: into progress in the things of this world, or into true progress with God? Progress without God is no progress at all. The only progress that counts is progress with God at the center of our lives.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why are Christians often not on the cutting edge of science and the arts? Is it wrong for Christians to devote their lives to excellence in the these areas if it is not directly evangelistic?
  2. Some Christians have the notion, “Jesus is coming soon and the world is going to burn, so why work to improve things?” Is this a biblically tenable position? Why/why not?
  3. How can we keep God at the center of our lives in the midst of the pressures of our families, careers, etc.?
  4. What is “worldliness”? What does it mean to be “in the world” but not of it? See John 17:14-19.

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Failure, Hamartiology (Sin), Science

Lesson 13: The Epitaph of Sin (Genesis 5:1-32)

Related Media

When asked what he would like his epitaph to read, Johnny Carson quipped, “I’ll be right back.” He won’t be back from the grave, of course. Nobody will. While we all may have differing epitaphs, there is really only one epitaph for the fallen human race: “He died.” Genesis 5 shows us that the epitaph of sin is death.

It’s a chapter many would be inclined to skip. Perhaps in your Bible reading, you skim these verses, wondering why they are in the Bible. Verses 1-3 tell us why: Moses takes us back to Genesis 1, before the fall, to show that God’s original purpose for man, created in His image, is now to be carried out through Adam’s line through Seth, not through Cain. But there is a marked difference since the fall: While Adam was created in God’s likeness (5:1), he became the father of a son in his own (Adam’s) likeness (5:3). While people after the fall retain a vestige of the divine image (Gen. 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9), they also contain the image of their parents, born in sin. God’s purpose is now realized through those who by faith are of the line of Adam through Seth, not through Cain.

Adam’s descendants through Cain fall under the heading, “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (4:16). But even so, they made great progress in many areas. The line of Cain looks impressive on the surface. But it was progress without God, which is not true progress. The descendants of Seth fall under the heading, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26). With a couple of exceptions, not much is said of these men or their achievements, except that they had children, lived so many years, and died. The line of Seth reminds man of his mortality. But through Enoch, it also shows the hope of eternal life for those who walk with God. Also, it was through the line of Seth that God raised up Noah, and through him came Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and, eventually, Jesus Christ.

Moses wrote these words to the Israelites who were poised to enter and conquer Canaan. They were prone to rebel and return to Egypt or to join the idolatry and immorality of the pagan nations around them. Moses wrote Genesis 4 and 5 to show them that they needed to follow the line of Seth, not the line of Cain. Moses is saying to his people, “As you go into a godless culture that will have many temptations, including the temptation to make progress without God, be careful! Remember that you will die, and that you live in this fallen world by calling upon the name of the Lord, by walking with God.”

His words are just as practical for us as they were for ancient Israel. We, too, live in a pagan world that tempts us to forget the shortness of life and join its progress without God. God is saying, “Remember as you live in this glittery world that you will die, and walk with Me.”

Because of sin we all must die, but those who walk with God have the hope of eternal life.

1. Because of sin we all must die.

God’s word is always true. Satan is a liar. God said, “... in the day that you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], you shall surely die” (2:17). Satan said, “You surely shall not die!” (3:4). Chapter 5 shows who was right. God’s warning was no idle threat. The repeated phrase, “and he died” sounds like a funeral bell, tolling eight times throughout the chapter (5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, and 31). It tells us that ...

A. All must die.

We need to feel the force of God’s judgment upon sin. This chapter follows the godly line of Seth, of those who called upon the name of the Lord, not of those who went out from the presence of the Lord. But even so, we read over and over, “and he died, ... and he died.” Even though they lived long lives, they died.

We don’t like to think about death, especially our own! It used to be more common. Jonathan Edwards, at 19, resolved among other things “to think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” In the Middle Ages it was common for scholars and other men of prominence to keep a skull on their desk to remind them that they, like the victim, must die. The Latin name for such a skull was a memento mori, “a reminder of death” (James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 1:238). It sounds gruesome to us. But Genesis 5 is God’s memento mori, His reminder to us that all must die. Why?

B. Sin is the cause of our death.

Death entered the human race through Adam’s disobedience. Paul put it, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). “For the wages of sin is death ...” (Rom. 6:23). When Adam and Eve sinned, instantly they died spiritually--they were separated from God. But also they began to die physically. With them it was a longer process than it is with us, but it was set in motion the minute they sinned. Seth, born in Adam’s likeness, inherited a sin nature which he passed on to his descendants. Adam’s sin brought death to all.

Critics scoff at the long lives attributed to the patriarchs. While there could be some gaps between the names listed, there is no reason, except an arbitrary bias against the Bible, to doubt the ages given. There is good reason to believe that before the flood, conditions on earth were different than they are now. A cloud canopy could have protected the early human race from the aging process known to be accelerated by the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Also, God is the one who determines the length of man’s life (Gen. 6:3; Pss. 90:3, 10; 139:16). If God determined that the early human race live to be 900 to populate the earth rapidly and to advance civilization, and later He shortened that life span to teach us the penalty for sin, who are we to scoff at the historical record?

The point is that sin is the cause of death in the human race. A popular idea promoted in our day is that death is a natural part of life. We are born, move through life, and then we die. Man is just like the animals, going through the life cycle. But that line of reasoning dilutes the reality that death is God’s judgment on our sin. Death is not natural. It is a horrible reminder that we have wronged the holy God and that someday we all must stand before Him. We can try to block it out of our minds, we can joke about it, but we are still going to die. The only way to live wisely is to keep in constant focus that whether I have less than 24 hours, or a few years, it is certain that I am going to die and stand before a holy God. I’d better be ready to meet Him!

If this genealogy just recorded that each man lived, had some children, and died, it would be a bleak picture. But in the middle of this dismal pattern, there is a bright exception: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (5:24). If that were the only verse in the Bible about Enoch, what actually happened to him might be a mystery. But Hebrews 11:5 makes it plain that “Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death.” With Enoch the death bell did not sound. His life shows that ...

2. Those who walk with God have the hope of eternal life.

There are two distinctive things about Enoch: He walked with God (mentioned twice); and, he did not die; God took him.

A. We must walk with God.

(1) A walk with God is begun by faith. The world takes note of those who achieve in science or business or entertainment. It makes celebrities of notorious criminals. But God takes note of the person who walks with Him by faith. Hebrews 11:5-6 states, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Enoch believed God; God rewarded him accordingly.

The starting place of a walk with God is to come to Him in faith. You must trust in the sacrifice He has provided for your sin in the Lord Jesus Christ, just as Abel, by faith, offered to God a bloody sacrifice, and was accepted on that basis (Heb. 11:4). You must put off any trust in your own goodness or works and rely solely on Christ’s death as the just penalty for your sin.

(2) A walk with God is helped, but not guaranteed, by a godly family. The people in this chapter are related to one another, as are the people in chapter 4. The contrast of the two families, Cain and Seth, shows us the importance of godly families. In just seven generations from Adam through Cain we come to the arrogant, violent Lamech. In seven generations from Adam through Seth we find the godly Enoch and, later, Noah. It’s not certain, but Enoch could have begun his 300 year walk with God after the birth of his son, Methuselah (5:22). Often the birth of a child makes us think about the kind of life we’re leading and the kind of example we’re going to set for our children. God uses that to bring us to repentance. God often works through families to call people to Himself.

There’s both good news and bad news in this observation. The good news is that any person can be the start of a godly line that will be used to turn many from their sin. Although you may have come from a godless family, if you will walk with God, your children and grandchildren can have the privilege of being raised in a godly home, where the love of Christ reigns. Of course that means that those of us who have had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home have a great responsibility to carry the torch ourselves and to hand it on to our children.

That leads to the bad news--that it only takes one generation to turn a godly family into a godless one. At the time of the flood (four generations from Enoch), Noah and his sons were the only ones on the face of the earth whom God saw fit to save. Enoch and his descendants had other sons and daughters than those mentioned here by name (5:22, 26, 30). Apparently they followed the way of the world, not the way of the Lord. Consequently they all came under God’s judgment in the flood. Matthew Henry notes, “Grace does not run in the blood, but corruption does. A sinner begets a sinner, but a saint does not beget a saint” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Revell], 1:47).

Did you know that the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, came from a solid Christian family? His parents and both sets of grandparents were evangelical Christians. As a boy he sang in the choir, tithed his allowance, and read through his King James Bible. Yet he rebelled against his upbringing and became notorious for his profligate, godless life. Lonely, bitter, and depressed, he shot himself at age 61. His descendants are thoroughly pagan.

But, thankfully, it can go the other way. Hudson Taylor, founder of the great China Inland Mission, traced his spiritual roots through his mother back to his great-grandfather who was converted from a worldly way of life. Today, Taylor’s great-grandson is a prominent missions leader. Millions of souls have been won to Christ because Taylor’s great-grandfather established a Christian home.

What about you? Are you walking with God and raising a godly family who will walk with God? If you are single, I cannot overemphasize the importance of your marrying a mate who will join you wholeheartedly in walking with God and raising up children who walk with God. But even then it is not easy. That leads to a third observation:

(3) A walk with God is distinct from the crowd. Enoch stood out in his day. He lived at the same time as the lustful, boastful murderer, Lamech (they are both the seventh generation from Adam). Jude 14-15 records what Enoch prophesied: “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” He warned the ungodly of God’s coming judgment.

That probably didn’t make Enoch the most popular fellow of his day! People like to hear upbeat messages on how they can succeed and be happy. They don’t like to be confronted with their ungodly ways. But the closer a man walks with God, the more he realizes how ungodly his own heart is, and how ungodly his own generation is. As he grows in holiness, he stands out as distinct from the crowd.

Thus a walk with God is begun by faith; it is helped, though not guaranteed by a godly family; it is distinct from the crowd. Finally,

(4) A walk with God is not spectacular. Can you imagine how we would write the biography in our day of a man who was translated bodily to heaven without dying? We certainly wouldn’t title it, “The Man Who Walked With God.” We might call it “The Man Who Flew With God.” We’re so caught up with the sensational and the shallow, but we ignore the things that are truly sensational in God’s sight. Walking with God for 300 years in the midst of an ungodly generation is what counts with God.

Walking is a graphic word picture of the spiritual life. It is not the quickest or flashiest way to get someplace. But it’s the way God ordained. Walking is a steady progression over time toward a goal (“Pilgrim’s Progress”). To walk with God means that our lives are going the same direction God is going. We are yielded in obedience to Him.

Walking with God also pictures intimacy and fellowship. Walking with a friend is a time for talking, for getting to know one another better, for sharing the things that are happening in your lives. Walking with God is a daily process of growing more intimate with God as you go through life. Of course you have to do your own walking. Someone else can’t do it for you. You must take the initiative, effort, and time necessary to walk with God. Enoch’s life shows that if we walk with God ...

B. We gain the hope of eternal life.

It’s interesting that the most godly man in this genealogy has by far the shortest life--365 years. (The next shortest is Lamech--777 years.) Walking with God is not a guarantee of a long life on earth; it is a guarantee of eternal life with God. In Enoch, as Calvin points out, there is “an instruction for all the godly, that they should not keep their hope confined within the boundaries of this mortal life” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 1:232).

Enoch is also a type of those who will be alive at the Lord’s coming and who will be taken directly to heaven without dying. This is the blessed hope of every believer, to be caught up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13-17).

Those who do not walk with God do not have the hope of eternal life, but only the fear of judgment. Enoch prophesied of God’s coming judgment, and he did it through more than just his preaching: He named his son Methuselah. The most likely meaning of that name is, “When he is dead, it shall come.” What does that mean? Apparently God revealed to Enoch that He was going to send His judgment upon that godless world. Enoch responded by naming his son, “When he is dead, it shall come.” What would come? God’s judgment! If you figure out the chronology of the ages listed in Genesis 5 (assuming no gaps), you discover that Methuselah died the same year that God sent the flood to destroy the earth.

Do you know why Methuselah lived longer than any other person in recorded history? Because his life is a testimony of the patience and grace of God, who “is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). In the context Peter is discussing the flood and the certainty of God’s judgment. Peter is arguing that just as men then scoffed for almost 1,000 years at the fact that judgment had not come, so in the last times men will scoff and say that the Lord is not coming. But, just because judgment is delayed does not mean that it is not certain. Rather, it reveals God’s great patience and mercy. Repent before His certain judgment falls!

Conclusion

Years ago a London merchant named Henry Goodear scoffed at the Bible. But one Sunday, just to please his niece, he went to church. The young lady was greatly disappointed when she learned that the pastor’s message was based on Genesis 5. As she listened to the boring list of names being read, she wondered why God had permitted the pastor to pick that text on the day her uncle came to church. As they walked home, little did she know that every step of her uncle’s feet and every beat of his heart seemed to repeat the gloomy refrain, “And he died! And he died!”

The next day, Goodear could not concentrate on his work. That night he searched for a family Bible and read over those words, “and he died, ... and he died.” Goodear thought, “Now I’m living, but someday I too must die, and then where will I spend eternity?” That very night he asked the Lord Jesus to forgive him and make him his child. (Adapted from “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1978.)

The Bible says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Don’t assume that your date with death will be many years in the future. It could be today. Jesus said, “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). That promise is for you to claim today!

Discussion Questions

  1. Should we, like Jonathan Edwards, think often about our own death? Is this a biblical focus?
  2. What are some further implications of the “walk” metaphor of the spiritual life?
  3. Are we guaranteed that if we raise our children properly, they will grow up to follow the Lord? What is the most important ingredient in raising godly children? What is the most difficult aspect of raising godly children?
  4. Christians today are too caught up with this world and not caught up enough with the world to come. Agree or disagree?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Grace, Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 14: Sin’s Full Course (Genesis 6:1-8)

Related Media

A pastor friend and I used to eat lunch together once a month. After lunch we’d often continue our conversation as we took a walk. On one occasion he seemed fatigued and out of breath by an easy stroll, even though he was no older than I. He told me that he was fighting the flu. But several weeks later, when the symptoms did not subside, doctors discovered a massive lump in his chest. He had lymphoma, a form of cancer. They discovered it too late. After several rounds of chemotherapy, my friend died. To fight cancer, early detection and aggressive treatment are essential.

Sin is like cancer of the human soul. It often starts unnoticed, perhaps with a small compromise. There may be a few bothersome symptoms, but we dismiss them or excuse them as due to some other problem. But the cancer is there and growing, working corruption in the individual and also tainting his relationships. If unchecked, it will contaminate an entire society. The final result is God’s judgment. But, thankfully, throughout the process prior to God’s judgment, His grace gives us repeated offers to repent and be restored. This process is pictured in Genesis 6:1-8, which describes the world just prior to God’s judgment in the flood. It shows us that ...

Sin begins with compromise, goes on to corruption, and ends in condemnation, unless we respond to God’s grace.

We would do well to pay attention to these verses, since Jesus likened the days just prior to His return to the days just prior to the flood. He said, “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:37-39). Jesus is saying that the people of Noah’s day ignored God’s warnings. They went about the normal things of life, oblivious to the repeated warnings of judgment, until it was too late. The same thing will happen to many in the days just prior to Christ’s return. So the message to us is, “Make sure you listen to God’s warning about your sin. If you ignore the symptoms, it may be too late!” Our text reveals sin’s full course:

1. Sin begins with compromise.

We read that as the population grew, “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose” (6:1-2). The first interpretive problem (of several) is, Who are the sons of God and the daughters of men?

It’s easy to lose the application of this text in the debate over the right interpretation. The debate is centuries old, with godly men holding differing views. But whichever view is right, the application is the same--that the human race before the flood was corrupted by sin, and that corruption began with compromise.

Three main views have been proposed. The first view is that the sons of God were powerful rulers, probably controlled or indwelled by demons, striving for fame and fertility. In some Ancient Near Eastern cultures, kings were called the sons of one of the gods, and even in the Bible, the Hebrew word “Elohim” is used for men in positions of authority (Exod. 21:6 [NASB margin]; Ps. 82:1, 6). The daughters of men refers to all women. The sin of these rulers was their lust for power and women; they were trying to achieve immortality through immorality. (Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books] 1:36, defends this view.) The weaknesses of this view are that it seems forced on the text, it stretches the biblical terms, and it would not have occurred to Moses’s audience in reading the context of Genesis.

A second, more widely held, view is that the sons of God refers to fallen angels (demons) who came to earth in human bodies and cohabited with women, resulting in a superhuman race called the Nephilim (6:4). Many respected modern Bible scholars hold this view (A. W. Pink, Donald Barnhouse, Ray Stedman, James Boice, Charles Ryrie [Study Bible]). It goes back as early as the Septuagint in 200 B.C. Justin Martyr and Tertullian held this view in the early Church, but it was opposed vigorously by Augustine and Chrysostom and later by the Reformers. But there are some strong arguments in its favor or so many respected men would not hold it.

The strongest argument for it is that every other time the term “sons of God,” is used in the Bible, it refers to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan. 3:25; Pss. 29:1; 89:6). Also, several New Testament passages referring to the flood mention demons who disobeyed by abandoning their proper abode, thus incurring God’s judgment (1 Pet. 3:19, 20; 2 Pet. 2:4, 5; Jude 6). It is argued that these demons left their proper abode of the spirit world and cohabited with women. But, how could angels do this? In Genesis 19, the angels visiting Lot in Sodom were desired by the men of that evil city for homosexual relations. If you object that Jesus said that angels cannot marry, it is answered that Jesus said that in heaven the angels do not marry (Matt. 22:30). But neither will men and women marry in heaven. Thus, there is no inherent problem with angels cohabiting with earthly women.

Proponents also argue that in the context of Genesis, Satan wanted to thwart God’s promise to bring a deliverer by the seed of the woman by corrupting the human race with this superhuman race of giants. It was his insidious plan to bring immortality to the human race illicitly, bypassing God’s curse of death.

In spite of these arguments, I reject this view. I think it creates mind-boggling theological problems which have no biblical warrant. We do not need such a far-fetched view to explain the text adequately in its context. So why adopt it? First, there is the theological problem of how angelic beings can have sex with women. It is one thing to say that demons indwell human men who marry human women. But it is incredible and makes the Bible sound like Greek mythology to say that demons take on bodies and produce offspring with human women!

What were the offspring--half-angel, half-men? There is no such category in the Bible. Do they have some sort of angel--human souls? While the term “sons of God” refers to angels in other Old Testament uses, it refers to righteous angels, not to demons. (In Job 1:6 and 2:1, Satan is distinguished from the sons of God, as if he were not part of their number. In the other references [Job 38:7; Dan. 3:25; Pss. 29:1; 89:7], righteous angels clearly are meant.) “Sons of God” seems like a strange term for fallen angels. And while the exact term is not used of men, God’s people are called His sons in the Old Testament (Deut. 32:5; Ps. 73:15; Hos. 1:10 [in the Hebrew text, “children” = “sons”]). With regard to the New Testament references (1 Pet. 3:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:4-5; Jude 6), there are other adequate interpretations. So why introduce a mythological sounding concept full of incredible theological problems which has no other scriptural warrant when we don’t need to?

The third view, and most normal in light of the context, is that the sons of God refers to the godly descendants of Seth, who called on the Lord (4:26 & 5:1-32); the daughters of men refers to ungodly women, mostly from the line of Cain, who rejected God (4:16-24). The problem described here, which led to the corruption of the human race and the judgment of the flood, was the intermarriage of the godly line of Seth with godless women. Undoubtedly Satan was involved behind the scenes, as he always is when a generation turns away from the Lord (Balaam, Numbers 25). To say that Satan was involved in seducing men from a godly heritage to marry ungodly women is not fantastic; to say that fallen angels actually married human women is.

The biggest problem with this view is why Moses uses this term. It is an unusual designation. If it were not, everybody would agree on the interpretation! The best answer is that Moses used the term to underscore the high standards which the Sethites should have observed (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis [Baker], p. 252; also, see Calvin). As “sons of God,” they should have known better than to marry godless women. But instead, they married on the basis of sexual attraction only, not on the basis of godly character. They “saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose” (6:2). The result was the compromise of godly standards which led to the corruption and judgment of the human race. Luke 3:38 seems to support this view. Luke traces the line of Christ back through Seth to Adam, but doesn’t stop there; he calls Adam “the son of God.” Thus Adam’s descendants through Seth are the sons of God who became corrupted through wrongful marriage alliances.

As I said earlier, it’s easy to lose the application in the process of working through the interpretation. But let’s not do that. No matter what interpretation you take, the application is the same: Sin begins with compromise. Satan often uses wrongful marriages as the area of compromise to seduce God’s people. It is an effective tool, since the sex drive and the emotions of romantic love are so powerful. I have seen many young people neutralized in their Christian lives by marrying “nice” unbelievers or worldly-minded professing Christians.

It is proper to be physically attracted to the person you marry. But to marry primarily because of physical attraction is a serious mistake. The typical short-lived Hollywood marriage ought to tell us that. But Satan uses this weapon over and over. A couple is physically attracted to each other, they get physically involved, they get married on that basis, and later there is often infidelity and divorce. Their testimony for Christ is polluted.

While the area of wrongful marriage alliances was where the line of Seth compromised, and is a major area where we can compromise, it is not the full extent of the application. When these men from the line of Seth, called “sons of God,” married these ungodly women on the basis of sexual attraction, they compromised their integrity. They had a name to live up to: “sons of God.” But their lives didn’t match their title. So they had to put up a front, to try to maintain the image of sons of God, while living on a natural, sensual plane. It is a short step from there to total spiritual corruption.

Guard your spiritual integrity! Integrity does not mean perfection, but it does mean walking in reality with God, and dealing biblically with your sin. Satan wants to undermine your integrity. He wants you to compromise your testimony on the job, and instead of confessing your sin, to cover it up or deny it. He wants you, as perhaps a church leader, to yell at your kids and verbally abuse them at home, but not to confess your sin and ask their forgiveness. Then you come to church and pretend to be spiritual. You’ve just compromised your integrity. Sin begins with compromise.

2. Sin goes on to corruption.

I will come back to verse 3; but note that in verse 4, Moses mentions the Nephilim. This is another major interpretive problem. Who were the Nephilim? Those who hold to the angel view say that they were a race of giants who resulted from the union of the angels with the daughters of men. But the text doesn’t say that they are the product of that union, but only that they were on the earth at that time and also afterward.

The word occurs only one other time, in Numbers 13:33. There the spies who return to the Israelite camp report that they had seen the Nephilim, and that they felt like grasshoppers in comparison to them. The word comes from a root word meaning “to fall upon,” and thus apparently points to men of violence, who had a reputation of falling upon their enemies. They may or may not all have been giants physically. But the point is, they were vicious men who would just as soon kill you as look at you. Moses’ point is that the generation prior to the flood was notorious for its violence (see 6:13). Their unchecked sin had grown into the worst sort of corruption. They had let themselves go in hardened, open rebellion against God.

This is further affirmed by God’s evaluation of that generation: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). God looked beyond the actual deeds of wickedness and saw the hearts. What He saw was total corruption. Alfred Edersheim says of verse 5: “This means more than the total corruption of our nature, as we should now describe it, and refers to the universal prevalence of open, daring sin, and rebellion against God, brought about when the separation between the Sethites and the Cainites ceased” (Old Testament Bible History [Eerdmans], 1:39). Verse 5 is God’s description of the extreme corruption of that generation.

But it is also a description of the corruption of every human heart. Sin begins in the heart, or thoughts (Mark 7:20-23). It does not always reach the outward manifestation of Noah’s day (although our society is at least as far gone), but the heart of every person is the same as what God saw when He looked on that generation. After the flood, when the righteous Noah offered a sacrifice, God said, “... the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). This is God’s revelation of His view of what goes on inside every person, even those, like Noah, whom He has redeemed.

If you want to verify God’s viewpoint, look at the world around you--the violence, greed, sexual immorality, and self-centeredness. But you don’t need to look out there. Look at your own heart. Even though outwardly you may be reasonably respectable, is there anyone who would want their innermost thoughts to be broadcast? Though I have been a Christian for years and experience consistent victory over sin, I often have to fight against degraded, corrupt thoughts! I agree with Martin Luther who wrote, “Without the Holy Spirit and without grace man can do nothing but sin and so goes on endlessly from sin to sin” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 2, p. 40, cited in James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 1:250). Sin’s course begins with compromise; it goes on to corruption.

3. Sin ends in condemnation.

God determined to bring judgment on the whole world because of man’s corruption (6:6-7). When the Bible says that God “repented” (KJV), it does not mean that He changed His eternal plan. God is unchangeable in His person, perfections, and purposes. Nothing thwarts the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). But from our perspective, sometimes it seems that God has changed His plan. To put it in terms which we can understand, and to reveal God’s heart response to human sin, the Bible says that God repents, or feels sorrow (1 Sam. 15:11, 29).

The point is, God doesn’t get a sadistic kick out of judgment. It grieves Him to see our rebellion and sin, and He only brings judgment after He has repeatedly warned and appealed to us to turn from our sin. When He does judge, His judgments are always just. He has a right to judge man, because He created him (6:7). But, even then, as He said to Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).

Thus sin begins with compromise; goes on to corruption; and ends in condemnation. But the section ends on a brighter note. The cycle can be broken!

4. We can respond to God’s grace.

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8). The word favor means acceptance or grace. When used of God’s favor toward man it means His undeserved favor. Noah did not earn favor with God, he found it. He was just as much a sinner as his contemporaries (9:21). The difference was, Noah was willing to accept God’s view of his own sin and to turn from that sin to God, seeking His grace. The result was a righteous life.

This is the first time the word grace appears in the Bible. It is not the first time grace appears, since God’s grace is seen in His treatment of Adam and Eve in clothing them with animal skins rather than judging them for their sin. It is seen in His repeated dealings with Cain. It is seen in the long life of Methuselah, whose name means, “when he is dead, it [that is, judgment] will come.” His long life was a testimony to God’s gracious appeal over almost 1,000 years to this godless world to repent.

God’s grace is seen in 6:3, when the Lord says that His Spirit will not strive with men forever. The word “strive” means to judge, in the sense of striving to restrain men from their evil ways. God is saying that the human race had cast off any desire to live in the realm of the spirit, and was living as mere flesh, as totally given over to sin. He was warning that He would not continue to strive to check man’s unbridled sinfulness indefinitely. But, God adds, “his days shall be 120 years.” Some understand this to mean that his lifespan would now be 120 years. But I think God means that there will be another 120 years before the judgment of the flood for man to repent. That’s grace! If they had repented, I believe that God would have relented on His judgment, even as He did with sinful Ninevah in the days of Jonah.

But, when sin was at its peak, we read that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That’s a great encouragement. It means that in spite of the corruption, the horrible violence, immorality and degradation around us, God’s grace for the individual still shines through. Where sin abounds, grace superabounds (Rom. 5:20). No matter how terrible your sin, you can find grace if you will turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. If you will agree with God’s view of your heart (6:5), and cry out to Him, “Be merciful to me, the sinner,” He will pour out His grace and salvation on you.

Conclusion

But God’s grace does have a limit. In Noah’s day, it was 120 years. The flood came and everyone was lost except Noah and his family. In our day, we do not know when time will run out. We do know that our day, like Noah’s, is a time of unparalleled corruption, with people going on about life without regard for God. And we do know that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). We’re all infected with the cancer of sin. Only God can cure it. He is ready and willing, if you will respond to His gracious offer. The only other option is to let sin run its full course, resulting in corruption and final condemnation. God calls out to you, “Now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some ways we are tempted to compromise with sin in our society?
  2. What would you say to someone who argued that all people aren’t as bad as verse 5 indicates?
  3. Where is the balance between sharing God’s judgment and His love when we witness?
  4. Why is intermarriage with unbelievers such a serious sin?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Grace, Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 15: Total Depravity (Genesis 6:5; 8:21)

Related Media

A few years ago boxer Macho Comacho was being interviewed on TV. He was bragging about his wild past--a father at age 15, drugs, loose living. The sportscaster said to him, “But don’t you believe that as a sports hero, you have an obligation to be a model for our youth?” Comacho shot back, “Look, I did my dirt, but I ain’t no Hitler.”

Comacho’s response is the typical human response to the biblical doctrine of total depravity: “I may have my faults, but I’m not totally depraved!” It’s not surprising that the world thinks that way, since Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Cor. 4:4). But it is disturbing that the evangelical church has greatly diluted and, in some cases, denied this fundamental doctrine, the total depravity of every person since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin.

For example, one popular author and speaker attacks the idea that Christians are to view themselves as sinners or even as sinners saved by grace. He asks rhetorically, “Is that who you really are? No way! The Bible doesn’t refer to believers as sinners, not even sinners saved by grace. Believers are called saints--holy ones--who occasionally sin” (Neil Anderson, The Bondage Breaker [Harvest House], p. 44).

Nathan Hatch, saw this trend 17 years ago (“Purging the Poisoned Well Within,” Christianity Today [3/2/79], pp. 14-17):

The thriving evangelical book market offers a steady diet of positive inspiration, spiritual uplift, and successful Christian living. Evangelical visionaries, building multi-million dollar enterprises in television, church growth, and education, have latched onto an upbeat style that is more than vaguely reminiscent of Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. One of these pastors recently defined faith as building self-confidence, resisting negative thoughts, and tapping the limitless possibilities within ourselves. In a similar vein, a prominent evangelist explained that what keeps people away from Christ is not hardness of heart but simply a misunderstanding of what he has to offer (p. 14).

Hatch goes on to point out that this view of human nature differs greatly from what Christians of the past believed. Men like Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards “believed that human nature was fallen, and that the Bible’s view of man forsook glib moralism and took seriously ‘the chartless darkness of the human heart’” (p. 15).

I argue that one of the most important truths that needs to be re-emphasized in our day is the doctrine of the total depravity of the human heart. If we do not properly understand the Bible on this matter, we cannot fully understand the gospel for ourselves, let alone make it plain to others. Nor will we understand what the Bible teaches about sanctification (growth in holiness) if we are not clear on the evil that lurks within our hearts, even as regenerate people.

That doctrine could hardly be stated more emphatically than it is in Genesis 6:5: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” We are not basically good, decent folks who will do what is right if we’re only given the chance. The very core of our being--”every intent of the thoughts of our hearts” is “only evil continually.” It’s not just that people have a mean streak or that we occasionally sin. God’s declaration is that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In case we missed it or are inclined to apply it only to the Hitler’s of the world, God repeats the assessment after the flood with reference to the most godly man on earth, Noah, and his descendents, “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (8:21).

Because the doctrine of total depravity is often misunderstood, I first will define it. Because it is often disbelieved, minimized, or attacked, I then will defend it biblically. Finally, because we live in a day that often despises doctrine as boring and impractical, I will apply it.

Total depravity defined:

1. What total depravity is not:

Total depravity does not mean that people are as wicked and sinful as they could be. Nor does it mean that people are incapable of doing good deeds. Even those who have never heard of Jesus Christ are able to love their children and even sacrifice their own lives for the sake of family, friends, or sometimes even for strangers. Many people who do not know Christ are honest, even when it costs them.

2. What total depravity means:

Total depravity refers to the nature of fallen persons, not to their deeds. The word “total” refers to the total person--that every aspect of the person--mind, will, emotions, body--is corrupted by sin; and to the total human race, that every person since Adam and Eve, except for Jesus Christ, has been born with a nature that is alienated from God and in rebellion against God. Also, depravity must be viewed in relation to God, not by comparing men with men. With reference to God, total depravity means that no one is able in and of himself to do anything to choose God, to seek God, to please God, to love God, to glorify God, or to merit His salvation. Left to himself, every person will seek the things of self and sin. We are as unable to seek God as a corpse can choose to get up and walk (Eph. 2:1-3). The Westminster Confession states it clearly. Speaking of Adam and Eve it says (VI:II, III, IV),

By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

So total depravity refers to the extent of the damage, not necessarily to the degree. To illustrate, if you put a drop of deadly bacteria in a glass of water, it contaminates the entire glass. You may add a spoonful of bacteria, which makes it more potent, but the little drop is enough to pollute it all. Adam’s transgression was imputed to his posterity, so that all are polluted by sin.

Adam was the representative of the human race, so that his sin was charged to all who followed. Some will protest, “That’s not fair!” But several things must be said. First, there is nothing unfair about the concept of representation. Our entire government is built on it. The decisions our elected officials make affect us. But you may still protest, “I didn’t vote for Adam to represent me.” But, God did! God determined that Adam’s choice would represent the human race. We have no reason to believe that we would have acted any differently had we been there ourselves. When our representative fell into sin, the human race was linked to him, so that all are born in sin. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because by nature we are sinners. This is what total depravity means.

Total depravity defended:

We can only look at a few of the many verses in both the Old and New Testaments which defend this doctrine:

In Psalm 51:5, David laments, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” We are born in sin.

Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The word “sick” is used of an incurable wound; here, the meaning is metaphorical of sin that is beyond human hope of fixing. We’re terminal!

The doctrine is also inherent in Ezekiel 36:25-27, when the Lord promises, “I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from al your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” The sinner cannot follow God unless God performs a heart transplant and gives him His Spirit.

Jesus taught the depravity of our hearts in Mark 7:20-23: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

In John 8:34, Jesus taught that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin,” and that only He could set us free.

Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, spells it out forcefully in Romans 3:10-18 (citing only 10-13 here): “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

In Romans 8:7-8, he emphasizes the inability of the sinner to follow God: “... the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul states that the natural man not only does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, but cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he explains that Satan, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, ...”

In Ephesians 2:1-3, he says that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins and that by nature we are children of wrath. In Ephesians 4:18, he states that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts.”

While believers are freed from sin’s penalty and from sin’s power, so that we can now live to please God, our sin nature (or, “the flesh”) is not eradicated until we are with the Lord. Romans 7 clearly teaches this, as do many other verses, such as 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

If you compile all these and many other verses, we see that fallen man is incurably wounded; blind; ignorant and unable and unwilling to know; born in sin and with a nature oriented to sin; hard-hearted; enslaved to sin; polluted at the very core of his being; and, dead. The Westminster Confession (IX:III) sums it up: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”

In spite of the overwhelming biblical evidence of man’s total inability to do anything about his state of alienation from God, man’s proud flesh keeps inventing ways around this doctrine. Many deny it outright and insist that people are basically good at heart. Others deny it by insisting that fallen men have the “free will” to choose God, and thus be saved. But this gives man a part in God’s work of salvation and a ground for boasting, which contradicts many Scriptures:

John 1:13: “Who were born [spiritually] not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Romans 9:16: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”

Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-31, where three times Paul stresses that salvation rests on the fact that “God has chosen,” so “that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus...”

Those who argue in favor of so-called “free will” say that it is pointless, absurd, and a sham for God to command men to believe in Christ if they are not able by their own free will to believe. This objection was soundly refuted by Martin Luther in his diatribe against the Roman Catholic scholar, Erasmus, The Bondage of the Will [Revell], where he argues, rather, that by commanding us to do what no fallen sinner can do, God brings us to something we proud sinners deny, namely, the knowledge of our utter impotence, pride, and independence from God. In his words, “by thus breaking him down, and confounding him in his self-knowledge, he may make him ready for grace, and send him to Christ to be saved” (p. 162). Or, in the words of Augustine (1,000 years before Luther), “God bids us do what we cannot, that we may know what we ought to seek from him” (cited by Calvin, Institutes [II:V:7]).

Of course, before Augustine the Apostle Paul dealt with this same objection. In Romans 9, after arguing that man cannot choose God by his free will, but that salvation depends on God’s choosing men according to His sovereign mercy, he states (9:19), “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” Note carefully Paul’s inspired answer, because it strikes at the very root of human depravity: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (9:20). In other words, our very question shows the arrogance of our sinful hearts! If the righteous God chooses to damn the entire race of rebellious sinners, that is His just prerogative. If He chooses to save some who otherwise would helplessly perish in their sin, that is His right. But no one can boast by saying, “I chose God by my own free will.” Scripture is clear that if God had not rescued us by His sovereign grace, we all would have perished in our willful, proud rebellion against Him.

In the same vein, the Lord Jesus Christ stated (Matt. 11:25-27) that God had hidden spiritual truth from the “wise and intelligent,” and that no one knows God except “anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Then He proceeded to command men to do what He just stated they cannot do: “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

Total depravity applied:

The doctrine of total depravity is at the very heart of the gospel, and thus the applications are many. But I must limit myself to four:

1. The doctrine of total depravity should cause me to despair completely of myself, my ability, my merit, and my will, and to cast myself completely upon Christ alone for salvation.

If my salvation depends upon my choosing Christ, it is most shaky, because I may decide to walk away from Christ and go my own way. But, if it depends upon Christ’s choice of me, wretched in my sin, with absolutely no merit of my own, then it is as certain as the promise of God who cannot lie. Scripture is abundantly clear, you can do nothing to save yourself from God’s rightful judgment. Only Christ can save, and He has promised to save all who trust in Him. If you say, “But I cannot even trust in Him,” you are right! Call out to Him for mercy and faith, with the man who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Or again, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

2. The doctrine of total depravity humbles my pride.

Ever since Eve thought that she could be like God, the human race has been infected with pride. Even many who profess Christ dislike this doctrine, because it removes every ground for boasting. Luther said it well (Bondage of the Will, p. 100, 101),

God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another--God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.

So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.

3. The doctrine of total depravity causes me to fear trusting in myself.

As I grow to know my own heart, and the sin that still indwells me, I realize that if I am to know victory over sin, I must not trust in myself at all, but only in the Savior who said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Apostle Paul warned, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He affirmed from his own experience, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10), because when he was aware of his own weakness, he relied totally upon God’s grace and power, not at all on himself.

4. The doctrine of total depravity moves me to greater love and devotion to God for His amazing grace.

One of the problems of the weak gospel being preached today, the gospel that does not wound and totally disable the proud sinner from thinking that he has anything he can bring to God, is that those who profess faith in Christ have no idea of the awful pit from which He rescued them, and of that fact that He did it in spite of their sin, not because they were “worthy.” The truth is, even the best of us were worthy a million times over of spending eternity in the lake of fire! Forgiven little, such “Christians” love little!

The Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said, “Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.” (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:54). When we see the utter depravity of our sinful hearts, and then realize the abundant grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior, we will be caught up in wonder, love, and praise to Him for His glorious, sovereign grace! I pray that God will impress on each of us the biblical doctrine of total depravity.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you answer someone who said, “It is not fair of God to condemn the human race because of Adam’s sin”?
  2. Is it mockery to call upon lost sinners, who cannot believe by their own power, to believe in Christ? Why/why not?
  3. If men are totally depraved, why do many unbelievers do good deeds? Do these good deeds disprove the doctrine? Why not?
  4. What Scriptures would support that unbelievers have a “free will” to believe in Christ? Which Scriptures deny it? How do you harmonize the two?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)

Pages