|The cross needed: man's sin
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Oct 8 2010 08:00 A.M.
We live in a time when very few people are interested in Christianity. Even many who attend worship services week after
week would, if pressed, have to admit that they do not have a vital interest in the things of God. Their church
attendance is merely due to force of habit, or a sense of duty, or out of some vague hope of currying favour with God.
Christianity is, of course, about the cross of Christ. Apart from that cross there is no Christianity. So to say people are
by and large uninterested in Christianity is to say they are uninterested in the cross. The three persons of the Trinity
taking an interest in us and planning the cross is the most astounding thing that can every enter a mortal mind. But
such talk is often met with blankness or boredom these days.
Why is it that so few are vitally interested in the cross of Christ? The answer is not hard to find: they do not see the
need of it. There are many things we are not interested in until we see how vital and crucial they are. I am not
interested in medicine. I do not normally watch medical reports on television or read medical columns in newspapers.
But a few years ago I found myself vitally interested in medicine. A stray tree branch gave me a skull fracture, and all my
apathy about medicine went out of the window. When my personal well-being was at stake my attitude towards medicine
changed, and what had formerly been unimportant became very precious to me.
If we are truly to appreciate how vital the cross of Christ is, we must first understand the predicament it was designed to
deal with, and to do that we must go back to the beginning.
The crowning-piece of God's creative work was his creation of the first man, Adam, and his wife Eve. The creation of
Adam and Eve and the account of their lives together in the Garden of Eden may seem to be a simple story for the
entertainment of children, but it involves the most profound truths imaginable, truths that Paul had in mind when he
wrote the last half of the fifth chapter of Romans. The account of Adam and Eve in Genesis and the words of the
apostle Paul are something like a fabric woven from several threads, or a rope consisting of several strands.
Those strands may be separated and identified as follows: a blessing offered, a test or condition given, a sentence
pronounced, the blessing spurned, a principle revealed and a tyranny experienced.
A blessing offered
Consider first the blessing that was offered to Adam and Eve. We find it represented in the book of Genesis by a tree
called 'the tree of life' (Genesis 2:9; 3:24).
Adam and Eve probably did not know about it at first. The fruit of that tree, it seems, was to be withheld from them until
they had satisfactorily fulfilled a period of probation. Then it was to be given to them and they would enjoy eternal life
and full knowledge of God. In addition to that, we may also assume all their posterity would have shared in their victory
and received the same benefits. Some mistakenly think Adam and Eve were not intended to have children until after
they fell into sin, but the Bible makes it clear that Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply before sin entered the
picture. The only difference made by the Fall was that Eve would now experience pain and difficulty in child-bearing
(Genesis 1:27-28; 3:16).
A test given
All that was necessary, then, for man to come into the higher level of existence he was created for, the level at which he
would have eternal life and full knowledge of God, was for Adam to obey God faithfully. John Murray puts it like this: 'So
a period of obedience successfully completed by Adam would have secured eternal life for all represented by him.'
Adam's obedience to God was reduced to a single test, which is represented in Genesis by another tree, 'the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil'. Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the fruit of that tree (Genesis 2:17). All they had to
do to secure the blessing represented by the tree of life, then, was to comply with one condition laid down by God.
Perfect obedience to one command would have secured eternal life for them.
What was so wrong about Adam and Eve eating from this particular tree? It was not that the tree itself was evil. It was
rather that this tree simply represented the choice God gave them. He could just as easily have told them not to enter a
cave, climb a mountain, or cross a river, but he chose to tell them not to eat of the fruit of this tree.
Why was such a test necessary? Adam and Eve were created with a free will and a free will has to have a choice to
make, or it has no meaning or value.
The sentence pronounced
The next thread in this fabric is the sentence that was pronounced. God said that if Adam and Eve ate of the tree which
he had told them not to eat of, they would die. They would, in effect, forfeit the privilege of eating of the tree of life and
would experience death in three forms - physical, spiritual and eternal. Physical death is the separation of the soul from
the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. And eternal death is the separation of soul and body
from God for ever.
Why would God pass such a severe sentence upon Adam and Eve for failing to live up to this one condition? Why not
just give them another chance? After they ate of the forbidden tree, why did God not just say, 'We'll just pretend that
never happened, and we'll try again and start from scratch'? God's holiness will not allow him to ignore sin, or pretend it
did not happen. For God to do such a thing would be for him to compromise his own character and to deny himself and
everything he stands for.
The blessing spurned
Now we come to the next stage, in which Adam and Eve spurned the blessing of eternal life by eating of the tree of
knowledge of good and evil. Satan succeeded in getting Eve to eat by persuading her that she would become a god
herself in so doing. Eve, in turn, persuaded Adam to eat too.
The tyranny of sin and death
That brings us to the next strand in this complex tapestry - namely, the terrible tyranny of sin and death. At the very
moment that Adam disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, sin and death began to reign in his life. No, he and
Eve did not die physically at that very moment. That came much later. But they did die spiritually, and that spiritual
death immediately manifested itself in three ways.
The fig-leaf aprons
First, they were immediately conscious of their nakedness and made themselves aprons of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7).
What is all this about? Is it merely an indication that Adam and Eve's relationship with each other had changed? There
can be no doubt that it had. But the realization that they were naked was primarily an indication that their relationship
with God had changed. They now knew they were unfit to stand in his holy presence.
The hiding from God
Another manifestation of spiritual death came when Adam and Eve hid themselves in the garden (Genesis 3:8). Even
though they had made themselves aprons, they still had no confidence that they could stand before God. So they ran
from him. The fellowship they had enjoyed with God was broken, and they no longer delighted in him and desired to be
with him. The word the apostle Paul uses for what Adam and Eve experienced is 'enmity' (Romans 8:7). They were no
longer naturally disposed, or favourably inclined, towards God. They were now afraid of him, suspicious of him and
dreaded being in his presence.
The shifting of blame
Still another manifestation of spiritual death can be found in Adam's response when he was confronted with his sin. He
immediately shifted the focus to Eve. In so doing, he actually suggested that God himself was responsible for their sin
because it was he, after all, who had made Eve. Eve, in turn, shifted the blame to the serpent (Genesis 3:12-13). The
inability to see our sin and to confess it openly and honestly is another aspect of spiritual death.
When we stop to consider these manifestations of spiritual death, we find ourselves facing a most gruesome and
sickening reality. Adam and Eve were made with minds to comprehend God, hearts to love him and wills to obey him.
But all is now dreadfully different. Their minds are darkened with spiritual night so that they are unable to discern the
things of God (I Corinthians 2:14; II Corinthians 4:4). Their hearts are now so degraded that they no longer place their
affections on things above, but completely on the things of this earth (Philippians 3:19). And their wills are so deadened
that they do not naturally desire God or seek him (Romans 3:11).
Perhaps the most important question in all of human history is this: how far did man fall? The sobering answer from the
pages of Scripture is that he fell as far as he could fall. He is now so tainted by sin that no part of him is free from it.
The noble creature made by God is now a depraved, hopeless creature in the mighty grip of a spiritual death that would
eventually lead to eternal death.
The principle of representation
The final thread in this story is not to be found in the story of Genesis, but is revealed clearly by the apostle Paul in
Romans 5:12-21 - namely, the principle of representation that was at work in all of this. That means Adam was
appointed by God as the representative head of the human race, and what he did in this matter of complying with the
condition established by God and being entitled to eat of the tree of life did not count for him alone, but for every single
member of the human race. How furious some become at the mere mention of this doctrine! 'It's not fair that Adam
should be allowed to act for the whole human race,' they cry. But if we accept the Bible as the Word of God (and there
is a mountain of evidence for doing so), we cannot escape this teaching.
There is, however, another dimension to this matter that ought to cause us to hold our tongues - namely, it is through
this same principle of representation that we have forgiveness for sins. If one man could not represent others in God's
scheme of things, then Christ certainly could not represent his people. They would, therefore, have to bear the eternal
consequences of their own sin.
Because of this principle of representation, Adam's act of disobedience caused sin and death to reign tyrannically over
the whole human race. Those who refuse to believe we all fell when Adam fell have to explain why we all die. Even
babies die before they have the chance to commit a single sin of their own. Why? It is because sin and death are
reigning in the human race.
Furthermore, they have to find some way to explain why we all sin. David says of himself: 'Behold, I was brought forth in
iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me' (Psalm 51:5). And what David says of himself in this passage he says of
others in another place: 'The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking
lies' (Psalm 58:3).
We can see sin in our children. We do not have to teach them to lie, to cheat, to take God's name in vain, to lose their
temper, to be selfish, or to show disrespect. They just begin doing these things and a host of others.
We can see sin in ourselves. Why do we find it so easy to lie, to lust and to take God's name in vain? Why do we have
that desire to tear the reputation of others to shreds? Why are we so difficult to live with? Why do we find it so hard to
do the good things God commands, such as being faithful to attend public worship?
We can see sin in society. Murder, violence, sexual promiscuity, lying, stealing, child abuse, corruption in government,
abortion, rape, shady business dealings, divorce, war, pornography - these are just a few indicators that something is
radically wrong with man, and it is not just a second-rate environment or an inferior education. If a good environment is
all that is necessary for people to be good, why are the things we see all around us not restricted to the poor? If a good
education is all that is necessary for people to be good, why are these things not restricted to the uneducated?
Simple honesty compels us to admit that the Bible's message is being confirmed every single day. Our world is as it is
because men and women come into it with a sinful nature, and that sinful nature is expressed in countless ways.
It is this problem of sin that the cross was designed to deal with. Why did Jesus come? He came because we need a
Savior from this terrible tyranny the Bible calls sin. If it had not been for sin, there would have been no need for him to
come, and he would not have come. But because of our sin and because of his grace, he came among us. I have no
hesitation in asserting that this is, therefore, the pivotal doctrine in all of Scripture. Everything else hinges on it. The
message of Christianity is that we are sinners, but if we are sinners, the sooner we face up to it, the sooner we can
receive and rejoice in the solution Christianity offers.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.
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