Way of Grace Church
Falling from Freedom (Genesis 3:1-7)
Once upon a time there were two dogs. Both dogs enjoyed going to the park. Both dogs enjoyed playing. And both dogs had owners who took them to the park on a regular basis. But the dogs were also very different.
The first dog wore no leash, but, nevertheless, stayed close to his master's side. When the owner found an appropriate spot in the park, he gave the dog permission to run and play; which of course the dog did without hesitation. But when the owner saw a flock of birds land on the far side of the field, or a bicyclist ride pass, and realized that his dog had seen them as well, he quickly called to the dog to come, and the dog, who had his eye on those birds, immediately responded to his master's voice. It was clear to any observer that as the dog played, he understood and honored the boundaries his master had set for him.
The second dog, unlike the first, was on a leash; and it was quickly clear why this was the case. This dog, who some would describe as a "free spirit" was jumping all over the place, pulling his owner in every direction but straight. He too had seen the flock of birds in the field and strained to get to them. After that he yanked his owner toward the pond, then to chase a bicyclist. The whole time his owner, like the first owner, would give verbal commands to the dog, but the dog was unphased. The owner knew he couldn't stop and let the dog play, so he continues down the path, on his way home.
So of these two dogs, which dog was really free? Which dog enjoyed genuine freedom?
I want us to keep this question in mind this morning as we turn to a very familiar story. Turn with me to Genesis chapter 2. Having just finished the book of Genesis in our Three-a-Day readings, I thought, before we go back to I Samuel next month, it would be good to revisit one of the central stories of not only Genesis, but of the entire Bible.
II. The Passage: Adam, Eve, and the Serpent
Now, even though our main story begins in chapter 3, verse 1. We need to look back and begin with 2:15-17. Now just to give you as sense of where we are here, Genesis 1 is of course the first chapter of the entire Bible. Genesis 1 gives us the big picture perspective of how God created the world and how everything he made was good; everything in the word was just as it should be. In chapter 2, the writer zooms in on the creation of man specifically. So look with me at 2:15, just after God creates the first man:
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." [Let's drop down to 3:1:]
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Now, I don't think there is anyone here that has not heard something about this story. Adam, Eve, the serpent, the fruit (often portrayed as an apple), the garden; all of these are a part, not only of this story, but they are a part of our cultural heritage. We've seen this story and these elements in art, in children's books, even in a recent Super Bowl commercial by Doritos. These images have infiltrated our language in phrases like "the forbidden fruit" or "I don't know him from Adam" or even that part of the body we call the "Adam's apple".
But how do most people think about this story? I suspect that many people see this as a story in which God is some kind of cosmic killjoy or spoil-sport. A divine party-pooper. For them, God comes across as merely a stern rule-giver, and when Adam and Eve don't conform, He punishes them for not falling in line. Some might admire the human beings here as non-conformists. For the more religious, this story might simply be seen as a reminder that we better follow God's rules or else or face the consequences. For still others, this story has little relevance to their everyday life.
This morning, I want us to consider this story more carefully. I believe there is much more here than many people realize. But to do this we need to know more about this story's place in the larger context of the Old Testament.
A. The First Audience
Though it's not often a question we ask, we need to think about who this story was written for. In all likelihood, it was originally a story that was only told verbally. But at some point it was written down in the form that we find here. Why? What purpose did it serve?
Well, if we were to fast forward through the book of Genesis, and then follow the unfolding story that we find there into the next book, Exodus, we would discover that everything that is being written is being written for one purpose: to give a specific group of people an understanding of why things are the way they are and to confirm that there is a God who has made promises to their ancestors that He wants to fulfill in them and through them.
The people, of course, are the Israelites. And their leader was Moses. This is the audience for whom this story in Genesis 2 and 3 was written down.
Let's look back at the passage, consider what it says, and then talk about why it matters that we know something about the original audience.
B. Questioning God's Command
Genesis 2:16 is the first time that some form of the word "command" is used in the Old Testament. That's important. It's important because the command that God gives here in 2:16, 17 is the very thing that is called into question in chapter 3.
At first it seems that the serpent is calling into question the reality of God's commandment, "Did God actually say...". But by the time we come to verse 4, we see that he is really calling into question, not the reality, but the rightness of God's command.
The author here gives us no clues about this serpent. All we know from 3:1 is that he was created by God, along with the other animals, but that he was very shrewd. We also know that he was a real snake, because the curse he receives in 3:14, 15 is related to real snakes.
Even though Revelation 12:9 seems to indicate a Satanic influence at work here, all we can say from this passage is that the serpent does exactly what we've pointed out: he calls into question the rightness of God's commandment.
And when I say the rightness of God's command, what I mean is the goodness of His command. Notice that the serpent is trying to convince the woman that God is lying to her and trying to keep something from her; that God is acting out of jealousy or selfishness, and not love. [Verse]4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
The serpent is trying to convince the woman that God is not trustworthy.
We need to see that as the woman ponders the serpent's statement, her reasoning is being driven by one desire: to be wise like God, to be like God. And when she eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in direct disobedience to what God has said, she confirms that she has not only doubted God and His goodness, but she believes she should be His equal.
It's not completely clear what the purpose of this tree is. As God confirms later on 3:22, these first humans did become like Him in some sense because they now knew "good and evil'. But as we see, unlike God, given their nature, this knowledge is not something they could possess without disastrous consequences.
And according to verse 7, the first consequence of this new "wisdom" was a sense of shame because of their nakedness. When they disregarded God's command, something happened in how they understood themselves, how they understood one another, and if we were to look forward to 3:8-10, how they understood God and their relationship to Him.
And if we were to finish chapter 3, we would see that God's word came to pass. Even though the man and the woman did not drop dead in the exact moment of their disobedience, they did pass from life to death in that exact moment; in the blink of an eye they were cut off from the life-giving presence of God. The timer began to countdown. They were now spiritually dead, and their new spiritual death would eventually lead to physical death.
There's no way to minimize the seriousness of what happened here in Genesis 3. The entire remainder of the Old Testament and the New Testament, all of it is devoted to describing how God fixed what was fractured in Genesis 3. The world is the way that it is because of what happened here. Death, suffering, and human evil all flow from this moment.
III. Defining True Freedom
Now even though there is so much here to think about, I'd like us to see that at the heart of this temptation is the question of true freedom. Even though the word "freedom" is not mentioned here explicitly, it is central to this story.
Based on what we've seen, when are we truly free? What does it mean to be perfectly free? To do what I want, how I want, whenever I want? Does genuine freedom mean living in a world free of restrictions?
This is where it's important to understand who this story was written down for. The Israelites were being led out of Egypt and into a land that had been promised to their ancestor Abraham. Now listen, as we read a little later on in Genesis; listen to what we learn about this land that had been promised to Abraham...
10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord...
But I believe Scripture tells us that this land was not simply like the Garden of Eden in that it was well-watered and fertile. For God warns the people of Israel in Numbers 35: "You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel." (v. 34)
Like the Garden of Eden, where God walked with man, so too would this 'promised land' be a place where God would dwell with His people.
But if these people were to live as God's people, then like their first parents, they would have to live according to God's rules. This is why God gave Moses a law that the people should live by. As Moses tells the people in Deuteronomy 11:
"You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, 9 and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. 11 But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, 12 a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. 13 "And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. 15 And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.
Do you see why this story in Genesis 3 was written down for these Israelites? Their original parents were removed from God's presence because they disregarded God's command. And now they had the chance to once again dwell with God in the fullness of His blessings, if they would listen to His voice. God did not give up on humanity. He was working to reverse the curse.
Like the first woman and the first man, the Israelites would also be tempted to choose the way that seemed right to them, the path that seemingly allowed them to be in control, to be like God.
But isn't that where all of us are? All of us are consistently tempted to believe that real freedom means freedom from restrictions; freedom from us having to listen to anyone else; freedom to do what I feel is right.
We often believe that God's commands are what keep us from real freedom; we believe the lie of the serpent that says, "You are missing out on so much by obeying God, by conforming to His rules".
Isn't it true? Our world consistently portrays anyone who really tries to live according to God's commands as either a zealot, a fundamentalist, a prude, as uptight, as no fun, as boring, as repressed.
And people do this because they believe, all of us are tempted to believe, that rules are merely restrictive; that rules restrict us from enjoying life to the fullest. Isn't that what the woman was tempted to believe?
And some rules are like that. Remember when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan? They prohibited hundreds of everyday kind of activities, including flying a kite and eating ice cream.
But when we talk about God's commands, we're talking about something different. We have to remember why God gives us rules. God defines our boundaries, not merely to restrict without reason, but to liberate us, so that we might enjoy the fullness of life that comes when we walk with Him and according to what He knows is best.
An astronaut who has the opportunity to do a space walk outside the ship does not complain that the tether that connects him to the ship is too restrictive. No, he is incredibly grateful for that tether because it allows him the unique privilege of seeing our planet from a perspective that few will ever see. He knows that if that tether was not there, yes, he would still have an incredible view, but he'd have that view as he floated off to his death, into the quiet darkness of space.
Do you believe that God's commands are the tether we need to enjoy the fullness of life?
Let's be clear. Mere conformity to God's rules is not what brings us life. What brings us life is being in a right relationship with God. And being in a right relationship with God leads to obeying God. Why? Because being in a right relationship with God means we understand that God is God, and because He is, we trust that God always has our best interest in mind.
For example, I often have to explain to my children why I'm not letting them do something that seems fun, even when other kids are doing it. I have to explain to them that Daddy knows what's best for them, and that a particular activity could be dangerous. What they have to trust is that my restriction is for their good.
We have to believe the same about God. "...but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Here's a relevant example. In our world, sex is everywhere. And each year it seems that we remove more and more of the restrictions that have been placed on sexual expression. We do this because many people feel that such restrictions represented outdated ideas, repressive ideas about what is good and proper and healthy.
And yet God continues to say through His word that the only context that he has created for sexual expression is the marriage covenant between one man and one woman. That's it. God's word consistently forbids anything outside that context.
But today, many would say that such commands, such restrictions are repressive and narrow-minded and outdated. But do we believe that these restrictions by God are there for our good? Do we believe that God has put such boundaries into place for a reason? With our best interest in mind?
In a world where AIDS claimed 2 million people in Africa last year leaving 12 million orphans. In a world of teen pregnancies and abortion. In a world of marital unfaithfulness and broken homes. In a world of sex slavery and forced prostitution. In a world of pedophiles and rampant pornography. In a world of date rape drugs. In a world where the age of the kids who are sexually activity keeps getting younger and younger. In a world of stolen innocence, shouldn't we consider that God's way might be best. That God's design, where intimacy is guarded by a sacred commitment, where physical union is not separated from the emotional and spiritual union God intended, that this is for our good?
Do we believe God's commands are for our good, that they actually liberate us to know real life according to His design as the creator?
What does it mean to be truly free?
The dog that is really free to enjoy life is the dog that listens to His master's voice, not the so-called "free spirit" who lives according to his impulses, but is consistently choking on the leash, who is missing out on what it really means to live.
We, like those Israelites who came out Egypt, we need to believe that God's way is best, that it is always better to obey God.
As the Apostle John said in I John 5: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (v. 3)
Adam and his wife exchanged true freedom in the garden of God's presence for a false freedom that led them away from God and resulted in the world as we know it.
V. The First Man and The Second Man
The question is simple this morning: do you trust Him? Do you trust that God always wants what's best for you? Do you believe it's always better to obey God? We, of course, don't always believe this.
One of the things we must see in this story of Adam and Eve, one of things we must see here is...ourselves. All of us, like Adam and Eve, have been tempted with the same choice. And all of us have time and time again chosen to disregard God's command. And like Adam and Eve, all of us have been banished from God's presence. Though we live in the land of the free, we are anything but.
So what can we do? All we do is cling...we have to cling to these words: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:31, 32, 36)
We need to thank God this morning that the first Adam was not the last Adam. Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes this:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned...15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:12, 15-17)
To know the freedom of listening to the Master's voice, we must first know the freedom of grace. The One who was truly free made himself a slave in order to give slaves like us the freedom we desperately need, but don't deserve.
Are you walking in the freedom that Jesus makes possible? The freedom of forgiveness and grace? And because you are, are you listening to the Master's voice? Do you see God's commands as liberating? Freedom in Christ is not simply freedom from our past mistakes. It is paradoxically the freedom to be slaves of Jesus.
In what area are you struggling this morning to obey God? Might God be reminding you this morning that His commandments are not burdensome? Might God be showing you that you're struggling because your thinking is backwards when it comes to freedom and joy?
Through faith in Jesus Christ we can walk with God and live according to His desires, just as He intended. He wants to do that work in us. Don't you want to be truly free?
Through Jesus Christ, we can walk with God forever, not in a garden, not on any soil from this world, but as the book of Revelation tells us, we will walk in "a new heavens and a new earth" And in that world, Revelation 22 tell us we will once again have access to the tree of life, the very tree from which our first parents were barred. Through Jesus, God has and will reverse the curse.
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