Understanding God’s Love and the Sin that Changed the World
ATTENTION: You are reading the 4th chapter in a blog to book series about Genesis (God in the Garden). I recommend starting with the introduction if you haven’t read it yet. If you are interested in learning when the book will be released or discussing anything said in these posts, please reach out through the contact page.
Were Adam and Eve innocent? It’s easy to chalk up their sin to a simple mistake or claim they didn’t know what they were doing. They were relatively young. They were the only human beings ever to skip over childhood entirely and go right to adulthood. They were inexperienced. In a way, it is easy to see that they were still children mentally. Children make mistakes. In this light, how can we blame them? Were they being held up to an impossible standard?
Even if they weren’t, how can we know what they were thinking or what was in their heart? It seems almost impossible. Yet, there are clues. If we are willing to dig deeper, we can uncover them, but we need a key to interpret these clues, and that key is our sin. It’s only by admitting our sinful nature that we can understand their motives. We need to start with ourselves and work backward.
A repentant heart knows its nature. It knows it is not perfect, makes mistakes, and at times falls back into sin. It does not pretend that it is something that it’s not. It cannot pretend it’s good, for it has lived long enough in this world to understand that evil exists all around it and inside it. If there’s any difference between it and an unrepentant heart, perhaps it’s a moment of clarity. By God’s grace, it understood that there was no way it could ever succeed independently. That left to its own devices, there was no hope. It would only cause pain and misery to those that it attempted to love. Because ultimately, that love wasn’t enough. It was empty and weak (easily defeated). It failed. It was a slave to the self. Though it may hide that fact or cover it up, it couldn’t deny it, and there was nothing it could do to overcome it. Sin was its master.
In deep reflection, we can also admit that the only difference between ourselves and the worst of humanity is opportunity. Given the right opportunities or unlimited power to fulfill our desires, one knows how dark and evil one could be. Our goodness is not the result of our own will but because our control is limited. Though we may clothe ourselves in the false costume of goodness and righteousness and love, that is only an illusion. Underneath it all, we know it is all a show. It is part of the game. A game played only to feed our ego and pride.
It is only through this examination that we have clarity and can accept that we are slaves to sin. In this, we can better understand Adam and Eve. We can look beyond the act and into their hearts, for the evil they committed is the same as all evil. A lie is the same as murder (James 2:10). This might seem like a spectacular claim but what it means is all sin is us elevating the self above God’s commands. It’s us accepting evil as a tool to serve and empower ourselves. If we do it in one circumstance, we will do it in a worse way when the right opportunity comes.
For the good man (independent from God) may not have committed adultery or murder, they may be friendly and kind to friends and appear good, but that doesn’t mean they are. They have simply hidden their great sins inside their heart. They have shielded them from man. They believe they are hidden, and to many, they are, but God knows our hearts. He knows the pain we would cause if given unlimited power. He knows what we would do. Simply because our capacity is limited does not make us good. A sin that is not committed because we lack opportunity is no different from having the opportunity and taking it. The only difference is how we appear to the world. To the world, we may seem nice, we may seem even righteous, but that is all an illusion.
The Grand Delusion
One of the biggest lies ever told is that there is such a thing as a good person or that we can be good independent from God. For goodness separated from God is a myth. It is only us pretending. While we may do good things, we do it out of our self-serving love and not out of God’s unconditional love. Self-serving love focuses on our gain, and we justify evil on account of it. In contrast, God’s unconditional love is selfless and perfected in His mercy and grace.
Even knowing this, we might still be tempted to believe people are essentially good, or as Anne Frank said, “I still believe that people are really good at heart.” It’s a nice thought. It makes us feel good. We all can show each other kindness throughout our lives, and even the worst of us have exhibited compassion, but we are not good at heart. No matter how much we want to believe we are, we are not. The small acts of kindness that we show each other do not outweigh the greater sin in our hearts. None of us are blameless. Though we all are capable of being good, at our core, we aren’t. We are all selfish and unkind. This is a harder message, for it means we need to change. It means we need to repent. It means we have to let go of our will for another’s.
Anne Frank’s quote is compelling, but not because she’s right. It is the element of forgiveness that hits us. We all know what happened to her. Even with all the evil around her (nazis, concentration camps, and death), she still wanted to believe the best. Anne hoped for the best and that’s what we are called to do as Christians. We are called to assume the best and love others (1 Corinthians 13:7). We are called to see them as God sees them (His image-bearers), no matter their sins or who they are. We are to love them and forgive them as God forgives us. That’s why Anne Frank’s diary is so striking to us. It’s not that people are good at heart, but her determination to bear, believe, hope, and endure in love.
As Christians, this is a big part of what God calls us to do. We are to believe the best about others and love them, but simultaneously realize none are good (separated from God). While these two things might seem contradictory, they are not. The fact is we are all slaves to the self. Sin controls us. We are no better than anyone else. When we realize the gift we received (salvation) and that there’s no way we could ever repay it, it changes our hearts. We can’t help but want to share that same love with others. In this, we can now operate beyond this wretched heart that lived only for itself. Through faith and God’s grace, we can live for something greater, relying wholly and fully on Him. His power and love work through us in ways unimaginable. In relationship with him, we know love. It is not a false love. It is not the costume of love that we clothed ourselves in before. Through repentance and submission (to Christ), our nature is overcome as we lay down our will and are released from our bonds.
Ultimately, salvation is exchanging one master (self) for another (God). That is what Adam and Eve did except in reverse. It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that the fall happened through a simple act, as does our salvation (accepting Christ). It’s not the act that matters though, all that matters is the heart because out of the heart is where everything starts. We can hide our sin and pretend it’s not there or believe that it’s acceptable (coveting, lying, and lusting are natural, and everyone does it), but all that does is prove the point that none are good.
And even though it’s true, the message that none are good and all deserve hell is a difficult pill to swallow. It’s not the kind of message you would find on a Hallmark card or a little girl’s graphic tee. It’s a hard message, and without Christ, it is a hopeless message. Yet with Christ, it is the most hopeful message ever. We can either reject it and go about our lives, refusing to acknowledge that we are ruled by the self and are in bondage, or we can realize we don’t have to do it alone. We can rely on God in all areas of our life, understanding that no matter what may come our way, he can give us peace. He can provide us with strength. He can change us, though we have failed time and time again. In Christ, there is a power that we’ve never known before. But we can only receive it if we admit the truth (we are not good), repent, and ask for Him to come into our lives.
If we never make that sacrifice (submit and let go of our pride), we can never elevate God back to his proper position. And though he loves us unconditionally, we can never experience his full love (as we still worship the self and put up a wall around our heart). We miss out on His powerful and complete love. It is an eternal love, a love more incredible and valuable than anything in this world.
More importantly, we can never give that same love to others. We are trapped, relying on our own failed and sinful nature. We must continue to put on the show, to clothe ourselves in the costume of false goodness. We give others a lesser love (a broken, weak, and selfish love). Though we may appear good, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what is in our heart. Only by realizing we are not enough and drawing on something beyond us could we ever be what we are created to be. Only in relationship with God can we truly serve and love others the way we are supposed to.
For this gift, there is no sacrifice too great. There is nothing we can give that could ever be enough. How small it is to let go of our will and understanding for it. How simple and little it seems, yet at the same time, how difficult. How long do we struggle? How many times have we been unwilling?
In the end, Adam and Eve were about as innocent as Christ was a sinner. Which is to say they weren’t. Any argument that they were falls under the same illusion that all are good at heart. They didn’t make a mistake. They weren’t simply trying to get smarter. God wasn’t holding them to an impossible standard. Their act was a willful rejection of God’s sovereignty. An attempt to replace God as our source and provider. This is a story about losing trust in God and becoming a slave to the self. They exchanged one master for another and put the self at the center instead of God, all because they believed the devil’s lies (God is scared, threatened, selfish, or doesn’t have your best interests in mind).
After rejecting God as their source and provider and elevating the self to that role, they hid. They regretted their actions, but they didn’t repent. They shifted blame. They made no effort to repair the relationship. They did not see the loving, caring God they had known. Their vision became warped and twisted.
God could see what was in their hearts. Though He wanted to forgive them and bring them back into relationship with Him, He couldn’t do it while they were in that state. Absent of faith in God, everlasting communion can’t happen. It requires faith because that is how God works in us and grows us. That is how he imparts wisdom to us. Adam and Eve lost that faith and made permanent communion (heaven) impossible. He had no choice but to send them out. Until there was reconciliation, a personal eternal relationship wasn’t possible (the garden’s whole point). Ultimately Adam and Eve’s impatience with God’s plan (growing them to be more like him in his image) lead to their downfall. To get it quicker, they traded one master for another. They worshiped the self unrepentantly. That was their legacy.
We can know their hearts because this is precisely how we are today. Whether we want to admit it or not. We are disobedient and hide our sin out of shame. This happens so often that it is just accepted as the way things are. How many times have we put our will above God’s? Are we innocent? Are all the little things that we have done innocent? Were we innocent when we were children? When we were cruel to other kids or our parents, was it okay then because we were children? No. It wasn’t.
We can claim innocence, shift blame and hide, but when we do, we are following in Adam and Eve’s legacy. With simple words like, we deserve, or we need, or we feel, we can justify anything. That’s the problem with putting us at the center (worshiping the self). It’s not hard to rationalize evil. We might believe that we are better than the worst of humanity, our sin doesn’t compare to theirs, but the only thing separating us is opportunity.
Had Adam and Eve never eaten the fruit, it wouldn’t have changed God’s ultimate plan. His plan was always for us to have a relationship with him. It didn’t depend on Adam and Eve eating the fruit, nor was it forever ruined due to it. We can’t know what His plan would’ve been, but no doubt He was always bringing us into a fuller relationship with him (as he is doing now). Even though our will gets in the way at times, that doesn’t mean He won’t bring about his ultimate plan.
God’s plans are unchanging. We may throw in a detour with our sin and desire and stubbornness, but God is always waiting, always there, always prepared. He’s ready to bring us into union with those plans as soon as we are ready and willing. And if we never are, God is ready and willing to raise somebody else up in the place meant for us. He is an unmovable, unstoppable God. There is nothing that can stand in his way.
Forgive the number of takeaways I have going on here. There was a lot in this chapter.
- There is no such thing as a good person (independent of God). Some may appear that way, but they are simply good at hiding their great sins inside their heart (often even from themselves). The only thing separating us from the worst of humanity is opportunity. A wrong committed because we lack opportunity is no different from having the opportunity and taking it (Matthew 5:21-28). That’s why a heart change is so crucial.
- Our love is selfish and self-serving (we can justify any evil). In contrast, God’s love is unconditional, selfless, and perfect in His mercy and grace. Righteousness without God is an illusion. Goodness separated from God is a myth. The small acts of kindness that we show each other do not outweigh the greater sin in our hearts.
- In relationship with God, we know real love. It is not a false love. It is not the costume of love that we clothe ourselves in. Through repentance and submission to Christ, our nature is overcome as we lay down our will and are released from our bonds.
- Salvation is exchanging one master (the self) for another (God).
- The need for salvation is not a cheery message absent of Christ, but it’s the most hopeful message ever with Christ, for we don’t have to do it alone. We can rely on God no matter what may come our way. He can transform us and give us strength.
- God loves us unconditionally. His love is powerful, complete, and eternal. Yet, we can never fully experience it if we don’t submit (as worshiping the self puts a wall around our heart).
- Even worse, we can never give that love to others. We are trapped, relying on our failed and sinful nature. The love we share will always be a lesser love, a self-serving love. Only in relationship with God can we truly love and serve others the way we’re supposed to.
- God wanted to forgive Adam and Eve, but it wouldn’t have fixed anything. Absent of faith in God, everlasting communion can’t happen. It requires it because that’s how God works in us and through us. That is how he imparts wisdom to us. Sin is us rejecting God’s will (putting a wall around our hearts), making permanent communion (on earth and in heaven) impossible.
- An eternal relationship with God was the garden’s whole point, and it wasn’t possible until there would be reconciliation.
- Adam and Eve’s impatience with God’s plan (growing them to be more like him in his image) was their downfall. They wanted it quicker, so they traded one master for another. They worshiped the self unrepentantly. That is the legacy they leave all of us. We know this because this is how we are today. In lack of faith, we sin, hide it from the world, and even often ourselves. When we claim innocence, shift blame and hide, we are following in Adam and Eve’s legacy.
- God’s plans don’t change. His plan was always for us (humanity) to have a relationship with him, whether Adam and Eve ate the fruit or not. Our sin may detour those plans, but God is always waiting, always there, always ready to bring us back into relationship with him. And if we personally never accept it, he is prepared to raise up somebody else in the place meant for us.