Beyond Genesis 3: Are Things Really Any Different?

Beyond Genesis 3: Are Things Really Any Different?

Written by: Pete McClanathan

Consider that the entire content of scripture from Genesis 4 through Revelation deals with this theme: man’s captivity by sin, overlaid with God’s plan of redemption. The accounts of the Old Testament display humanity’s unchecked ability to demand life on its own terms, in disregard or defiance of God and His revealed truth, together with a stubborn refusal to learn from experience that God is in control.

How did human affairs reach the point of God’s condemnation in Gen. 6? Why were a flood and an ark needed? What was the Tower of Babel all about? Whence arose the lies of Abram, the deceit of Jacob, the treacherous behavior of Joseph’s brothers, the grumbling rebellion of Israel in the wilderness, the embrace of pagan cultures and gods in the Land, the “dumpster fire” of the book of Judges (an appropriate label courtesy of Pastor Chris Stukenberg), the litany of corrupt kings, priests, and leaders, the prophets’ warnings, the idolatry and apostasy leading to the Assyrian invasion and the Babylonian captivity? And those are just some of the highlights of the ongoing drama.

Why do so many events in the gospels find Jesus confronting prideful, selfish attitudes and behaviors? Why was the majority of the religious establishment determined to destroy Jesus?

The New Testament epistles carry forth the same sad message of anger, deceit, lust, adultery, greed, pride, competition, and a critical spirit. Why do we find repeated exhortations to put off the old self, to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, to be done with such things as anger, envy, bitterness, sexual immorality, and greed? Why are virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, grace, honesty, self-control, and forgiveness presented as if they were topics unfamiliar to the early church?

We can look around the world as it is today, with particular attention to the body of Christ. Why is there conflict in churches over non-essential matters, when the Bible contains so many pertinent words about our relationships with each other? Why do thousands of pastors leave the work of ministry each year due to conflict or burnout, when we are told to view them as gifts from God and treat them with utmost honor? Why is the percentage of broken Christian families virtually the same as the world’s, when there are so many biblical truths and supplemental resources available? Why do pastors engage in unethical conduct? Why do Christians fall to temptations to steal or to cheat? How is it that materialism and entertainment in the Christian community often closely resemble the world’s values?  Why does humanity’s profile remain so consistently troubled, even among God’s people?

Do the questions seem repetitive? They ought to. The self-driven nature of the human heart and the words and actions that flow therefrom forever have been the root of all defiance and rebellion toward God. We would like to think that Christians are exempt, but if we’re honest about ourselves and others we find otherwise.  

So what do we do? First, we take seriously the fact that we carry the same poisoned nature common to all mankind. We may think we manage it (or conceal it) well, but the truth behind our desires, words, and actions say otherwise. Consider Jesus’ sobering words in the sermon on the mount:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Mt. 5: 21-22).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  (Mt. 5: 43-46)

In the same passage, Jesus makes reference to other human failures including lust, divorce, adultery, oaths, and retaliation. Regrettably, it has been my observation that these statements and many like them can be cast into a place of secondary value by  modern evangelical Christianity. As time and resources are directed toward the honorable and accurate emphasis on salvation by grace, the biblical understanding of daily life issues can be obscured. And where they do appear, it is typically as part of a class or teaching series on a general subject such as a book of scripture.

Let’s be clear. There is absolutely no suggestion here that salvation by grace through faith is inadequate or incomplete. To the contrary, every part of God’s Word leads us to an understanding of the miracle of salvation by grace. But we ought not to assume then that our thoughts, words, and behaviors are not important to God. As it has been said, “Jesus’ death and His resurrection do not mean that God no longer is concerned with sin.” As explained in the book of Romans:

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom. 6: 12-13)

As we engage in these matters moving forward, it may be oddly comforting to realize that our struggles are not new, nor are they unique to our place and time. We see this confirmed in a familiar scripture, one that we take far too casually in the midst of a prideful and godless society:

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new.?”  It has been already in the ages before us.” (Eccl. 1:9-10)

Many years ago, when our children were still living at home, one of them asked how this scripture should be viewed in light of the obvious economic and societal changes over the centuries. I stumbled to find an answer that would give appropriate value to the question and the scripture. I recall my reply being acceptable yet feeling incomplete. Many years later, I would try to express it this way:

The author, a wise, wealthy and successful man, is leading us to a place of understanding of life. One that pulls together many currents of reality and truth. Understandings which, if trusted, can protect us from the follies of human striving and competition, and give practical and effective meaning to our lives.

We close today with more wisdom from the same author:

“The words of the wise are like goads, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Eccl. 12: 11-14)

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