The price of knowing good and evil

In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then in Genesis 3:5 the serpent deceived Eve into desiring the fruit of that tree, so she ate from it. Verse 7 states that the eyes of Adam and Eve were immediately opened to know that they were naked. Presumably this realisation of their nakedness is a result of knowing good and evil, so it was an instant impartation of the knowledge.

However, in thinking about this recently I started to wonder if perhaps the sin and evil which resulted from this event are the expected effect: Adam and Eve were already experiencing ‘good’ even if they were unaware of any other state of being. To understand the knowledge of good and evil they would also have to experience evil.

One of the fundamental questions people have regarding belief in God is, “How can a good God allow evil?” The explanation must surely be that evil was demanded by the first humans reaching out to take the knowledge of good and evil. We cannot have such knowledge without knowing both what good is and what evil is.

I assume that theologians have discussed this at great length and explained it far better than my stumbling thoughts, but this is a new idea to me.

Repentance

Some choices result in a harder path than others, but the first step along those paths is often no more difficult than the first step down an easy path that leads to destruction.

The last couple of posts I’ve written have looked at some habits I am cultivating to help me live a better life. Self-improvement is fine and I have plenty of room for improvement, but my motivation is not primarily to attain to an improved self.

My motivation to change is based on repentance.

What is repentance?

Oddly, repentance is not commonly discussed on Christian blogs, or even in churches. This is weird because it is the foundation of Jesus’ message to us:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

Jesus consistently called everyone to repent, a concept that entails ‘a change of mind’ and both turning away from sin and toward God. Nobody is exempt, all of us sin and so all of us need to turn from that sin and re-orient our lives Godward. It is a deep change of heart which then results in changed behaviour as we live according to new priorities.

This is the demand of Jesus to every soul: Repent. Be changed deep within. Replace all God-dishonoring, Christ-belittling perceptions and dispositions and purposes with God-treasuring, Christ-exalting ones. (Thoughts on Jesus’ Demand to Repent by John Piper)

Is once enough?

Reading through the Gospels it can seem as if repentance is a single major life event in which a person makes a total break with their old sinful ways and from then on lives fully devoted to God. Life experience and a closer look at the New testament shows this to be an inaccurate idea. The Apostle John writes:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8–9 ESV)

This clearly indicates that followers of Christ still sin and need to repent and confess their sin. For some church traditions repentance and confession can be a weekly occurrence, my own church does not have a formal confession tradition so this can easily be overlooked. Perhaps closer accountability might have pulled me up sooner, I’m not sure.

A Lenten journey

I suspect that I needed to hit rock bottom to force me to face a multitude of sins in my life. The Bible refers to the Israelites as being stiff-necked (Exodus 32:9), in other words ‘perversely obstinate’ and even resisting the Holy Spirit (see Acts 7:51) – a description which also fits me. While I may never know for sure, it could be that my annus horribilis was necessary to force me to either turn towards God or turn fully away from Him and so seal my fate.

So this Lent I am moving through an unplanned process of repentance and pruning. (I was going to use the word ‘refining’ but there is nothing refined about this process). The hardest parts of last year were due to depression, something I cannot control. The hardest parts now are seeing all the choice points at which I gave in to foolish, selfish and sinful decisions which I justified to myself because I felt too weak to choose better. That is a lie.

Some choices result in a harder path than others, but the first step along those paths is often no more difficult than the first step down an easy path that leads to destruction. Depression does impair decision making, yet I was still able to make the choice of asking my wife to help me get treatment rather than taking the overdose I had in my hands. I’m sure grace played a large part in that also, why did I not allow God’s grace and the strength of the Holy Spirit help me in other decisions?

Joy in repentance

Repentance is hard to walk through, it involves brokenness and humiliation in recalling past sins, but it is not a bad thing. To turn from sinful ways and run to Jesus is actually the best thing. To acknowledge sin is painful, yet it is the pain of having a cancer cut away – it leads to healing. Best of all, it leads to acceptance with God and this is a joyful experience even while wounds may sting.

I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10 ESV)


What others have to say on this topic:

Scripture references:

Exodus 32:9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. (ESV)
Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. (ESV)

Image: ‘Forgiven Much’ by Keith Johnson (see Luke 7:47: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”)

Naked without fear

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.(1 John 4:18-19 ESV)

Continuing to look at Biblical exhortations to “fear not”:

I fear God. I fear judgment and punishment.

I know I shouldn’t fear in this way because Jesus has fully redeemed my life from the judgment due for my sin, but as I am increasingly acquainted with both God’s holiness and my sinfulness redemption becomes an ever greater astonishment. God is absolutely holy, totally pure, eternally unblemished.

I am weak and sinful.

In my natural, naked state I cannot stand in God’s presence for I am corrupt.

There was a time when a man and a woman stood before God naked and unashamed. A perfect man and a perfect woman enjoying unhindered communion with God.

But then… sin.

After that they were afraid to be seen naked by God, they tried to cover themselves, attempted to hide from God. Futile and stupid efforts, just like my own evasiveness and deceit when shamed by my sin.

We cannot evade God, He knows our nakedness, our shame. An animal was slaughtered to clothe Adam and Eve, God’s Son was slaughtered to clothe me – in righteousness.

This is how I can have no fear. He perfectly loved me and died to clothe me in His own righteousness. In these garments, with no fear of punishment, I can come before God.

Can I claim it?

This exhortation and promise that perfect love casts out fear applies to all people. John wrote this to a Christian church, clearly applying it to Christians. It also applies to non-Christians in that they also can come to Christ and, trusting in Him, be freed from fear of punishment. Conversely, all who do not love Jesus should fear punishment because this is what awaits all who sin apart from Christ.


Photo of couple: iStock

Chained in the basement

Have you taken steps to ensure the insatiable beast of desire and sin cannot wreck your life?

chained-in-the-basement

There is a part of me that should be kept chained in the basement.

I would go so far as to say that there is also a part of you that should never be allowed out to terrorize innocent victims.

It is an insatiable beast, unstoppable if unleashed. And yet we often treat it like some cuddly little lap dog. The reality is far more gruesome. At certain phases of the moon this beast within transforms into a ravaging horror, snapping the feeble bonds a half-hearted soul might tether it with.

What is this deep, primitive part of our psyche?

It is called sin

What we experience initially is temptation. Something crosses our path (or our mind) which sparks a desire. At this, sin springs alive, enticing us to evil.

There are only two options; give in, or fight. Giving in has an apparent appeal of gratifying the desire and ending the temptation. Fighting on the other hand will continue indefinitely, to a very bitter end – death of either temptation or tempted.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1:13–15 ESV)

Unfortunately, giving in results in slavery to whatever the sin was that tempted us (John 8:32 & 2 Peter 2:19). There are dire warnings against turning away from purity in Christ to wallow in sin (2 Peter 2:20–22). For this reason we have to take steps prior to being tempted so we will not buckle under it.

Chain yourself in the basement

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me ought of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself. (Russell D. Moore in Should I Marry a Man With Pornography Struggles?)

A person who takes God seriously will be truly terrified of falling into sin. This is something I need to keep being reminded of. There are so many who are quick to label as legalism any attempt to take action against sin that the christian subculture has become very liberal and careless about how destructive sin is.

Jesus has defeated the power of sin to condemn us, but we are still commanded to fight it (Matthew 2:29–30).

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction. This means a man who knows how to subvert himself.  (Russell D. Moore in Should I Marry a Man With Pornography Struggles?)

Occasionally I am reminded that I actually take more care over the safety of this body which will only live about 70 years than I do of my soul which will live forever in either heaven or hell. When doing activities in which my eyes could be injured I wear protective glasses to prevent it. Do I protect my soul from what passes through my eyes?

I take precautions to avoid injuring my hands from cuts or being broken. What am I doing to prevent injury to my heart by foolish actions done without thinking through the potential consequences? Am I wearing protective equipment? (Ephesians 6:10–18)

Challenge

One of the most important things you can do is take measures to keep yourself from sin. I challenge you to think right now of whatever temptation is most troublesome in your life currently. Then figure out one way to reduce the chance of giving in to it.

Take concrete steps to put this into action. Do it now while you are not being tempted so that when you are, the crash barriers are already in place above the precipice. Don’t wait until full moon and then wish you had done something earlier!

Werewolf awakening

Three very good sermons on this topic by John Piper:


Image of young man in prison: iStock
Image of werewolf awakening: Olivier Martins (flickr)

Quit working

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow as each day has enough worries of it’s own. In Exodus God supplied enough food for each day only, forcing His people to look to Him for their provision rather than their own cleverness or hard work. When God and wise Christians tell me to be faithful to the tasks in front of me today, trusting God for tomorrow I nod in agreement while internally I am still seeking security in what I can do, planning, worrying and fretting.

I’m going to quit working and will live by faith. I have come to realize that although I’ve not thought of myself as an anxious person, I do in fact worry a lot about the future for myself and my family. Jesus tells us not to do this so I have decided it is time to take a step of faith and trust God’s promises for provision (see Matthew 6:25–34).

Some history

On freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, one of the first issues to arise was the logistical problem of feeding hundreds of thousands of people. God took care of this by providing manna each morning (except on the Sabbath) which the people were to gather and cook for food. To ensure the Israelites only gathered what they needed for the day and didn’t stockpile the stuff, God made it go rotten if kept overnight (except on the Sabbath). So they had to go out each day to gather enough for that day. Anxiously hiding away extra ‘for a rainy day’ would result in an awful stink and maggots growing in it.

Written for us

Paul tells us that these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11). We have a big thick Bible with Exodus included in it so that we will learn spiritual lessons from what God has done in the past (see also 1 Corinthians 10:1–5).

Your goal is to get into a manna rhythm. Seek his grace today, be faithful to the tasks in front of you, and trust him for tomorrow (Ed Welch, Depression, A stubborn Darkness p150).

Such a manna rhythm is something that honours God. It is an attitude which acknowledges that all we have comes from Him. It is an attitude of humility, trusting that God knows what He is doing, is faithful to His promises and will always provide what I need as I need it.

Now the rubber hits the road

That’s not to say it is easy though. I prove day after day my mistrust of God’s promises, embracing assumptions which highlight a lack of faith in God by my choices to work at improving myself by human means. Allowing weakness to become an excuse for not fighting for joy. Letting physiology over-ride love.

Changing these things is a daunting mountain. I do try to overcome this obstacle, and this is where I’m going wrong. God is calling me to seek grace daily for the tasks of today. He is not asking me to worry about the mountain, He calls me to follow Jesus. Step, step, step, step. Jesus even calls me His friend. We can chat on the way. What He does require is that I trust Him. Trusting promises such as:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).

But I fall and fail. It is so easy to look at my own weakness and failings (sin) and interpret the situation as meaning this promise cannot be true because I have sinned so that settles it. Whereas perhaps it is more like I have given up on enduring, or have not accepted the way out. Giving up too early or hanging around too long can open me up to sin.

God’s promise is that he will never put us in a situation where we have no choice but to sin (Ed Welch, p201).

Sin is not only actions, I have sinful thoughts more often than I do sinful actions. Temptations are not limited to lust or coveting, despair and joylessness can be lure me in also. Whether Satan skewers me with sex or suicide probably makes little difference to him. The roots of sin and temptation go very deep into my heart, it is difficult for me to discern where each temptation originates, this is like guerrilla warfare against my own heart (James 1:14–15, Jeremiah 17:9 and 1 Peter 2:11). It is serious stuff, subtle – but of eternal consequence.

In the mind of God, sin is a much more serious problem than suffering (Ed Welch, p202).

I’m too busted for a DIY job to be feasible, only God can fix my sin. So working at a patch up job is simply making the mess worse, yet there remains a job to be done. My job is to keep trusting in Jesus Christ when my anxious thoughts are wanting to scheme ways to look after myself.

So I remind myself

God is calling me to seek grace now for the tasks of today.


Photo of sleeping construction worker: iStockphoto

Love in pain

Recently I have been a bit stuck for what I should be writing about. There are some topics I’d like to address, but I’ve felt as though this is not the correct time for me to venture my as yet partially-formed thoughts on certain issues.

Then this morning while my son trashed our house and I enjoyed a cup of tea, God reminded me that the greatest thing I can do is to know Him, to meditate upon the perfections of Christ and to share the glory of this with you.

Perhaps the most obvious of Christ’s perfections is his love. I want to consider the love of Jesus even in His pain.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
(John 13:1-5 ESV)

Jesus loved His disciples not only through many weary miles of ministry on dusty roads, He loved them through their betrayals and in His deepest times of agony. He loved them to the end.

At this time when He knew His betrayer had ‘gone over to the dark side’ and He knew that His disciples would all scatter and run from Him, Jesus continues to love. He does not retreat into being wrapped up in His own trials and misery, He does the opposite. Laying aside the clothing of a man, Jesus takes the place of a servant and voluntarily undertakes the most demeaning of tasks.

The act of washing feet introduces Christ’s final discourse to His disciples. Jesus has much to communicate to them, but the overall message is “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The ultimate example of His love is yet to come, this command is given knowing that He indeed will not shrink back, that He will love them to the end.

Jesus is fully God. He is also fully man. This means that the pain of following through on what love required hurt Him every bit as much as it would hurt me. I have no grounds to dismiss what Jesus endured as being impossible for me because I am not God – He experienced the pain of it just as much as I would. In that pain He continued to love. Through pain Jesus made good His promises. In agony He forgave. While being tortured He refused to call upon angels to take the easy way out.

When I am in pain you see me at my worst. I will be irritable, short tempered, selfish, unkind to others, refuse to forsake comfort, impatient and withdrawn. What I will not be is loving.

This is sin.

It is dishonouring to Jesus.

Such behaviour reveals my lack of trust in God.

Paul proved that it is possible for a man to love through pain (2 Corinthians 4:7-18), the cost is high but the gain to everyone is beyond our usual ability to measure things:

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11 ESV)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

Pray small prayers

This post may get messy. God is teaching me some stuff and I’m not completely clear what it all means. Perhaps I should wait until things are more clear in my mind before writing – but then I would not be able to write anything!

In a nutshell, it feels as though God is using a zoom lens to show me about myself. And just as when the scientists get a higher resolution lens for their telescopes or microscopes they collect some fantastic images but then have to puzzle over how to interpret the new information, so I am also still processing what God is showing me.

What I’m seeing is a multitude of small aspects of my daily life that are not being brought under subjection to Christ. This in turn makes me vulnerable to Satan’s whispering lies and subtle delusions. Some of these delusions are beginning to reveal themselves as the traps they are – snares intended to prevent me from looking to Christ alone for my hope. It is humiliating to realize how easily duped I have been (and no doubt still are, by as yet undetected snares).

As I was considering this over the last week or so, I came across a blog post which talked about the same idea from a different context. The guts of what Doug is saying is that “God doesn’t just want our “biggies.”” This is something I have known and let slip from my mind over the years, that everyday ordinary stuff is where spiritual rubber meets the road. My thoughts and reactions to little things are training and shaping me. It is the little foxes that spoil the vines (Song of Solomon 2:15).

God doesn’t just want our “biggies”:

If you and I only approach God with the colossal issues and not the mole hills of doubt, spilled juice, heated conversations with our spouses, tear in the fabric of our shirt, length of a stoplight, concern of how we’ll adjust in a relationship if we open up, lack of sleep, lack of money, excess of money, tinge of pride, fear of reprisal, lack of earnestness in prayer and the study of the Bible, or any number of other issues – we are at risk of looking toward horizons for hope. This, make no mistake, is risky business for its aiming at a moving target. OR the other horizon-oriented option would be to seek the avoidance of immanent danger. Here you are at risk of viewing God only as punitive and not grace filled. This we all do (or have done) to our own peril. (Reverence Demands Exposure by Doug Rumbold)

God seems to have some ‘lessons’ for me that cannot be bypassed. If I sidestep them initially, He just brings me full circle again until I encounter the same lesson again with a little more experience and (hopefully) wisdom under my belt so I will learn it properly second time around. Or third, or fourth, or fifth time around (no kidding, I could tell stories of at least one lesson that took me five encounters to finally sink in!)

Maybe the best way to finish this ramble is with the following Scripture:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.
(Psalm 32:8-9 ESV)


Image of camera zoom lens: Anders Ljungberg

My snakes and ladders spiritual life

snakes-and-ladders

Goal: To follow Christ faithfully all my life.
Reality: Stumbling through life barely seeing, fearful at times that I have completely lost my way.

My spiritual life doesn’t contain much ‘plain sailing’. It is much more like a game of snakes and ladders in which I plod along for a bit, climb to heights occasionally, to be brought back down again by all too frequent attacks from the serpent.

No doubt spiritual attacks from the evil one(s) are fairly constant but some have a more crushing impact than others, bringing me tumbling from a proud place way down into the pit. Perhaps because I thought I was doing OK for a while.

All this climbing and falling, up and down, delight and despair, confounds my will to live in Christ. I want to walk in obedience, for:

…whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17 ESV)

Yet this proves impossible, my wretchedness oozes through (Romans 7:24). I certainly am under no deception regarding the reality of my own sin (1 John 1:8), yet this condemns me because acknowledging my sin shows I am walking in darkness (1 John 1:6).

Both chapters 8 & 9 of Romans and also the book of 1 John address what following Christ is really like – blameless in Christ yet wandering off into the darkness and filth of sin. John blatantly writes:

I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin… (1 John 2:1 ESV)

In the end I take up the words of a hymn in prayer to God:

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
(Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing)


Image of Snakes and Ladders game: Flickr, Sezzles

My fragile faith seed

mustard-seed

How does a stumbling, distracted man keep his heart fixed upon Christ?

The world around me ignores Christ and even in my own home there are plenty of distractions drawing my heart away from Him. Worse still, my own heart is bent on straying from Jesus into ambivalence and sin (Romans 7:18).

Having plenty of failed attempts under my belt already, it is clear that the only place to start is with what messy reality I’ve got here today. Fortunately, part of this reality is that I want to live with Christ at the center (Hebrews 11:6). Such a desire indicates faith and so my starting point consists of a sinful heart, faith and Jesus Christ.

No matter how depraved my heart may be, a grain of faith in Christ is all I need – He will do the rest.

This is perhaps the hardest bit – my fragile faith seed appears impotent against the sin in my own heart. What faith does is to cry out to Jesus. In my distractions I ask for His steadfast love. As a little child with arms outstretched and heart tender, coming to the One in whom I trust for everything.


External links related to this topic:

Image of mustard seed: iStockphoto

Sin is a horrid, hateful sight

sin-is-a-horrid-hateful-sight
One of John Newton’s Olney hymns:

Sin, when viewed by scripture light,
Is a horrid, hateful sight;
But when seen in Satan’s glass,
Then it wears a pleasing face.

When the gospel trumpet sounds,
When I think how grace abounds,
When I feel sweet peace within,
Then I’d rather die than sin.

When the cross I view by faith,
Sin is madness, poison, death;
Tempt me not, ‘tis all in vain,
Sure I ne’er can yield again.

Satan, for awhile debarred,
When he finds me off my guard,
Puts his glass before my eyes,
Quickly other thoughts arise.

What before excited fears,
Rather pleasing now appears;
If a sin, it seems so small,
Or, perhaps, no sin at all.

Often thus, through sin’s deceit,
Grief, and shame, and loss I meet,
Like a fish, my soul mistook,
Saw the bait, but not the hook.

O my Lord, what shall I say?
How can I presume to pray?
Not a word have I to plead,
Sins, like mine, are black indeed!

Made, by past experience, wise,
Let me learn thy word to prize;
Taught by what I’ve felt before,
Let me Satan’s glass abhor.

By John Newton