Reading : 1 John 3
Nothing could be more important than understanding the fundamentals of about human nature, or to put it another way, the way in which the human mind works in relationship to the things of God. Nothing could be more important if we wish to understand matters of life and death in the ultimate sense. If we wish to know what the Bible says about these matters we must begin at the beginning!
The book of Genesis speaks of man being made from ‘the dust of the ground’; made from the atoms and molecules commonly found in the earth and subsequently all created living creatures. However, there was [and is] a difference between man and other created animals: ‘God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …… so God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them”’. [Genesis 1 verses 26-27]
What possibly can be meant as an interpretation of “man being made in the likeness of God”? Are the following deductions reasonable?
Man has a personality, a personal identity; man can think and communicate; is able to make logical rational deductions; man has been given free will [to obey God or not, for example]; he has emotions, and feelings. There may be many more characteristics of human nature that can be thought of, but with all of them, they are of course only pale shadows of the abilities and characteristics held by the Almighty God, the creator of all things: God is infinite, He has absolute power and knowledge. God represents total excellence; human words fail fully to express the wonder of God. Nevertheless, when God created man, He created something originally very good. Sadly that state of man was not to last; man was not identical to his maker. At this time man was not in conflict with his maker. He was in a kind of paradise, surrounded by beauty and peace, all was well with the world, but dare we say that this pinnacle of God’s creation was immature. Man was without character development [with scriptural hindsight we can say that all the Biblical examples of ‘good characters’, from Abraham to Jesus Himself were subject to development under trial and testing]. Therefore Adam and Eve, in order to develop their characters, were tested. They were subjected to a very simple test in the Garden of Eden; they were not to partake of particular forbidden fruit. Only two results were possible; pass or fail; and the examiner was infallible! Genesis 2 verses 16 and 17 describe the test: ‘ the Lord God commanded the man, “ You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”’
It is clear from the Bible that God did not want mindless obedience, but an intelligent agreement to obey a reasonable request, because man had been created in God’s likeness, with intelligent attributes. Adam, created in a very good state, had a mind uncorrupted by evil, and only goodness surrounded him, or so it seemed; but evil was nearby, in the shape of a serpent.
We might like to debate the whys and wherefores and nature of this beast, but the Bible says, ‘ Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made’ Genesis 3 verse 1.
As the Genesis story proceeds, human nature, the human mind might be prompted to ask questions or raise doubts: for example:
If God made everything good, what of this crafty animal, filled with deception?
Why give the power of speech to such a thing?
Why hinge the whole of human history on such an event?
Why try an otherwise harmonious couple in a paradise with such a test?
So the human mind might so run on ……………….
Unless we are prepared to accept that “ man’s ways are not God’s ways, and God’s thoughts are far above our thoughts” [Isaiah 55 verses 8 and 9], we are lost. We cannot conjecture or philosophise with any profit. We must not allow notions of the human mind to blind us to the truth of the words of God.
We can be sure that God was and still is just and true to His word. He had given Adam and Eve everything to ensure their comfort and safety, but they were untried. The serpent questioned God’s integrity, and this provided the test for Adam and Eve. Genesis 3 verses 2-4 relates what happened: ‘The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from all the trees of the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die”, the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.
All that the serpent said was without foundation, it was all lies. Sadly Eve succumbed to the lies and ate of the fruit, as did Adam subsequently. The remainder of Genesis 3 describes the outcome of her disobeying the Creator. The human race was condemned to death.
Eve had a choice; she alone allowed herself to be misled, and Adam did likewise of his own volition. Human nature was now at enmity with God. This was the first outworking of the Apostle James’ commentary on the human condition, “ Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” James 1 verse 14. …………… and the reading from 1 John 3 verse 4 reminds us “Everyone who sins breaks the law (God’s law); in fact sin is lawlessness.”
In Eden, God had drawn attention to the subsequent object of unlawful desire, the forbidden fruit, with a punishment for disobeying attached. Adam and Eve accepted the situation, but Eve was beguiled by the serpent, and she tried to pass on the blame; a trait of human nature: “ The serpent deceived me and I ate” Genesis 3 verse 13. Eve allowed the object of desire to remain in her mind, which allowed the temptation to grow stronger; breaking of God’s command or law followed, sin resulted and death followed. Adam, although not initially deceived [Paul reminds us of this in his letter to Timothy, 1 Timothy 2 verse 14], he still succumbed. Adam and Eve with human nature, were now an imperfect pair.
Genesis 3 records the Divine interrogation from which there was no escape. The penalties for the serpent, and for Adam and Eve, and for creation as whole, follow. A process was put into play which could only lead to death “ for dust you are, and to dust you will return” Genesis 3 verse 19. Death was now part of human nature.
But Adam and Eve did not immediately die. However they alone were unable to satisfactorily cover their sin, symbolised by their new appreciation of their nakedness …… a theme which would run through the Bible to the book of Revelation, when at last the repentant sinner “ can cover their shameful nakedness” Revelation 3 verse 18.
Human nature with its inherent propensity to sin was the outcome of Eve and Adam’s disobedience of God’s command. So all mankind was to be affected. Copious reference is made in many books of the Bible to this sad fact. Some examples:
Jeremiah 17 verse 9: “ The heart (of man) is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
James 1 verse 13: “ each one is tempted ……. by his own evil desire”
James 4 verse 1: “ What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
1 John 1 verse 8: “ If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And verse 10: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him (God) out to be a liar.”
The Apostle Paul puts it so well in Romans 7; just quoting parts of verses 17 and 18: “…….sin is living in me…….that is in my sinning nature.”
Human nature is well described by these few quotations.
Paul in Romans 7 verse 24 asks “ Who will rescue me from this body of death?” In other words he may have asked ‘How can mankind be saved from sinning human nature?’ In fact God immediately began the process of reconciliation after Adam and Eve’s sin. God pointed the way to the more successful covering than fig leaves; covering Adam and Eve with garments made from animal skins. Genesis 3 verse 21: “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Clearly implying that the shedding of blood had annulled, albeit temporarily, the death sentence upon them.
The death penalty was now upon Adam and Eve, but they in God’s mercy did not die immediately. They were however banned from the Garden of Eden; they had lost their first estate! They were no longer in perfect harmony with their maker. Paul says in Romans 5 verse 12 “ Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” The rest of scripture describes the plan of salvation which Paul is alluding to in Romans 5. This is part of the Gospel (the good news) message of the salvation of mankind, which in effect began after Adam’s fall, and ends in Revelation when God’s plan with the earth is accomplished.
Though man has brought death and evil upon himself, God will bestow life on those who strive to conquer sin in their human nature, and so turn to God. Paul again, in Romans 6 verse 23 says “ For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus our Lord.”
Way back in Eden, coincident with the inception of sin, and the God-declared penalty leading ultimately to death, was the glimmer of hope which was to burst forth into light in the person of Jesus Christ, who was bruised for mankind’s iniquities or sins. It is referred to as the lethal ‘crushing of the serpent’s head’ in Genesis 3 verse 15, by the promised ‘offspring’ of the woman, who would at the same time receive a somewhat minor wound from the serpent ( the serpent would strike his heel).
The Bible reveals the efforts made through the ages, by those who wished to obey God, battling against the weakness of human nature, trying to keep God’s laws. The trials of great characters of such men as Noah, Abraham, Job, Moses, David, are wonderful illustrations of how God allows trials and testing of those He loves, and how faith and repentance attracts God’s grace and favour. Of course the example of God’s laws being obeyed to perfection is only seen in His only beloved Son, Jesus Christ Himself!
The origins of sinning human nature were in Eden. The long outworking results of sin are seen in the world today, vividly described in prospect by Paul [2 Timothy 3 verses 1-5]: “ There will be terrible times in the last days (prior to the return of Jesus Christ to the earth). People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than God ……….. Have nothing to do with them!”
How can man survive all this horror, and escape from sin and death …… from his inherent human nature? 1 John 3 verse 4 gave the definition of sin for all time: “ Everyone who sins breaks the law (God’s law)”, and the next verse, v5 reveals “…. He (Jesus) appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin.” God loved the world. He loved erring men and women whom He called to a knowledge of Him, and who try to obey His commands. After Adam’s fall God wished for man to come back into harmony with Him. All the pathways back to that harmony lead to Jesus Christ; few books in the whole of the Bible fail to point the way to the Messiah (Hebrew word) or Christ (Greek), the Anointed (the meaning of Messiah and Christ) Son of God. John sums up the matter: “ For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3 verse 16. So God’s love motivates the redemption offered to man.
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the means by which this love can be channelled to those who are related to God. How did Jesus achieve this? He was born by the power of God (the Holy Spirit) acting upon the virgin Mary [see Luke 1 verses 26-38]. Whilst God was His Father, he was born with human nature through His mother, Mary, therefore Jesus had the capacity to sin. The writer to the Hebrews says about Jesus “…… one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are …… yet was without sin.”[Hebrews 4 verse 15] The wages of sin has always been death since Adam; Jesus’ human body, inherited through His mother from Adam, could die, and indeed it did upon the cross, but divine justice saw to it that the only sinless character who ever lived, could not remain in the grave. God in justice raised His sinless Son to everlasting life at His glorious resurrection.
For ordinary men and women, who have sinning human natures, to have a hope of the promised life that God offers, they have to recognise their sin, and then repent and become related to God, through a relationship with Jesus Christ. We can obtain that all important relationship with Christ, through baptism into His name, just as Peter said, recorded in Acts 2 verse 38 “ Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Paul gives an excellent explanation of what baptism is all about in his letter to the Romans chapter 6 ; the whole chapter is very well worth reading, but verses 3 and 4 give the essence of the meaning of baptism: “ ….. you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death. We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Left to its own devices human nature will lead inevitably to death, but mankind can live, through a new relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul describes this perfectly in his First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 verses 20-23: “ Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them who have fallen asleep (died). For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn; Christ, the firstfruits; then when He comes (back to the earth in glory: see Acts 1), those who belong to Him ( that is those who have believed God’s message to mankind and have been baptised into Christ).”
Adam and Eve’s failure in Eden condemned human nature, but God has provided a way for man to come back to Him, through the person of Jesus Christ. It is to be hoped that you will appreciate the grace of God’s offer to sinning human beings, and avail yourself of the opportunity of eternal salvation, by relating yourself to God, through belief and baptism into Jesus’ saving Name ….. the Name that is above every Name!