[Taken from the The Gospel in Genesis: From Fig Leaves to Faith by Martyn Lloyd-Jones copyright ©(2009). Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org. See also part 1.]
But now let us observe some of the steps of the process, the stages through which the man and woman went after they were bemused by the dogmatism of Satan, this shining personality who came in the form of a serpent and dazzled them by his authority, just as so many are dazzled today by the authority of big names and science and other abstractions.
First, as a result of listening to the serpent, the man and woman began to doubt God's power. The Devil said:
Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die. (Genesis 3:1-4)
"Don't believe it," said the Devil. "When God spoke to you like that, it sounded very powerful, but you need pay no attention. You can eat of that fruit, and I assure you that you shall not die. God can't do anything about it. It's an idle word. Don't listen to it. Don't be frightened. Don't be tyrannized. Stand up against him. It's not true."
So they began to question the power of God. That was the first step. And it is always the first step. If we just realized the power of God, we would not continue defying him for a second. It is because of this doubt, this unbelief, that people still continue in sin. The Bible states the alternative like this: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). "It is a fearful thing," says another Scripture, "to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Remember, too, the message that was given by the prophet Daniel to King Belshazzar at his feast. Daniel pointed out that not only had Belshazzar desecrated the vessels of the temple by drinking from them with his concubines, but even more serious, said Daniel, "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" (Daniel 5:23). The moment Adam and Eve began to doubt the power of God, everything else followed.
And this method, this process, is still being repeated. The Bible is full of it. Take even a man like Moses. When Moses was first called by God to his task, he had that great vision of the burning bush. He was about to go forward and investigate when back came the voice saying to stand back. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5).
Oh, the power of God! Has it ever occurred to you that the very way in which we tend to talk about God is in and of itself an expression of our denial of the power of God? How fond we are, all of us, of religious debates and discussions. What is more enjoyable than to have an argument about these matters? Someone will say, "I don't see that God can do this or that." There the man is, perhaps standing with his hands in his pockets and a cigarette in his mouth, talking about God. But God said to Moses in effect, "Take your shoes off. Do you realize who I am and what I am? I AM WHAT I AM. Are you coming to investigate me? Stand back!"
He is the true God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, everlastingly almighty in his eternity and in his glory, who never knows what it is to be weary or to be tired, who never faints. And yet think of the way in which all of us have spoken about him and have argued about him and have expressed our opinions about him. There is no fear of God before our eyes. That is the trouble. We do not know what we are speaking about. We do not understand God.
And then, of course, with our characteristic modern confidence, we smile at strong biblical preaching and say, "Of course, our forefathers a hundred years or so ago could be frightened, you know. And as long as people were subject to this spirit of fear, they were Christians and believed the gospel. We're familiar with all that. Since then we've studied the science of comparative religion, and we know that all these religions are based upon fear, with God as some sort of great bogeyman in the heavens. And people are ready to believe it. Some believe the same things about the sun and others about the moon and the stars. Comparative religion teaches us all this. Today we know too much to be taken in by that sort of thing! ‘Has God said?' Fancy, people being frightened in that way! Fancy, people being alarmed about hell! Fancy, people crying out in fear and trembling, ‘What must I do to be saved?' We've lost that superstitious fear of God."
I am not drawing a caricature, am I? Am I not speaking the sober, literal truth? Is not that the attitude of men and women toward this almighty God at this very moment? They are defying God. They are defying his power. A man says:
My head is bloody, but unbowed. . . .
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley,
"Invictus. In Memoriam R. T. H. B."
I, modern man, am self-sufficient. I will stand and defy whatever gods there may be. I cannot be frightened. I cannot be tyrannized. I cannot be alarmed. I'm not afraid of death. I'm not afraid of eternity. I'm not afraid of God.
This attitude may not always be expressed in those words, but if your life is not entirely submitted to God, that is your position. For if you really believe in the power of God over and above you, you will fall at his feet. You will prostrate yourself. You will look into his face and say, "Have mercy upon me. Bless me." Are you doing that? Have you ever? Who is controlling your life and your ideas? Is it God, or is it you yourself and the modern world? Doubt came in about the power of God.
But still more serious, the Devil insinuated a doubt about the goodness of God. Do you remember how he put it? The Devil said to those first two people, "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).
"You know," said the Devil to Adam and Eve in effect, "I've felt sorry for you for a long time. I've seen the way God has frightened you and tyrannized over your life, and I've been wanting to tell you the truth, and I've come to do that. Do you know why he said all this about the fruit? Well, he doesn't want you to become what you ought to be and what you have it in you to be. You see, he's jealous, and he doesn't want you to become gods and to know good and evil as he does. So he told you not to eat of that fruit because the moment you do eat it, you will be like God himself. That's why he's introduced this prohibition."
And they believed it! They began to doubt the justice and the righteousness of God, the benevolence of God, the goodness of God. They began to doubt—I do not hesitate to put it like this—the very morality of God. They listened to the Devil when he told them that God was against them and that was why he had introduced the prohibition. They believed that God was jealous and selfish and small and was keeping things from them in order to lord it over them.
I probably do not need to point out to you that this is the appalling thing that millions of people are believing about God at this very moment. In their heart of hearts they regard God as a monster, someone who is against them, someone who delights in spoiling their lives. Are those not the common grounds that are brought forward for refusing to believe the gospel?
I wonder whether I am addressing any young person who perhaps has left home for the first time. So far you have been taken to a place of worship by your parents, but now you have left home and have come to London. Do you have thoughts like this in your heart? "I'm going to give this Christianity stuff up. It's held me down; it's robbed me of so much, this narrow life, chapel-going, reading the Bible, prayer meetings, and so on." Perhaps you are saying, "I've missed so much. At last I have my opportunity. Now I'm really going to start living and enjoying life."
We have all known this. We have had a feeling that the gospel is something narrow and cramped that puts fetters upon us and robs us of some marvelous life that the people who have not been brought up like us have always enjoyed. Is that not the thought? That somehow God and this Christian way of life are against us and are opposed to our best interests and to our enjoyment of life and to our happiness, and that somehow or other God does not wish us well or desire us to enjoy our lives in this world. That is still the idea, is it not? And coupled with that, of course, is the notion that God's judgment is wrong, that it is unfair, and that God has no right to speak like this to us. Why should I stand in the judgment at the end? Doubting God's goodness is the second step.
Now notice the next step—how interesting these steps are, and how we all repeat them as we go through life in this world! The next step was inevitably this one: human reason came in and substituted itself for God's way. Do you see the steps? Starting from the dogmatism, the assertion, first there was the questioning of God's power and then the questioning of God's goodness. Next came the thought, "Well, after all, there's something in this." It is put like this in the sixth verse: "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food"—she had always seen that tree, it had been there before she came there, she had often looked at it, but she had never seen this before—"and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat."
That is always the next step. We start with a query about the power of God. We say, "We needn't be afraid. We really mustn't be cowards. We mustn't allow these feelings and fears to dominate us. We must shake that off and stand on our feet." And then we say, "Well, let's examine this God. Is he good? No, no. Why, that religion is too small. It's too narrow. The other is so much bigger." But the moment you get there, you begin to reason and to work out your own philosophy, and you say, "Well, of course, I've always been brought up to think that the worldly life is a very bad life. But really, now that I come to look at it, it doesn't seem to be so bad. Look at the people who are living it. They don't die the moment they sin. They seem to be able to do anything they like, and they flourish on it. They look much happier than many of those miserable Christians. My word, this isn't a bad life after all! And look at the great people who are living such a life. Look at the publicity they get!"
And then, of course, we say, "Well, we don't want to give up religion altogether. What shall we do? Well, let's make a religion that's more satisfactory." And so, by exercising our human reason and our own thoughts, we begin to create a new god. "Oh, yes," we say, "we want to believe in God, but not a God with prohibitions, not a God with a law, not a just and a righteous and a holy God, not a God who stands in judgment and threatens us with hell. No, no. The God we want, the God we believe in, is a God who is always smiling upon us and who says, ‘It's all right, I'll forgive everything. Carry on.'"
Is that not what is being done? Put down on paper your ideas of God, what you think God is like and what God ought to be, and compare them with the Bible, and I think you will find that I have not exaggerated by a single syllable. Having come to this stage, men and women now forget God altogether and substitute their own opinions, their own philosophy. And that is what has been happening for a hundred years. The Bible is no longer the authority. We no longer listen to God; we are listening to human beings.
But there is something here that to me is more amazing and more astonishing than all this, and it is the fact that men and women can do this in spite of what God has done for them and in spite of all the blessings they have enjoyed. That is what I meant when I said at the beginning that there is a sense in which I just do not understand it.
Have you ever thought of it like that? Look at this man Adam. Look at Eve. Think of what God had done for them. He had made them. He had given them everything. He had made them lords of creation. He had given them this marvelous life in paradise. He would come to speak to them. He would visit them. They were walking with him. They were enjoying bliss that passes our imagination. Everything was easy. Everything was perfect. God had done all that for them. And yet they were ready and willing to believe all these lies about him, to turn their backs upon him, to disobey him, and thus to bring down all this upon their heads.
Do you not find it difficult to understand that? What is it, you say, about a man who lets down a friend? What do you say about the sort of man, let us call him A, who was in serious and terrible trouble and his friend B helped him, gave him money, allowed him to share his house, showered gifts upon him, did everything he could for him without skimping at all? What do you think of that man A who is ready to listen to some foul insinuation that is made against his friend B? Someone comes and tells him, "Look here, he did that because it was to his advantage to do it, because it benefited him. He wasn't doing it for your sake. He always thinks of himself; he's selfish and self-centered. Fancy believing that he did it out of the goodness of his heart and out of his own benevolence! Did you really believe that? It isn't true!"
And A believes those lies and repeats them, and he does things against his greatest friend and benefactor. What would you think of him? You would call him a cad, would you not? And you would be right.
So what do you say about Adam and Eve? It was in spite of what God had done for them and all the blessings he had showered upon them that they believed the lie and resented him and, as it were, turned their backs upon him and went their own way. But, my dear friend, that is precisely what everybody who is not a Christian at this moment is still doing. It is God who has given you life. It is God who saw to it that you should be born into a family with loved ones who would care for you and look after you. It is God who ordained marriage. It is God who ordained the family. It is God who ordained the state. It is God the Father who sends the rain. It is God who gives the sun. It is God who fructifies the crops in the fields and gives us food. Do you know that he could stop it all in a second if he chose to do so? It is God in his beneficence who does all this. It is Providence that has surrounded us with all these glorious gifts and benefits from our very birth into this life.
Not only that, have you ever stopped to think of the benefits of Christianity in a general sense that you have enjoyed? Has it ever occurred to you that many of the things you prize most of all in this world have come as by-products of the Christian faith? Your education and hospitals, for instance—Christianity introduced them. They would never have come but for Christianity and the church. The world would never have provided them. Do not believe my word; go back into history. Trace it for yourselves. And you have enjoyed them. They have come from God. He has showered them upon you.
But all this pales into insignificance by the side of something else that God has done. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God so loved this world that had rebelled against him and spat into his face that in spite of that he sent his only Son, and that Son—I do not understand it—came and was born as a baby in Bethlehem. He humbled himself, he went to the cross, he died on a tree so that you and I might be redeemed, forgiven, and restored to God and go to heaven. And yet men spat in his face. They still do.
The old action of Adam and Eve is repeated today. In spite of all that God had done for them, they believed the lie, and men and women still believe the lie. They have looked at Calvary, they have looked at the cross, and they have said, "It's not true. God is against us." The God who did that is against us? There is only one thing to say about that. It is madness, my friends. You are being beguiled. You are being bemused. Dust has been thrown into your eyes. Can you not see the folly of it all? To say that a God who did that and did not spare his only Son is selfish and arrogant and waiting to crush you and is against you! Face the facts. Recognize the unutterable folly of such an attitude. If you do not realize it now, a day will come when you will know that all this is true.
The Devil looked at Adam and Eve and said, "Don't believe it. Eat the fruit—eat as much as you like. You shall not surely die." But they did die. Death came into the world, and it has been here ever since.
"No evil consequences will follow," said the Devil. But they did—the man and woman were turned out of paradise; food had to be earned by the sweat of their brow. Is that not true? We do not like it. We are trying to fight against it. A seven-day week, a six-day week, a five-day week. If we could have it, we would want a no-day week! Permanent holidays! Everything for nothing.
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" (Genesis 3:19). Painful childbirth was another consequence. It all came, it is all still here, and it will all continue.
"Ye shall not surely die." But as a result, Adam and Eve were driven out, working, sweating, bearing children in pain, murder coming in among those very children, death. How easy it is to make dogmatic pronouncements with nothing to substantiate them, but they make not the slightest difference to the truth about God.
You and I at this moment are in the presence of this almighty and eternal God. Do you not feel that it is time to take off your shoes and to put your hand on your mouth and to be careful of what you say? We are in his hand. He has made his way plain and clear. He has shown us why the misery has come upon us, and he offers us the only way out. There is full, free salvation at this very moment in Jesus Christ. You have but to realize the truth and to acknowledge to God that all your troubles are due to your sin, your rebellion against him. Go and tell him that. Tell him that you receive his offer in Christ. If you do that, he will receive you, and he will bless you. The wrath of God will no longer abide upon you. You need no longer fear death and the grave. You need not fear God. You will know that you have been reconciled to him and that you have become his child.
In other words, reverse the process that happened in the garden. Then all will be well with your soul. Give up your foolish reasoning, and listen to God. Believe his word. Submit yourself to it. And soon you will delight in it, for you will be living the life of God himself.
Instead of asking, "Has God said?" say, "I believe what God has said. I accept it. I surrender to it." Do that and you will be blessed in a manner that you will never understand in this world. You will be blessed even in the act of death, and you will go on to be with God and with Christ throughout eternity.