In the beginning. Part 4: Living in a dying world
Repentance is the key to restoration
In the previous article in this series we saw that life for the first human beings, Adam and Eve, changed from joy and innocence to fear and guilt. This was caused by the sin of disobedience which resulted in a fallen universe and death for animals and people. Today we see how Genesis 3:8-24 shows us how to live in a world that’s dying.
Repentance and Restoration
The Bible starts with God seeking people whereas other religions begin with people seeking God. God asked Adam and Eve a series of questions. Firstly, “Where are you?” (v.9NIV); because Adam and Eve needed to realise that they were away from God. The fellowship they had with God was broken.
Secondly, “Who told you that you were naked?” (v.11). Where did this knowledge come from? This was a rhetorical question because no one told them that they were naked. The feeling of shame, guilt and fear had come from their human conscience. Adam and Eve needed to realise that it came from within them.
Finally, “What is this you have done?” (v.13). After blaming someone else they both confessed their sin, saying “I ate” of the forbidden fruit. Here God is bringing them to confession and repentance. He helps them see what they have done and acknowledge their sin. When they reached this point God stopped asking questions. If Adam and Eve had not been honest in answering God’s questions, then God would not have been able to help them as He did.
The same applies to us when we stray away from God’s intentions for us. We need to ask ourselves: “Where am I?”; “How do I know?”; “What have I done?”. We need to know where we are in life if God is to help us. We need to acknowledge that we are not where we should be because of our inner sinful human nature. We need to take responsibility for it. God wants to bring us to repentance where we acknowledge specifically what is wrong. He wants us to face the facts before He can restore us.
Jesus confirmed that we are defiled by the evil desires within our minds—it comes from within us (Mt. 15:19-20). This is our inner sinful human nature as shown in this instance by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
The Bible tells us what to do after we are convicted of our sin: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn.1:9). Repentance is needed to start the Christian life. There is a need to confess one’s sins to God and realise that Jesus has taken the penalty for these sins. This rescues us from the eternal punishment of those who have rejected God. Repentance is also needed to live the Christian life. In order to live in fellowship with God and with each other, we must confess our sins on a daily basis. After we confess our sins God forgives us.
So the sequence of events from temptation to restoration is: temptation can lead to sin; sin leads to separation from God (spiritual death or loss of fellowship with God); conviction by a guilty conscience (Rom. 2:14-15) can then lead to confession; this leads to repentance and forgiveness; and the outcome is restoration back into fellowship with God (see Graphic). This is the process for restoring the sinner, which we see repeated throughout the bible (Gal. 6:1,2).
Three examples are:
- King David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11-12). He sinned and then tried to hide the sin and made it worse by having Bathsheba’s husband killed. After being convicted by Nathan’s parable, he confessed his sin and repented (Ps. 51). Then he was restored and David and Bathsheba reared Solomon.
- Israel’s idolatry. The minor prophets Hosea, Joel and Amos accused the Israelites of being unfaithful to God and named their sins. They called for repentance and stressed that restoration only comes after repentance.
- The prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32) The son took his inheritance and wasted it in a distant country. He finished up destitute and eating the pigs food. Later he came to his senses and returned home and confessed to his father. Then he was restored to his family.
We can short-circuit this process by stopping temptation leading to sin. But when we do sin we need to follow God’s process for restoration and reconciliation. This means allowing our conscience to convict us and then specifically confessing and repenting of our sin. This is how to keep in touch with God and live in a sinful world.
The Blessings of a Fallen World
After Adam and Eve repented, God judged Satan and placed a curse on him. Then God reminded them of what life would be like for them in a sinful and dying world. For Eve it was pain in childbirth and the leadership of her husband. For Adam it was his toil in work and ultimate death. The death penalty was a blessing as well as a curse. It stopped Adam and his descendants from living in a state of sin, with its consequences, forever. It meant that the separation from fellowship with God need not be eternal. As death was the penalty for sin, it also enabled Jesus Christ to pay that penalty (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:12-28).
We suffer because we live in a fallen world. Life is tough. But God has turned the hardships of life into a source of blessing. All these things in our fallen world remind us of our need to rely on God and not ourselves. They counteract our pride and independence. Instead we are very limited and dependent on God. Any of us can be struck down by disease or death. What a humbling thought. Mankind constantly seeks miracle cures for diseases, but as soon as some disease is cured it seems as though another one arises. We need to realise that we are mortals created by God to be on this earth for 70 to 80 years or so. They remind us who we are; people who rely on God and His creation for our life support. They remind us where we are; in a sinful world. They bring us down to earth. Suffering, illness and death affect all in society. Those with power and wealth cannot escape them.
For believers, the “struggle against sin” and the hardships of life are said to be for our good, as they can bring “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:4, 11). So the suffering experienced in our fallen world should lead to spiritual growth. The sinful world is God’s training ground; God’s gymnasium for us. It gives us a tough workout. The symbol used in Hebrews is of a father training his son. God is at work using the struggles of life to mould our character. He wants us to be what He made us to be. He wants us to rely on Him.
Paul wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The context of this verse is “our present sufferings” and “our weakness” and a creation that groans in pain (Rom. 8:18, 22, 26). So if you walk in the Spirit, God will cause adversity to work for your good. Likewise, Peter wrote, “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Pt. 5:10). Don’t be discouraged, God is working behind the scenes to restore and strengthen us. The suffering is only for a little while compared with the eternal glory to come. By persevering in the suffering and struggles of the fallen world we can experience God’s blessings of spiritual growth and maturity.
New Name and New Clothes
Next God provides Eve with a new name and both of them with new clothes. What is the reason for this? It seems to be part of their new way of life in a fallen world. “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (v.20). Here we see that the name of the first woman changed from “Woman” to “Eve”. “Woman” means “taken out of man” and “Eve” means “life” (Gen. 2:23). From the beginning, Adam would have known that Eve was to be an ancestor of mankind (Gen. 1:28). In that sense she was the mother of all humanity. But Eve had also repented of her sin and her fellowship with God was restored. She was also at enmity with Satan and believed God’s promise (v.13,15). In that sense she was the mother of the redeemed. It is interesting that biblical characters change their name when there is a change within them. For example Abram and Sarai changed their names to Abraham and Sarah when God promised that they would be the father and mother of many nations and that they would have a son called Isaac (Gen. 15:3-5, 15-16, 19). Because Eve now trusted God, her destiny had changed from eternal death to eternal life (Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14). Through her new name “life” she may be recognised as the mother of all those who would find life through Jesus Christ.
When Adam and Eve felt guilty and afraid after they disobeyed God, they made some clothes out of fig leaves (Gen. 3:7,10). These were “coverings for themselves”. Then God endorsed clothing for mankind when He “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (v.21). This would have been more comfortable and more effective clothing than fig leaves. Skin comes from animals and to obtain enough for a garment implies the death of the animal. Maybe God was the first one to kill an animal on earth. Maybe this was the first animal sacrifice. This verse is the main reason we should not be nudists. Why do we wear clothes? God gave clothes because of sin. God showed that clothing is necessary for people living in a sinful world. As Adam and Eve saw things differently after the fall into sin there was a need to wear clothes as a covering for the body (Ex. 22:27; 28:42).
Banished from the Garden
Then “the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever’” (v. 22). The tree of life in the garden in Eden seems to have had the power to convey immortality. In the book of Revelation it symbolises eternal life in heaven (Rev. 22;2, 14,19). All true Christians will “eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). If Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of life they would have lived forever in bodies subject to guilt, shame, fear, sickness and degeneration. It would mean that humanity would never die physically but would go on in their sinful ways forever. But God had a better plan for the eternal part of their life.
“So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (v.23-24). The cherubim that God used to keep Adam and Eve away from the tree of life were angels that usually stand close to God’s throne. They were represented symbolically on the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:18-22) and temple (2 Chron. 3:7) and seen by the prophet Ezekiel in a vision of the restored Jerusalem (Ez. 41:18-20). Ezekiel described four “living creatures” or cherubim each with four faces and four wings (Ez. 1:5-24; 10:2-22).
Afterthey sinned, Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden in order to “guard the way to the tree of life”, so they would find the right way, not the wrong one. There is no longer a physical way to the tree of life. There is nothing we can do physically to get eternal life. We can go to church each Sunday and do all the things that a Christian does, but if it just a physical thing God will remain outside our lives. The way to the tree of eternal life is now via the unseen part of our lives. We come to God in the realm of our soul and spirit. Jesus is now the tree of life—He is the way to heaven because He is the source of truth and the source of life (Jn. 14:6). Jesus is the only way to eternal life. He paid the penalty for sin so we can go to heaven.
Restored to the beginning
Many of the events we have seen in Genesis 1-3 are matched by events described in Revelation 20-21 (see Table). This is because, through Jesus, God plans to restore the relationships that were affected by sin; “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19-20). Here we see that believers are already reconciled to God; we are part of “a new creation” described by the right hand column of the table (2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:21). Eventually all of creation except for Satan, demons and unbelievers will be restored to its original perfect condition (Col. 1:20). However, the latter will come under His rule on judgment day (Phil. 2:10-11). But we can look forward to a paradise that is like the original garden in Eden.
Table: Comparisons between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22.
|Topic||Genesis 1-3||Revelation 20-22|
|Heavens and earth||Created (2:1,4)||Destroyed by fire (20:11; 2 Pt. 3:10).Renewed (21:1).|
|Day and night||Created (1:3-5)||No night (21:25; 22:5)|
|Sun & moon||Created (1:14-18)||Not needed (21:23)|
|Marriage & wife||Of first Adam (2:24-25)||Of last Adam (19:7; 21:9)|
|Satan||Enters (3:1)||Thrown into the lake of fire (20:10)|
|Sin||Origin (3:6)||Removed (21:27).|
|Pain etc||Origin (3:16-19)||Removed (21:4)|
|Curse on creation||Imposed (3:17-19)||Removed (22:3).|
|Death||Origin (3:19; 5:5)||Second death— the lake of fire (20:14; 21:8)Removed (21:4)|
|Access to tree of life||Denied (3:24)||Restored (22:2,19)|
Foundation of the Bible
Genesis 1-3 is the foundation to understanding the key message of the Bible. It gives the foundation of the gospel and of many Biblical truths and principles. The original sin of Adam and Eve resulted in death and a sinful fallen world. This is the reason why Jesus Christ was born. The good news is that Christ’s death and resurrection paid the penalty for the sin of those who accept His gift of salvation and eternal life.
Genesis 1-3 reveals: God is the Creator; the universe was created in six days; humanity is made in the image of God; humanity rules over the rest of creation; Satan is the tempter; sin leads to a guilty conscience; the original sin affected the rest of creation. It also describes the origin of: sin, conflict, pain, thorns and thistles, toil, work, marriage, death, and clothes.
Finally, let’s remember what Jesus said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He spans time from the beginning to the end. He who created it all in the beginning, and who redeems, will also finish it at the end.
Written, July 2004
See the first article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 1: The first week (Genesis 1)