Rethinking the Garden

secret-garden-2413804_1280

One of the most enduring controversies within the church is the subject of election. If you want to get a rise out of a traditional Baptist, just mention the word predestination or the name Calvin, and it’s on. For some reason, there is no rational discussion or intelligent study of the Bible among most of those who oppose the doctrines of grace. They just know that ever since they could understand English, their folks have decried and demeaned the name of Calvin. [1]

The conflict between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in relationship to salvation will never be fully resolved until Jesus comes back. I hope He has a special session on the subject on the first day of eternity. Otherwise, I don’t know how we can ever have peace in heaven!

Believers who decry the doctrines of grace as taught by John Calvin (and by thousands upon thousands of other intelligent and redeemed Bible scholars throughout the church age!) always fall back on the concept of man’s free will. Their argument typically begins in the Garden of Eden, for supposedly it was there that God gave Adam free will.

God then put Adam to the test by declaring the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (TOTKOGE) off limits. All other trees of the garden – including the Tree of Life – were available to Adam as food. God made a point of placing both trees in the center of the Garden, which leads to the conclusion that Adam’s choice came down to choosing between the TOTKOGE and the Tree of Life.

Gen. 2:8 The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 

The first thing I would call your attention to is that God did not say, “You may choose to eat of the Tree of Life or of the TOTKOGE.” Read verses 16 and 17 closely. Instead of a choice, God gave Adam a command. He said, “…you shall not eat.”

In chapter three of Genesis, the serpent tempted Eve to ignore the commands and the judgment of God and to eat of the fruit of the TOTKOGE. Completely deceived by the words of the serpent, Eve ate of the fruit. [2] The next words in the Bible (verse 6) say, “…she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate.”

For some reason, Bible commentators have a hard time with these words. The same people who argue stringently for a literal interpretation of Genesis make every effort to defend Adam, saying that he could not have heard the whole temptation intercourse, or he would certainly have prevented Eve from eating.

Why such equivocation of such a clear statement of Scripture? Eve ate of the fruit, then offered the fruit to Adam, who appeared to have been standing right there throughout the dialogue with the serpent. Eve did so because she was completely taken in by the proposals of the serpent. On the other hand, the Bible very clearly states (1 Timothy 2:14) that Adam was not deceived by anything the serpent said.

When Adam ate of the fruit, he did so with his eyes wide open and with his will firmly in hand. He ate in direct contradiction to the clearly stated command of God with full awareness of the consequences of his actions. Eve carelessly stepped into oncoming traffic. Adam threw himself under the bus.

Why would Adam do this? I will confess there is a great deal of conjecture in my answer, but I believe I am not far from the truth.

God gave man the ability to make choices (will), but that will was not free. God expected Adam to operate within the parameters of the will of his Creator – the law of God. God did not give Adam a choice of eating the fruit from the TOTKOGE, but a command.

The serpent apparently convinced Adam that his will was indeed free and that there lay before him two choices: the Tree of Life or the TOTKOGE, the latter of which could supposedly give Adam god-like wisdom and ability, thereby allowing Adam to thwart or to avoid the penalty of death.

The TOTKOGE represented unrighteousness and death. The Tree of Life offered righteousness and eternal life. Yet the serpent convinced man that, by partaking of the TOTKOGE, man would have both – God-type knowledge as well as life. Utilizing his will now made free by his blatant rebellion against God, man made the unrighteous choice.

The moment that man exercised his will freely – that is, apart from the law of God – he surrendered himself to disobedience, and he died. The Bible says that Adam lived to be over 900 years old. So what died that day? It was not the image of God in man, because Genesis 9 makes it clear that all men are created in the image of God, even after the Fall, although that image is in desperate need of repair.

One thing that died as a result of Adam’s sin was his access to the Tree of Life.

Gen. 3.22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the Tree of Life. 

Because of man’s rebellion, God banned man from the Garden and refused him access to the Tree of Life. Although man did not realize it at the time, God already had a plan of redemption in place that would allow him eternal access to the Tree of Life. That plan does not require any exercise of man’s “free will,” but a total yielding through obedience to the perfect will of God.

Rev. 22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the Tree of Life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. (KJV)

As a result of Adam’s application of free will to the commandment of God, he could no longer choose to eat from the Tree of Life, because he could no longer see the Tree of Life. In other words, he was blinded to righteousness. Even if he had wanted to, Adam could no longer choose righteousness as a way of life. By his sin, he thus forfeited for eternity the ability to choose righteousness – in other words, he died.

The TOTKOGE was the tree of death. This is not true because the fruit itself was poison, because the Bible says of the trees in the Garden that all of them, including the TOTKOGE, were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2.9). The fruit of the TOTKOGE was deadly because it was eaten in blatant disobedience to God’s direct command.

Having eaten from the TOTKOGE, Adam, and subsequently all mankind, exists naturally in a state of death, cut off from the Tree of Life. He has become infected with the contagion of the fruit of the TOTKOGE – the knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge that he is not equipped for and not designed to handle.

Since the fruit of the TOTKOGE represents unrighteousness, from the moment that man partook of the fruit, every choice, whether good or bad, was an unrighteous choice because it was made within the domain of unrighteousness. It is important to notice that this is not the tree of evil – but the tree of the knowledge of both good and evil.

What this means is that, forever thereafter, every decision that man makes would be made within the context of good and evil, so that every decision man makes – whether good or evil – would result in death. Even if man could live a life filled with nothing but choices for good, he would still be expressing his free will within the realm of unrighteousness apart from the law of God.

Even good people die because of the sin of Adam. The best person that ever lives who dies without Christ will find himself subject to the wrath of God’s judgment after death because he did not – because he could not – eat from the Tree of Life. This is why man can never be good enough to merit entrance into the kingdom of God.

Why can man not eat from the Tree of Life? Because he cannot see the Tree of Life! All of the light that man has is the darkness of the TOTKOGE. Man does not have free will to choose between life and death in his natural condition, because he cannot see righteousness to choose righteousness because God has blocked it from view. Man can only exercise his “free” will in the choices between good and evil – all of which result in death – not between righteousness and unrighteousness.

That is the meaning of total depravity. Every person that has ever been born since Adam is blinded to the choice of righteousness that leads to eternal life. There are no exceptions. (See Romans 5:1,15,17-19; 3:23)

By his very nature, man is blind to the truths and mercies of God as they relate to salvation, and will never, in his fallen condition, seek after God for salvation.

Psalm 14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

Rom. 3:10 None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

Man’s way is blocked to the Tree of Life until, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, man is given life and the ability once again to see the Tree of Life. That is what Jesus meant when he said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Being born again is not a decision that man makes any more than his first birth is a matter of his own freewill. Man’s first birth is the decision of his parents. His second birth is the determined by the call of God (John 6:44, 65) and by the decision of the Holy Spirit (John 3.7-8). It is the gift of God.

Because of his fallen nature, man does not have the ability to express his will in favor of righteousness apart from the grace of God that enables him to do so.

Man has the ability to make a decision for righteousness – and the ability to acknowledge Christ as Lord for the purpose of salvation – only after he is empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit at the discretion of the Father. (Compare Rom. 10. 9 with 1 Cor. 12.3.)

By giving life to a man dead in sin, the Spirit restores his ability to choose righteousness. Once he is born again, he becomes as Adam was before he chose to disobey God’s command – he can see both choices – righteousness as well as unrighteousness. And because of God’s grace, he will choose righteousness.

Read the words of Watchman Nee:

Since the day that Adam took the fruit of the tree of knowledge, man has been engaged in deciding what is good and what is evil. The natural man has worked out his own standards of right and wrong, justice and injustice, and striven to live by them. Of course as Christians we are different. Yes, but in what way are we different? Since we were converted a new sense of righteousness has been developed in us, with the result that we too are, quite rightly, occupied with the question of good and evil. But have we realised that for us the starting point is a different one? Christ is for us the Tree of Life. We do not begin from the matter of ethical right and wrong. We do not start from that other tree. We begin from Him; and the whole question for us is one of Life. [3]

Man is only able to make a decision for righteousness when he is overcome by an infinite grace that is irresistible to the continued defiance of man’s will – thus, irresistible grace and irrevocable atonement.

Irresistible grace does not mean that God chooses a man and bowls him over with grace against the man’s will, but that God is persistent in applying infinite and perfect grace toward the finite and defective will of man until God’s grace, by its very definition, overcomes man’s ability to resist. Would it be logical for Christ to say to Peter (Matt. 16.18) that the gates of hell itself cannot prevail against saving faith if one man’s will can prevail against it?

Here is where evangelism comes into the picture. Here is where there is room for preaching and persuasion. The fact that God’s grace is irresistible once it is applied should prompt every Christian to a renewed effort at reaching out to lost people.

If He wanted to, God could speak a word and every man would be saved. But God does not work that way in the plan of redemption. God works through men. God causes one man to be saved by the hearing of the Word from one who already knows Christ as Lord.

Rom. 10.17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

A man cannot choose righteousness until he is enabled to see that righteousness is a choice. That ability – most commonly referred to as believing, the exercising of faith – is gifted to him by the proclamation of God’s word.

Our persistence in sharing the Gospel with a lost person equates to the grace of God bearing more and more weight of grace against the resistance that is natural to man’s being until that man can no longer naturally resist.

Once a man is enabled to see the kingdom of God – more specifically, the person of Christ – he is then able to do something that he never had the ability to do before – choose righteousness!

By the gift of faith from God that now becomes effective in his heart (Eph. 2.8), he can no longer resist plunging full-depth into the previously unperceived riches of the grace of God’s redemption and is immediately baptized into the spiritual realm of eternal blessing and the presence of God.

Then with Paul, he begins to sing, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11.33)


NOTES

[1] Picture credit: secret-garden-2413804_1280, pixabay.com

[2] In his commentary on 1 Tim. 2:14, Ellicott says, in reference to Eve’s deception, that the Greek verb is compounded in such a way that it conveys “the idea of thoroughness.” He also provides an interesting quote by an unidentified Professor Reynolds concerning Eve’s deception and its consequences: “At the present day we could hardly find a more vivid illustration of the essential difference between the masculine and feminine nature. If there be this distinction between the sexes, that distinction still furnishes the basis of an argument and a reason for the advice here rendered. The catastrophe of Eden is the beacon for all generations when the sexes repeat the folly of Eve and Adam, and exchange their distinctive position and functions.” Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, Volume 3

[3] Nee, Watchman. Sit, Walk, Stand. Christian Literature Crusade:Ft. Washington, PA, 1972, p. 25.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking the Garden

  1. I think I follow your trains of thought Pastor but I want to make sure I’m understanding correctly. From what I can gather from your argument irresistible grace comes from hearing the Word and if one hears the Word then they are able to choose righteousness because of God’s irresistible grace. So if that is true then why is it that some hear the Word and are not turned to Christ if the grace is irresistible?

    Separately, why was Adam’s decision not to obey not an exercise of free will? Are you separating “will” (choice) from “free will”? That is because you can’t choose something without receiving consequences then your will is not truly “free”? Why is freedom predicated on the results of your choices being beneficial to you?

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