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The Fall 1

The Darkest Hour

(The Entry of Sin into the World)

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 12, 1998

Genesis 3:1-7

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If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 3 and we're going to attend to the first thirteen verses. Genesis 3. Hear the word of the living God:

Genesis 3:1-7

Our Father, we bow before You in Your sovereignty and in your goodness as we read Your word, and we ask that You would enlighten our own hearts to the truth, not only that we would understand the passage and the doctrines that it teaches, but that we would be warned off by the Holy Spirit from our own sins. We pray, Heavenly Father, that we would learn these lessons experientially and personally in such a way that we would believe the truth that You have taught us in Your word. We pray as well that You would be glorified in us as we obediently receive the truth of the word of God in our own hearts and lives. Help us, we pray, illumine our minds even as we study these things by the Holy Spirit for we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

We have seen a glorious work of God, His work of creation recounted in Genesis 1 and we have seen His special favor towards man highlighted in Genesis 2, and now in this passage, Genesis 3, we come to the saddest moment in human history. We only mention in passing that the New Testament takes the factuality and the historicity of this account in deadly earnest. This is no myth. This is no attempt to explain why women don't like snakes. This is something that the New Testament takes with absolute seriousness and even liberals admit that this section of the Bible, especially from Genesis 3 through Genesis 5, and then again in Genesis 10 and 11, was specifically written to set forth a biblical doctrine of sin. So there's nothing light and there's nothing frivolous in this passage. It is grave in every word that it speaks.

I would also point out that the doctrinal point of this passage is to show in the words of Paul that sin came into the world through one man and thus death through sin. That is, of course, a cardinal Christian doctrine. That is the doctrine that we refer to as original sin and Paul sets it forth clearly in Romans, chapter 5, verse 12. I want to also mention that modern Judaism does not accept the doctrine of original sin. We may find that surprising because we root our belief in the doctrine of original sin in Genesis, chapter 3, which is part of the Torah, which is part of those five books of Moses which forms the core of authoritative writings for Judaism as well as Christianity. But if you read modern Jewish theology, it will universally reject the existence of original sin as well as the doctrine of original sin. Now there are many reasons for that. But let me suggest to you that this is not surprising in light of what God tells us in Romans 1. And it's also not surprising in the sense that it was not until we saw the work of the second Adam that we were in a position to fully appreciate just how big a mess that the first Adam had gotten us into. It is only when we see the length to which Christ has to go to redeem us from sin that we can appreciate the pervasiveness and the insidious of sin as brought into this world by Adam. And so it is in light of our doctrine of the incarnation of Christ that we as Christians view with spectacles this account in Genesis 3 and so can appreciate certain things that others might not.

Now an understanding of this passage is absolutely essential to the understanding of the gospel because without an understanding of sin and of our culpability, we cannot understand grace and we cannot embrace grace. Isn't it interesting that when God starts the Bible, He first teaches us that He created us and then He teaches us about sin. I think that probably says something to us about how our evangelism should proceed. If you've ever read the excellent book by Will Metzker called Tell The Truth, he stresses that in our evangelism we cannot skip the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of sin, because the gospel is unintelligible if you don't understand the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of sin. If you don't understand that God made you and that you owe obligation to Him, that you’re under obligation to Him, and if you don't understand that you’re a sinner in rebellion against God, the gospel is gibberish. It doesn't make sense to you. Only when you understand your responsibility to God and the fact that you are estranged from God and that God is estranged from you because of your sin, does the gospel make sense. And so before we can explain grace, we have to explain sin. And isn't it interesting that the way that the Holy Spirit uniformly works in the saving of men and women if He gives them a sense of their need before God and part of that need is the forgiveness of sin so that fellowship can be restored between man and God. So this passage is a passage about sin. It's a depressing subject but a vitally important subject and we’ll see how far we can get looking at this passage tonight.

I want to look at the passage in three parts. First, verses 1 through 5. Those verses recount for us the temptation. Then verses 6 and 7. Those verses recount for us the specific disobedience of Eve and Adam and begin to tell us about the consequences of that disobedience. And then in verses 8 through 13 I want to look at God's divine confrontation of Adam and Eve, as well as the human conflict which was already beginning to appear between Adam and Eve in the wake of their sin.

I. Sin is essentially lawlessness.
The first thing that we're going to learn about sin in this passage is that sin is essentially lawlessness. Now John tells us that in I John, sin is lawlessness. But John undoubtedly drew that definition right out of Genesis 3 and out of the teaching of the law and the prophets and out of the complex of human experience. That is exactly how we find sin in this passage. It is lawlessness. It is rebellion. Look at the passage as we go through verses 1 through 5 verse by verse. I want you to note at the very outset of Genesis 3, God's sovereignty is stressed. Isn't it interesting that the serpent is listed like this: "The serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made." God is sovereign and even the serpent who is in rebellion against Him is simply one of His creatures. There's no idea in Genesis 3 that there are two co-equal, co-eternal powers in the universe - God and Satan. No. God is sovereign. He is the only one who is eternal and omnipotent and Satan and the serpent who is the instrument of Satan is merely a creation of God Himself. There is no equal balance between the forces of good and evil. Evil, in Genesis 3, is throughout. Defined not as something which is separate and distinct and eternally coexistent with good, evil is the rebellion of the creature against the creator. That is how it is defined over and over in this passage.

Notice also that sin, as we've just said is not set forth here as something that has always been around in God's world. It's not like good has always been around and evil has always been around. Sin is something which is a rebellion against God's good. So it is not introduced into the scene as if it came from its own independent source. But it is expressed in this story by rebellion against God. Now that may be lost on some of you, but others of you may already be thinking about the issue of the origin of evil and where did it come from. And that's very important for us to understand. Evil has not always been there. It is the function of rebellion against God that brings about evil in our experience. Let me also mention as we look at this passage that the serpent, this animal the serpent, is used as the instrument of the tempter in this passage. That there is a force behind the serpent is clear. Not only from Genesis 3:15 but also from Romans 16. Turn with me there. In Paul's epistle to the Romans, chapter 16, he wishes this benediction upon the Roman Christians. Romans 16:20: "And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Now in Genesis 3 the promise is that God will crush the serpent under His (singular) feet. In Romans 16:20 the words to believers is that God will crush Satan under your feet. So behind the serpent is the tempter, the evil one, Satan, the old adversary.

Now the picture of an animal talking, tempting and arguing and eventually leading Adam and Eve into sin is meant to bring to our mind as we read this passage the anomaly of sin. Adam and Eve had been given dominion over what? All the animals. Now here is an animal leading Adam and Eve into sin. Now let me say in passing as well that it should have been a red light for Eve when a talking snake came to her in the garden. There is no indication that this was the normal state of affairs before the fall, that there were talking snakes. There are other talking animals in the Bible. You remember Balaam's ass talked in the book of Numbers. But that is not the normal state of affairs either before or after the fall. And when the talking serpent came to Eve, there should have been lights flashing: "Something's wrong here." And the very reason that Moses, as he gives us this account, the very reason that he stresses this is to remind us of how in sin God's created order is turned upside down. God made us to be in dominion over the animal. When we rebel against God and say we're going to do it our way what happens? We are put in subjection to the animals. And Paul picks up on that scene in Romans, chapter 1 doesn't he? And he says invariably when we decide that we're going to throw off God and worship whatever we want to worship we end up worshiping what? Things that creep and crawl. Beasts and animals. We don't become superhuman, we become subhuman. That's the story of sin. It doesn't make us more human, it makes us less human and that's one of Moses’ reasons for stressing this to us in the account.

Let me point out as well, in verse 1, that the tempter begins with an insinuation instead of an argument. Satan doesn't start off immediately by contradicting God. At first, he asks the question which is meant to plant a seed of doubt in Eve. He asks this question. Look again at verse 1: "Indeed, has God said you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?" Now understand that question. The tempter's purpose is not to question whether God said that or not. It's not a factual question. He's not saying, ‘Have I understood correctly that God said that. Or did He say that or did He not?’ That's not the point. The point is this. The point is to plant in Eve's mind a seed of doubt about the wisdom and fairness and goodness of God in doing what He did. The point is for Eve to ask the question: ‘Well, yeah, that does kind of sound unreasonable, doesn't it? That we can't eat from that tree. I mean why would we not be able to eat from that tree? I mean why would God be so unfair and unreasonable as to restrict us?’ The idea of the question is to plant in Eve a desire to question why God had done what He had done and to put herself in a position of judgment over God. Isn't that precisely where we find ourselves constantly when we're tempted to sin? We are judging that we know better than God, and so we're going to do it differently than God has said. And so Satan's purpose is to get Eve to question God's wisdom and judgment. It's as if Satan had said did God say that? Well, that's not very wise or good. Now at first Eve begins to answer well.

If you’ll look in verse 2. She starts off by saying, "[F]rom the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat." You remember Satan had twisted God's words. He started off by stating God's command in an exclusive way in which God had never said it. He said, ‘Did God tell you that you couldn't eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ You see, he made God's law seem hard and unreasonable. And he, in fact, stated it in such a way that God had never said it Himself. Now Eve begins at first by correcting him. No, we may eat from the fruit of the trees in the garden, but immediately Eve begins to go wrong. Look at verse 3: "But from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’" Eve makes two mistakes in verse 3. First of all she adds a phrase which we do not find in God's prohibition in Genesis 2. And that has to be significant because Moses wrote Genesis 2 just like he wrote Genesis 3. She adds the phrase, "You shall not touch it." She makes God's command more strict that it was.

Now there are a lot of people in life who think that if you can just go a little bit further than God went you can really get to holiness. And it always brings the reverse, because to add to God's word is to take away from His authority. Just as much to take away from God's word is to take away from his authority. An old theologian once said as soon as we begin to add to the words of God, so also we will begin to take away from the words of God. And so Eve adds to the words of God and then she indicates a wrong motive for her obedience. Look at verse 3. "God has said, ‘You will not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’" In other words the motivation that she states to Satan for not eating of the tree is the motivation of self-interest. If we eat it, we will die. That's not what God said in Genesis 2. Notice His command. He says in Genesis 2, verses 16 and 17: "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat from it you shall surely die." Notice in there death is stated as a fact. Yes, it's a consequence of sin but the reason why Adam was to obey that command was not because if he didn't obey it he would die. The reason that he was to obey that command is because God gave it to him. It's just like dad coming home and mom has just told sons or daughters you need to do something and sons and daughters say to dad, "[B]ut why do we need to do it?" The optimal answer, "Because you’re mother said so." That's a good lesson to learn. It's not because I will spank you until you bleed. The answer is because your mother said so. Because she is an authority in your experience. Because she is one of the people that God has appointed in this household to rule and to establish order and therefore you ought to believe. Not because if you don't do it you’re going to face really bad consequences. So already Eve is off the beam.

Now Satan's next statement is an open contradiction of the word of God. You’ll see it in verse 4 of Genesis, chapter 3. In this passage he pits his word against the Lord's. And again I want you to notice the anomaly of this. Eve literally does not know this serpent from Adam's house cat. I mean they have no relationship; they've never met before; they've never talked. God, on the other hand, has provided Eve everything that she has and knows. Now who ought she to have motivation to believe. God or this stranger? But who does she listen to? That again is part of the sadness of this scene in Genesis 3. Satan's challenge to God's word was an opportunity for Adam and Eve as God's covenant keepers to step up to the plate and defend his authority. That was an opportunity for them to say, ‘Now wait a second. We serve the Lord God of heaven and earth who made everything. We believe Him implicitly and if you don't, you may be expecting words from Him.’ It was an opportunity for them to show their loyalty to God. This is the crux of original sin. Instead of showing loyalty to God, they rebelled against God.

If you have been in classes before, whether in high school or college, where professors or teachers mocked this story of original sin and said how in the world could God have been so nitpicky. I mean, she picks a fruit and God curses them. How petty. That misses the whole point. This is not about picking fruit. And by the way, it doesn't say apple, it just says fruit. This is about loyalty to the commands of God verses rebellion against the commands of God. That's the crux of this story in Genesis 3.

And I want you to note that the very first doctrine that was ever denied was the doctrine of judgment. You shall not surely die, Satan said. Don't think that modern denial of God's judgment and wrath in hell are anything new. The very first doctrine ever denied in the history of the world was the doctrine that God would set things straight one day. It is not surprising that that was the first point of Satan's attacks against God's word.

Now, in verse 5, Satan gives us the biggest example of sin that has ever been perpetrated upon humanity. He gives this interpretation of God's command to Eve and to Adam: "God knows that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil." This, as Derek Kidner says, "Is a lie big enough to reinterpret the whole of life." He says the reason that God has given you that command is because He wants to keep you from meeting your potential, He is jealous of you, He's afraid of you. He makes that command into something wicked and greedy and low and mean. And they bite it, hook, line and sinker. They think that the God who has provided them everything, is trying to hold something back from them.

Now friends, there are so many applications of this section of the passage that I can't even begin to list them. But let me list a few for you. First of all, these first five verses make it clear that God is not the author of sin. Notice those who were involved in sin in this passage. The serpent is involved in sin, Satan behind him. Eve is involved in sin, Adam is involved sin, but God is not the author of sin.

Secondly, this passage makes it clear that a fall has already occurred in the angelic world. Where did Satan come from? Apparently his rebellion against God has already happened. That's why there is a tempter prowling around on earth attacking God's creatures and especially man and woman.

Thirdly, notice that Satan juxtaposes a lie over against what God tells us in Christ. Satan says to Adam and Eve if you want to be like God, disobey His command. Now isn't that in stark contrast to what we learn in Christ? Christ, who when in His incarnate life on earth described to His disciples what life indeed was: "It is My meat to do the will of Him who sent Me." Satan says if you want to be like God, disobey. Christ says if you want to be like God, obey. You couldn't get more opposite.

Isn't it interesting as well that Satan says to the two human beings most like God in the history of the world, if you’ll sin you’ll be like God. He was offering them something that they already had and in their accepting his offer they lost it. It is one of the saddest things in the history of the world.

Notice again the nature of this original sin. Theologians have argued for years about the root of Adam and Eve's rebellion against God unbelief. Was it pride or was it idolatry? Those are the big three that have been suggested over the last two thousand years of Christian history. I think the answer is, of course, yes to all of them, but at its root the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden is a rejection of God's lordship. It is a rejection of God's rule. It is a rejection of His command.

One last thing that we see in these first five verses, notice how Satan puts a wall between holiness and happiness. He in effect says your adherence to God's standards is going to keep you from true fulfillment, true happiness, true satisfaction. If you will reject God's standards you will find happiness and satisfaction. That is Satan's strategy always. He's always saying, if you follow those rules that God gave you, it's going to ruin your life. Whereas God tells us that there is an inseparable connection between holiness and happiness, between obedience and satisfaction, between doing the will of God and receiving a blessed eternal reward. Never forget that Satan will always work against you by trying to get you to buy the lie, that holiness will keep you from happiness. The truth could not be further from that. Only in holiness do we find perfect happiness.

II. Sin always carries with it shame.
Now quickly, let's go on to verses 6 and 7. We've learned already that sin is lawlessness. It's rebellion against God. In verses 6 and 7 we learn that sin always carries with it shame. Sin always carries with it shame. In verses 6 and 7 we see the disobedience of Adam and Eve acted out, and we see its immediate consequences. Here, the covenant keepers in the garden rebel against God. Notice again in verse 6 this entangling descent into iniquity. Look at the phrase. "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband with her and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings." Notice this descent into iniquity. She saw, she took, she ate, she gave, he ate, their eyes were opened, they knew, they covered, they hid. Do you see how sin pulls them down and down and down and down into a descent to the very abyss. Does it make them gods? Oh, no. It pulls them to the very gates of hell. And that's the very first thing that it does. And we know by experience how sin wraps us up like that. One sin, and then another and then another and another and then we don't know how to extract ourselves and so we try and extract ourselves by another and it takes us lower and lower. Not closer to redemption, but closer to condemnation. And that's exactly how the first sin was.

Notice again in this passage the unexpected consequences which bounce on Adam and Eve. "Their eyes are opened," we find, they are enlightened in the most horrifying way. They see for the first time in their lives nakedness. Now in this context, this doesn't just mean the fact that they are without clothing. As you know, for a Hebrew the worst thing that you could possibly be was naked, because to be naked carried with it in the Hebrew mind an innate sense of shame. For the first time in their human experience they are feeling shame. They've been enlightened and what's the result? Shame. Not satisfaction, not happiness, not god-like qualities, but shame. And of course they rightly sense a need for covering, but their attempt is feeble. Fig leaves. That's going to solve your shame? It's the first attempt that works righteousness and feeble indeed it is.

Notice again by way of application God is immediately vindicated in the goodness of His command. He told them this would happen. They did not believe Him. They went against Him and immediately it is seen that what God had said was true and what Satan had said was a lie. But now Adam and Eve don't know a way out.

Notice again that freedom is found only in holy constraint. Satan had told Adam and Eve that true freedom and true happiness is only found when you can decide whether you’re going to do what God tells you to do or whether you’re going to decide not to do what God tells you to do. That's freedom. That's free will. This passage makes it clear that true freedom is in fact not doing whatever you want to do, but it is self-determination to holiness. That is freedom. And anything other than that is false freedom. That's a message we need to hear today when we worship at the shrine of freedom. But we define freedom not as freedom for responsibility, but freedom from responsibility. And we define freedom not as doing that which is the will of God but doing that which is the will of me.

One last thing we see here. The incredible and haunting words of Derek Kidner speaking of the taking of that fruit: "So simple an act; so hard its undoing. God will taste poverty and death before take and eat become verbs of salvation." Don't you wish you could write a sentence like that? You hear what he's saying? Satan's words that plunge us into hell are take and eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and good and evil. Isn't it beautiful that in God's counterstrike he gives us from the words of our Savior the words that we said this morning. Take and eat as the way back into fellowship with God. Isn't God awesome? Can you imagine a greater in-your-face move to Satan than that? Your words "take and eat" plunge my people into the abyss. My words "take and eat" rise them up from the grave to glory.

One last thing. We look at verses 8 through 13. Not only does sin carry with it shame. But sin disrupts the fellowship between God and man and it disrupts the fellowship in human relations. Here we see the wake of the rebellion in verses 8 through 13. Verse 8 speaks of a fellowship which has been lost and a sense of estrangement in enmity. Man is in hiding because of his sin. And God's question to him in verse 9 shows the very marks of grace as God gently attempts to draw Adam into an awareness of the magnitude of what he has done. God could have come with thunder and lightning blasting at them for the stupidity and for the wickedness that he had displayed. But He comes asking questions. Not because He needs answers, but because He is trying to draw Adam out of the mire which he has created. Verse 10 gives us Adam's response to God's question. And Adam says, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." That is the first mention of fear in the Bible.

Notice the consequence of sin. Sin, fear, shame, isolation. Fear, shame, isolation. An ugly trinity of evil. That's what sin brings. Fear, shame, isolation. Of course the blame shifting begins in verses 11 through 13. God comes to Adam first. Why? Because Adam was the covenant head. He was the representative. He was being held responsible by God. It's interesting that God doesn't start with the serpent as if really this is all his fault. This is not a "devil made me do it" scenario. God goes first to Adam, and He says why did you do this? And notice immediately what Adam does. I did it because the woman that You gave me gave me to eat. Notice immediately the blame is on what God has done and on what she has done. Then God goes to the woman. Why did you do this? I did it because that serpent which You made gave to me. The blame shifting has already begun. Let me also say that the isolation between Adam and Eve has already begun. Look at verse 10. God has just asked Adam, "Where are you?" Here's the answer. "I heard the sound of You in the garden, I was afraid, I was naked; so I hid myself." Where's Eve? Weren't they just a couple of seconds ago hiding together in the bushes? Already isolation has begun in human's experience because of sin.

Now in this passage God teaches us that sin is rebellion and that sin carries with it shame, and that sin disrupts divine human fellowship and human relations. It is in this passage that we have the basis of understanding why the return into fellowship with God is going to cost the blood of His only Son. May we grasp that truth. For if we grasp that, we've grasped everything. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, help us to see our own sins and then to rely solely on Your grace for redemption. In Christ's name, we pray it, Amen.

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