Tom: Dave, picking up where we left off last week, we’re in the book of Genesis, searching out the reason why Jesus Christ, the eternal God, became a man through the virgin birth and died upon a cross in order to pay the infinite penalty for the sins of mankind. One of the reasons we’re addressing this question is because too often in presenting the gospel, believers fail to explain this important point, and most non-Christians and nominal Christians don’t really understand why Jesus had to die. Without truly understanding the necessity of His death, the door, it seems to me, is left wide open for any and all ways of salvation that are patently false, some found within professing Christianity and the rest in the religions of the world.
Now, to the problem. In Genesis chapter 2, verses 16 and 17, God sets a rule for His created beings. Verse 16: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying ‘Of every tree of the garden, thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shall not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”
Dave, two questions hit me about this verse with regard to some beliefs, which are being popularized in Christianity today. 1) What does this verse say about God’s unconditional love? Isn’t God setting conditions here to remain in His love? And, 2) Isn’t God instituting the death penalty in this verse, and couldn’t it be viewed as a deterrent? Let’s go for 1 first.
Dave: Well, to “abide in God’s love” I think has a couple of meanings. And Christ talked about that in John 15. I believe that God’s love is unconditional to this extent: He loves the sinner. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Now, that doesn’t mean that they were forgiven, because you have to accept the forgiveness that God offers. You must believe in Him. But it shows the desire. As you said, God sent His Son. Christ came, and He died. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. He loved us while we were enemies. So you don’t do anything to abide in that love. But there is also judgment. Is a child that is being disciplined by its father abiding in his love? Well, in one sense it still is, but in another sense it is not, because judgment is coming upon him.
Now, I believe that God gave this command out of love, because He made us for Himself. He wants us to have a right relationship with Him. He has blessings He wants to bestow upon us, but He’s not a “sugar daddy”—no matter what you do, He just blesses your evil and, you know, you can just run wild…
Tom: See, Dave, that’s my concern, because more and more today I’m hearing about God’s unconditional love, and it ends up just as you’ve described—a God who is willing to put up with anything and everything, and just don’t worry about it—it’s all going to work out in the end. That’s not what this verse is…you know, for Adam and Eve, at that point, our sinless parents, as it were, that’s not why He said that to them.
Dave: Yeah, so why did God say this, that they’re not to eat of this tree?
Tom: In saying to Adam and Eve, “Thou shalt surely die,” on one hand, we talked about unconditional love, but there is a condition, a requirement, for them that if they break God’s command, dire circumstances are going to take place, which we know.
Dave: Well, life comes from God. And man’s life comes in a relationship with God. And you can’t just take the life that God has given me and now I can use it for anything that I want to? I can use this for evil? No! “You do that,” God says, “and you have broken the relationship with Me, and I can no longer bless you. And I’m not going to prolong your life.”
So, although man didn’t instantly die physically that day, he died spiritually. And, because the Spirit of God left him, now he begins to die physically. And scientists, as far as I know, can’t even explain why we die. You know, why should we die?
Tom: Dave, the second question (and maybe this is a little bit off the mark here, but) is God instituting the death penalty here?
Dave: Well, of course He is. Yeah.
Tom: Was it a deterrent?
Dave: No. Well, but I don’t know that you could argue that therefore….
Tom: No, they didn’t know what death was…
Tom: So I don’t think they walked in fear of it. But in a sense, what I want to underscore here is that there is a penalty, and God lays it out in Genesis:2:17: “The day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”
Tom: There is a penalty that has to be paid. It is a death penalty.
Dave: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. And the fact that God metes that penalty out is to His credit. Otherwise, He would be going back on what He said, and if God went back on what He said in this instance, why would I believe Him in anything else that He said?
Tom: Right. He wouldn’t be this just, fair God that we referred to earlier.
Dave: Right. So life, that God gave man, it wasn’t just some kind of a bug, or some kind of an animal just to swing through trees and so forth. It was to be in a love relationship with God. It was to be intimately involved with God and fellowship with Him. And God cannot have fellowship with evil, with sin. And therefore, if man is to remain in this relationship with God, from which his life comes—“a man’s life,” Jesus said, “consists not in the abundance of things that he possesses.” Life for a human being is not just physical, but it involves much more than that. And that life comes from God. That’s why when, I mean, a person becomes absorbed in themselves, this is not really living. This is not what God intended. And that’s why God will not perpetuate man in that condition. That’s why the teaching of the people, for example, who say, “Well, we should be healed of every disease. Whatever we ask for, God will give it to us. There should be no death, if you’re a real Christian.”
No! God is not perpetuating man in his sinful condition. There has to be a new race. There has to be a new creation in Christ Jesus. And death says, “This is the end of this creation. You have rebelled against Me. I’m going to have to start again, and that can only be through Christ, who will come, He will pay the penalty, He will die in your place, and if you trust Him, you can be brought into a new life and a new relationship with God.”
And by the way, Christ’s death upon the cross—His redemption of man through His blood, shed upon the cross, and His payment of the penalty that God required does not restore what Adam lost. Some people talk about that: “Oh, well, He restored what Adam lost.” No. God only came once in awhile in the cool of the evening to talk with Adam. We will be in the presence of God forever. We will never be able to fall away from God again. Christ Himself, who is God, lives within us. Adam never had that. So there is a new race, something totally new, that can never be broken—it can’t be destroyed by sin ever again—and that’s the new creation, a whole new universe that God will make.
But man had to be given the opportunity, and he had to be put, you could say, on his own. What is he going to do now?
And God gives him the opportunity. “Here’s the garden. But don’t eat of this tree, or you’ll die.” And tragically…
Tom: Yeah. Well, we’re getting to that. Sometime following God’s command of Genesis:2:16-17, Satan, in the form of a serpent appeared to Eve in order to tempt her to break fellowship with God, and she bought the lies the Adversary offered, and induced Adam to do likewise.
Now, we’re about out of time today, Dave. But I do want to go slowly over these verses, because, again, what we’re trying to communicate here is, we’re trying to explain the gospel. The gospel is the solution to man’s problem, and we’re trying to get at what the problem is, and what took place in history.
Dave: And I have to take the whole Bible—Genesis is the foundation for everything else, and we need to understand that this is God’s Word.