Good without God (Genesis 3:1-24)
I recently received an email from someone who went to high school with me. His email led me to the school’s alumni website, which got me thinking about some who went to school with me. I began to look around the site, and noticed a page called In Memoriam. I followed the page, and found that in almost every graduating class there were up to three people who had passed away.
The sad thing is that many of the people who died did so as a result of choices that they had made. One was killed in a drug deal. Another took her own life. Some of them came from privileged families and had everything going for them, but their lives never lived up to the promise.
On a less dramatic scale, a lot of us have found that our lives are less than we had imagined they would be at this point. We’ve made mistakes and we’re living with the results of those mistakes in our lives – financially, relationally, spiritually, or physically. In every area of our lives, we are living the results of the choices that we have made.
Imagine that someone has really failed in an area of life. If you went up to them and asked them, “When did you make a decision to fail in this area of life?” they would look at you with a puzzled look. Nobody ever plans to fail and to suffer the consequences in a major area of life. Nobody plans to have a broken marriage or an addiction or a financial meltdown. Yet we do. Why? How did we get to the mess that we’re in? Why are smart people dealing with the results of bad choices that could have easily been avoided, with even a little bit of thought?
I’d like to look at a passage today that explains why people with everything going for them end up making bad choices that are more destructive than we could imagine. This story is not only important because it shows the problem; it’s important because this story is our story. It’s not just an event that took place thousands of years ago. It’s an event that has made us who we are today.
If you have a Bible, let’s look together at Genesis 3, right near the start of your Bible. We’ve spent the past few weeks looking at chapters 1 and 2, about the creation of this earth. This is going to be a disappointment for those of you who have sat through all the sermons on Genesis 1 and 2, because I can summarize these two chapters in one word: good. God created everything, and pronounced it all good. Everything was good, and at the end of his work, he pronounced it very good. There was nothing lacking in what he made.
It’s important to understand this, because as we start to read the events of Genesis 3, there’s nothing lacking. It’s the one time in human history that everything was good. God had placed Adam and Eve in a situation in which everything that they could have asked for was there. They didn’t need anything else to be happy. They weren’t lacking a thing.
Traditionally, for those of us who know the story, we assume that Adam and Eve once made a conscious decision to rebel against God one day. Nothing could be further from the truth. The decision that they made was an act of rebellion, but they didn’t approach it that way. It was more subtle on the front end. They didn’t make a conscious decision to wreck their own lives or to change the course of human history. Instead, they made a decision that’s similar to decisions that we make all the time in our own lives.
We will be tempted to fulfill our desires apart from God
The decision that they made wasn’t to rebel against God. The decision they made was to try to fulfill a desire – a good desire, actually – in a way that God prohibited. Their choice wasn’t to rebel against God, at least not directly. Their choice was to fulfill a desire apart from God.
God had put them in the Garden, and had prohibited them from eating only from one tree: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We don’t know why they weren’t allowed to eat from that tree. We do know that God allowed them to eat freely from every other tree except for this one. It wasn’t a restrictive condition; there was complete freedom, except for this one tree.
It’s possible that God never wanted them to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ever. But it’s also possible that God had a purpose for that tree in the future. Knowing good and evil isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps God was saving it for later. We don’t know why Adam and Eve were prohibited from eating from this tree, except that God had said not to.
Adam and Eve had everything good, and there was no need they had that wasn’t already provided. Yet they ended up wanting more than the good that God had provided. Let’s read what happened:
Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the LORD God had made. “Really?” he asked the woman. “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat it,” the woman told him. “It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die.”
“You won’t die!” the serpent hissed. “God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too. (Genesis 3:1-6)
What’s the heart of the temptation that they faced? The heart is this: they weren’t satisfied with all the good that God had given them. They wanted something good that God had told them not to have. They wanted the good without God.
In order to fall into this temptation, they needed to believe two things, which are the same things that we fall into believing today. First, they needed to believe that their choice would have no negative consequences. This was the only lie that the serpent told them. He told them that if they chose the good without God, they wouldn’t die. The lie that we believe when we choose to pursue good that God has disallowed is the same: we believe that we can disobey God with impunity. We believe there won’t be any negative consequences.
Think about this for a minute. We’re smart people. We know that if you pick up one end of a stick, you pick up the other. Yet we fall for this lie over and over. Every time we make a destructive decision to rebel against God, we convince ourselves that there won’t be any negative consequences. We believe that you can live in a way that directly contradicts how God told us to live, and we won’t suffer for it. This is why we end up making choices that end up destroying us in more ways than we can imagine. It’s because we end up falling for the lie that sin has no consequences.
Temptation always operates like this. It always dangles the good in front of us and says that we can have it without anything bad happening. It says that we can disobey God and get away with it.
To fall into temptation, they also had to believe that what they were choosing was good. Here’s the tough part. We’re usually tempted with the good. This is where the serpent didn’t tell any lies. The serpent said that their eyes would be opened, and that they would know good and evil. That’s exactly what happened.
Eve looked at the tree, and saw that it “looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise” (Genesis 3:6). I believe her. I believe that it looked fresh and delicious. Temptation always dangles something good in front of us. If it didn’t look good, it wouldn’t be tempting. The problem isn’t that we’re choosing something bad. The problem is we’re choosing something good, but in a way that God has not allowed.
You name an area of temptation, and I’ll bet you that you’re being shown something that’s good, but the temptation is to get the good in a way that God has not allowed. Sex is good. Sexual temptation is not about sex being good. Sexual temptation is about getting what is good (sex) in a way that God has not allowed. Money is good. Financial temptation is about getting or using money in a way that God has said not to. Temptation is usually about meeting a God-given desire in a God-prohibited way. It’s about looking for the good apart from God.
It’s ironic that God has provided a way for our desires to be met that isn’t destructive, and that doesn’t involve rebelling against him. Instead, we choose to fulfill our desires by pursuing the good, but in a way that damages our souls, because we believe there won’t be any negative consequences. We look for the good apart from God.
When we fulfill our desires apart from God, we will experience the consequences
It didn’t take long for Adam and Eve to realize that they had fallen for a lie. Choosing good without God always leads to very negative consequences, and it usually doesn’t take long to discover what these consequences are.
Up until this point, everything had been good. Adam and Eve lacked nothing. The choice to fulfill their desires apart from God changed all that. The consequences affected every area of their lives.
Their personal relationships were damaged. Up until this point, they had been naked and unashamed. Immediately, they knew they were naked. A sense of vulnerability entered their relationships.
When God challenged Adam, he didn’t accept personal responsibility. He shifted the blame to Eve. He was into blaming others. Essentially, instead of being thankful for God’s gift of a partner, he started to blame God for giving him Eve.
Later on, in verse 16, we learn that tension would mark the relationship between Adam and Eve from that point on. The relationship between man and woman would be marked by conflict and a desire to dominate one another. What was given as a source of blessing became a source of conflict instead.
Their relationship with God was damaged. When God came, they hid from him. They knew they had violated God’s command, and for the first time, they felt guilt before him. The very relationship for which they were created was disrupted by their choice to disobey God.
They were removed from the blessing that God had given them. Up until that point, God had blessed them. He had given them a mandate, and he had provided everything they would need to fulfill that mandate. Now, they were removed from that blessing. Instead, they would face struggles in the key areas of their lives.
When God cursed the serpent, he said, “From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). We often read this as a prophecy about Jesus. It doesn’t read that way. It reads more like it’s a prediction of a continual battle between humanity and nature, or if you go deeper and understand the serpent as representing Satan, between humanity and the Evil One. God created this world as good. We experience this world as good, but we also experience it as a war zone. It is no longer all good.
God had given them a mandate to rule the world as his representatives, and to reproduce and to fill the world. The experience of having children was now going to be painful for Eve. The world was not going to willingly submit to their leadership. Adam was going to encounter weeds and thorns. Even worse, they would be reminded that because of their efforts to be like God, they would instead become like dust. God said, “Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).
Worst of all, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, from God’s presence. They lost their access to the place where they could enjoy a relationship with God.
Later, in the book of Revelation, the Garden is restored, and we are allowed access again into what Adam and Eve had before the Fall. In the meantime, it’s lost. The garden of God’s presence is not where we live.
We today face the same choices as Adam and Eve. In one sense, we are not in the same position that they were in. We have never experienced the goodness that Adam and Eve enjoyed. They lost much more than we ever had.
But in another sense, the temptation they faced is the same temptation that we face today. We are tempted to have our desires met apart from God. We have desires, and those desires are good, and God provides a way for these desires to be fulfilled. But we want something else. And we think that if we choose to fulfill our desires apart from God, that there will be no consequences. Yet, there are always negative consequences when we look for good apart from God.
There are a lot of us that have very good desires here, but we’re trying to meet them apart from God. Take money. Anything wrong with money? Not at all. But I am continually tempted to love money, which is wrong. The Bible says that it’s okay to desire money, as long as you desire it so you can invest it in others, so you can live a life of generosity. I continually find myself wanting to horde it for myself. I am continually trying to find my fulfillment in spending my money on myself, rather than in using my money in the way that God has commanded.
There are lots of good desires – in sexuality, in relationships, in ambition – in which the desires are not bad, but we can either choose to fulfill these desires God’s way or our own. The temptation is to believe we can fulfill them our way, without any negative consequences. That’s a lie, and the results are always disastrous.
What’s the alternative? There are people who have chosen to believe that God will provide the best if we simply trust and obey him. Contrary to the way we normally think, they believe that if they give up their lives, they’ll find true life. They believe that the way to true life is to die to self. The way to find fulfillment is not to meet their needs themselves, but instead, it is to run to God and to follow his ways, even when it’s the last thing we want to do.
Nobody ever plans to destroy their own lives. Nobody sets out to rebel against God and to then experience the destruction that comes from choosing good without God. But that’s what happened with Adam and Eve, and it’s still happening today.
There’s something within us that would like to believe that goodness is any place but in God. There’s something that tells us that to satisfy our needs, we have to take matters into our own hands, and ignore God’s commands for our own good. We believe that we’ll get away with it, that there won’t be any negative consequences.
That same part of us believes that following God means giving up on the good; that in choosing to follow God, we’re missing out on the best part of life.
The belief that goodness is found apart from God is the first temptation, and the source of all that’s wrong in this world. We give up nothing when we look to God to meet our desires, and when follow his instructions, even when we’re tempted to do ignore them. Goodness is found in God.