Justification and Life

Genesis 3:20-24
A silver lining is a beautiful thing. It can be that unlooked for hope that stays with us and helps us in a very unhappy hour. They can be little things, like a good meal with good friends. They could be a phone call, just when we are most depressed. It could be a word of encouragement. When we are in a dark place that is really pitch black, the least little bit of light seems almost like the light of day.

Adam and Eve were in a very dark place. They had sinned. They had received their judgment. Now, they were wondering how in the world they could live in this world with such a curse placed on them, and God no longer being in fellowship with them. But there was a silver lining. Adam recognized it. That is why he named his wife the most unlikely name imaginable. God had just proved to Adam that he would die, and he names his wife “Life.” The name “Eve” means “life.” Is that not strange? Why did he do this? The truth is that he had listened carefully to what God had said about them. The promise about the seed meant that there would be children. And so, Adam reconciles with his wife by giving her this beautiful name. There had been a rupture of fellowship between Adam and Eve. Now, Adam heals that rupture, because he has been shown grace from God.

If verse 20 signals a restoration of fellowship between man and wife, the next verse describes the restoration of fellowship of God and man. Both were necessary if Adam and Eve were going to be able to live outside the Garden of Eden. Verse 21 describes a pure act of grace on God’s part. Remember that Adam had found that his paltry covering of fig leaves was not sufficient to cover him on the day of God’s wrath. He needed a covering both so that he could live, and also so that his shame would be covered. Adam could not do this for himself. He needed God to do it for him. So God kills an animal in order to give life to Adam.

We also cannot live by our own deeds. We cannot cover over our own sin by what we do. We need God to cover us with something that will stand up in the day of judgment. We need Christ’s righteousness to cover us, just like the garment of skins covered Adam. We need life to be taken in order for us to have life. Where we were disobedient, Christ was obedient. Where we should have suffered, Christ suffered instead. Christ is our garment of skins that covers us, protecting us from the shame of being judged guilty in God’s sight. Adam and Eve would not have thought of this remedy on their own. They thought that fig leaves were sufficient. But when fig leaves were not sufficient, they had run out of ideas. God needed to step in and fill the gap. It would not have occurred to Adam and Eve that they needed a substitute sacrifice. That is exactly what God provides. We often think the same way. We often think that we are pretty good people. We think that our good deeds out-weigh our bad ones, and that God will therefore be merciful. God does not work with that kind of a standard. God’s standard of righteousness is Himself. Therefore, in order to get to heaven, we need to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect. But we cannot be perfect. Therefore, we need someone else’s perfection to cover us, so that when God sees us, He sees Christ and His righteousness. When God sees that we have believed in His Son (and even that faith is God’s gift), then God declares in His court-room that we are not guilty. We have Christ’s righteousness credited to us, even though we did not earn it. Our sin is credited to Christ, who has done away with it already on the cross. This doctrine is called justification. It is “just as if I’d never sinned.” This is life for us. Clothing is life.

This is the origin of why we wear clothes. When you put on clothes in the morning, a very mundane task that you do every day, do you think about the fact that you need Christ to clothe you with His righteousness? I would like to challenge us this week: every time we get dressed in the morning, remember that we cannot clothe ourselves in righteousness. Remember that God needs to clothe us. If we believe that Christ died for us, then we are clothed. Let our physical clothes remind us of our spiritual clothing of Christ Jesus.

Verse 22 has to be interpreted very carefully. Every translation that I know of has mistranslated it. What the verse says in these translations is that man has somehow become better, knowing more. Then God gets jealous and fears that mankind has somehow gotten too close to Him. Therefore, God needs to push them down again, and the way to do that is to expel them from the garden. But if Adam and Eve are NOW like God after they ate of the tree, then in what sense could we call that act of disobedience a Fall into sin? It would seem that they received more knowledge. I believe that this interpretation fails to do justice to the passage.

You see, Satan was liar from the beginning. He said, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This statement is not some kind of half-truth. Satan out and out lied here. Satan was implying that Eve wasn’t like God, and would become so if she ate of the tree. But Eve was already in the image of God. That means that she was like God already. She knew what good and evil was, because of the command not to eat of the tree. Verse 22 should be translated this way, “And the Lord God said, ‘Behold, mankind had been like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed (in this state of fallenness) to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’” Now this statement becomes a statement of grace. Instead of God being afraid that mankind will ascend to heaven on his own, God is making sure that the evil that Adam and Eve fell into will not be permanent. It would be a terrible thing if Adam and Eve, who are no longer like God, as Paul says in Romans 1, would eat from the tree of life, and live forever in this fallen state. Then God could never have fellowship with them again. So God casts them out of the garden. This also then is an act of grace. God does not want Adam and Eve to be tempted to change his condition by artificial means. That would not bring glory to God. The tree of life is for those who have life already. Furthermore, if death has already become a significant part of life, then eternal life in this state would not be a benefit to Adam and Eve.

In Revelation 22, we see that the tree of life is still around. It is being kept as an inheritance for the people of God. We will get to eat of the tree of life again. We must believe that Jesus Christ is our righteousness. We must be righteous. Then, when the consummation of all things is at hand, we will eat of that tree once again. We partake of it in a partial way when we participate in communion. In the Lord’s Supper, we partake of the body of Christ, which is life. Christ is the true manna that gives life. He died on the tree, and made the cross, which had been a symbol of death, he made it a symbol of life. Therefore, the tree of life points to Christ on the cross.

In verse 23, we see that God needed to cleanse his garden-temple. Just as Christ would later cleanse the temple of those carrying on illegal business, so also God cleansed the temple of Eden by banishing Adam and Eve from the garden. Remember, though, that we have seen that this is an act of grace on God’s part. There is a silver lining in the cloud. Yes, the warden is off to jail. Instead of guarding the garden, Adam will be guarded from the garden by the cherubim. And yes, this is parallel to the Exile of Israel in Babylon. However, Christ came into a state of exile. He entered into Adam’s condition (though without sin) so that we might regain what was lost. And Adam himself still had a job to do. He was to work the ground from which he was taken. There was grace there as well.

In verse 24 we see that though God as an angry father might stop short of depriving his son of the inheritance altogether, he will still punish him by throwing him out of the house. Notice where Adam is thrown out. On the east side. That is where the entrance and exit to the garden is. The tabernacle, and later the temple also had their entrances facing east. Out of the east, the magi came and entered the “tabernacle” of the stable, bringing gifts, and signaling that Gentiles would now be allowed into the temple through the person of Jesus Christ. Here, however, God says that they cannot come back into Eden. He takes steps to prevent them from doing so. He places cherubim there. The cherubim take over the job that Adam was supposed to do. Adam was supposed to guard the garden. Now that job will be taken over by the cherubim. Later, the Levites performed this function in the temple grounds. They prevented anyone who was not holy from coming into the temple. There is grace here, too. We may not be able to get back to Eden on our own, but we also need to remember that our inheritance is being guarded for us. No less than cherubim guard it and prevent anyone, including Satan from taking it away again. Eden was not destroyed in the Flood. It is our inheritance, uncorrupted, undefiled, reserved in heaven for us, as Peter says in his first letter.

There is also a flaming sword guarding the garden. This sword is not in the hand of the cherubim. It is a flashing sword that turns every which way to prevent anyone from coming into the garden by any way except through the loss of life. One of the early church fathers said this, “Blessed is He who was pierced and so removed the sword from the entry to paradise.” Christ, by being pierced by a spear, took away the barrier to our entrance. It was His life that was taken. And so, we can have life.

Notice one more thing: Adam and Eve were both driven out. Another early church father comments on this fact, “Where the one was driven out with his wife, having been conquered by his enemy, there the other might return with his spouse (namely, the church of the saints), as a conqueror over his enemy.” Where Adam and Eve were driven out, Christ and His church return, and make the Garden of Eden a new home. Where Adam and Eve had been conquered, Christ and his church are more than conquerors.

We have seen what the Fall has done. We have explored the depth to which Adam and Eve fell. Now, to apply these truths to our lives. How do we try to get back to Eden? Do we try on our own strength? Or do we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit? Maybe we rely on our own strength to reconcile ourselves with our brother. We go there thinking that we can just smooth it over, and everything will be all right. However, Satan tempts us by the unkind words of our brother, and we just blow up. We didn’t pray before the encounter that God would give us patience and the right words to say. We relied on our own strength.

Maybe there is a besetting sin that makes us doubt our own salvation. No matter how hard we have tried, we just cannot seem to get rid of it. Then we lapse into despair, because we think that that sin cannot be conquered. But we need to know that God is always making our inner skin conform to the outer skin of Christ’s righteousness. Our inner skin is being worked on by Christ himself. That outer skin that we receive in justification starts working on the skin underneath, to change it. That is why there is always hope. The struggle is never fruitless, if the strength is Christ’s upon which we rely. Of course, there is a struggle. We are to struggle with sin. But that very fact that we are struggling should be an encouragement to us. Unbelievers do not have that struggle. They don’t put up a fight. It is only the believer that has a war going on inside him. Put the flaming sword of God’s Word as a barrier to your heart. No demons can enter! Your body is the new temple of the Holy Spirit. We need to guard that holy temple with the flaming sword of God’s Word just as the flaming sword guarded the garden of Eden. Then when we finish this fight, run this race, and come to the end of our pilgrimage, we will find that the tree of life is open to us. Life forevermore, blessed by Christ’s presence Himself will be our song.

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