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    Mar 09, 2016

    Week 8: Mission

    Series: Biblical Theology

    Category: Core Seminars, Creation, Sin, The Holiness of God, The Wrath of God, Heaven & Hell, Imputed and Original Sin, Indwelling Sin, Nature of Sin, Satan, Temptation, The Fall


    In this present section of our course, we’re trying to understand the nature of this book called the Bible, so that, we might better know how to know what to believe.
    • We’re not just asking, “What does it say? That is, what’s the content of the book?”
    • We’re just asking the question, “What should Christians believe about topic “x”—God, man, sin, the end times, abortion, government, and so on?”
    • Rather, we’re asking something in between those two questions—a question in the middle—which is, “How does the Bible say what it says?” If you don’t understand that, you’re likely to make mistakes about the first two questions. You’re going to misunderstand the content, and you’re going to misapply that content to what we should believe.

    In the first half of the course, we were given tools for understanding the Bible:
    • the authorial intent of the text,
    • the epochal and canonical horizons of any text,
    • the Bible’s covenantal storyline,
    • matters of promise-fulfillment, which includes multiple horizons of fulfillment,
    • the role of typology,
    • matters of continuity and discontinuity

    Then we learned how to use these tools to help us construct doctrine, that is, what we believe. Good systematic theology consists of biblical knowledge, personal knowledge, and situational knowledge.

    Now this present section of our course, we’re trying to apply all of this with different stories that the Bible tells, which then informs what we believe. This week, we’re going to consider the story of fall, in order to see what that teaches us for our lives.

    Suppose a friend were to ask you questions like these:
    • What’s wrong with this world—that my niece has cancer?
    • Why do people do bad things, like the terrorist we read about in the paper?
    • Are people basically good or bad? I feel like I’m good, but sometimes I do things I regret.
    • Why does everything eventually fall apart? Europe was once great. America was too. But look at the economy?
    • Why do people die? My mother is about to die.
    • Why does there seem like there’s so little true justice in this world? I just read about all those people starving in Sudan because of unjust governments.
    • Can I trust the God whom you claim rules over this world?

    Notice, he’s asking belief questions, questions that help him know what to believe about life here and now. He’s not just asking you what the Bible says. He’s asking you to meet him where he’s at. Well, how to we get from what the Bibles says, to where he’s at?

    Well, the Bible answers those kinds of questions in crisp statements here and there. But more importantly, it answers that with history—history, and propositions, and poetry, and prophesy, and more. It offers not just answers, but a whole new perspective and worldview in response to those questions. And it does all this by telling the story of the Fall. Let me begin by quickly running through that story.


    The story of the Fall begins in Paradise. God has created Adam and Eve and he has put them in a perfect world in order to be a reflection of his glory. There’s only one limit he has placed upon their freedom and authority. There is one tree in the Garden of Eden that they are not to eat from. In comes Satan, tempting them to do the one thing that they are not to do. They fall for his scheme and choose to disobey God.

    Immediately everything changes. Because of their decision to rebel, God judges Adam and Eve. Life will be filled with pain, toil, and sadness. What’s more, they are kicked out of Paradise and exiled from their home. But their physical expulsion is just the prelude to a far more profound exile that will affect not only them, but all of their descendants: death—an exile that never ends.

    As the story proceeds, we find that the consequences of Adam and Eve’s rebellion are even more profound than at first appeared. Children are born, but not in innocence. Adam and Eve’s very nature has been corrupted and twisted. And that nature, along with the guilt it earns, is passed on to their children. And so the Fall didn’t simply happen and we move on. Rather it continues and deepens as creation succumbs to death and decay. Satan had managed to murder the souls of Adam and Eve. Now Cain actually murders his brother Abel. And so it goes, until humanity’s wickedness had become so great that “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5). God decides he must finally judge the very men and women he had created in his own image.

    God sends the Flood to destroy humanity, sparing only Noah and his family, and the world gets a fresh start. The only problem is that Noah and his family still have the fallen nature they inherited from Adam. Once again the progress of sin picks up right where it left off. Once again God judges humanity by scattering humanity across the face of the earth.

    In this context, God calls out for himself a special people. Beginning with Abraham, God separates from the mass of humanity a people of his very own. They are to obey him and know him as their God. But even here, the Fall continues to make itself felt. Even after God rescues the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt and brings them into the edenic Promised Land, they abandon God for idols. In response to this, God exiles them from the Promised Land.

    As the New Testament opens, God sends his own Son, Jesus, who leads a life of perfect love and perfect obedience, a life that should have offended no one. But humanity has become so wicked that now Jew and Gentile plot together to put to death the only man who never deserved to die.

    That was two thousand years ago. Since then, humanity’s corruption and evil has known wider scope and greater efficiency. But nothing has really changed. All the wars, including the ones going on now, all the assaults and murders, the slavery, the genocides that have repeatedly marked the last hundred years, the exploitation of women and children for purposes of sexual gratification, even the cruel indifference of the rich for the poor, all of that has just been commentary on that first rebellious declaration of independence from God.

    What will be the end of the Fall? What will be the end of this story? In Revelation 18 we see the final Fall, a day yet in the future when this world will fall under God’s final judgment, never to rise again. Those who chose to worship idols rather than God, will be left outside of heaven, and the tormented anguish of their exile in hell will last for eternity.


    Okay, that’s the story of the Fall as the Bible tells it. What patterns do we see in this storyline?

    1) First, we see a couple of causes of the fall and why our world seems to be the mess that it’s in. The Fall was instigated by Satan’s malice and deception. From the beginning the Bible makes clear that Satan has an implacable hostility towards God and an unending hatred for humanity. But not only was the Fall instigated by Satan, it was also freely chosen by Adam and Eve. Satan had said to them, “if you eat of this tree, then your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Not content to be mere creatures; not content to have a mere relationship with God, reflecting back to God his glory, Adam and Eve desired to be like God. They desired to be gods themselves. Now when we just read Genesis 3, it looks like they simply disobey. But as the story continues, they’re actions come into a clearer and clearly light. The Bible calls this idolatry: the substitution of the creature for the Creator as the object of our loyalty, desire, and worship. And we saw this pattern repeated in Israel’s life.

    2) Second, from this story of the Fall, we see a couple of effects of the Fall. Effect 1: humanity was banished from God’s presence. At first we’re not entirely sure why. But as the story continues, we learn that the Bible clearly testifies that God is a holy God. We learn this especially in the Torah. He can neither tolerate sin in his presence nor can he allow sin to go unpunished. Effect of the Fall 2: We are also corrupted in our nature, which, again, becomes more and more clear as the story develops. Abel proves it. The Tower of Babel proves it. Israel, with all of God’s blessings, prove it. The Bible is clear that the problem of sin is not fundamentally one of behavior or education. No, it is far more radical. The problem is our heart. The Psalmist said in Psalm 51 that we are conceived in iniquity and born in sin (Ps 51:5). We come out of the womb as sinners. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are by nature sinners!

    3) Third, from this story of the Fall, we learn about the progress of the Fall. It’s clear from the storyline that ensues through the Bible that the Fall was no just a one-time event. It wasn’t like the 1871 Chicago fired, after which the city was rebuilt. While certainly an historical event, the Fall is also an on-going reality that continues to develop and affect our lives. The Fall is progressive, not static. We see that things get worse. They don’t stay the same, and they don’t get better. It’s like a disease that begins at a point in time, but then progresses and runs it course.

    Okay, before we get around to answering your friend’s questions, notice how we’re going about looking for our answers. We’re looking at the characters and plot of the storyline. We’re considering how it develops. We’re assuming that, though the story spans millennia and was written down by numerous human authors, we’re assuming it’s one grand story, with one divine author. So we’re paying attention to its patterns and cycles across the multiple human authors. And, though I haven’t really done this here, we’re making sure we know where we are in the story before we draw any hard and fast conclusions.


    Remember your friend’s questions? He was asking doctrinal questions. He was asking what the Bible means for understanding the world today? And our goal is to help him and others see God’s perspective on God, on himself, and on the world around himyou’re your friend was asking, Why does there seem like there’s so little true justice in this world? Are people basically good or bad? Why do people die? Can I trust the God whom you claim rules over this world?

    Only by taking care with the whole storyline can we responsibly answer him. Based on the story and the patterns we have observed, let me try to enunciate some basic lessons—some basic doctrines that give us God’s perspective on his questions.

    1. We do not live in a spiritually neutral universe.

    This world and our lives are a battlefield, not a playground. True to his form as a liar from the beginning, Satan would deceive us into thinking that nothing is really amiss, at least nothing that we can’t take care of ourselves. He would deceive us into thinking that we’re better off without God, that our best interests are served by pursuing our own desires and enlarging our liberty from anything that would restrict us from meeting those desires and fulfilling them. But Satan was lying on that day when he deceived Adam and Eve, and he is still lying. Satan intends, not our freedom, but our enslavement. He doesn’t intend to enhance our lives, he intends to hasten our death. Our ears need to be saturated with the Bible and our minds shaped by the worldview the Bible creates, so that we will recognize the lie when it’s whispered softly and sweetly in our ear.

    2. God is not morally culpable for this fallen world, we are.

    Many are tempted to blame God for the mess this world is in. I understand the feeling, but we need to know that according to Scripture, that is just another one of Satan’s subtle lies. Adam and Eve were created in such a way that they were able to say no to sin and Satan’s temptation. They had every natural help and aid you could want. They were standing in Paradise. They had each other. They had a clear, unequivocal, simple command from God. It wasn’t hard to understand. This realization should lead us to a profound humility. We are in this mess because we put ourselves there. When we witness someone else’s sin, we know as Luther said, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

    3. People do bad things because they want to be God, and he is just to condemn them.

    Like Adam and Eve, most of the time the final object of our worship isn’t some creature out there, it’s this creature right here. In the end my idolatry centers on me. What’s more, if I can persuade you or bully you or manipulate you, my idolatry will include you worshiping me as well. As long as we think of sin as simple rule-breaking we will never understand the enormity of sin, the incredible offense that it gives to God, and the justness of his response. Fundamentally, sin is not a matter of our behavior, though it eventually shows up in our actions. Fundamentally, sin is a matter of our hearts, for as fallen creatures our ruling desire is to remove God from his throne and to sit there instead. Sin is no trifling matter. There is no more deadly lie that Satan would have you believe.

    4. God is holy, and can have nothing to do with sin.

    People are not helped if our churches and preaching allow them to think of God as they would like to think of him. What they need is to think of God as he really is, a holy God who judges sin justly. This is why the New Testament takes so seriously the character of our fellowship in the local church. Paul asks in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “[W]hat do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” It’s not that Paul didn’t want believers to talk to unbelievers. Quite the contrary. In every conversation, in every interaction, in every encounter, he wanted unbelievers to see the difference between the church and the world, so that God’s character would be accurately displayed and known.

    5. There is no area of our lives unaffected by sin; we are enslaved to it.

    This does not mean that the Bible teaches we are as bad as we could be. But it does mean that there is no aspect of our lives, no aspect of our thinking, desires, or behavior that is untouched by the stain of sin. Even our best deeds, says Isaiah, are as filthy rags since they come from hearts that are committed to our own glory rather than God’s (Is 64:6).

    This also helps us understand what the Bible means when it says we are slaves to sin, which is an image that Paul uses in Romans 6 and 7. Some people are fond of debating whether or not we have free will. The Bible’s answer is that it depends on what you mean by “free.” If by “free” you mean that we do what we want to do, that nothing forces us to believe or to act against our will, then the Bible’s answer is “yes.” Our wills are always free to act in accord with their nature. But if by “free” you mean that somehow our wills are morally neutral and above the fray, able to choose between good and evil on their own merits, independent of predisposition or motive, then the answer is a clear and unequivocal “no.” Our nature is corrupted and, as Paul says, we are sold as slaves to sin. We can no more choose not to be sinners than a fish can choose not to be a swimmer. It’s our nature.

    6. We cannot save ourselves; we need a savior.

    Therefore we need more than a self-help program. We need something far more radical than a make-over that helps us straighten out our lives. All those things do is make for prettier, more presentable slaves. What we need is freedom. We need a nature that is freed from the corruption and bondage of sin. We can no more fix ourselves than a slave can free himself. A slave must be freed, and so must we.

    This has profound implications for everything from our evangelism and preaching to our understanding of the Christian life. It means that conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit, changing our nature, not the result of a seeker making a decision. It means that real Christians have a new nature that results in their lives looking different than the world around them, because this nature says no to sin. It also means that the Christian life is a life of conflict, as the new nature battles against the old. The Bible calls these two natures the old man and the new man, and they are in deadly conflict with one another. I think often we grow discouraged that this war continues, but what we need to understand is that this war is not going on in the heart of someone who has not been born again. Conflict with sin is one of best evidences that someone has been given spiritual life. This is Paul’s point in Romans 7. Rather than pretending there is no struggle, our churches should be places that encourage this conflict. Rather than shooting the wounded, our churches should be places that bind up those who are injured in the fight. Above all, our churches should be communities that hold out the hope of Christ, who alone can free us from these bodies of death.

    7. God will restore all justice to the universe by judging sin.

    Jesus says that the Day of Judgment has already been set in the mind of God, and the vision of that day revealed in Revelation 18 is terrible. Pictured as a great city, sinful creation falls under God’s judgment never to rise again. Not only final, this judgment will be just. The same chapter tells us that God will remember the crimes of this idolatrous world and he will repay her for her crimes. He will give to each of us exactly what we are due.


    When we understand the story of the Fall (and not until then), we understand why the message of Christianity is good news. In the gospel, God has accomplished a cure for the Fall, a rescue from this horrifying, accelerating descent in to hell.

    Jesus is the Fall’s cure. In Matthew 4, we see something absolutely extraordinary. The Son of God has become a man. Like unfallen Adam, Jesus was not born in sin, but was conceived directly by the Holy Spirit. Also like unfallen Adam, Jesus is called to obey God in the face of incredible Satanic assault. But that’s where the similarities with Adam end. Whereas Adam stood in Paradise with a full stomach, Jesus stood in the desert of our exile from God with a stomach shrunken by 40 days of fasting. Whereas Adam had the help of a wife, Jesus stood alone. Whereas Adam had a single command to obey, Jesus had the whole law to keep and fulfill.

    Beginning there in the desert and continuing all the way to Calvary, Jesus did what Adam failed to do. He resisted Satan’s temptation to exalt himself on his own terms, whether that was to turn stones into bread, or to come down from the cross. Jesus freely chose to obey God, even to the point of death (John 10:18). “Not my will but yours be done,” he said. Unlike Adam, he did not pursue his own glory, but laid that aside in order to glorify his Father. The irony is deep and rich. Unlike Adam, Jesus was in very nature God. He had every right to pursue his glory! But as Paul tell us in Philippians 2:6, Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” And then, as a servant Jesus suffered the judgment of God. He did not deserve this judgment. Instead, he suffered it on behalf of those who did.

    Jesus faced God’s flaming sword, guarding the way back into the Garden and the presence of God, and he walked through it at the cost of his own life. He did this so that any who repent of their idolatry and turn in faith to Christ might find forgiveness for sins and reconciliation with God. He did it in order to be able to welcome us back home. Paul says in Romans 5: “If the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” That gift is the opposite of the curse: forgiveness instead of condemnation, life instead of death, reconciliation instead of exile.