The majority of us are familiar, I’m sure, with the concept of original sin in Genesis 3. Sometimes, though, Christians talk as if the essence of sin is breaking rules. I remember being taught at Sunday School that Adam and Eve broke the one and only rule God gave them when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I’ve since learned, however, that the essence of sin is far more serious than simply breaking rules.
In order to understand the true nature of original sin, we need to look at the true nature of original temptation. Contrary to popular opinion, the original temptation in the Garden of Eden is not a sexual one. Advertisers, comedians and the media have perpetuated that myth for many years with their references to “forbidden fruit.” Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and many minds conjure up a picture of illicit sex - the shiny red apple being symbolic of Eve seducing Adam.
But when we get back to what the Bible actually says, we see that sex isn’t the issue at all, even though there are consequences in the area of human sexuality. Incidentally, there isn’t even mention of a shiny red apple in Genesis 3, much to some people’s surprise; nor to a pear, a banana, or a kiwi fruit! The reference is to an unnamed fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And the key to understanding the nature of original temptation is found in the words spoken by the serpent in Genesis 3:4-5. ‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat of (the fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’
Here then is the essence of original temptation - it’s to be like God, knowing good and evil. From the beginning of creation, God is the law-maker. He decides what’s good for His creation, and what’s not good for it – God makes the rules, He provides the limits and the boundaries for enjoyment of life in the Garden of Eden. God’s not out to be a killjoy, not out to restrict us - no as the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 16:6, the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
The original temptation was not simply to break the rules; it was far more subtle than that and its consequences were far more serious. The original temptation, and therefore the very essence of original sin, is that you and I by nature we want to be the ones to make the rules. It’s inherent in our fallen nature that we each want to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. This impacts every area of human thought and life, including our sexual desires and behaviour.
And in our fallen world every human being, by nature, insists now on the freedom to act as law-maker. So to most people in our culture today, it’s not simply that Christian moral values and the traditional view of no sex outside of heterosexual marriage seem outdated and irrelevant. To the vast majority they certainly do seem outdated and irrelevant, but that, I think, is really a smoke-screen, covering up a much deeper problem.
At the heart of the sexual revolution of the last 50 years is, I’m convinced, that natural rebellious attitude of mankind. The idea that some divine being has the right to tell me in what context sex is to be enjoyed, is simply intolerable to the average man, woman, boy or girl today. We’re living in a society where individuals now insist on their human rights and their freedoms being upheld. And in such a culture, well the individual is going to be the one to set the limits, if any, for sexual relationships. I’m now the law-maker, I set my own boundaries, I want to decide for myself what’s good and what’s evil.
In Christ, though, everything changes. Not that it’s easy to swim against the tide of our increasingly sexualised society, far from it. But in Christ I learn over time to accept that God has set the boundaries for sexual behaviour in good and pleasant places. Increasingly I no longer want to be like God and decide for myself what’s good and what’s evil. Rather, as I submit to the Lordship of Jesus over every area of my life, I learn that the God who knit me together in my mother’s womb genuinely has my very best interests at heart. And that when God says “no” to sex outside of heterosexual marriage, He really does know better than me.
This article was written by Jonathan Berry, TfT Director, and was first published in the Summer 2011 newsletter