By Tom Wells
CHAPTER 2: "The
In the last chapter I spoke of barriers that we cannot get over. These barriers keep us from knowing God. They hold us back from obeying God. And, eventually, if they are not removed, they will be our undoing in God's day of judgment. Now I want to show you how these barriers came about and to help you to see just what these barriers are. To do that I will need to take you back to the beginning of man's history.
When God finished His work of creation He "saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:3). That statement took in everything. It included man. At that point nothing stood in the way of man knowing God. God, of course, was good. Man was good too. It was natural that a good man and a good God should find fellowship together. And that is what happened.
The bond, however, between God and man was not yet permanently ftxed. One fact stands out about these earliest days of man. They were days of testing. Man was on trial. And the trial was intended to show how great a value man would put on continued fellowship and friendship with God. The matter was not put just that way. But that was the heart of it.
What God did was this:
Here we see two things. We learn that God commanded man to obey Him, and we see that the penalty for disobedience was death. I want to look at both of these things more closely.
Does it strike you as odd that God's command had to do with eating fruit from a tree? That does not seem to involve any great moral issue, does it? At first sight, it seems almost trivial. I think that more than one person has stumbled over this. But there is no need to do so. The question, you see, was not whether Adam would live and die for some grand principle that both God and man must respect. That was not the question at all. The test was this: would Adam obey God?
You must have noticed how the human mind works. It likes to fool us. I remember reading of a man who was hired to plant cabbages. On his first day the farmer told him clearly how it was to be done. "Take each cabbage plant," the farmer said, "and put it into the ground upside down." The hired man could not mistake his directions. Now what would he do?
I do not remember how the hired man planted the cabbages, whether right side up or upside down. But I do remember the point of the story. At the end the farmer said, "I was looking for a man who could take orders." The farmer was not seeking a fellow who would agree with the way he wanted cabbages planted. He was looking for a man who would do what he was told.
It is easy to confuse these two things. We are likely to congratulate ourselves on our obedience when, in fact, we simply agree with what we are told to do. Is not that often the case? It may seem right to us, or it may seem wise. It may seem just the thing to be done, so we do it. But our doing it has little to do with obedience.
The best test of obedience to God is doing what He says simply because He says it. If it commends itself to our judgment, that is fine. But that is not the point. The point is this: will we obey, whether or not we grasp God's reasons? That would have been the proof of Adam's obedience. That is the proof of our own.
We do not know how long Adam lived before he broke God's command. It seems to have been a very short time, but that is not important. What is important is that Adam died, as God had promised. He did not die physically at once, though the seeds of death were sown in his body by his act of disobedience. His physical death was made certain by what he did, but the death Adam died that day was of another kind. Adam died spiritually. That is the heart of the matter. It is this "spiritual" death that we must come to understand. It is this spiritual death that is the first barrier between us and God.
I told you earlier that Adam's trial introduced a question. That question was, How great a value will man put on continued fellowship and friendship with God? Now God had Adam's answer.
"It is all well and good to have God's fellowship," Adam said in effect, "but I must have my own way. That comes first. After that I will think about friendship with God!"
Now it may be that we have lived so long without reference to God that Adam's attitude does not shock us. We who live in democratic societies may come to think of God - if we think of Him at all - as a fellow citizen who must act by the rules of what we like to call "fair play". Let God map out His piece of territory and lay claim to it. What will it be? A square mile of choice farm land? The business district of a thriving metropolis? Or would God prefer the vast expanse of the starry heavens? Very well, He shall have it! Only, whatever it is and wherever it is, let Him be content with it. We will respect God's rights to His own domain, and we will expect Him to respect ours!
The man who thinks in this way makes two errors: First, he misunderstands God. He has dismissed God from the roles God has chosen for Himself. To this man God is neither Creator, Lawgiver, nor Judge. But God refuses to be dismissed. We are fools if we suppose that God will be our fellow-democrat.
And there is one thing more. The man who thinks like this runs the risk of having God take him at his word. Does be want to be left alone? Would he rather that God did not interfere in his life? Well, it may be - for a time at least - that he shall have his way. But the experience will not be a happy one.
It is this desire for God to leave us alone that is meant by "spiritual death". Spiritual death is death toward God. A man may be quite alive to this world, and yet be dead. The smell of the grave is on the man who knows no longing after God. He may vibrate with enthusiasm at the prospect of money or power. That is common enough. We see it every day, and we speak of such men as vitally and wonderfully alive. But we are wrong. They are dead men, as dead as the fossil relics of some long-forgotten tribe.
Who, then, are the spiritually dead men of this world? They are the men who are content to be without God. You are a dead man if this is true of you.
But I must add a word of caution here. I have spoken of men "who are content to be without God". Let me tell you what that does not mean. It does not mean that such a man will find life satisfying. It does not mean that he will enjoy contentment. A man may be happy to be rid of all thought of God, but that will not make him a happy man. I must make this clear. I do not want to be misunderstood.
Let me address your own case. Perhaps you would not call yourself a happy man or woman. "See," you may say, "my very restlessness shows that I am not content to be without God."
But wait! Do not be so sure! Your restlessness shows that you are not content. It tells us nothing about whether you want God to interfere in your affairs. That is a different matter entirely. Your dissatisfaction shows that you need God. Whether you desire Him is something else altogether. Let me say it again. To be spiritually dead means to be content to be without God. It does not mean simply to be content.
Now you may have noticed that in discussing Adam I moved from Adam to you rather easily. We were talking one moment about what Adam did long years ago. Then, in the next minute, I applied what happened to Adam to your own case as though no centuries had passed between. Let me explain why I did that.
When Adam and Eve sinned they were the human race. There were no other people on earth, just those two. In them, when they turned from God, the whole race turned from God. When they fell there were no godly people left. That much is plain. But there is something else to be remembered. If that were all, God might have waited for Adam and Eve to have children with whom He could have enjoyed fellowship. He might have forgotten the first pair and anticipated friendship with their Sons and daughters. The wait would not have troubled God. Scripture makes clear that He is never in a hurry.
No, there was more, much more, to Adam's sin. In some way Adam stood or fell for all of us. That is why you may have heard Adam's sin called "the fall of man" or simply "the Fall". When Adam and Eve brought forth children the children were fallen like Adam. They too cared nothing for fellowship with God. And their chil-dren, in turn, were like their ancestors. "The Fall" is a fact of human life. It is as true today as it was when Adam sinned.
Early in the Bible we read this:
The point of this passage is clear. Though God made Adam like Himself, Adam fell away from his first likeness to God. And when, in course of time, Adam and his wife produced children, they were like Adam. They were in Adam's likeness and image. They too were dead men, men who were spiritually dead and men who had the seeds of physical death planted in their frames, so that one day the grave would claim them. Eight times in Genesis 5 we meet some man descended from Adam, of whom it is said, "...and then he died." After Adam no one asked whether this or that man would die. They only asked "When?"
One barrier between God and man, then, is man's deadness toward God. We may also call it mans corruption. Man is corrupt at the core of his being. If that were not so, he would love and serve his Maker. But that is not his only problem. There is another barrier between man and God. That barrier is man's guilt. I want to take that up next.
You have noticed that people use the word "guilt" in more than one way. Today there is a good deal of talk about psychology and many are interested in men's states of mind. Guilt is one of these. We say, "George is full of guilt," or "Jenny is carrying a heavy load of guilt." In each case we are speaking of a state of mind in George or in Jenny. Some men have accused George of not doing what he ought to have done. George suspects that they are right and now he feels guilty. Someone told Jenny that she should not have done the thing she did. Now a sense of guilt plagues her. Both George and Jenny are annoyed by these feelings, but the feelings will not go away. Later on I will have more to say about this state of mind. That is not the use of "guilt", however, that we must grasp right now.
"Guilt" is also used to describe a man's standing before the law. This use of the word may have nothing to do with a man's state of mind. A man is said to be guilty when he has broken the law, whether he knows it or not. George may be guilty and Jenny may be guilty in this sense and have no inner conviction about it at all. The whole question may never cross their minds.
It is in this sense that guilt stands as a barrier between God and man. Man is a wrong-doer. Man is a sinner, a criminal in the sight of God. There can be no question of free and open fellowship between God and man as long as man remains guilty before the bar of God. The justice of God is at stake. Will He make laws and then allow man to trample them underfoot? That is the modern dream, but it is a lie.
There the lie is exposed. As a lawbreaker man is exposed to the just penalty of his sin. He is guilty in that sense, whether he feels any "guilt" in the other sense or not.
At this point I think someone is certain to say, "But surely you can't be talking about me! I would never dream of trampling God's laws underfoot. Far from it! All my life I have tried to do the right thing. Don't I get any credit for that?"
Well, we will come to the subject of credit later. I quite agree that credit is precisely what we need. We need some merit, some credit, put into our account before God. But it is of no use talking about credit from our own good works. The Bible is plain: we have not done "the right thing", you and I, and credit from what we have done is simply out of the question.
Nor can we say that we have tried to do the right thing. That little word "tried" is likely to deceive us. When once we see how far we have come short we like to fall back on "tried". "I tried," we say, "and I can't help it that I failed." A man would have to be very unreasonable not to accept that explanation: "I tried!"
But God will not accept "I tried", not because God is unreasonable, but because the plea is not true. We have not tried to serve God for His own sake. To serve God for His own sake is the heart of all real service. In fact, we have done just the opposite. In serving God we have sought to serve ourselves. I know that because the Scripture tells me very clearly that all men are at enmity with God.
Here, for example, are words of the Apostle Paul:
From what Paul says it is plain that man is in serious trouble. In speaking of "sinful man" Paul does not mean to imply that some men are not born sinful. That would be the farthest thing from his mind. But Paul does recognise that some men have already been touched by the Spirit of God and to some degree have been changed. For Paul, "sinful man" describes man in his natural state before God intervenes in his life.
Paul tells us, then, that sinful man's mind is "hostile to God". Jesus said the same thing in different words when He spoke of man's hatred towards Himself and His Father (see John 15:18-25). These are words that you may hesitate to believe, but they put one thing beyond doubt. They show plainly what kind of service a natural man will give to God. For, you see, a man who hates God will never seek to serve God for God's own sake.
Let me illustrate what I mean. Suppose you have an employer that you hate. We will call him Mr Brown. Will you serve Mr Brown? Yes, certainly. That is implied in the employer/employee relationship. You are hired to do some task and you do it. But could it be said that you serve Mr Brown for his sake? Not at all! If you loved him you might do so. But in your present state of hostility other motives keep you on the job. You need the money. The job offers prestige. You fear to be thought a failure. Or, your husband or wife would nag you unmercifully if you quit! Any or all of these reasons might keep you in the man's employ. They might lead you to do the best work possible. But the fact would remain: you could not be said to serve Mr Brown for his sake. That would be out of the question. Only if you dropped your hostility to Mr Brown could things change. Only then could you want to serve Mr Brown for his own sake. And only then would you "try".
And that is the way it is with God. So long as we are hostile to Him our service is marred. It is disfigured by the fact that it is not service to God for His own sake. It is always something less than that. The words "I tried" are not true. They cannot be true, so long as we hate God!
Two barriers, then, stand between man and his God. They separate you from your Maker right now, if God has not intervened in your life. The first is corruption. At the core of your being there is hostility to Him. You are "dead" toward God.
And the second follows from the first: your guilt before God. You have not served Him. With all your religion (or lack of it) you have done nothing out of love for God. Your most moral acts were spoiled by that one fact: they were never for the sake of God. You did not seek Him. You sought your own interest. In that you followed Adam. And Adam's son! And all of Adam's line - we are all alike - right down to the present hour. Any difference brought about in a man is purely and only a matter of the grace of God.