Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (Genesis 3:1, KJV)
In today’s reading, we will deal with four topics to be addressed in two posts. Genesis 3 is a key chapter in redemptive history and therefore requires a more in-depth treatment. It is in this passage of Scripture that we see our depravity and God’s grace displayed.
1. The manner of Eve’s temptation;
2. What was lost at the fall;
3. How Adam and Eve could fall.
4. God’s gracious response to the fall.
“Yea, hath God said…?”
Here’s what is instructive for us about the manner of the serpent’s temptation. One of the most common temptations of the enemy is to get us to doubt the Word of God. Rarely will he attack God’s word expressly, since such attacks are easy to see. No, his craft is far more subtle. He plants seeds of doubt for us about the sufficiency and clarity of the Word of God. Moreover, he gets us to think that what God commands ought to be obeyed only insofar as we can understand the reason behind the command. Calvin comments on the serpent’s temptation in this way:
“And certainly the old interpreter has translated the expression, ‘Why has God said?’which, although I do not altogether approve, yet I have no doubt that the serpent urges the woman to seek out the cause, since otherwise he would not have been able to draw away her mind from God. Very dangerous is the temptation, when it is suggested to us, that God is not to be obeyed except so far as the reason of his command is apparent. The true rule of obedience is, that we being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he enjoins is just and right. But whosoever desires to be wise beyond measure, him will Satan, seeing he has cast off all reverence for God, immediately precipitate into open rebellion.”
Unregenerate sinners continue in this lie of Satan. All of us owe obedience to God and owe Him the worship He is due (Romans 1:21). They continue to neglect what He has revealed to them, surpressing that truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).
As regenerate believers united to Christ, Satan continues to use these tactics in our war against the flesh. He gets us to doubt the truth of God’s word through subtle suggestions that He hasn’t revealed enough. Or that the word is for ancient people and is not relevant to us today. Or that it isn’t clear and more light outside of the Word is needed.
As Christians committed to the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura, we ought to affirm with the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
Just as God provides all things needed for our salvation, He provides all things needed for us to learn of that salvation, to obey him, and to worship him rightly.
What Was Lost at the Fall
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:6-7, KJV)
Here, we see that we fell in all of those faculties of the image of God in us: of reason, of will, and of affections. She saw the tree was “good for food” and “to be desired to make one wise”, reasoning carnally about what God had expressly forbidden she should not eat. She was reasoning apart from what God has commanded. She saw that the food was “pleasant to the eyes”, her affections being set on something against the will of God. And from that false reasoning and wrong affections, she chose to eat of the tree against God’s commands.
This is what is meant by total depravity; not that everything we do is as bad as it can be but that all of what made us God’s unique image-bearing creature was corrupted at the fall.
How Adam and Eve Could Fall
This is, admittedly, a great mystery. How does a perfect creature disobey God? How could he be tempted. Some in church history tried to resolve this by saying that man’s ability to persevere was entirely in the hands of God, which makes Him the author of sin. Others have reckoned that Adam and Eve had an inclination to sin. But that gets man off the hook – “you made me this way!” we can say.
Turretin resolves the question very well, though there continues to be much mystery around the question. He states that man had the natural ability to persevere and not fall but that his actual perseverance required the grace of God. In that way, man is responsible and God retains His sovereignty while not being the author of sin. He argues thusly below:
“Though man fell, still he had the ability to stand if he wished. Otherwise God would have placed him in an impossible condition. Hence a twofold help or assistance is commonly distinguished: help without which (auxilium sine qua non) or the power of not sinning (by which he had strength sufficient to stand if he wished); the former was necessary to his ability to persevere, but the latter to his actual perseverance. The former help was never absent from Adam, not even in the very moment in which he sinned; but the latter, God withheld from him freely as he was not bound to give it. Notwithstanding, neither can man be excused (because he sinned voluntarily and was impelled by no force) not God be accused (because as a most free dispenser of his own goods, he was bound to the bestowal of that grace by no law…).”
– Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol.1, p.607-608.
Another post is coming later today, in which we will discuss the covenant of grace God established after the fall.