“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:18
Jesus – God in human flesh – came to earth on a moral rescue mission to clear a pathway that would allow us to return to our created, perfected state. So says Christianity.
His strategy had three parts. First, Jesus came to earth to teach us how to live rightly. Our healing must begin here. We can’t get very far without knowing what God’s will is for our lives, including his will for our sexual behavior.
But the work Jesus did could not stop there. We require more than right teaching to get us where we need to be. Addicts of all stripes often have an accurate understanding of what’s right and wrong. They know all the recovery lingo. They can tell you of codependency and father-wounds and higher powers. They can pinpoint precisely what the consequences will be if they give in. Then they’ll give in anyway.
You don’t even need to be an addict to understand this. I – as a Christian and pastor – know right from wrong when I lust, or lose my temper, or fight with my wife. I know the lingo. The Bible verses. The consequences. I can preach it. And sin anyway.
The second part of Jesus’ mission is absolutely critical: Jesus died on the cross to give us the power to live rightly.
Let’s first think about what that power would look like (then tomorrow we’ll explain how Jesus’ death provides that power.)
If my heart were operating as created I would not troll the internet for nude photos and videos of others who bear God’s image. And they wouldn’t provide the pictures. My love for God and my love for others would snuff out the desire long before the temptation reached DEF-COM 1. My God-given, good, powerful sexual desires would flow naturally through the ordered and holy channels God had provided. I would express and experience my sexuality without shame just as in the Garden of Eden.
Such a reality seems impossible to fathom today, because our experience is so pathetically different. How could they have pulled it off? we wonder. Because they had the power to live rightly. Three conditions were different in Eden prior to the Fall.
The first humans were morally perfect.
Whereas we are born spiritually dead, they were born spiritually alive. No sinful impulses corrupted their nature. The compass of their hearts swung straight to God and his goodness.
Secondly, evil was present, but not prominent, and they had full power over it.
Our first parents were given direct authority over “everything that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:31). In slithered Satan in the form of a serpent (3:1), and had Adam and Eve merely exercised their God-given power over him, rather than ask him to pull up a chair and sit down for coffee, it all would have been different.
Now evil is everywhere we look, and it has power over us. And it’s not just ‘out there’ somewhere, and if only we can fix the environment, we’ll be fine. No, the evil is in us. Humans are evil, Jesus said straight up (Luke 11:13). Which no doubt sent the Pharisees scrambling for their cookies and safe spaces.
The third difference between then and now is huge:
Our first parents enjoyed the direct presence of God.
After they had sinned, Scripture says that Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8) and the suggestion of the verse is that this had been a constant part of their lives till then. They enjoyed a daily walkabout with their Maker.
“The Lord is your life,” Scripture declares (Deuteronomy 30:20). Adam and Eve experienced this in full. The presence of God was to Adam and Eve what the engines are to a jet at 30,000 feet. The jet can reach such heights only because of the engines. Why could Adam and Eve soar in unimaginable heights of love and holiness? Because they were morally perfect – yes. Because there was little evil around to molest them – another big plus. But primarily because of the presence of God in, with, and around them. The instant the engine is severed from the plane, the plane plummets. Such is a human life severed from the presence of God. And by the time the sun set that terrible day when our first parents sinned, the human race found itself cut off from God’s direct presence, both as punishment and protection (Genesis 3:22-24).
It is important that you understand these points because it will help you to more fully grasp what we mean when we say that Jesus died on the cross to give us the power to live rightly.
Some have suggested that the primary way in which Jesus’ death on the cross helps us change is by giving us an example of courage and sacrifice that we should follow.
But this view is deficient because it presumes that given a little inspiration and a tiny push, humans can start living life the way they should. But this is a lie. And many of you reading this know it’s a lie. You know what’s right. You just can’t do it. We need more than Tony Robbins in a tunic. We need more than a trailblazer. We need someone to grab our hands and run the trail with us. And hoist us up on his shoulders if need be.
The good news of Christianity is that Jesus’ death single-handedly set into motion the beginning of the restoration of each of the three conditions that were present in Eden.
- Our sin nature: You’ve heard the phrase “born again”? It’s more than a legal fiction. Jesus’ death makes possible a spiritual regeneration of our corrupted nature. (I don’t know why, but I just pictured Gene Wilder crying out, “It’s alive!!”) God “made us alive together with Christ” the apostle Paul says (Ephesians 2:5). I can’t tell you how it happens, but I’ve seen it happen. People without a spiritual bone in their bodies who suddenly can’t put the Bible down. Who used to walk to the other side of the road rather than darken the doorway of a church who suddenly can’t wait to get inside. Their sin nature is still alive and kicking, but something else has come to life within them. Now they have a fighting chance.
- The power and presence of evil: Scripture describes Jesus’ death as a routing of Satan and the evil he brings. “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [the cross].” (Colossians 2:18) It’s not a complete and total eradication of evil. But like Normandy on D-day, a beachhead of goodness was laid down on the earth that has grown and filled the world with fruit since that day. That same beachhead of goodness is also laid down inside the heart of anyone who cries out to him.
- The separation from God: The best outcome of all that flows from Christ’s death is that God and the blood-bought sinner are now brought close to each other again. Our bodies become “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Christ is actually “in us” (Colossians 1:27). It’s not the face-to-face walkabout that was enjoyed before, and will be again (Revelation 21:3). The Bible calls it a “deposit” or “down-payment” of what’s to come (Ephesians 1:13-14). But it’s still very real, and very powerful. A Spirit-filled follower of Christ can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Just one huge question. How does a man dying on a bloody Roman cross 2,000 years ago bring all of this about? You need to have at least a working knowledge of this. Because it’s what sets Christianity apart from every other faith, religion and philosophy. And it’s what will spur you on to overcome your sin and addiction as nothing else can. We’ll pick this up tomorrow.
What ideas in this reading did you find helpful or challenging?
What was different about humans prior to the Fall?
“The Lord is your life.” If this is true, what things might I do a little differently today?
Prayer and Worship
“Father, I thank you for…”
“Father, please help me with…”
“Father, please be with…”
“In the name of Jesus, who died for my sins, who rose from the dead and who is with me now through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Today’s Worship Suggestion: “Jesus Paid It All” (Elvina Hall)
This Week’s Memory Verses
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~ Galatians 2:20
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” ~ 1 Cor.6:19-20