What does it mean to be forgiven? Did Adam and Eve ever need to be forgiven prior to the incident with the “forbidden fruit”?
According to our standards, don't you suppose they probably made a few mistakes as they were “dressing” and “keeping” the garden. Maybe they allowed a destructive animal to destroy some of the plants. Maybe they ruined some fruit by dropping it on the ground. Maybe they lost some vegetables by leaving them on the vine too long. I don't know about you, but I'm sure I could have easily found fault.
But wait a minute! Who am I to set their performance standards? It wasn't my garden; the garden belonged to the God. He set the standards. And (from what we know in the Bible) all He told them to do was: 1. Dress and keep the garden of Eden. 2. Don't eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (See Genesis 2:15–17.) As far as God was concerned, they may have never made a single mistake in those early days.
But since I am looking at everything from the other side of the “forbidden fruit,” I see everything through the eyes of guilt. It was different though, for Adam and Eve. At that time, they saw everything through the eyes of innocence. They were born innocent. I was born guilty. Let me explain.
Initially, Adam and Eve had no knowledge of either good or evil. Life was neither good nor evil. Life just was. There was no right way to tend the garden. There was no wrong way to tend the garden. They just walked with God and tended the garden. This was God's plan for their eternity.
But when they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they instantly knew what was good… and what was evil. They were no longer innocent. They now had to continually make choices between what was good and what was evil.
And God had to kick them out of the garden and keep them away from the tree of life, so they could not live forever, but would eventually have to die. (See Genesis 3:22–24.)
This is the point in the story where we have to throw out all our preconceived ideas about the nature of God. Why did He kick them out of the garden? Those who are against God, thinking He is mean and spiteful, would say, “You sin… you pay.” Those who are for God, thinking He is kind and loving, would say, “You sin… you pay.” It appears as if all of humanity wants to say: “If you are good, you will make God happy. But if you are bad, He will make you miserable.”
But God doesn't want to find us guilty. He wants to make us innocent.
He didn't kick Adam and Eve out of the garden so they would eventually die and He could be rid of them. He kicked them out of the garden so they would eventually die and He could be with them. He wanted to be able to walk with them again in paradise, when they would be made innocent again by the blood of Jesus.
In God's presence, there is no choice to be made between good and evil. The only choice available is life.
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have [it] more abundantly. (John 10:10 NKJV)
In God's presence, there is no choice to be made between light and darkness. The only choice available is light.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:11–12 ESV)
God is not interested in finding you guilty. He is interested in making you innocent.
He wants to pull you out of your guilt and shame and lift you into the innocence of His presence. Yes, this is poetic imagery, but it's also everyday life.
We have such a superficial understanding of right and wrong—of guilt and innocence. Just making the statement, “I was born guilty” will offend countless people around the world. But I was born guilty… and so were you and everybody else.
We do not have to stay guilty, however. If we will intentionally and effectively deal with guilt and shame, we won't have to suffer needlessly. But we must face it at its core, not just superficially.
Picture yourself being totally and unfairly trashed by a co‐worker, in front of your boss and your company's board of directors. After an investigation you are cleared of any wrong‐doing and your co‐worker is expected to make an apology, which goes something like: “I am so sorry that you were offended.” But is this any kind of a request for forgiveness? Of course not! Your co‐worker was not seeking forgiveness because she was not facing her guilt. You can forgive her, but it does her no good. Because she refuses to accept her guilt she cannot accept your forgiveness. Because she won't face her guilt, she has no room for your forgiveness.
Jesus has already paid for the sins of every living man, woman, and child on the planet. He died once for sins (see 1 Peter 3:18). He did that 2,000 years ago on the Cross. But His forgiveness does no good to those who won't accept it. Those who refuse to accept their guilt cannot accept His forgiveness. Guilt and forgiveness cannot exist in the same space; it's one or the other.
Please note: We're coming up to one of those fine lines, where there is a potential for confusion. On one side of the line are the guilty who thumb their noses at Jesus; and if they're not weighed down with guilt and shame, they should be. On the other side of the line are those made innocent by the blood of Jesus; and if they are weighed down with guilt and shame, they shouldn't be. It is possible to wonder which side of the line your are on. Are you following me?
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:8–10 ESV)
Strictly speaking, if you confess that Jesus is your Lord then you have been saved from an eternal hell. That's all the thief on the cross did; he didn't have time for anything else.
But the other criminal protested, “Don't you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn't done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40–43 NLT)
We've added a whole lot of unnecessary ritual to the salvation experience. Let me make this as simple as possible. If you are willing to call Jesus your Lord anywhere, at any time, to anyone, then you have eternal salvation. You have been declared “not guilty” as far as God is concerned. It's the “as far as you are concerned” part we are working on.
Please note: I am not downplaying the importance of confessing sin. But there are surely plenty of people in hell who asked God for forgiveness at one time or another, but refused to make Him Lord. Facing sin and putting it under the blood of Jesus is critical; but if a man doesn't think God who is not big enough to be his Lord, how could he possibly think God is big enough to forgive his sin?
I have never, ever known of anyone (myself included) who has been able to receive God's forgiveness in every single area of his or her life at the time of salvation. It is a process that can, for some people, take a lifetime to fully receive.
But if you are under the illusion that at your salvation you actually replaced every single bit of your guilt and shame with His forgiveness, then what are you going to do when you come up against guilt and shame… call it something else? Question your salvation…? Question God's love…? I have seen so much confusion coming from this issue, and it's time to stop it.
God sees you in Jesus. It is time for you to see yourself in the same way.
Have a good weekend,