By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
Well, it has certainly been a trying day, but the Lord is God to this sinner that stands in his grace. Sinner? Yes. See, I am a sinner. I live in my flesh, this body of sin, or body of death as Paul called it. It is constantly harasses by sin, and eventually, I will die because of my great grandfather times 100’s of generations removed. His name was Adam (and his lovely wife, Eve). What they did, as Moses instructs us so plainly and clearly it is staggering that any miss it, was transgress the law that God commanded Adam. Adam was given a few instructions (torah). “Be fruitful. Multiply. Take dominion. Eat of all the trees and fruits, and plants of the ground. Except one tree. Don’t eat from this tree. If you do, when you take a bite, you will most certainly die. Got it? Good. Enjoy your life – may it be forever!” We all know the story, or think we do, anyhow. Adam ate from the very tree God told him not to eat. In all ways of Adam’s being (body and soul, one man) his mental perception changed. No need to go into detail here. Several other factors, hitherto not experienced, were now creeping into his being (Adam was a singular, ‘living being’). Guilt. Shame. Fear. Things rooted in a perception that, beforehand, functioned as smooth as created silk, without a hitch, or glitch, or hiccup. Guilt. Fear. Shame. Nudity (we don’t need to go into Augustine here, but the good Bishop had a lot to say about naughty parts). Adam, for his sin, was then cast out of the beautiful Garden God had made for him and his wife, Eve. Strangely, the death that was announced to come swiftly, suddenly and without mercy, didn’t come. Instead, God cursed the ground outside the Garden paradise, and lest Adam or any of his kids (the rest of humanity) try to achieve access into Eternal Life given by the emblem of the fruit of the Tree of Immortality with God as God created Adam and Eve (and their kids) to have (else, why make it?), he cut off all access. God placed a fearsome creature, one that Moses called a Cherub, with a flaming sword. The message was clear: enter, you die. Don’t even try.
So, Adam, Eve, and all born to her and her offspring (that brings us to us today) were in a state of unnerving guilt. The shame they had must have weighed a dock’s ton. Suddenly, a life removed from nothing but eternal security, with all things readily suppled with very little effort (a life of comfort and ease), was now one of insecurity, fear of the unknown, a looming future, and a mind to attempt to figure it out – a mind that dialectically weaves a constant thread between choices of good, and bad, right and wrong, correct and incorrect, good move, or bad plan. The immediate future is unknown. Add to all of this (which is making Psychiatrists and Psychologists billions of dollars to unnerve the nervous), Adam and his kin faced a certain, extra doom: extinction from the ground; a return to the ground. Whatever joy, or happiness, or labor, or accomplishment they might get here and there; a smile from a daughter, a hug from a son, a good laugh from a neighbor, or a intimate time with one’s spouse – would not be experienced anymore. Death would consume it. And Adam knew this. Adam, with all of this mental baggage that not even Freud could handle (and can’t handle, because Freud was in the same situation – we all are), also knew that he would die. That he was mortal. Is this how God’s purpose ends? Is this it? A meaningless existence, then death?
But, the story isn’t over. As Adam’s sons and daughters increased in the land outside the Garden, so did their thoughts. Without God directly revealing his words, Adam’s kids almost immediately began to ‘think for themselves’ (what else were they going to do?). To use the Bible’s terminology, they “did what was right in their own eyes” – not God’s eyes. This eventually became so bad over several generations, that God became grieved in his Spirit that he had made Adam and Eve. Man lived for hundreds of years in the beginning (some of them, anyway), and without any direct words of instruction (law, torah) from God – entirely ‘left on their own’ so to speak. The result was horrendous: ‘Adam’s children, and children’s children entertain thoughts of evil and are on evil deeds continually, all his days.’ Total depravity. God declared to himself: I am going to wipe out every single one of them. As he stated before to Adam, that “in the day you eat, you die”, so he stated now, “I am going to wipe out all mankind from the face of the land.” However….he didn’t. He could have. He should have. He knows in his own righteousness that they deserve it. When Adam ate, he deserved right then and there swift, merciless execution right where he stood while the fruit was going down his God-created throat. God chose a man named Noah, and not only Noah, but Noah’s wife, and their three sons, and their three wives. 8 in all. God’s threat went from “all flesh” to “well, not all…I’ll spare 8.” The same is meant for Adam, too. “In the day you eat, you die” to “let him live a little a little while – many years, then I will command death that he be returned to the dust” (Psalm 90.3, also by Moses). God is righteous. God is holy. God is also full of mercy, and loving kindness. He is willing to suffer along with his own grief, as well as human beings – for a time. Adam broke a commandment, and its penalty has come to every human being as a result: a miserable existence, rooted in unknowabilty, with maybe a few spurts of joy here and there, coupled with a knowledge that death may strike at any moment, or even horribly long in terms of disease. Not too good, is it? Man is not miserable as an individual. He is miserable around others, too. He virtually disagrees with others almost at every turn. Their knowledge of what is ‘right and wrong’ is not the same as his more superior knowledge. Eventually, this aggravates him so much, that the only real solution to the problem is killing the other. In terms of tribes, the solution is wiping out other tribes. In terms of Nations, with a King, the solution is exterminating or enslaving other nations and peoples. Adam and Eve brought this about to everyone. It’s everyone’s condition. Ask a Biden supporter what they think about a Trump supporter. Ask a Muslim jihadist what they think (knowledge) about a Jew. Ask a man who like other men what he thinks about Bible believing fundamentalists. Ask a scientist, surely an expert in what is good, and what is not good, about someone who believes God made the heavens and earth in the span of six days. Go ahead. Ask them. Watch the fireworks. Oh…did I mention The Accuser of Mankind, this malevolent power commissioned by God’s authority to wreak havoc, misery, turmoil, murder and mayhem? Yeah, I forgot that. He is also called “The one who leads the nations into deception”. He lies, and mankind is so messed up, they believe the lie. Not too good, is it?
So, what do we have? Well, Adam didn’t die the day he ate, and neither did Eve. They died hundreds of years later. God is good. He is righteous (they will die), but also gracious (they didn’t die according to the letter of the command that demands their death at every turn). Man is left to his own thinking, without God’s giving him good thoughts to think upon. They love darkness. They eschew the light. Their minds are darkened in counsel. Excuse me….I am talking about me. However, God, in his goodness, sheds light and counsel so that even the wicked, entirely without ever acknowledging it, benefit. God even sheds light directly into some human beings very soul, so much so that it literally alters their course, stops them in their tracks, and causes a mental convulsion of self loathing for their sins. This act of God, that penetrates the darkened mind that hates him by nature, surely alters Adam’s kids lives as certainly as that day when Adam’s mind was altered when he ate. We call it, a change of heart. It brings repentance. A new flush of feelings, affections, and experiences floods his entire being, body and soul. A light bulb went off. A soul operating on an empty tank is suddenly filled with the promise and hope of Life. There is a future to be had! There is a life beyond this life! It’s been right in front of me all this time, I just couldn’t see it! Let us hear our Lawgiver’s words, our beloved Prophet, Moses: ‘If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you… And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.’ I would add, ‘live forever as I intended Adam and his children to do. My purpose stands. My people will live in what I have created for eternity.’ Let Moses speak more (for he spoke of the Spirit, that is united to the Son, who is the Eternally Begotten of the Holy Father): ‘For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. 15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.’ This is to each man, woman, and child. To all those who hate him, who do not know him, and who refuse to acknowledge because they can’t, on their own. He is very near you. Our Apostle, quoting these words, says, “that is, the word of faith that we proclaim.” Moses proclaimed a word of faith. Paul preached this word of faith. This word of faith, if God so grants one to receive it, awakens the soul to the Light of God’s Knowledge in Jesus Christ. A slumbering soul. A soul sentenced to die in its sins, but now, through the knowledge that saves, is invited to the Eternal Glory of a new heavens and a new earth.
It is for this reason that Adam was not killed the day he ate; that God did not immediately return him to the dust without appeal. The sentence hangs over every head: you will die in your sins (dead in sin). This leaves God as Just (you will die for breaking my law, and there is not one of you that doesn’t break my law and offend my holiness. No, not one), and the Justifier (I will stay your execution for now, in what little time I have given you, 70, maybe 80 years, so that you might see the Word that is very near you, seek for it, and be found of me before you die. To such a one, even though a sinner, I will raise in the last day into Eternal Glory unimaginable). God is Just. God is Good. God is Holy.
Here, in so many words, we have what is known as the Doctrine of Original Sin. This has been expounded upon since the days of Augustine, who got it from Paul (although not without error in some parts in Augustine, ecce homo). Original Sin, and the ensuing Death by Sin as a result, consumes us all. It’s in our human spirit to sin, and Sin easily activates our very fiber to every form of lust, covetousness, envy, and murder. We are alive to Sin, and easily entangled in our minds, which induces our wills to not only sin, but enjoy it. Our knowledge is in constant fluctuation between certainty, and uncertainty. What we think we know, what we doubt, what we once thought we knew, and what we think we are certain we know now, we think…maybe. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. We are anxious, fearful, terribly mindful of our health, or not mindful (I just gave up smoking two months ago, haven’t touched a drink in near 7 years – not I, but Christ in me – for without Christ, I would not only smoke like a chimney, I would drink like a sailor, lust like a cat in heat, and use whoever I could to get what I want, when I want it). One of my favorite sayings comes from James Montgomery Boice, but I’ll use just the first two words, “But, God…” Lonely? But, God…Depressed? But, God…. Slave of a sin you cannot control? But, God. Boice is better: “May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—‘but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” By the light of the knowledge of his truth, God, by the Spirit, penetrates our state of sin inducing death that leads us all to the dust of the earth. It arrests us before we die in sin, and renders us in our dying as dead in Christ. Our very own death is made to conform to his death, and his death was a “death to sin” (Romans 6.10). Jesus died on the cross with faith in God, and a firm hope that God would raise him from the dead. His total life was lived in faith towards his Father. Jesus demonstrated the Perfect Man, without sin, utterly in lock step with the will of God, without fault in thought, word, or deed. I hardly measure up to such a stature as a fellow human being like him. Even in faith, I find myself fail in thought, word and deed. Each failing, deserving of swift death, stemming from Adam’s transgression, and yet, I live another day. He lets me live. This is grace. The righteous will live by faith, and Paul does not have in mind just life in the here and now, but immortal life. The Righteous will live forever because their faith declares it so! Faith takes hold of the life to come in the Age to Come through the knowledge of the Hope wherein we are saved, and therefore persevere through every fire, every hardship, every death in the family, every tragedy, every moment of lapse of judgment, every moment of misunderstanding, every moment of insecurity. Faith takes ahold of the blood of Christ Jesus and washes itself in it by the forgiveness of sins – which occur daily, for every thought, word, or deed I have that is not God’s is sin at work in me (Romans 7).
So, why do I write all of this. Well, because there are some who have knowingly maligned what I believe above as “heresy.” If it is heresy, if what I am saying, in what feeble words I can muster to express the inexpressible in Christ is so filled with damnable wretchedness, I’d like it to be pointed out. I am absolutely sure that I will offend some one. I have used terms that fall in line with God’s election of souls over other souls. I have denoted, clearly, terms that require no act on my part, and every operation on his part to save me, if I am able to be saved. All I bring to the table is sin, evil thoughts, confused notions, a bend in nature towards darkness, and a life, according to Ecclesiastes, utterly meaningless without Him (thanks to my dad, Adam, and my mom, Eve – but even so, these sins are my sins). Yet, entirely by his will, I find that my mind is enslaved to the written word of God, that I believe it, that I find myself yielding to commandments I would not otherwise, in myself, yield to. I also find that there is a deep knowing of how far I have yet to go, sinner that I am, in this body of flesh, this body that is mine, the one he knitted me together with, this body that is me, formed of personality, history, experiences, scars to prove it, and even some tattoos (which I regret getting – those were the days when there was a beer or two, or nineteen). I am a sinner, saved solely by his Grace, not by the letter of His holy, righteous, and good law, for the letter of his perfect, and righteous law would, justly so, kill me as I am typing this essay. Since I am going to die to sin when I do die (and, right now, am dying, heading to the dust heap, with my body corroding into a skeletal hideousness), then the Spirit works in me and through me to even now put to death sin-in-me. What I used to do, some things, I find I have no desire anymore to do. Miracle. Leopards do not change their spots. But, God (there it is again) can change a leopard’s spots into a lion’s fur coat. Some things I struggle with still, like short-sightedness, procrastination…do you have a few hours? And, so, righteous God, grind me to death, for you are righteous in sending me to the grave in whatever way you have willed. Have mercy, Good Father, for thy Son’s sake, Jesus Christ, who I believe with my whole mind, being, thought, and body – my soul, strength, and will, is Lord, King, Savior, Prophet, High Priest and God, the Son. Let me die the death not in my sins, as you have sentenced me righteously so, but to my sins, as graciously bestowed in your Son, given to me by faith, in the hope that in that last day, known only to you, you will raise me incorruptible, full of life, immortal, without sin, without fault, and forever without any inclination whatsoever to sin against you – in this mind, raise me; in this flesh, change me; in this body, transform it anew, so that my faith in what I will be, a new creature, will be made fully manifest because you have given me the true faith to make it manifest in resurrection glory. Even now, Lord, renew my mind toward Thee.