The second in a series of writings by my dad, Joseph W. Gaut.
A Trip to Eden
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man:
You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die. (Gen. 2:15-17)
In the wondrous Garden of Eden, there was a tree which yielded forbidden fruit. Now this particular tree was created by God who had looked on all of his creation and observed that it was good. This tree was part of that marvelous and good creation. Further, it was located in the middle of the Garden (Gen. 3:3), suggesting central importance in God’s magnificent plan for mankind.
The tree was called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was of a specie that could not be viewed with the naked eye. How many have wandered through the forest and seen such a tree? No one. This is a tree that is seen only by spiritual insight and not natural eyesight.
As there is another tree in the Garden called the Tree of Life, and since we may understand that this tree offers fruit that imparts the very life of God (Rev. 2:7), we may glimpse that the trees of the Garden are not trees in the usual sense at all. In fact, through a bit of meditation on this matter, we might understand that the Garden of Eden speaks to us of relationship with God. It is a place perceived by the spirit, not the natural eye or understanding.
So what was this Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? What made it hazardous to man’s spiritual health? Was the command not to eat of this tree more than just a simple test of obedience? Was there something intrinsic about the fruit itself that would do serious damage to man’s spiritual life and minister death? By considering the nature of this tree, the answer should become apparent.
Of great significance is the name of this perilous tree: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Not just The Tree of Knowledge, but knowledge of a specific kind, Good and Evil. To eat the fruit of the tree is to gain knowledge of right and wrong, knowledge that is illusory in that it is only a reflection, a vague approximation, of the Wisdom that God desires to place in our hearts by His Holy Spirit. Precisely, one who eats of this tree has mental knowledge of external Law with its derivative legalistic principles. That’s what knowledge of Right and Wrong is. We also refer to it under other names, such as normative ethics. Such a rulebook for life – a list of laws, ordinances and regulations – is central to its application.
As we examine this tree, keep in mind the other centrally located tree found in the Garden, the Tree of Life. It is the tree that truly imparts life. As we contrast the Tree of Life with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we come to understand that these two trees represent basic and very different approaches to relationship with God. Further, we find that one approach works while the other does not.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has fruit that is most pleasant to look upon. It tastes delicious, particularly to the mental faculties. Let us recall Eve’s conversation with the serpent about this particular tree:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Here we see the false promise connected with the perilous tree. The spell that man falls under when striving to keep the law is the illusion that spiritual life will be the end result. This is the lie that the serpent told Eve. “. . . you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” However, such knowledge, resulting in a legalistic approach to daily living, ministers death.
Now this forbidden tree is very attractive and offers a very real temptation. It is apparent that its fruit offers a kind of wisdom. And it seems logical to man that with knowledge of good and evil he can choose the good and avoid the evil, thereby gaining life. But:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25).
What were the immediate consequences of the transgression?
The Results of Disobedience
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Gen. 3:6-7)
They knew they were naked! Not in some limited physical sense. They knew they were naked before God. The knowledge of law, law that made them wise and prompted them to judge others, pointed the finger back at them and their own shortcomings. Their eyes were opened and they fell under condemnation, aware they had sinned and were without remedy for it. They were steeped in sin-consciousness and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord. And, as mentioned, the knowledge was in a sense illusory. Eve’s knowledge was doubtless different than that received by Adam. That’s a readily observable phenomenon when examining people’s involvement with various ethical systems. Nobody seems to interpret law exactly the same as anyone else. That’s part of the illusion in which Adam found himself involved. What does any law mean? Watch the courts of our land struggle with this issue on a daily basis.
Thus we see the disastrous result of man’s first tampering with the good and holy Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Spiritual death had come upon him – separation from God. The Tree that had appeared to offer life had ministered death instead, just as God had promised. Adam and Eve’s sin consciousness separated them from the presence of God, the paradise of the Garden. An antidote to this toxic fruit was needed.
With these matters still before us, let us fast-forward to the time of Moses and God’s dealings with the children of Israel.
Moses, by the hand of God, gave Israel the Law of God. We often refer to this as the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses and the Law of God are one and the same as we know from Nehemiah 8:1 and 8:8. The promise to Israel under the Mosaic Covenant was that the covenant people would have life if they kept all of the commandments given by God and that they would be under a curse if they did not do so. This was a conditional promise of life: keep all of the commandments and live. There was an associated curse: break them at any point and die.
Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them . . . (Deut. 27:26)
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10)
When receiving the Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant of Law, Israel evidenced the overall attitude of show us your statutes and ordinances that we may keep them and have life by them. They were asking to eat of the delicious but perilous fruit.
Israel was looking at a pleasant tree. The promise of life was offered and it came from God. He had told them that if they kept his commandments they would have life. The Law is indeed good and holy and true. Yet Israel was laboring under an illusion, a fallacy that was the result of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. They thought they could actually keep the Law and thus find the life that was promised. They believed they could find righteousness therein. Further, they felt they could do this through their own strength:
And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.” (Exodus 24:03)
“All the words which the LORD hath said will we do!” That was the confidence voiced by Israel. They thought that through their own efforts they could justify themselves before our righteous and holy God, thereby receiving life. They had this confidence even though Moses had made it clear that it was necessary to keep all of the law. Centuries later, the apostle James was to observe that if the law was broken at any place, it was indeed broken everywhere. The Covenant that came by Law was shattered by any transgression. Paul explained that the Law was a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.
As we examine our contemporary scene, we find a remarkable truth. Jesus destroyed the law of commandments and ordinances that was against us. It has been thoroughly abolished (Ephesians 2:15).It was nailed to the cross of Calvary. Yet, in the mind of many, that perilous tree is still around. Its fruit is just as appealing as it ever was as many do not know that Jesus, the Tree of Life, won the total victory over its power. The battle has been won. Yet the enemy of our souls spreads the same lies about it. Man may and still does eat of its poisonous fruit.
The result of dining on this fruit has not changed. Just as ancient Israel fell under the devastating curse of the Law, those today who imbibe on the delicacies of this forbidden tree fall under the same curse. No one in Israel could ever meet its rigorous demands. The Psalmist David observed that there are none righteous, no, not one. Righteousness is beyond the reach of man by this legalistic approach to life. The poisonous fruit of the perilous tree still drains the spiritual life of man. Those who ate of it crucified our Messiah when He came to set them free from its devastating effects and release them from its curse. It was the High Priest of the Law who demanded Jesus’ execution, signifying by his hardened heart the end result of a legalistic approach to life. Those who eat of its fruit today find their compassion quenched and minds in the torment of condemnation. Paul makes it clear that the very power of sin is the Law.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (I Corinthians 15:56)
Ancient Israel went through an awesome learning experience, showing us that righteousness before God is unobtainable through the self-effort of keeping commandments and ordinances. Before the Messiah came, there had been those, such as David, who had apprehended the grace of God and thrown themselves upon His great mercy rather than offer their own soiled and tattered righteousness before Him. Detailed records were left that the whole human race might know the desolation brought by the legalistic approach to finding fellowship with God and everlasting life. If man was to see restored right relationship with the Creator and once again know true spiritual life, there had to be a better way. And there was and is.
The Truth Sets Us Free
In Christ Jesus, we are given a New and Living Way. Jesus did not come to restore the Mosaic law and leave man under the yoke of bondage. He came that we might truly have life and have it more abundantly. By believing in Him, we share in His life and eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life, the vital tree in the Garden. He is the Tree of Life. True righteousness comes only by being born again as part of God’s new creation in Christ Jesus.
After His earthly ministry, Jesus told us he was going to send us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to dwell within us. The Spirit teaches us, strengthens us, and is Life itself within us. God quickens our consciences and restores our souls, giving us a new nature, his nature with a soft heart. He writes the Law of Love on our hearts. It is not a law of written commands and ordinances interpreted by the mental faculties, but the very nature of Christ within us which reaches out to those in need. It is the Law of Christ, the Law of Love. He gave us the gift of Himself. By yielding to His Spirit within us, we are no longer troubled by written codes and ordinances. Rather we let His nature live through us, choosing Him in every situation as we yield to His Spirit. Note the operative word here, yield.
Christ is the end of the Law to those who believe. He is the end of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil if we but have faith in our Messiah. It is written cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree. On what tree did He hang, being made a curse, an innocent man taking the sins of the world upon himself that we might be made the very righteousness of God in Christ? Paul tells us that the commandments and ordinances that were against us were nailed to the tree of Calvary. I suggest that we do not err if we see, symbolically, that He was crucified on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that we might partake of the Tree of Life.
We were co-crucified with Jesus at Calvary (Gal. 2:20). Awesome! Our old nature that wanted to justify itself through works of the law, dead works, was hung on that same cross. It died there. And when Jesus arose from the dead three days later, we arose with Him if we be in Christ. We arose to be seated together in Heavenly places beside the One who has all power in Heaven and in Earth. We came alive! We have been delivered from the curse of eating the fruit of that perilous tree. Let us not be tempted to partake of it again! We cannot justify ourselves through keeping the Law. Having begun our new life in the Spirit by the grace of God, let us not fall prey to those who would wrap the chains of legalism around us with their false gospel that we can perfect ourselves through our own efforts. We have been given a New Heart and God’s own spirit to direct our way through life. We have been given Jesus’ righteousness. We have been set free from the law of sin and death.
Paul well understood the peril of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In a microcosm of the Garden experience of Adam and Eve, he wrote in the book of Romans that he had once had life. He was speaking of spiritual life. We might think in terms of the innocence of youth. Then the commandment came Thou shalt not covet and he died. Paul did not die physically; he died spiritually.
This story is repeated over and over again for all of Mankind. Why did Paul die? The Law, the fruit of which Paul had eaten, was good and holy but it stirred up the very principle of sin in his flesh that had been inherited from Adam through the Fall of Man in the Garden. It started a wrestling match in his soul that he could not win through the strength of his own flesh. He found that with his legalistic approach to life he could not overcome sin. He needed deliverance from this seemingly hopeless predicament and found his rescuer in Christ Jesus. He came to realize that there was no condemnation, no sin, if he walked in the Spirit of Christ. Following Jesus, not through self-effort or imitation, but through yielding his members to the very Spirit of God who now indwelt him, he was able to live an overcoming and victorious life. Through Christ he saw sin defeated in his life. He found he truly had Life, something he had not found by striving to keep the Law.
Jesus abolished the very law that was against us. This was one of his great accomplishments at Calvary.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. (Ephesians 2:14-15)
Even though this barrier to God has been abolished, destroyed, the enemy still sends the lie that the Christian should follow the law, the perilous tree approach to life. Not so! By the Grace of God, there is another tree in the Garden that has within it the healing balm of Gilead. It undoes the damage of eating fruit of the perilous tree. This other tree is the Tree of Life. It is the Way to Life. Let us follow Jesus and partake of its wondrous fruit.
Our spiritual walk is often very much a struggle between the opposing ways of Law and Grace. By placing our lives in the hands of the Master, we opt for Grace and Light and Truth and therein Victory. The prophet Zechariah prophesied of the solution many centuries before Messiah came:
…Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, Grace unto it. (Zech. 4:6-7)
Read the rest of the series: