“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
These familiar phrases from 1 Corinthians. 15:55 (quoting Hosea 13:14) jumped out at me as I read them again. Of course, I know that God has swallowed up death in victory through the resurrection of Jesus Christ! But, what does that really mean for us?
This statement is the tip of the iceberg, and it occurs to me that we cannot understand without remembering and contemplating “how we got here”. Therefore, we must go back to the beginning.
Adam and Eve were the crown jewels of God’s creation, the only things (beings) created in God’s image. God’s purpose for His creation is focused in Adam & Eve… and likewise in us.
There were two trees in the Garden of Eden that are keys to God’s purpose: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. We know the story: Adam and Eve were tempted and ate of the one tree God told them was off limits: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Setting limits was also key to God’s purpose, but to understand why, I suspect we need to focus on the relational character of God, remembering that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) (and love is, therefore, defined in relation to God).
God is relational intrinsically: God has fellowship somehow within Himself. (“God said, “let Us make man in Our image, according Our likeness; and let them rule [over the world]” (Gen. 1:26)) Even in the first chapter of Scripture we see God referenced in the plural. John carries this forward in the first chapter of his Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1)
We see the plurality of God demonstrated throughout the NT. Jesus is the Word. He is the Word who became flesh; in Jesus God became man, though he was still God. Jesus referred to God in heaven as the Father, and Jesus said, when he died, resurrected and ascended back to heaven, He would leave a Helper – the Holy Spirit.
In the first chapter of Genesis, we also see reference to man, singular and plural (“let us make man in our image… and let them rule….”). The plurality of God and man is no mistake, and the fact that God made man in His own image, male and female, is a reflection of the plurality and relational character of God.
Jumping forward, we get a glimpse of the end goal of God’s purpose when Jesus prayed:
”Holy Father keep them in Your name … that they may be one even as We are. I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity.” (John 17:11-12)
Going back to the beginning, what of the other tree? The tree of life.
After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God cut them off from the tree of life. (Gen. 3:22-23) He even set an angel to guard the tree of life. (Gen. 3:24) Though the tree of life was available to them, and they were not prohibited from eating eat in the beginning, God clearly did not want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of life after they became aware of good and evil, but why not?
I will come back to that.
Meanwhile, I wonder what would have happened if they had eaten from the tree of life instead of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Would Adam and Eve have simply lived happily ever after with God? Would God have cut them off from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Why did God cut them off from the tree of life after they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? We don’t know the answers for sure, but the questions are important.
Prior to that time, the existence of Adam and Eve was idyllic, but they knew nothing else; they had no choice of anything else. Having defied God and having become aware of good and evil and, therefore, having a world choice, everything became different.
Adam and Eve were made in God’s image, but they didn’t know the difference between good and evil, and they didn’t have eternal life. One was forbidden to them, and one was not. They chose the one thing that was forbidden, and the effect was that they forfeited (were cut off from) the other (eternal life).
Being outside of time and space, God certainly saw this unfold, and being sovereign, God had a plan. Having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and knowing the difference between good and evil (knowing choice), man was poised for God’s ultimate purpose – love and unity with God.
I can see where one might think I am off my rocker. How does one lead to the other?
If you think about it, love could not have happened without the freedom to choose.
Choice also led to the separation of fellowship between man and God and separation from life. It had to be so. But why?
Hear me out. Let’s leap ahead again.
Skip forward to today. We have choice, but we don’t have eternal life. We are very self-conscious, but we aren’t very God-conscious. We know good and evil, especially as it relates to us! But, our choice traps us in sin. Sin[i] means, literally, “no part of”; “no share of”; “loss” (forfeiture); “missing the mark.”
We are trapped in a cycle that we cannot escape by ourselves. The original sin was choosing the knowledge of good and evil thinking that knowledge would make us like God instead of choosing life (which ironically would have also made us like God). By exercising the one choice that was forbidden, Adam and Eve exalted themselves over God.
That choice missed the mark God intended and led to forfeiture of eternal life with God (though I think a strong case can be made that intended that they would make that choice and, at least, know that they would).
We have heard that the wages of sin (missing the mark) is death. (Romans 6:23) Death is forfeiture of the life God intended. We have all fallen short and, therefore, all have forfeited life. There is no way out. If we continue in that cycle, we can expect nothing but death and separation from fellowship with God.
But, fortunately, there is more.
God is eternal; He created us in His image; He put the tree of life in the Garden, and He didn’t forbid Adam and Eve to eat it. From this we can assume that God clearly intended us to have eternal life!
Notice that Adam and Eve were made from earth, and to earth they would return. (Gen. 3: 19) That would have changed if they ate of the tree of life, but God cut them off from it when they made the one choice that was forbidden.
All part of God’s plan. Though we missed the mark by choosing the knowledge of good and evil over God (and life), God clearly intended us to have life and fellowship with Him! That was the mark that we missed. God being sovereign in addition to all-knowing, He surely knew the choice that would be made and had a plan to accomplish His purpose.
The prayer Jesus prayed (not the prayer He taught us to pray) shows the end goal: “that they [man] may be one even as We are. I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity.”
In the present circumstance – knowing good and evil – we are in the position to choose to enter into relationship and oneness with God, having the option, also, to choose otherwise. This, of course, is love. Love is not coerced; it is (and must be) freely chosen.
When we choose God over all of our other choices, He saves us. We can have every choice (but eternal life) without God, or we can let go of every other choice to choose God (and gain eternal life).
As there was only one thing that was forbidden in the Garden, now there is only one thing that we must choose to hit the mark: we must choose to accept the gift of salvation offered by God through the death of Jesus.
People think this is too good to be true. God has extended a free gift to us? We only have to take it? But it is not as easy as it looks.
For one thing, pride and self runs deep. We like being in control and doing things our own way. We have come to like our choices. In giving up our choices, we appear to be giving up our very selves…, and indeed we must. God gave up His life as a man and was obedient even to death on a cross; we must give up our lives to accept what He has prepared to give us.
Jesus conquered sin and death! The gift of salvation is offered to us along with the eternal life He intended for us in the beginning! Life was forfeited when one man chose the knowledge of good and evil rather than life, but life is offered to us now in exchange for the the choices we are tempted to cling to.
We forfeited what God intended by making the one choice that was forbidden; we now enter into what God intended by forfeiting all of our own choices and making the one choice God offers.
By accepting the free gift of salvation and the righteousness that comes with it, we enter into relationship with God and the gift of life that comes with it. (John 10:10)
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6:23)
Jesus, who conquered sin by obedience and conquered death by the resurrection, offers us a new life. The way out of this cycle is to accept this new life, to be born again. (John 3:3) We must hand over our lives and forfeit our very selves, in effect to trade them in, for new life God offers us. We give up the perishable (from dust) for the imperishable (born of the spirit). (1 Cor. 15:42-44)
There is no half way. It is an all or nothing proposition. This is why Jesus said, “[U]nless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life[ii] loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)
When we give up our lives in this world, we give up our very souls, we give up our choices in exchange for the one choice God offers with the promise of eternal life. In that moment in which we have truly given ourselves up, God enters in, and we are born again. This is not just some metaphysical tripe; it is a real event in time and history in our lives. We are forever changed; we are forever His (if indeed we have given our very selves).
In doing so, we trade our choices for God’s choices; we trade our natural, sinful selves that we “possess” for spiritual, righteous selves that God possesses. He gives us His righteousness, His character, and He begins to mold and form us until we are fully one with Him. We no longer live for ourselves; but Christ lives in us. We live in Christ, and we live for Christ. The end goal, as Jesus prayed, is that we would be one as He and the Father are one.
If we are born again, the fruit will become evident over time, and the evidence appears right away. It is not something that can be faked. If you have not exercised the one choice that opens the door to fellowship with God and eternal life, now is the time (as long as it is today). He stands at the door. Will you knock?
[i] 266/hamartía (a feminine noun derived from 1/A “not” and 3313/méros, “a part, share of”) – properly, no-share (“no part of”); loss (forfeiture) from not hitting the target; sin (missing the mark).
[ii] 5590/psyxē (from psyxō, “to breathe, blow,” the root of the English words “psyche,” “psychology”) – soul (psyche); a person’s identity (unique personhood), i.e. individual personality.