Lesson Focus: God has provided boundaries for us that help us to mature in our faith and in Christlikeness. Every day we are bombarded by voices that challenge the goodness of God’s boundaries.
Catch up on the story: If we were to go back and read the first two chapters of Genesis we would encounter two parallel stories of creation. What we know is that in the beginning there was only God. God, out of a desire to invite others into the relationship that the Trinity already enjoys with itself, begins to create. God does not need to create; rather God chooses to create so that God might enjoy a relationship with that which he has created. Slowly, the building blocks of life come together. First, light and darkness are separated. Then, solid ground and water are created and fixed in their place. Next, all kinds of things to populate this new earth are created. Vegetation begins to grow. The moon and stars come next, then all kinds of creatures both living on land and in the sea. God is almost done creating when God says, “Let us make humankind in our own image, according to our likeness…” (1:26).
So, the first inhabitants of the earth are created. Later on, God gives them names, Adam and Eve. This Adam and Eve are created in the image of God. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Since God is an immaterial or spiritual being, we do not resemble God in a physical form. Our resemblance of God is more spiritual and intellectual than physical. It stands to reason that if you want to be in relationship with someone there needs to be some commonality between the two parties. At very the least, there needs to be the ability to communicate with the other party. The important thing is that we were created in such a way as to be naturally able to enter into and sustain a significant relationship with the one who created us.
God creates Adam and Eve in his image and places them in paradise. Their every need is taken care of. They are not devoid of responsibility, however. Adam and Eve are given specific tasks. They are called to tend the garden and care for the animals. It looks like work is an important part of humanity’s existence in the beginning. Adam and Eve are also told they can eat of everything in the garden except for the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” If they do so they will die. Adam and Eve’s charge to take care of the garden and to abstain from eating the fruit of that one tree amounts to a set of boundaries. If Adam and Eve stay within the boundaries that God has set for them, then everything will be ok. They will have the chance to grow and mature and develop in their relationship with the one who has made them. Boundaries were there to protect and enable them to grow, not to keep them from having fun.
The Text: Our text begins with the declaration that the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal that God had made. Perhaps that accounts for his ability to talk! Or, perhaps the ability to talk was not just property of the human race in the beginning. Regardless of why the snake can talk, he strikes up a conversation with Eve. There is no sense that Eve is doing anything she is not supposed to be doing. Rather, we can imagine she is out for a stroll or tending some plant when the serpent begins to speak.
The serpent’s opening line is a question, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” Notice that the questioning begins in a very general way. The serpent is not challenging God directly. Rather, he is beginning to plant seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind. Eve responds, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree at the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you will die.’” Somehow, the serpent knows that Adam and Eve will not die instantly when they eat of the fruit. It is obvious, however, that the serpent knows way more about the working of the world than does Eve. The serpent then tells Eve that she will not die, but her eyes will be opened and she will be like God, knowing good and evil.
Adam and Eve have been given a set of boundaries, and by all accounts, they are a big set of boundaries too. There is not much that Adam and Eve should not do and they are allowed to do almost anything they please. The conversation between the serpent and the woman introduces seeds of doubt regarding the boundaries that God has established for the two. Life is good within God’s boundaries, but the serpent asserts that God is holding out on them. Perhaps, the serpent’s words makes Adam and Eve wonder, “Is there something greater beyond this garden that God has not yet shown me? Perhaps, if I move beyond this boundary, things will be better than they currently are.”
Of course, the serpent’s assertion that Eve will become “like God” if she eats the fruit is only a partial truth. Eve and her husband are already created in the image of God. Further, they have the opportunity to become more like God by living in communion with God and within the boundaries that God has set for them. Yet, Adam and Eve choose to eat the fruit believing that something better awaits them after their meal. They try to seize or grasp likeness to God rather than receive it as a gift from God.
They do eat the fruit and they do not die, but their eyes were opened and the world changed for them. They became afraid and ashamed of their nakedness. What the serpent promised would bring them more fulfillment than remaining within the boundaries God has set for them actually causes them to be banished from those first good boundaries. Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden. While they might now know good and evil, their sin has actually caused them to be much less like God than they had been created to be. The image of God, in which they were created, becomes cracked and broken. Their ability to grow into what God had intended them to be is extremely damaged.
So What? Giving Up and Taking Up… You and I, like Adam and Eve, have been given a set of boundaries by God through Jesus Christ. Scripture and the church help us to discern these boundaries, which are the will of God so that we might grow and mature in our faith. These boundaries, as they did for Adam and Eve, create for us a rule of life, a code of conduct. They are not mere legalisms. Rather, they exist to foster an environment that will help us to grow and become mature followers of Christ. Like Adam and Eve, however, we are constantly confronted with voices that question the boundaries Christ sets for us. These voices, some of them faint and small, others of them loud and large, question the goodness of God’s provision for us. They tell us that if we live lives that are very decidedly un-Christlike we will gain the world. We have a chance to succeed where Adam and Eve failed. Through the power of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can learn to hear those voices for what they are—lies. We can resist the temptation to listen to any voice that is not Jesus’ voice.
Giving Up: As people who are created in the image of God, we are, in some ways, like God. Like God, we are spiritual beings. Like God, we have reason and the capacity to love. Through sin, however, we have lost our likeness to God. Yet through the work of Christ in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can once again grow in our likeness of God in Christ. Our fullest joy and contentment can only come when we fully commit to the process of allowing God to shape us completely into his image. All too often, we fall for the lie that says that our fulfillment as human beings comes from something other than Christ. Money, sex, power, and material possessions will not help us grow in our likeness of Christ. Yet we grasp at those things in a prideful attempt to become like God, to put ourselves at the center of existence. So let us give up holding so strongly to those things.
Taking Up: As we give up all those things that falsely promise to make us fulfilled, let us take up the life of Chris as our own. Taking up the life of Christ means taking up the cross. It means dying to our prideful attempts to become like God (to put ourselves at the center of the universe) and receiving the gift of his presence in our lives. For it is only the gift of his presence that makes us truly fulfilled and truly like God.
Ways to Give Up and Take Up…
Begin each day this week praying that God would reveal to you the boundaries that will help you grow into a more mature follower of Jesus.
Some of those boundaries, as they did for Adam and Eve, require us to be proactive and do some kind of work. Identify a practice that might enable you to tend the things (people!) in your particular corner of this garden we call earth.
Spend the time you gain from fasting a meal praying that God might reveal to you the voices that challenge God’s good boundaries.
Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Why do you think the serpent starts with such a general question?
How does the serpent’s question challenge the assumption that God has provided everything Adam and Eve need in this world?
The serpent promises that Adam and Eve will “be like God” if they eat of the fruit. In what ways do they become more like God after eating the fruit? In what ways do they become less like God after eating the fruit?
God gave Adam and Eve boundaries that were intended to help them flourish in life. What are the boundaries that Jesus gives us so that we might have life and life abundantly?
What voices do we hear that challenge the idea that the boundaries that Jesus has provided for us are good and true?