Reading: Gen.1:26-31 & Gen.3:1-13
Text: Eccles.7:29 "God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes."
"All men and women, being created in the image of God, have inherent and equal dignity and worth. Their greatest purpose is to obey, worship and love God. As a result of the fall of our first parents, every aspect of human nature has been corrupted and all men and women are without spiritual life, guilty sinners and hostile to God. Every person is therefore under the just condemnation of God and needs to be born again, forgiven and reconciled to God in order to know and please him."
The Human Race
If you go down to the seafront here in Herne Bay and look eastwards, on a fine day you’ll be able to see the church towers at Reculver. Those towers look impressive at a distance but when you get in the car and drive to take a closer look you’ll quickly find that they’re just part of a ruin. There are some sign boards up which try to explain what the site might have looked like in times gone by but you know that the heyday of that particular site is long gone. At best these ruins give us some slight inkling of a past there that was better than what it’s like there today.
Well this morning we’re not going to think any more about English Heritage but about humanity.
I wonder what thoughts come to your mind when you think about the human race. I wonder how your philosophy of life, your world-view, manages to explain all that you see when you look at the world of men and women. After all when we consider the matter we are immediately confronted with such contrasting data aren’t we?
On the one hand we can consider the artistic, the cultural, the technical and the scientific skills that the human race has developed. We can marvel at the construction of buildings like that church building at Reculver, we can appreciate the beauty reproduced by so many gifted artists as they have painted their canvases. We can be amazed at the technical skills that have allowed us to place men on the moon or to communicate almost instantaneously with folk on the other side of the world, and to treat and to cure diseases.
And yet on the other hand we know that art can be twisted into producing images of pornography and degradation, fine buildings skills have used to construct concentration camps and gas chambers, technology has been used to produce not only good things but also instruments of torture and mass destruction. The medical world is capable of many marvels but has also produced its horrors and abuses as in the case of Josef Mengele, the Nazi ‘Angel of Death’ with his inhuman experiments, or in the case of Harold Shipman who between 1970 and 1998 killed at least 215 of his patients.
How do we account for all of this? How come mankind is capable of doing so many wonderful things while also being capable of such atrocities? Is mankind a beautiful palace or an abject ruin? How are we to understand the human race?
The Bible does have a clear and coherent picture to present to us and it is that multi-faceted picture that we will consider this morning with God’s help.
Human Nature in its Fourfold State
In 1730 the puritan writer Thomas Boston published his studies on what the Bible had to say about the human race. His book was called "Human Nature in its Fourfold State" and it is still in print today. As he examined the Bible’s teaching concerning the human race, Boston realised that it was not possible to provide a one-size-fits-all-for-all-time description. Instead he saw that the Bible described human nature in a variety of different conditions; these he classified as:
The State of Innocence
The State of Nature
The State of Grace
The Eternal State
Our church’s statement of faith refers to the first three of these states in its article on the human race and deals with the fourth in its article concerning the Future.
The State of Innocence or how God made man - "Man is Made a Palace"
The Bible speaks about the origin of humankind in one way and in one way only.
God created mankind. Yes, God created mankind – male and female – in his own image. In God’s eyes man and woman have equal value and dignity This equality is not expressed by making men and women identical rather it is expressed through complementarity as men and women relate to each other in their various relationships. In other words men and women are equal but different. Being created in the image of God ensured that at the beginning the human race was very much a palace!
Gen.1:27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
And when God assessed all that he had done this is what he said:
Gen.1:31 "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good."
There are specific yet different descriptions of just how God made Adam and then Eve. Both descriptions serve however to underline the fact that humankind is distinct from the rest of the animal creation.
Gen.2:7 "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."
Gen.2:21-23 "So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."
This emphasis upon God as creator of mankind is repeated throughout the OT and it is the view that our Lord Jesus Christ also held. In a discussion with some Pharisees about divorce Jesus referred to the origins of the human race in the following terms:
Mt.19:4 "(Jesus) answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,"
So the Bible teaches that at the beginning God made mankind and he made both man and woman and he made them in his own image. But what does that actually mean?
The words of our text in Ecclesiastes give us a partial answer:
Eccles.7:29 "God made man upright..."
However we can go on to give further detail. Every area of man’s life was consistent clear and unaffected by error or sin:
Man’s understanding was such that he knew who he was, what his place was in the created order and what God required of him.
Man’s will functioned in perfect harmony with the will of God. Man was in no way created with an inherent bias or inclination to do what was wrong indeed the exact reverse was true. Mankind was not created in such a way that would justify our throwaway remarks along the lines that "to err is human". As far as Adam and Eve were concerned they were created with a tendency that inclined them towards God not away from or against him.
Man’s affections – his desires and his aspirations – were orderly, pure and holy. He loved what God did and commended what God commended.
Everything about man as originally created in the state of innocence was favourable to him living out a fulfilled and happy life in glorifying God.
What a wonderful creation this human race was in the purpose and plan of God! Mankind was not though created to be a robot with automatic pre-programmed responses. Created in the state of innocence mankind was created with an ability to change or to mutate.
As originally created mankind had wonderful privileges. Mankind was glorious. Man was made by God to be the lord of the world, ruling over the inferior creatures and ruling as God’s representative over the whole earth. He enjoyed a life of peace and pure delight. In this condition even death had no influence upon him.
It was God who had made man like this. All his blessings and privileges come to him from God. Any slipping away from such high privileges are not to be lodged at God’s door. If man was to fall he would be entirely responsible for his own ruin.
The State of Nature or How Man Unmade Himself – "Man becomes a Ruin"
The Bible doesn’t tell us how long the State of Innocence lasted. It doesn’t tell us how many times Adam and Eve had enjoyed fellowship with the LORD God who walked in their garden in the cool of the day. What we are told is that that blissful condition came to an end and we are told that it came to an end because Adam and Eve chose freely and deliberately to reject God’s rule in their lives. The sad story, is told in Genesis ch.3 though the history of man’s rebellion against God can by no means be restricted to just there alone for shortly we will read of how sin spread and spread until we read:
Gen.6:5 "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
The sorry effects of sin continue to make themselves felt and still cause us so much trouble today.
Man had been made in the image of God but by the fall it is as though man had taken a hammer and smashed that image. It is broken now but not however completely destroyed. Like a cracked mirror it continues to make reflections the trouble is that it now reflects a distorted image. This explains how it is possible even in a corrupt world like our own to find flashes of something better.
Boston called this new condition into which man had fallen "the state of nature". It is into this state that each and every member of the human race with the sole exception of Jesus Christ has been born. It doesn’t matter which country we’re from, who our parents were, what our IQ is – we are all the same and we are all born into this state of nature.
Well if that is the case we need to know what the characteristics of this condition are. There are three major aspects to this new condition into which Adam by his sin brought all of us.
It is a sinful state.
It is a miserable state
It is a state of spiritual inability
Having begun with the glories of the original "palace" we are now in a position to appreciate the ravages that have taken place as man reduced himself to the "ruin" that he is still today. Man’s fall was great indeed.
Man’s fall brought about an astonishing change – whereas at the beginning there was nothing evil that affected man now no aspect of his life is left unaffected by sin.
This is the doctrine of Total Depravity and it is often misunderstood. The Bible doesn’t teach that all men everywhere have become as bad as they could possibly be but it does teach that sin has spread to perniciously affect every area of his life. Consider the following:
1Cor.2:14 "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
Eph.4:18 "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart."
Rom.1:32 "Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."
Jn.3:19 "and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil."
Jn.12:43 "for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."
Tit.1:15 "To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled."
Not even the memory or the body are left untouched
Such is the teaching of the Bible and our experience of life corroborates it:
We don’t have to teach our children to act selfishly or to do wrong, do we? We witness the wickedness of men all over the place, don’t we? Don’t we need laws and punishment in order to try to restrain evil men? Yet what we really want is for others to be restrained while we are left alone to do exactly what we want to do.. We recognise that much is done in secret because men are too ashamed to act openly. Aren’t we all too aware of discontent in our world.
It is important that we face up to the calamitous state into which the human race has fallen. It is only when we understand the seriousness of our plight that we will be ready to give up a mere tinkering with the problem but that never gets to the roots. There is a solution – it is God’s solution – but until we have our eyes opened to the gravity of the situation we will go on and on ignoring God.
It is important for us to understand too the misery of this new state into which all of mankind has been brought as a result of Adam abandoning the state of innocence. Not only do we live in an environment where we suffer from the sins of others as well as our own there are also consequences that do not improve with the mere passing of time. Sin will be judged by God and the chief misery, whether or not we feel it to be so, is the fact that in this state we live under the judgment of God as we are "by nature children of wrath" Eph.2:3.
As long as we remain in this condition we are powerless to do anything about it. In this state of nature men and women are "dead in their sins", that is they are unable to perform anything of spiritual value that will bring them to spiritual life. This life must be given to them from outside themselves. How glad we should be that God has done something for those who are totally unable to save themselves!
Jesus taught his fellow countrymen that if any man was to be saved then God the Father would have to be at work:
Jn.6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."
The apostle Paul declared:
Rom.5:6, 8 "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly... but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
The State of Grace or Man Remade - "The Restoration Gets Underway"
With man in such a sorry and desperate plight it is great to know that the Bible hasn’t given its final word on mankind. While man in his rebellion has done his best to turn God’s palace into a dreadful ruin God has planned a restoration programme and it is one which God alone can bring about.
Jesus told that religious leader who came to him at night that in order to see the Kingdom of God it was an absolute necessity for Nicodemus (and all others too) to be born again. Nicodemus at once realised that ere was something he knew nothing about and which he didn’t understand. As Jesus gave further explanations he told Nicodemus that he was talking about something that Nicodemus simply couldn’t bring about for himself – and neither can you.
But what is impossible for man is certainly not so for God!!
For a man or a woman to move out of the State of Nature into the State of Grace God must work in regeneration. He must give a man or a woman a new beginning, a new heart, a new life and this is just what, according to the gospel, he does.
A man is born again not by becoming religious or serious about spiritual things; he is not born again when he gets an education or when he makes a few moral improvements to his life; a man who is respectable is not thereby automatically born again. No, new birth, regeneration is the work of God, the unaided work of God, in an individual’s life:
1Pet.1:23 "you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;"
And by regeneration God remakes man as a new creation (2Cor.5:17). And the effects of this work are terrific:
It involves a change in disposition - previously unspiritual people are granted a true spirituality
It is a supernatural change – no amount of human self-help therapy can bring it about
It is a change into (or back into) the likeness of God
It is a universal change – every part of a man’s life is affected (though not yet perfectly)
It is a lasting change – when God begins his good work in us he will bring it to completion (Phil.1:6)
In regeneration the mind is enlightened with a fresh knowledge of:
The vanity of this world
In regeneration the will is renewed:
The will is cured of its utter inability of willing what is good
The will is given a new fixed aversion to evil
The will is freshly endowed with an inclination, bent and propensity towards that which is good
In regeneration there is a happy reorientation of the affections:
The affections are settled on suitable objects
2Thess.3:5 "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."
And so we could go on and speak too about the renewal of conscience, the strengthening of the body as life with a capital "L" is given to us by God in his gracious dealings with us.
When the regeneration of this new life occurs we are transferred from the state of nature into this new state of grace and the blessings just keep on flowing. Made now a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ we are brought into a wonderful though mysterious union with him. And this union has several deeply encouraging qualities:
It is a spiritual union
It is a real union
It is an intimate union
It is an indissoluble union
The state of grace is the state you need to be in. Jesus came from heaven to die on the cross in order that we might be transferred from the kingdom of darkness (the state of nature) into the kingdom of light (the state of grace).
Call upon him to save you and to deal with you according to his grace. Remember that this is a deliverance that you need but can’t carry out for yourself – you need Jesus to be your Saviour and Lord – as the prophet put it centuries ago:
Is.55:6 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near"