‘Obey me, and you will live.’ The core of pretty much all major religions that humans have made up over the years we’ve been on earth. And Genesis 1-3 is no different, is it? ‘Obey me, and you will live‘, said God, to Adam. That was the deal. God made man, and said: ‘Do this one thing, and you’ll live and I’ll bless you and it’ll be brilliant.’
Of course, if you know your Bible you’ll know that Adam did not obey. He stood by and watched as the serpent got into his wife’s head, and then joined her in eating from the forbidden tree. And the flip side of ‘Obey me, and you will live’ is ‘Disobey me, and you will die’.
Paul deals with Adam’s sin and its consequences in his letter to Romans, specifically Chapter 5:12-21. Despite the rather gloomy subject matter, this section of Paul’s letter is full of hope: ‘Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned...’
Paul rightly holds Adam accountable for sin in the world. Adam was created first. Adam received the one command from God. God said: ‘Obey me about this tree, and you will live.’
Adam didn’t obey. So it’s through Adam, the first man, that sin entered the world, with death following closely behind because as Paul says elsewhere, ‘the wages of sin is death‘. First, spiritual death: Adam and Eve are banished from Eden. And then physical death. Because Adam and Eve are cut off from the source of life, they die.
Death spread to all people, because all people sinned. All followed in the line of Adam, and inherited that separation from God that culminates in death. Original sin. Adam was patient zero, and he passed on his virus to all of us. ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’
Consistently throughout Scripture, God says to humans: ‘Obey me, and you will live.’ Sometimes people give it a go and fail. But most of the time, humans reply: ‘Nah.’
Sometimes we get a bit sick of hearing these condemning parts of the Bible. We think, ‘For goodness’ sake, I’m sick of being told how rubbish I am’, and we find ourselves looking for the more positive chapters. We need to resist that attitude, because there’s a reason the Bible tells us the bad about ourselves. You cannot see the stars when it’s daytime. But go out into the countryside where it’s pitch black at night, and the sky looks beautiful. Glorious. The more we understand the human condition, the more the gospel of Jesus Christ shines.
Lots of people (even Christians) claim they’re not that bad. That’s because they’re measuring themselves against others, and not God. Therefore, they never really appreciate the depths of God’s love for them. With respect, if you’re not that bad, why the agony of the Son of God on your behalf? Couldn’t he have just given you a slap on the wrist?
All are condemned under the curse that came through Adam. Not as bad as we could be, that’s true, but with a capacity and propensity to do, think and say terrible things. Everything we do is tainted with that stain of sin, like throwing a leaky pen into a wash full of white clothes.
But we can bear to hear this bad news. Because we know the good is coming. Sin and disobedience is not the end of the story. That’s just the dark backdrop which makes grace shine all the more brightly. Just as in Adam sin spread to everyone, in Jesus Christ righteousness is given to all who stand with him. Verse 15 says: ‘..the gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass (Adam’s sin), much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one
man Jesus Christ abounded for many.’
Where Adam brought death, Jesus brings life in abundance. Adam gave us sin, Jesus gives us his righteousness. Adam separated us from God, Jesus reconciles us forever. In the Bible, Jesus is called the Final Adam, because he succeeds where Adam fails.
How? Through obedience. The old ‘Obey me and you will live‘ command.
Adam’s disobedience condemned the world. And there’s no dodging our own accountability: we’re all disobedient ourselves. But Jesus’ obedience brought salvation. Jesus lived in perfect obedience to God. Not for his own benefit, but for ours.
Tim Keller says that Jesus essentially received the same command as Adam: ‘Obey me about that tree.’ The cross. But instead of hearing ‘Obey me, and you will live’, Jesus heard ‘Obey me about that tree, and you will die.’
Obey me, and you will die.
And unlike Adam, Jesus did obey. ‘For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He obeyed, joyfully, unto death, because he knew that what he was doing was winning back for us that righteousness, that closeness to God, that salvation that Adam lost.
Thomas Goodwin said: “In God’s sight there are two men – Adam and Jesus Christ – and these two men have all other men hanging at their belts.” The point being, you can either be in Adam or in Christ. There’s no middle ground. Where are you standing? In Adam or in Christ? And how do you move from Adam to Christ? How do you switch allegiance?
It’s not just about obedience anymore. Jesus said: ‘Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.’
Listen to the Son. Trust the Son. Follow the Son.
In other words, that person who hears Jesus and believes him, has regained what Adam lost, and more. That person is right with God, is assured of eternal life and blessing and joy. They are transferred from Adam’s belt to Christ’s. They are connected to him, with all the benefits he won. This is what we sing about in that neglected verse from ‘Hark! The Herald Angels sing’:
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Final Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
In a season where the coronavirus is robbing more and more people of that hope and joy that Jesus won, it’s vital that we know this, and live like it is true. Death and illness, isolation and separation need not be the end for people. Adam didn’t have the final say, Jesus did. There’s a hope even beyond death for those who stand with Christ. Never before in my lifetime has it been more urgent to show the world that this is true.