Previous article in this series: November 15, 2016, p. 83.
The story of man’s creation and fall teaches us that the central thing we need is communion with God. Although Adam needed food for his body, what he needed chiefly was fellowship with the God who had created him. Should he lose that communion, he would be dead.
The same is true today. There is one thing that is important, one thing that we need, and that is fellowship with our heavenly Father. To be apart from Him is death. To walk with Him is to have life—true life and abiding joy.
Man’s twofold life
God describes for us how He created man: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). We are earthly creatures who are literally of the earth. But we also have a spiritual, invisible soul that is united with our body, yet distinct from it.
People often use the word “soul” to refer merely to man’s emotions. Something that expresses feeling or emotion is said to be “soulful,” and someone who is viewed as having no feeling is said to be “soulless.” Yet the Scriptures tell us that man’s soul is a distinct, spiritual part of his nature. In distinction from man’s bodily life, he has a spiritual life that requires spiritual food.
God taught Adam this by the instruction He gave to him soon after he was created. God placed man in a garden with many fruit trees, and in the midst of that garden He set two special trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God would use this garden—and these two trees specifically—not only to provide man with what he needed, but also to teach him about his need.
God’s command taught Adam what he needed both materially and spiritually: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16- 17). At first glance God’s instruction here may appear to refer only to the food for the body. But the warning Adam received taught him also about the need of his soul.
God was telling Adam that he lived not by material food alone, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. Adam needed to receive the word that God spoke to him. Only in that way would he commune with God. If he disobeyed, he would separate himself from his God. And as soon as he did that, he would die.
Why death is the punishment for sin
God tells us why it was that Adam would die if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was not that the tree was poisonous. After Adam and his wife partook of it, their bodily life continued for many years. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was good (as were all the creatures that God had made), and the good earth had not yet been cursed. So if it was not a poisonous tree, why would Adam die if he ate of it?
The reason is that death is the punishment that God inflicts upon those who disobey Him. Death is not only a consequence of sin, it is a punishment that God Himself inflicts on the sinner. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” says the Lord (Ezek. 18:4).
We can look even deeper to consider why it is that God punishes the sinner with death. The Creator is the holy God, who will not and cannot fellowship with sinners. If a man disobeys, God cuts him off, so that the unholy sinner is separated from the holy God.
This act of cutting the sinner off amounts to putting him to death, since apart from God man cannot live. Man was created to fellowship with the God who created him, and he needed this communion to survive.
Adam needed to be with God because God was his life. If Adam sinned, he would be departing from God, which means he would actually be separating himself from his life. This is what we confess in Article 14 of the Belgic Confession: “For the commandment of life which he had received he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life.” Adam could not live apart from the one who was his true life. He was dependent upon God for everything—for his very life.
Abiding in Christ, our True Life
Communion with God is still today our essential need. Christ is life, and it is those who by God’s grace believe in Him that have life within them.
Unlike Adam, God has given Christ to have life in Himself: “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Christ, who is true life, is also said to be our life: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4). Christ lives by the Father, and we live by Christ: “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (John 6:57).
We believers have been brought into Christ by God’s efficacious grace, and we will remain in Him forever. Our life in Christ is higher than that which Adam had before the Fall. In Christ we are immortal, and our life is everlasting. Nothing can separate us from the God, from the Christ, who is our life.
Throughout this life our Lord teaches us to abide in Him willingly. He tells us that we are in Him and that we shall forever remain in Him. There is no condition that we had to fulfill to get into Christ, and there is no condition that we have to keep on fulfilling to remain in Him. Yet He exhorts us not to separate ourselves from Him. Christ speaks to those who are already in Him and exhorts them to abide in Him: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4).
Although we cannot fall out of Christ, it is possible for us temporarily to lose the conscious experience of communion with Him. Consider, for example, what a child of God would experience if he (for a time) failed to heed this commandment of our Lord: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26). Sometimes true believers lose temporarily the conscious sense of God’s favor (cf. Canons of Dordt, V:5) when they fail to receive what Christ says here and continue down a road that gets progressively darker. Our Lord chastens us in this way, so that we might learn what Adam and Eve learned so many years ago: when we reject what God says, we are departing from our true life.
In the new man we never do this. We delight in the law of God after the inward man (Rom. 7:22). Yet we must be on guard against complying with the lusts of our sinful nature.
Although the weakness of the flesh cannot prevail against the power of God, who confirms and preserves true believers in a state of grace, yet converts are not always so influenced and actuated by the Spirit of God, as not in some particular instances sinfully to deviate from the guidance of divine grace, so as to be seduced by and comply with the lusts of the flesh (Canons V, Art. 4).
Even if an elect believer falls into a grievous sin, the Lord will not leave him in darkness forever. Christ is the Good Shepherd, who always goes after His wayward sheep and brings them back.
But it is important to receive what Christ is telling us here. He is our life, and we enjoy this life only when we are receiving what Christ says. Indeed, we often hear it, and gradually we come more to embrace that what Jesus said is true: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Walking with God, as did our fathers Enoch and Abraham, we have joy and gladness in our heart. We enjoy true life and have perfect peace, knowing that our Father is with us.