In this series, we are examining some of the questions God asks key biblical characters (EXAMPLES). Why does God do this? It isn’t because he is seeking information, because he knows all things. Rather, he asks questions as a wise counselor. His questions help us see for ourselves what our real needs are, the error or inadequacy of our attempts to meet those needs, and thus they help us to want to receive his wise help.
This morning we look at the first questions God asked—directed to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Let me summarize the setting of these questions.
Adam and Eve lived in simple dependence on God as their Source of love and as their Definer of good and evil. Consequently, they lived in total intimacy and openness and transparency and vulnerability with God and with one another (2:25). They were free to receive and enjoy God’s love, and to give his love to one another.
But Satan gave them some 21st century, American self-help counsel. He told them that God was suppressing them through his moral absolutism. He told them that in order to be free, they needed to become their own gods and make morality relative to their own opinion and desires. They followed this flattering counsel, but it was a lie. Their revolt against God did not free and liberate them to grow up; it cast them down into bondage.
Their self-made clothing
This is where we pick up the story (read 3:7). What a profoundly tragic verse! Their choice did not fill them with confident self-awareness. Instead, they became self-aware in a profoundly negative sense. They became aware that something was wrong with them in the very core of their being, and they deeply feared exposure and disapproval. So they made clothing of fig-leaves to protect themselves from exposure.
They clothed themselves in fig-leaves to hide themselves from one another. This is the primal fear that if other people really knew what was inside of me they would be disgusted. (Would you want your spouse or friends to know everything you thought yesterday?) We are caught between our desire to be deeply known by other persons and our fear of exposure and rejection. Like Adam and Eve, we build a false front. We put on a disguise—some kind of mask, some kind of cover-up, some way to protect ourselves from the embarrassment and from this deep sense of absolute non-being down at the very core of who we are. Adam and Eve’s alienation from one another is the archetype of the inter-personal alienation that has plagued the human race ever since (fear of intimacy and vulnerability with spouse, family, friends, etc.).
They also clothed themselves in fig-leaves and crouched among the trees of the garden to hide themselves from God. This is the primal fear of God’s judgment. We are caught between our intuitive awareness that this God exists (Rom.1:18-20) and our fear that His scrutiny will end in disapproval and condemnation. Our pathetic solution is to hide from God by denying His existence (magical thinking among the trees?), or by remaking Him in ways that mitigate our fear of judgment (impersonal force we can manipulate; finite god we can outsmart; moral being we can put in our debt through our works; etc.).
So began the primal angst that has plagued every human being ever since. It is angst borne of shame. And its source is far deeper than being shamed or abused by other people as children, as real and harmful as this is. It is the shame of true moral guilt before our Creator.
God’s provision of clothing
How does God respond to their sin and hiding? Read 3:8,9. God takes the initiative; he comes to find them; he calls out to them. Left to ourselves, we would stay in flight from God—like our expanding universe after the Big Bang. God could have justly left them to their flight, but in his love he sought them out. This implies that God has a way to repair this profound alienation.
Read 3:10-13. He asks these questions not because he seeks information, nor to rub their noses in their sin. His questions are designed to help them admit the truth about their sin and take responsibility for it so that they can receive his remedy. But they stay hidden behind their fig-leaves by casting God as a coming to “get” them, and by blaming one another and God and Satan for their rebellion.
In spite of their self-justifying and blasphemous response, God still speaks of a future remedy. He predicts that one of Eve’s descendants will save her race from Satan’s “bite”—but be bitten and killed in the rescue (3:15). Then (on the basis of 3:15?) He provides them with a completely different set of clothes—garments of skin (3:21). Most theologians agree that the full significance of this provision went beyond fashion or utility (skins last longer than fig-leaves). This is a beautiful picture of the salvation that the rest of the Bible unfolds, and the way we receive it—as we will see.
This was the first biblical instance of divinely initiated animal sacrifice for human sin. God taught Adam and Eve’s descendants to approach Him this way (Abel; Noah). God taught the nation of Israel to approach Him this way (Israel’s sacrificial system). This ritual of animal sacrifice taught that our most serious problem is our guilt before God, and that our sin deserves the judgment of death. But it also taught that God in his love and would one day provide a blameless Substitute whose death will somehow cover our sin and make us acceptable to God.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as the fulfillment of this sacrificial system. He would be the real Substitute, who would live a righteous life and sacrifice Himself as the payment for our sins (Isa.53:5,6). Looking to this Messiah, Isaiah rejoices that through Him God will “clothe” us with the garments of his righteousness (Isa.61:10).
Jesus was God’s promised Substitute. We have all followed Adam in his rebellion against God, but He obeyed God perfectly his whole life. On the cross He took our place and exchanged his righteousness for our sin. All four gospel authors record that Jesus was stripped naked and exposed in shame on the cross (Matt.27:35; Mk.15:24; Lk.23:33,34; Jn.19:23,24). He took on himself the guilt and shame of our sin, and exposed Himself to the wrath of God’s judgment in our place. Because he took on God’s judgment for our sin, God now offers to clothe us in Jesus’ righteousness (2Cor.5:21).
Putting on God’s clothing
How do you put on these new clothes? Remember the picture of Gen.3:21—by responding like Adam and Eve responded. Like them, you must be willing to take off your fig-leaf clothing and allow God to clothe you with the “garment” He provides for you.
You have to take off your fig-leaf clothing. You must renounce all reliance on your own “righteousness” to validate yourself—your moral efforts, your superior political views or cultural tastes, your religious observances and spiritual self-development, your career and professional accomplishments, etc. You must take all of this off, stand naked before a holy God, and acknowledge that you deserve His condemnation.
You have to ask God to clothe you with the “garment” He provides for you. You do this by relying on Christ’s righteousness alone to validate you before God. The New Testament calls this “justification by faith” (Gal.3:24-27)—that through faith in Jesus, God views me not only “just as if I’d never sinned,” but “just as if I’d always obeyed.” He not only permanently forgives you of all of your sins (past, present, and future)—he scrutinizes you to the core of your sin-filled being, but issues the same verdict of approval and delight that he issued to his perfectly obedient Son.
This is an either-or issue. Either you stand before God on the basis of your own “fig-leaf” righteousness, and hear his “guilty” verdict—or you renounce this and rely wholly on Christ’s righteousness, and hear his “acquitted/approved” verdict. There is no in-between. This is why there is no such thing as a “partial” Christian, any more than a woman in “partially” pregnant. Which set of clothes are you wearing?
What if you have already done this? Then God has permanently clothed you with Christ’s righteousness. Yet all of us Christians to some degree—and many of us (including myself and most Xenoids) to a great degree—continue to live as though we do not have this new clothing. We think that we understand and live in light of Christ’s righteousness. But like the main character in the movie “Memento,” every morning we forget who we are. So we put our old fig-leaf clothing on top of our real clothes, and we go through the day relating to God and ourselves and others like Adam and Eve did before they got their new clothes.
How would you know if you were doing this? There are many symptoms—but here are a few key diagnostic questions I regularly ask myself:
“Do I draw near to God with equal confidence regardless of my recent moral record?” Or (like Adam and Eve) do you avoid God when your performance has been “bad” until it gets “better?” Don’t you see that this is hiding among the trees in your fig-leaves? What are you saying when you relate to God this way? “I don’t believe that Christ’s clothing is adequate; I need to add my own morality to make myself presentable.” Do you realize that God says that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags to him? What a difference it makes to relate to God this way: “I am completely unworthy to come into your presence on even my best days—but thank you that you welcome me and delight in relating to me even on my worst days.”
“How do I respond to exposure of my sins by God and/or other people?” Are you able to freely admit when you are wrong, and find that this only increases the gratitude and joy you feel for being clothed in Christ? Or do you give yourself over to defensiveness, rationalizing, blame-shifting, etc.? Don’t you see that this is answering God’s question like Adam and Eve did? That you’re relying on your own righteousness to justify yourself before God and people? How different it is to say: “Yes, I am guilty of this and many other sins—but Christ justifies me, so the exposure of my sin only makes me more grateful and joyous about my new clothes!”
“Do I compare myself to certain people as the basis of my approval and validation?” Do you feel up and secure when your performance is superior to theirs, but anxious and downcast when their performance is better than yours? Do you feel the need then to disqualify them, even if only in your own mind? Don’t you see that you are basing your validation as a person on being better than these people rather than solely on God’s verdict of approval? That you are depending on your fig-leaves rather than on the new clothes that Christ gave you? How different it is to look at yourself and others relying on those new clothes, and to be able to say to yourself: “I am a desperate sinner—yet God approves of me and delights in me. It doesn’t matter how I compare to other people because Christ has already totally validated me.”
“To experience shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense. Our eyes turn inward at the moment of shame, and suddenly we’ve become impaled under the magnifying glass of our own eyes... Exposure is what we feel... (We) yearn to disappear, to escape all those watching eyes, to find cover. Gershon Kaufman, Coming Out of Shame (Main Street Books, 1996), p.17.
“This indicates, I believe, that man could not stand before God in his own covering. Rather, he needed a covering from God—a covering of a specific nature—a covering that required sacrifice and death, a covering not provided by man but by God... It is my opinion that this was the beginning of the Old Testament sacrificial system looking forward to the coming of the One who would crush Satan’s head... God himself provided this picture.” Francis A. Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 2 (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982), p.75.
“For Paul, justification was not only a past event; it was also a daily, present reality. Every day of his life, by faith in Christ, Paul realized he stood righteous in the sight of God—he was counted righteous and accepted by God as righteous—because of the perfectly obedient life and death Christ provided for him. He stood solely on the rock-solid righteousness of Christ alone... We must learn to live like... Paul, looking every day outside of ourselves to Christ and seeing ourselves clothed in his perfect righteousness. Every day we must re-acknowledge the fact that there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves either more acceptable to God or less acceptable. Regardless of how much we grow in our Christian lives, we’re accepted for Christ’s sake (alone). It’s reliance on Christ alone, apart from any consideration of our good or bad deeds, that enables us to experience the daily reality of (God’s acceptance and approval), in which (we) find peace and joy and comfort and gratitude.” Jerry Bridges, The Bookends of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2009), p.29.