The Plumb Line
Dec 05, 2019
I grew up in the UK and still remember Sunday closing, when for one day a week, shops and businesses would all be closed. Everyone would take a break from the day to day hustle and bustle of life and all would appreciate a day of rest. Christian or not, everyone understood why shops and businesses were closed and it kept society God-centred, to a certain extent at least. But since Genesis 3, and the mid-70s for me, society has been growing increasingly self-centred.
I think we can all agree that society is changing not only on a national level but a global level as well. This is something we notice as we go through life, and it has been the same for each preceding generation. I can remember my grandfather saying, “When I was a boy,” or “Back in my day things were different.” Back in 1964 Bob Dylan wrote the song ‘The Times They Are a-Changin.’ And it seems they still are. We have gone from The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie to Breaking Bad and Modern Family.
Society resists imposed boundaries. I’m not talking here about murder or rape but rather an imposed distinction between right and wrong – much like children in some ways.
Childhood can be divided into stages – toddlerhood (learning to walk), early childhood (playing age), middle childhood (school age) and adolescence. During the first two stages children tend to accept imposed boundaries and display many endearing and admirable qualities. But as they mature and go through the latter two stages, there is a distinct pushing back against authority and imposed boundaries. This is mirrored in society—a consequence which is understandable as society is made up of people who were all children once.
The thing to notice though is this: in which direction is this change taking us? Closer to God through obedience to the boundaries He has set for us, or further away from God into perceived ‘freedom’ and an ‘entitlement’ to self-determination.
Let’s go back, not to the mid-70s, but to Genesis and the Garden of Eden. Life in the garden was distinctly God-centred. Adam and Eve (humanity) had all of their physical, emotional and spiritual needs met. As an omniscient Creator and loving Father, God was able to provide for all their needs, just as He is able to provide for all of ours today. All that was, and continues to be required, is our obedience. Life was created and designed to take place within set boundaries and there was only one rule to obey.
The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” (Gen 2:16-17)
Being our Father, God knows what is good for us and what is bad for us, just as any parent knows the same for their child. But just as children (once they reach a certain age) want to operate outside set boundaries, so do we.
In the garden the enemy deceived Adam and Eve by telling them they would be like God if they ate from the tree of knowledge. Be like God! What could be wrong with that? It sounds rather pious and a worthy pursuit at first glance. But we are not supposed to be like God! Yes, we are made in His image and bear His likeness in many ways. But the context here is the knowledge of good and evil.
When they chose to eat from the tree they were basically saying, “I will decide what’s good and bad for me. I will decide what’s right and wrong for me, not God.” And we all continue to do this to varying degrees to this day. I will decide if this relationship is good for me or not. And society is legislating to reinforce this. I will decide if this boundary is good for me or not. I’m not interested in what God has to say on the matter.
In the garden Adam and Eve were led by God and had complete freedom apart from the one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had no awareness of, nor capacity for evil, or any of the things that were not good for them. But once the fruit was eaten, humanity not only became aware of good and evil, we also began immediately to demonstrate our complete and utter inability to make good choices when trying to be ‘like God.’
The 10 Commandments were given in Exodus and we are warned throughout the New Testament of the consequences of our capacity for greed, selfishness, discord, envy, anger, hatred, immorality, unforgiveness, obscenity, impurity, idolatry and more.
In direct contrast, consider the following modern-day quotes: (or some such sentence that can help segue to this list.)
‘It is forbidden to forbid’ was the slogan sprayed across establishment buildings in France in May 1968.
“Madonna told me to break every rule I could think of, and then when I was done, to make up some new ones and break them.” – Madonna’s choreographer.
‘A little lust, pride, sloth and gluttony - in moderation – are fun and that’s what keeps your heart beating.’ - MTV 1993
The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life are not from the Father but from the world (1 John 2:16). The fruit from the tree of knowledge was good for food - appealing to the flesh. The tree was a delight to the eyes. Think of the power of advertising and how it creates desires. Debt enslaves billions of people who cannot resist the desire ignited by their eyes. How proud we can become of our possessions. Our status symbols inflame the pride of life and too easily become idols.
Perhaps the most chilling example of what can happen when we play God for too long is that we reach a point where objective morality no longer exists. And this is when the slogan ‘It is forbidden to forbid’ really hits home as there is no longer a plumb line separating good and evil.
In 20 years of teaching college, Prof. Robert Simon, of Hamilton College, has never met a student who denied that the Holocaust happened. What he sees quite often though, is worse: students who acknowledge the fact of the Holocaust but can’t bring themselves to say that killing millions of people is wrong. Simon reports that 10 to 20 percent of his students think this way. Usually they deplore what the Nazis did, but their disapproval is expressed as a matter of taste or personal preference, not moral judgment. “Of course, I dislike the Nazis,” one student told Simon, “but who is to say they are morally wrong?” (1)
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 18:3)
The Greek word used here for children refers exclusively to little children. Think about the characteristics little children display. Innocent, trusting, kind, intimate, obedient, loving. Jesus knows that as we go through life, we lose these traits. That is why we are told to turn (repent) and to again become like little children.
We need to stop trying to be like God and start trying to be like Christ – Christ-like. As a man believes, so he is. And in direct proportion to the strength and purity of his faith in God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, will be the holy obedience of his life. (2)
When faith in Jesus Christ produces obedience to Jesus Christ, those obedient lives bring much glory to God. (3)
Adam and Eve were originally Christ-like. They were obedient, they communed with God all day every day, and they lived in harmony. They loved the Lord God and each other.
Christ came to save us yes, but also to provide an example of how we are to live. Once saved, we know we will spend eternity in heaven. But whilst we are here on earth, we are also to inherit the kingdom of God. The degree to which we experience the kingdom of God here on earth correlates directly to the degree to which we become Christ-like.
Jesus was innocent, trustworthy, kind, intimate with His disciples and epitomized all that is loving. He knew His Father’s plan and purpose for His life. He knew His Father’s will and trusted Him unto death. Above all, He was obedient.
Are you? Can you trust God to the same extent? Let go and let God, so the expression goes. Turn from whatever enslaves you. Stop trying to be like God and focus on becoming more Christ-like. And above all, be obedient.
“If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)