God had a problem.
This may seem improbable for a Being who’s capable of speaking galaxies into existence, but the fact was that two of His latest creations had just made the decision to reject His authority and go their own way. And the penalty for that was death.
So God did what any loving, all-powerful, all-knowing parent would do. He let them go. But just before He did, He performed a little mental surgery on them. It was quick and painless, and the rebellious couple didn’t feel a thing. Later, that neurological nip and tuck would mean the difference between eternal death and living forever.
To Adam and Eve, the closing of the gates behind them as they walked out of the Garden of Eden for the last time, signaled a sea change in their relationship with their Creator. No longer could they maintain a personal, face-to-face friendship with Him. No longer could they stroll by His side in the cool of the evening. There was now a separation—a physical divide between God and them, placed there by the new force driving their lives: sin.
This is why the Creator did something radical just before the banishment began. Speaking to the devil who, in serpent form, had convinced Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit—He announced, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis 3:15; italics added). Time would reveal exactly what God did. Somehow He hardwired this “enmity” into the very fiber of the human psyche. From that moment on, His errant children would never feel totally comfortable in the presence of sin. There would always be an uneasiness, an awkwardness, and even a degree of anxiety anytime a man or woman allowed evil into his or her life. This enmity would not only provide a conduit through which God could communicate with His wayward family, but it would also serve as a built-in lifeline that humans could use for Jesus to pull them back into the arms of their Creator.
The seeds of salvation
The plan for saving lost humanity was in place long before there was humanity. God the Father, in close consultation with His Son Jesus, determined that buying back any future man or woman who’d sold out to sin would require that God Himself pay the death penalty for our sins. Since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), someone would have to die. That someone, it was decided, would be Jesus.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,” writes the apostle Peter, “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” Then the writer lays it all on the line. “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:18–21).
Sin required death. Jesus paid the price. God raised Him. What’s next? That’s where the Creator’s long-ago surgery kicks in. I’ll illustrate.
The story is told of a shopkeeper who noticed a little boy standing on the sidewalk staring down at his display of freshly picked and succulently sweet apples. The lad would occasionally lick his lips, look around nervously, and then return his gaze to the shiny fruit. It was a warm day, and the store owner knew how inviting those apples must be to a kid who’d played baseball all afternoon and supper was still an hour away.
Moving slowly to the front door, the shopkeeper studied the child for a long moment. Then he spoke. “Are you trying to steal one of my apples?” he asked.
The little boy shook his head slowly from side to side. “No, sir,” he said. “I’m trying not to steal one of your apples.” God’s hardwired enmity takes on many forms. It’s that quiet voice that whispers “No!” when our brain is shouting “Yes!” It’s that feeling in the pit of our stomachs the moment we realize that we can get away with doing something we know we shouldn’t do. It’s the projector that shines images of our spouse and kids when we’re tempted to be unfaithful. It’s the sudden realization that we’re not alone—that Someone is watching over us—when we’re feeling abandoned. It’s God, phone in hand, moving with us through the vicissitudes of life saying over and over and over again, “Can you hear Me now?"
Part of the plan
That same lifeline that follows atheists into foxholes, criminals into prison, and agnostics into operating rooms remains attached throughout our lives. Sure, it can be mitigated with drugs, alcohol, stubborn mind-sets, and the bitterness of anger, but it never really leaves us unless we persistently refuse to listen. It’s been part of us since Eden. It’s part of the plan, so we might as well accept that fact.
An amazing thing happens when we do. The more we pull ourselves up that lifeline—drawing ever closer and closer to God—the more our burdens of guilt, shame, and remorse drop away. In their place, there remains one of the most beautiful elements in God’s chemistry of love. Grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
When we accept this gift, we experience the very same transformation that Christ experienced. “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace that you have been saved” (verses 4, 5).
At the other end of that lifeline, we find a God willing to forgive. He’s thrilled that we’ve chosen to reconnect with Him. That’s the fulfillment of the plan set in motion before the foundation of this world was laid. That’s the goal of salvation.
What saved us? Our good works? No. God’s grace did the heavy lifting. But, we had to tug on the lifeline.
Something else takes place deep in our hearts when we accept God’s gift of grace and enjoy the fresh breeze of His forgiveness. We begin to see sin—often for the first time.
It reminds me of something that happened to me many years ago. I used to eat meat. Then, one day, I happened to watch a video taken at a slaughterhouse. It broke my heart when I realized that my taste in food had cost sentient, highly intelligent animals their lives. The cow or chicken that I’d helped consume had known what was about to happen to it. You could see it in the eyes of the animals being led to the killing room.
Suddenly my burger had a face. I could hear the screams. I could see the blood. Becoming a vegetarian took very little effort.
When we, by faith, pull ourselves up to God and humbly say, “Got room for one more?” we suddenly begin to see things differently. The slaughterhouse doors are flung open. We realize what sin has done and is doing to us and those around us. Our hearts break.
Not only do we recognize the true cost of our waywardness; we also begin to sense just how far God has brought us with His grace. “Amazing grace,” we sing with hearts overflowing with gratitude, “how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see."
But seeing isn’t enough; not for God, and it shouldn’t be enough for us, either. The whole idea of salvation is to restore what’s been lost—to reconnect with our Creator.
There’s just one problem: The forces of evil have turned us into beings totally unworthy and unfit to be in God’s presence. We’re oil to His water. We’ve become round pegs in a square-holed universe. Our characters have become so soiled by sin that, in God’s perfect world, we’re more than misfits; we’re major polluters. Something must change.
Thankfully, the plan provides the fix. In order for us to be worthy of eternal life with God, our sinfulness—our pollution—must be removed. But how?
Once again, the answer comes covered in blood. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. . . . This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe . . . God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:20, 22, 25).
Listen to how Christian writer Ellen White puts it in her book Steps to Christ: “The price paid for our redemption, the infinite sacrifice of our heavenly Father in giving His Son to die for us, should give us exalted conceptions of what we may become through Christ.” Then she brings the message home with these beautiful words: “If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.”
From that moment on, when God looks at imperfect and hopelessly polluted us, He sees His Son dying on a cross. Through God’s love and forgiveness, we’ve become as perfect as the Son who saved us.
Which brings us back to the Garden of Eden. It was God’s plan that Adam and Eve live forever. It was His desire that no illness, pain, or anguish ever touch their perfect bodies or minds. In the Creator’s flawless world, there would be no need for enmity, forgiveness, or salvation. Those came along as divine attempts to balance the deadly effects of sin.
When you shuffle the pages of your Bible from Genesis—the first book, to Revelation—the last book—you find something interesting. Eden, it seems, is to be completely restored to its former, perfect glory right along with us. “On no day will its gates ever be shut,” we read in Revelation, “for there will be no night there. . . . Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:25, 27).
Isaiah puts it this way: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. . . . They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 65:25).
Lifeline: not needed. Relationships: restored. Perfection: reestablished. Salvation’s plan: complete.