Last week I had the privilege of speaking for the weekly chapel at Crossway. I shared about a theme in Genesis that I find very interesting. The combination of “to see” and “good” occurs throughout the book, beginning, of course, with God at creation. But people quickly hijack the prerogative to “see” what is “good” for sinful purposes.
Read the message to see how this them works its way throughout the book of Genesis, and is resolved at the end.
A message for chapel at Crossway
We are in the Christmas season, which is a very exciting time for the shrewd comparison shopper.
Whether or not you got a good deal depends on the standard set by other prices. So last Tuesday, when you see a Kindle Fire for $199, compared to $329 for an iPad Mini, you see that as a good deal. But if you waited until Black Friday, when the Kindle Fire price dropped to $169, you’d see that as a really good deal. But…if you waited three more days, then you would have seen the best deal of all: the Cyber Monday price of $129. And if you had waited one more day – when the price went back up to $199 – you might have thrown your computer out the window.
What’s the point of this example? Comparison shopping is just one small example of how we naturally go through life: comparison living. In this moment of temptation, is God’s way the good deal, or is sin the good deal?
Just as the holiday markdowns constantly fluctuate, the standard we live by often changes. Our feelings, circumstances, desires, and sinful inclinations cloud our spiritual vision so that we see sin as a good deal.
We have all been in that moment, just after caving into a temptation – whether it be lust, theft, gossip, or laziness – that just after the sin we caved in to, our spiritual senses return, and we immediately regain our awareness that sin is bad.
The question, then, is this: how do get that awareness before we sin? How do we get the ability to see that sin is not good in comparison to God’s standard for holiness and goodness?
To answer that question, we are going to take a quick tour through the book of Genesis, and we are going to see three things:
- That God is the universal judge of what is good.
- What happens when people decide that sin is good.
- What it takes – in the moment – to choose what God has called good: how to choose the good according to God’s standard, not your personal sinful standard.
God is the universal judge of what is good (Gen. 1)
The Bible opens with the seven days of creation, and seven times, God looks at what he has made and says that it is good. For example, 1:3-4. The seventh time we read God’s evaluation of his creation is on the sixth day, after he has created man in his image, this is 1:31. After the jewel of his image has been added the world, now he pronounces his creation – not just good – but very good.
Many have commented that since God calls his creation good, we shouldn’t look at the world with dualistic eyes: that whatever is spiritual is good, and whatever is physical is bad. No, God has called his creation good. Beyond that, when God sees his creation as good in Genesis chapter 1, he takes the prerogative to determine what is good, throughout all of creation. As the creator, it is his job to say what is good, and what it is good for.
It follows that, as the part of the creation, it is our job to fall in line with God’s standard for what is good and what isn’t.
What happens when people decide sin is good
So then what happens when people decide that sin is good? Consider Genesis 3:6 with the sevenfold echo of “God saw that it was good…God saw that it was good…” reverberating in your ears.
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
Did you hear the connection? “So when the woman saw that the tree was good…” Good for what? Sin. In the moment of temptation, she didn’t judge according to God’s standard for what is good, she judged according to her own.
In the original Hebrew, the author, Moses, even uses his word order to show what is going on here. In chapter one what you read is, “God saw that it was good…God saw that it was good, etc.” In 3:6, in the original, it goes like this: “And the woman saw that it was good, the tree for food.” Eve literally put herself in the place of God when she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She took upon herself the prerogative to decide what was good, and what it was good for. She stepped into God’s shoes. And a couple verses further in chapter 3 she discovered that those shoes were too big for her to fill.
People have often said that pride is the root of every sin. This is correct because in every sin, we are trying to be God. In every sin try to judge for ourselves what is good, rather than allowing God, the universal judge of what is good, to inform us. That is the ultimate pride.
The interesting thing in the book of Genesis, is that Eve is not the only one to do this. She’s the first one, but not the only one.
Gen. 6:2 “The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.”
The Hebrew word for “attractive” is literally “good”. Widespread evil was the result of the sons of God (whatever you take them to be) seeing that the daughters of man were good.
Gen. 13:10-13 “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.”
We don’t have the Hebrew for “good” here, but the idea is similar. Lot saw what he was good according to his own standards, but in the last verse, we learn how God saw that place.
Gen. 40:16 “When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head…” This is one of the more comical examples. When the baker saw that the interpretation was favorable – literally, “good” – he wanted his dream interpreted, too. But he soon learned you can’t interpret away treason.
Gen. 49:14-16 “Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor.”
Issachar inherited the Jezreel Valley, a beautiful, lush part of Israel, but it was a main highway from Egypt to Babylon that any invading army would march through. It makes sense that invading armies would subject people of that area to forced labor.
It’s ironic that the resting place that he saw was good became the very place where he was enslaved. Yet this is exactly what sin does. We think it will bring peace and pleasantness, but it actually enslaves us.
What this survey reveals to us that when we sin, we are determining for ourselves what is good, according to the standard of our sinful desires, and not God’s universal standard for what is good. We stand in the place of God. We try to be God.
How to choose what God has called good
So what it does it take – in the moment – to choose what God has called good, and reject what we are tempted to call good? How do you choose the good according to God’s standard, not your personal sinful standard?
Joseph supplies the answer.
After Jacob died, his brothers were scared that Joseph would seek revenge on them for selling him into slavery, so they pulled a teenage communication stunt, “Hey, uh, Joseph. Dad told us to tell you that he wants you to forgive us” (Gen. 50:15-17).
Joseph responds to their “request” with a level of grace that only comes from someone who can perceive good and evil according to God’s standard. He says, “As for you, you meant evil against m, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph saw things according to God’s standard, even when he could have easily justified operating according to man’s sinful standards.
What was his secret? How did he do this? How can we do this?
The secret is in verse 19, where Joseph rhetorically asks, “Am I in the place of God?” Eve put herself in the place of God. Joseph wouldn’t. He recognized that he was a part of the creation, not the Creator. Therefore, he could see his life through the eyes of his Creator.
That is the question to ask yourself, when you are in the moment of temptation: “Am I in the place of God?”
When your kids are yelling and running laps around the house, and you’re tempted to see that it is good to yell at them, ask yourself, “Am I in the place of God?”
When you’re at the gym, and you’re tempted to see that it is good to lust about the chic two treadmills over, ask yourself, “Am I in the place of God?”
When you’re at work, and you’re tempted to see that it is good to gossip about your coworkers, ask yourself, “Am I in the place of God?”
And praise God, that he responded to our attempt at taking his place by taking our place. God saw that it was good to send his Son, Jesus, to become a sacrifice for our sins. To pay the penalty we deserved. There is forgiveness in all our sinful attempts to be God because “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).