When Adam and Eve sinned and turned away from God, they died spiritually. This truth is rooted in God’s covenant promise to them:
The Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
The biblical account records that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . but they were still walking around. (Actually, they were running around, looking for a place to hide from God!) Clearly they did not physically die.
Did God make an idle threat? No, that is something that the Sovereign Lord of the universe never does. He assures us, “What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:11). So how did God make good on His promise? The answer is that Adam and Eve died spiritually the instant they sinned against God; physical death would come later.
What we learn from Genesis is that our first parents did not need God to rehabilitate them; they needed God to rescue them. They were dead, and no amount of rehabilitation would ever do them any good.
You see, God’s saving grace does not make up for our deficiencies, as if we simply lacked a little goodness here and a little holiness there. We are dead, flatlined spiritually and in desperate need of rescue . . . not rehabilitation. We need rescue because we are guilty and filthy and separated from our God. Apart from Jesus Christ, we are enemies of God (Colossians 1:21).
Make no mistake, God’s grace does not make up for the “good” we lack. If it did, we would only be in need of a bit of rehabilitation. Rather, God’s grace rescues us from both sin and death, cancelling the debt we owe to God and can never pay.
We see this in Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which is presented in Luke 18:9-14. Both men went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee was utterly confident in his own goodness. He thought that, at best, God owed him the blessing of eternal life and blessings in everyday life; at worst, God could perhaps supplement his goodness with a little rehabilitation in any areas where he might be lacking. The tax collector, on the other hand, knew he was beyond the reach of rehabilitation. He would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but bowed his head before the Lord and cried out for rescue: “God be merciful to me, the sinner!” The tax collector declared his utter spiritual bankruptcy and acknowledged his need of a Redeemer God who would rescue him from all unrighteousness.
Far from having a merit mentality and looking to God to supplement his shortcomings, this tax collector looked only to the mercy of God. And what was the result of looking for rescue rather than rehabilitation? Jesus said, that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified—that is, righteous in the sight of God.
Only when we see ourselves like this tax collector saw himself—as doomed sinners in need of God’s rescue—will we truly begin to appreciate what Jesus has done for us and allow this truth to transform our lives.
If all we needed was a bit of rehabilitation, there would have been no need for Jesus to go to the cross. He would have continued to disciple us, rather than die for us. But as 2 Corinthians 5:21 testifies, Jesus, who knew no sin—who needed no rescue or rehabilitation—became sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might rescued and clothed in the righteousness of God.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!