I recently listened to a podcast episode featuring Lysa Terkeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries, as she recounted her story of almost losing her marriage to infidelity and then almost losing her life to cancer.
Lysa’s story reminded me of the verse we’ve based our recent study on at White Fields, called Remember the Prophets, which comes from James 5:10 – “My brothers and sisters, remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering.” Lysa struck me as someone who is an example of patient endurance under suffering.
In the interview, Lysa mentioned something interesting: Compare the first words that God spoke to the man and compare them with the first words that the Enemy spoke to the people in reciting God’s message to them:
The first words God ever spoke to man were: “You are free”
And 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 from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
The first words the Enemy spoke when reciting God’s words were: “You must not”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
Same Words, Different Emphasis
First of all, the serpent did misquote God by saying that God had commanded them not to eat from any tree in the garden.
But the other thing the serpent did was to change the emphasis or the tone of God’s words to the people.
Whereas God had emphasized their freedom, the serpent emphasized the restriction.
That’s an important difference! Does God give commands? Of course. Does God prohibit some things? Absolutely. But the reason for God’s commands and prohibitions is for our good, to promote our freedom!
God had told them that the reason for the the prohibition (eating from the one tree) was because if they did they would die. Nothing restricts your freedom more than dying! In other words: God’s prohibition was to protect their freedom.
True freedom is often found in submitting to the design for which you were made. For example: A BMW automobile gives you incredible freedom to get around, and do so very quickly! But in order for you to have that freedom, you have to follow a few rules due to the nature of the BMW. For example: it’s not made to go underwater, so if you drive it into a lake, you will lose the freedom the car provides! If you fail to change the oil, fill up the tires with air or put gas in it, you will lose the freedom it provides. All freedom, in other words, depends on following the rules of the design. Therefore the right prohibitions can serve to protect freedom.
The serpent’s emphasis was on the restriction, not the freedom. He painted God as an insecure, petty kill-joy, who was trying to restrict them merely for the sake of restricting them. Many people view God in this way today as well.
“For Our Good Always”
This past Sunday, in studying through Hosea (listen to that message here: Hosea: Living Out the Gospel) we talked about how God’s commandments are for our good. As I often say:
Sin isn’t bad because it’s forbidden, sin is forbidden because it’s bad.
In other words: When God tells us to do something, or not to do something, it is because He loves us and wants the best for us.
In Deuteronomy 6:24, in describing the God’s law, Moses describes it in this way: God’s law, which was for our good always…
The emphasis is on our good and our freedom. The idea that God is petty and arbitrarily restrictive is wrong, and leads us to question God – as the serpent led the first people to do.
Consider this great quote from Charles Spurgeon:
When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin. But when I found God so kind, so good, so over-flowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could have ever rebelled against one who loved me so, and sought my good.
When you clearly see who God is and understand His love for you, it makes you want to do what He says, because you know it’s for your good.
As Paul wrote to Titus: For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13)
Did you see that? It is the grace of God that teaches us to reject ungodliness! May we see God’s grace and love in his instructions to us.
2 thoughts on ““You are Free” vs. “You Must Not””
I thought he said “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…”
Actually that phrase (be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth) is the first phrase mentioned in the Bible, but it is not the first phrase recorded that God spoke to the man. Here’s why: Genesis 1 gives “the song of Creation” – it is a poem describing the 6 days of creation. Then in Chapter 2, the story “zooms in” on the creation of humankind. You’ll notice that God spoke the words “You are free to eat of every tree in the garden…” BEFORE the woman was created. It was only AFTER the woman was created that God gave them the “cultural mandate” to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the Earth. So even though that phrase appears first in the Bible, it was spoken LATER than the phrase “You are free to eat…”, which was spoken only to the man before the creation of the woman.